President Obama is a Nazi. And a Muslim. And has big ears. Regardless of how legitimate these claims are, or their relevance in public policy discourse, they demonstrate a vulnerability of President Obama: just like almost every other human being, he is subject to the verbal slings and arrows of ill-intended people, now easily magnified at the speed of light for the similarly ill-intended, or worse yet, for those who hadn’t bothered with their own critical thinking to form an opinion. As the first black president, Mr. Obama has taken a high road approach, and been inspiring to anyone paying attention. Haters will hate; let the arc of American history be the true judge.
None of this anti-Obama rhetoric should be surprising, especially because we are living in the age of the cyberbully, and the internet troll, and the poorly spelled and even more poorly punctuated hate speech blasted from megaphones that can reach the hand-held device of every citizen of the United States, and beyond. No one is safe from criticism that can achieve critical mass momentarily. Many feel the brunt of this force on a personal level, with direct threats to personal safety. Others are no doubt aware of this looming shadow and its effect on others. Support him or not, when the president of your country is ridiculed for being something, or not something, or painted to be the obviously false but everyone is talking about it, the vulnerability is clear. And vulnerability is a difficult state to maintain.
Enter Donald Trump. Resilient to all attacks. Hardened by a brutal business and ready to take on all comers. When a personal attack is launched against him, he launches one right back. A challenger goes low, he goes lower, and dirtier (reference the hands-to-manhood relationship mentioned in a presidential debate). There is no high road approach here, and for the masses who are tired of listening to someone tell them what the high road should look like, this is their hero. This is their superhero, the character with the back story they’ve always wanted and the superpowers they’ve always needed. If I had those superpowers, no one could ever mess with me.
If my president had those superpowers, no one would mess with my president. My president. And my country. No more photos of my president’s face superimposed on the body of a monkey for people to laugh at. No more sitting on the sidelines “leading from behind” in some peace-prize deserving foreign policy re-think too groundbreaking and brilliant for me to understand but I hear makes us look weak. I want a president who will ignore treaties and pacts agreed to by the dumb people of the past and go unleash hell on the bad guys like they deserve, to prove that no one messes with my president. And my country. That’s how it should be done, at least that’s how it was done in all those movies starring Governor Schwarzenegger (a character cut from a similar cloth…).
The premise that Donald Trump is harnessing the anger of a hurting and underappreciated constituency is reported so often that it is now taken for common knowledge. However, what seems to be left out of the discussion is that the undercurrent of discontent may be somewhat manufactured, or at least embellished. Sure, there are people in serious need, and things could be better. However, positive reporting on positive change doesn’t make for good ratings. Small legislative victories that will help in incremental ways over many years of American history don’t offer enough immediate gratification to make the true “main stream media”. And there has been positive change, but acknowledging it doesn’t speak to the desired narrative. A voice of optimism is unfortunately drowned out by many shouts of negativity, especially when negativity pays more.
There is some anger in the constituency. Some of it is justified. But for constituents who care little for public policy specifics, a candidate who gets away with speaking in generalities is their perfect candidate. Especially one who can’t be made fun of. And has superpowers.