What's Tony Thinking

If He’s Such an Idiot How Come He’s President?


Years ago I was in the stands for a spring training game in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Oakland A’s were playing the San Francisco Giants on a balmy March day in the desert.

There was a guy in the stands who really had it in for one particular A’s player, though I can’t now remember who that was. The guy in the stands was on his feet delivering one caustic and demeaning remark after another. Finally, this loud-mouthed fan sat down. Those of us nearby breathed a sigh of relief. But too soon, as it turned out, for within minutes the hater was up and at it again.

At this point, someone else in stands stood up and addressed the obnoxious guy. “Hey buddy,” he interrupted the guy, “He (referring to the player this guy was maligning), he is out on the field playing ball. You’re sitting up in the stands. How ’bout giving it a rest?” In other words, if you’re such a baseball genius and the guy you are ragging on is such a pathetic excuse for a ballplayer, how come he’s out there on the field and you’re not?

I’m no fan of Donald Trump’s but this story comes to mind with the feeding frenzy around Michael Wolff’s The Fire and the Fury. Wolff paints Trump as a complete moron in early stage dementia. Well, for Trump-haters this book and its spin-offs are a quite a tasty feast.

But the fact remains, as at the spring training game, Trump did run and he did win (albeit not the popular vote). There is much about him and his way of operating that I find appalling, but it seems a little too easy to say he’s a nutcase or mad or an idiot or a moron. He is on the field or, if you prefer, in the White House, and you and I are not.

Many of the President’s critics point to his low approval ratings and seem confident that after the 2018 midterm elections deal him a severe blow he will be out in 2020, if not before. Bring on Oprah! I wouldn’t be so sure. For one thing, Trump’s upper-30’s approval ratings aren’t that far off what the pre-election polls showed in the fall of 2016. Then Hillary was showing 65% support (and odds of winning that stood at that or more). Well, you know how that worked out.

For another thing, the economy is a whole lot stronger than it has been for quite a while. Whether Trump can legitimately claim any credit for that or not I don’t know. But what I am pretty sure of is that if unemployment is down, the market is up, and jobs are being created that will count with a lot of voters and he will get credit — deserved or not. “It’s the economy, stupid!” was the mantra of the Clinton campaign in 1992, and there’s still a lot to that.

In a recent column David Brooks worried that the anti-Trump crowd runs the risk of becoming the mirror image of those they deplore. By, for instance, taking rumor for fact, indulging in gratuitous nastiness, and getting caught up in the side-show.

An eon ago I was a graduate student in cultural/ intellectual history. One of the tenets of scholarship which impressed me was that when you were engaging an intellectual opponent and a theory with which you disagreed, perhaps strenuously, your first obligation was to be able to state your opponent’s argument to their satisfaction. In other words, you had to be able to demonstrate that you had taken the time to really understand their argument and point of view. Then, but only then, could you launch into your rebuttal.

My sense is that the Trump-despisers (which I confess includes me) and the Democrats would do well to focus a little less on Trump’s personality, quirks and hair-do and a little more on some of the themes of his movement and administration. Are there issues Trump has raised that need to be seriously thought about and engaged rather than ridiculed? It doesn’t mean we have to agree with his or his crowd’s diagnosis or prognosis. But being smugly disdainful won’t cut it, especially if the economy is humming.







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