The year is 2008. One man has surprised the pundits by soaring in opinion polls and winning an early state. He offers few details for governing, just vague, upbeat slogans. Throngs of people believe he alone can fix our problems. He seems to agree, above all selling his own force of will. He has doubters, but nothing — not others’ attacks, nor his own past words — brings him down.
Eight years later, history is repeating itself: One man has surprised the pundits by soaring in opinion polls and winning an early state. He offers few details for governing, just vague, upbeat slogans. Throngs of people believe he alone can fix our problems. He seems to agree, above all selling his own force of will. He has doubters, but nothing — not others’ attacks, nor his own past words — brings him down.
It is only natural for Republicans to run against Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton as the “third term” of Barack Obama. Some liken Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to Obama for their inexperience. But despite some obvious differences, the phenomenon most resembling the 2008 Obama is that of Donald Trump.
Obama famously wrote that, because of people’s lack of familiarity with him, he was a “blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Trump, instead because he’s so familiar and has been on both sides of every issue from guns to abortion, is likewise a medium for voters’ projections. One cannot persuade them Trump will do X because he once said X; he’s also said Y, and they agree with Y, so they believe he’ll do Y.
The attachment to Trump, like Obama before him, is not to his ideas but him personally. Obama talked of “hope” and “change.” How would “the rise of the oceans beg(i)n to slow and our planet beg(i)n to heal”? Because we were “willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it”! He actually said out loud, in 2007, that “the day I’m inaugurated, not only does the country look at itself differently, but the world looks at America differently.”
The people of Crimea, the Yazidis of Iraq, and dissidents in Iran and Cuba would no doubt agree.
Trump vows to “make America great again.” How? By being “a truly great leader” and “mak(ing) great deals” and being “the greatest (fill in the blank) that God ever created.” China, Mexico, ISIS, the Ford Motor Co.: All will yield to the not-P.C. force of nature that is Trump. So will the “stupid” denizens of Washington, D.C. Did I mention “he fights”?
Even where candidate Obama was specific, President Obama has not felt constrained to those details. A great irony of Obama’s presidency is that, having run ads in 2008 criticizing Clinton’s inclusion of a health-insurance mandate in her reform plan, his legacy arguably hinged on the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling upholding the individual mandate in Obamacare. Now, that’s being “malleable” … as Jimmy Carter recently described Trump.
The most stunning thing said during this campaign about Trump — who overstates how much he’s funded his own campaign, who makes unproven claims he opposed the Iraq War and that George W. Bush “lied” us into it, who exaggerates or invents the details of his claims about everything from the unemployment rate to Syrian refugees — is he’s a “truth teller.”
Saying things people want to hear doesn’t make those things true. We fell for that once. Let’s not do it again.