The Donald is the presidential rule, not the exception

'Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.' by Gage Skidmore
Photograph: 'Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.' by Cage Skidmore / CC

When President Donald Trump is speaking using research or considered opinion he often makes an assertion that rhythmically transforms into a statement about how great he is. Immodest and flamboyant, often aggressive when criticised, there is nonetheless a flow to his speech pattern that gives the impression of consistency even when his argument has none.

Money can’t buy class and Trump’s signature over the top lavishness is clearly compensating for something. He’s weakest when he’s substituting fact with an opinion (reprehensibly calling Mexican immigrants “rapists”) and always seems to veer from his teleprompter by some need to reinforce his statement as if he himself knows it doesn’t stack up. Watch any video on Trump you see soon enough that there is a painfully apparent chip in his psychological make-up.

Every interview contains at least five or six qualifications as to his intelligence, wealth or abilities. Take for example a Fox News interview from June 2016:

“You know I built a massive company. I’ve had number 1 bestsellers. I’ve had The Art of the Deal which is just about the biggest business book of all time. I had tremendous success on television with The Apprentice. I went to the Wharton School of Finance and I was a really good student, and it’s one of the hardest schools in the world to get into and then they treat it like you know like ‘why is he here?’”

These talking points repeatedly occur. In recent memory, no other presidential candidate has so garishly needed to justify his or her right to run for office. To drift into business speak, Trump invokes his career history as evidence of his suitability when all other candidates talk about their transferable skills.

The result is the belligerence and arrogance that has haunted his reputation. You don’t need to be a business mogul or correspondent to know Trump. You don’t even need to live in America. Aberdeen knows his reputation as a corporate face in a real-life Local Hero battle. To say he is ruthless is to state the obvious. But his constant need to prove his intelligence and acumen; the need to make sure that other people know about it makes him a figure more complicated than some might care to admit.

Is Trump an unqualified to be commander-in-chief? Possibly. Of the major job occupations of former presidents, all of them had experience of military service, political office, law or journalism. Contemporary candidates will always make mention of these professions, and prior political experience is a premium to be drawn on handsomely. Barrack Obama made more about being a senator for only three years than he did of being a trained lawyer who taught constitutional law for 12 years.

Is Donald Trump self-conscious of his lack of political credentials and the absence of a traditional vocational education? It would explain his repeated claim that he has in fact been in politics his whole life. There’s something rather reminiscent of Sarah Palin saying Russia’s proximity to her state of Alaska made her experienced on foreign policy.

However, take the other yardstick that Trump is admonished for – his wealth. For years, it was all he was famous for, even appearing in a 1987 interview with David Letterman to talk about just that. He even had a cameo in Home Alone 2. The perception remained for years and it did him well with The Apprentice.

Yet, Trump’s wealth falls very much into the traditional financial pattern of American presidents. According to Time magazine, of 44 presidents only nine had a net worth less of than one million dollars in the equivalent of 2010 dollars. Trump’s personal financial disclosure to the Federal Election Commission states that his personal wealth is over 10 billion dollars. While staggering, it is no different in principle to the fact that George Washington would be a billionaire in today’s money too.

Extreme personal wealth is the exception and not the rule with the American presidency, even if Trump’s team were perhaps the first to complain the disclosure forms were too short “for a man of Mr Trump’s massive wealth.”

Pundits and rivals like to argue that because he’s wealthy and successful that it must follow that Trump’s viewing the presidency as the proverbial codpiece; the crowning achievement of a life of significant material attainment. Motivations and talent are a blurred secrecy. Ronald Reagan was laughed at because he was a millionaire actor and yet has gone down in history as winning the Cold War and creating a still enduring neoliberal consensus.

But is the White House one real estate deal too far? In his pursuit of power, Trump lost sponsors en masse, bringing to mind Tolstoy’s story about the man, in his lust for land, losing everything.

Trump is a maverick and unlikeable to many. But that is a different charge to his being unqualified or that his wealth precludes him the right to run for the highest office in the land. If anything The Donald is symptomatic of the US political system and at some stage, Americans will need to address why so many of their chief executives were lavishly rich.

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