I would like to have George Washington come back from the dead for one day. I’d stand there and look at George, wearing those tight socks and that funny white wig, and I’d ask him the question:
“George, what do you think about Donald Trump?”
I’m not sure George would know how to respond. I certainly don’t.
The Donald’s phenomenon has been the big political story of the summer, interrupted only for short periods of time when someone else loses some more emails or resigns from Congress or visits from the Vatican. All those other things are interesting, to be sure, but the TV shows and magazines and newspapers and blogs all seem to go running back to Trump as soon as they can.
I’ve been thinking about this, which in itself is kind of odd because the presidential election is still more than a year away and usually things that happen this far in advance really don’t mean much. Yet, there already have been two Republican debates that attracted record audiences. How can that be?
Well, people aren’t tuning in to listen to Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz. They’re watching because Donald Trump is in those debates. It’s the same as watching NASCAR: everyone says they don’t want to see crashes, but the real reason they watch is so they don’t miss the Big One. Trump is like that: he might explode or maybe blow someone else up, and you’d just hate to miss it.
Donald Trump is the guy you hope doesn’t crash your party but you love it when he shows up at someone else’s party. Never a dull moment. Americans love to watch drama and conflict, we just don’t like to be part of it. So Trump is the perfect early presidential candidate because he keeps our attention and keeps things stirred up.
Plus, Donald Trump talks like an angry guy. A lot of people in this country are angry, too, about all kinds of things. In fact, it seems like just about everyone is mad about something these days, so people identify with Trump. You tell ’em Donald! It doesn’t always even matter who we’re angry with, it’s just nice to hear someone with a microphone go off about something.
It’s probably telling that his two closest rivals right now are other non-politicians. Carly Fiorina became famous when she was the boss at Hewlett-Packard where the board forced her out because things weren’t going so well. She also has a great name. I think it would almost be worth it for her to be president just so we could witness a meeting between Carly Fiorina and Angela Merkel of Germany.
Then there’s Ben Carson, the Washington brain surgeon. Maybe he could do some work on members of Congress, kind of like a Dr. Carsonstein. That would keep us interested for a while.
If nothing else, the success of the non-politicians should send a message to Washington that people really are getting tired of the same, old inside the beltway method of doing things.
But back to The Donald. I’m not certain he has staying power. It’s one thing to lob grenades all around the landscape, it’s another to be able to clean up the mess. I’m not even sure he thinks he has political staying power, but it really doesn’t matter. With all this publicity and attention he is now the undisputed king of reality TV. For as long as it lasts, it will be a great ride.
Of course, if it lasts too long we could actually end up with a Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton presidential election. That is almost beyond imagination. But you know what? It would get great ratings. And somehow I have this uncomfortable feeling that Americans are so addicted to being entertained that it just could happen.
A year from now it probably will all be different. If you remember last time around, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all led in the polls at one time or another. And back in October of 2008, Barack Obama was running a distant second to Hillary. So it is all likely to change.
Still, I’d like to know what George Washington might think. Would he see this election as the inevitable outcome of mass democracy and the power of television and the Internet? Would he be appalled by modern tactics or merely see them as an extension of what has always happened in American politics? Would he look at The Donald’s hairdo and smile, thinking his white wig doesn’t look so bad after all?
I guess we’ll never know. But I would guess, like the rest of us, he would just have to watch to see how the story ends.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.