The other day, I asked a French friend for his take on Charles de Gaulle: “He is, how should I say, like your Reagan — the last great statesman,” my friend replied. If it’s been a quarter century since our last great leader, imagine what it must feel like for the French.
This conversation was on my mind when I watched clips of Donald Trump’s campaign announcement. We teach our kids that being braggadocios is a vice, but for a people who feel beaten down, someone with a healthy superiority complex can be just what the doctor ordered.
To put it another way: People who have been deprived of a commanding leader — who have seen nothing but incompetence and impotence for most of their lives — may be susceptible to the charms of a man who flagrantly displays the trappings of power.
If confidence and competence are sometimes conflated, then Trump is in pretty good shape.
That’s not to say that I think Trump will win, or even catch fire. I just think there’s a chance that he might resonate with some Republican primary voters more than some political observers — who largely see him as a clown — might expect.
Trump’s obvious appeal is that he’s a winner. That he gets things done. This is his trump card: That people who may not have the time or interest to study the nuances of foreign policy won’t have to. A side benefit is that we can quit worrying about things. That’s because Trump knows how to handle the Chinese/Mexicans/Iranians. (This formula doesn’t just work for foreign policy, of course, the “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” line is all-purpose.)
This is a mentality which says, when all else fails, just hire someone who knows how to win. It happens all the time in sports; it’s the reason the Redskins hired two-time Super Bowl champion head coach Mike Shanahan. It’s the reason candidates today pay a lot of money to get advice from Ed Rollins — who managed Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984.
There is a sense that they know some secret — and that if you hire them, things will magically happen for you. It’s far easier to just hire someone with a (perceived) track record of getting things done — and just outsource your cares to him — than it is to sweat the details.
Taking a chance on a quick-fix is at least proactive, and much better than betting on the guy who merely wants to manage our nation’s decline. At least, that’s the rationale for backing a sort of political strongman. But anyone who has ever been taken in by a get-rich-quick scheme knows that if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
And besides, it’s not as if this is a binary choice between Trump and capitulation. There are plenty of Republicans to choose from — and some of them even have an actual chance at restoring the American Dream — and preserving Democracy in America.