Which Trump were you watching last weekend? The moronic mediocrity with a skimpy vocabulary who can't keep focussed and who's as self-absorbed as an infant? Or the shrewd new president who bolstered his crucial constituency in the rust belt and dealt with an economic abyss that no one else over the past 30 years dared touch? Me -- I'm rivetted by both and, as a result, more than a bit confused.
There's that dolt obsessing over crowd size at his inauguration or nonexistent voter fraud versus the guy who went straight after humanly catastrophic trade deals like NAFTA, just as he promised "workers" he would -- while being the only one happy to use that word, once a trademark of the left. Even if he never fully delivers, they'll be grateful, after being overlooked and overflown for so long. "He sees us," they say.
For those of us who've opposed these trade deals since the 1980s, it's bizarre. Someone finally does something about them not in the name of social justice but of racism and scapegoating. "What we want is fair trade," he told CEOs on Monday. That's what we should've been saying all along -- and we were. Union leaders are delighted that the issue is finally being treated, even if it means they're with Stupid.
How did his tiny mind get it so right on stuff like NAFTA? No one else in his class did. Did he alone get the memo merely from watching Morning Joe and the Sunday news panels? Someone suggested it's because he only has one neuron in his brain so when it latches onto something that makes sense, he doesn't get distracted by all the other neurons banging around in bigger brains like Obama's, who reads too much and consulted too many experts. That would also account for Trump's idiocies.
The protest marches were inspiring but they won't take a single voter from him. The only thing that would is a counter-position on trade and the economy, of the sort Bernie Sanders had. Meanwhile his fatuous outbursts keep opponents fixated on lesser stuff: "over his head ... unfit … dumpster fire … erratic … inappropriate … insecure … continues to unravel." (That's from Salon.) He tosses out more crazy stuff: the wall, Putin, sanctuary cities, torture. Could there be an actual mind at work here, strategizing? That's a truly scary thought. Or is it just dumb luck, literally?
On the sentient side: Isn't it better to look like a petty narcissist than a racist? Make yourself an object of derision versus menace? That also goes for his attacks on media. Who really cares, besides journalists, who get diverted onto their enthralling selves. (And he has a case, as did Sanders.) Whether he's savvy, instinctively canny, or just lucky, it's all functional, it works for him, though it would be a letdown to find out he isn't as totally barmy as he appears. Could Two Trumps be an actual plan?
Either way, you can't take your eyes off him: because he's so unpredictable and entertaining, or because if you do, he'll grab your wallet. He's more complex than we expected and perhaps than he knows, unless he really does know -- I told you, it gets highly perplexing. Then, when I'd pretty much decided he's being consciously manipulative, I watched ABC's "first interview with the president" Wednesday night.
Could anyone genuinely "act" this stupid? He'd have to be a dramatic genius. Or is stupidity itself a form of manipulation -- so he's his own secret weapon? He draws you down to his level and you have little choice. It's truly like dealing with a baby. He makes everyone around him behave infantilely too. ABC anchor David Muir tried having a solemn conversation for awhile, then gave up, echoing Trump's claims about the inevitable wall (Trump: "Now it has to go up." Muir, nodding: "That's the challenge, Mr. President") the way you'd say goo-goo to a kid. Trump looked like the smart one.
So beware the man who chooses to be seen as a buffoon, even if he really is. Especially if he is, because then he can play the part so convincingly. But fear him why? Because his buffoonery may conceal elements more sinister, which you overlook as you chuckle and condescend. Like what? For me it has to do with democracy. This president has never said a fond word in its favour.
This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr