Step aside, P.T. Barnum, you’ve lost your iconic status as our most notorious con man. The fatiguing Trump Slump can’t touch P. T. Barnum’s life of brash showmanship, even doing good. Excesses aside, P.T. achieved notable excellence in public service, moral, family and educational reform. He started a steamship company still in operation. How many Trump Towers, shady business deals or chronic lies won’t be public disgraces in 150 years — especially if he ends up in jail? What undeniable single positive will offset his appalling blot on our democracy?
A cruder, more racist, knee-jerk Barnum, the immoral Trump withers next to this Prince of Humbugs. As a two-term Connecticut legislator in 1865, Barnum not only fully endorsed the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude), he boldly invoked terms that would choke Trump bigotry: “A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab, or a Hottentot [African tribe]—it is still an immortal spirit.” “Immortal spirit” (as in inalienable rights) would turn to ashes across Donald’s forked tongue.
A decade later, as Bridgeport, CT mayor, P.T. improved the water supply, promoted gas street lighting, enforced liquor and prostitution laws plus started the Bridgeport Hospital, serving as its first president. Ever hear client Trump even slight prostitution? Or start any public service? Can anyone imagine Trump opening New York City’s largest theater, as did Barnum, endowed as “Moral Lecture Room”? Or support anti-corruption, reformist crusaders? Or create our first afternoon matinées to spur family togetherness and reduce crime?
Positive con artist
Barnum was a huckster but nothing like a knee-jerk law-breaker who scorned moral rules as the refuge of “losers.” He exposed shady, New York/New Haven Railroad price-gouging, fare increases — and got them reversed. Practicing “profitable philanthropy,” Barnum was a founding trustee of Tufts University, donating generously, plus establishing a natural history museum. Trump started a fraudulent university that went broke, was indicted and returned $25 million in fines and penalties. I bet the savvy Barnum read entire books.
Barnum once dreamed of running for president but quickly rejected that folly. He respected politics enough to run, serve local office, and learn the craft of leadership. He knew enough about himself and the world to know no one can “alone can fix everything.” Overall, Barnum contrasts sharply with this WH misfit. 1) P.T. had a real sense of humor, with far more self-awareness about plausible hoaxes; 2) he brought genuine ingenuity to 19th C showmanship, with an educational bent that paralleled social reformers; and 3) he improved as he aged, shifting from owning slaves very early on to ardent abolitionism and full support of blacks. From the New Yorker, “Better than anyone who’d come before, the Prince of Humbugs [Barnum] understood that the public was willing—even eager—to be conned, provided there was enough entertainment to be had in the process.” Has Trump ever “entertained” more than a twisted minority insensitive to racism?
Where’s the hook?
Is there no way to fully expose the Trump joke — whose sole answer to increasing rejection is to dance faster and gesture wildly? Predictably, Trump is so unstable he not only contradicts his own toadies, he reverses day-old tirades — plus retweeting despicable conspiracy theories full of cynical derangement. Does even this loony think he can bully, even “order” huge corporations to flee China and 1.3 billion customers?
A huge majority now affirms that what started out as an outrageous stunt has gone on far too long. How long will we tolerate an endless wrecking ball in the White House, trampling norms, values, economic stability, or global diplomatic alliances? Really, favoring North Korea over our own military re exercises? Favoring Putin’s denials over our entire intelligence community? Blindly denying he’s both a racist and white supremacist fan?
To our horror, everyone knows why Trump ran for president, replaying his same old schtick: bluster, lie and cheat whatever the topic or context (or need), stir up the press with circus indirection, and garner glory for his self-advertised self-dealing. What’s insatiable is his desperate need for constant glorification, verifying he’s the bestest and mostest whatever he touches. Will he dissolve, like that witch in Oz, when it turns out to be flagrant fake news?
He was much luckier than good as 2016 campaigner, failing assorted political tests. But fortune handed him a winning ’16 lottery ticket: just famous enough, just non-Washington enough, and just abrasive enough to con dim Republicans that Trump disruption would best humiliate other pols they’d voted for, with apparent gritted teeth.
Once a jerk, always a jerk
Though stylistically the ultimate jerk, billionaire candidate Trump didn’t overtly challenge the 1%ers so there was no fat cat opposition to what wouldn’t hurt them: the (hypocritical) disdain for the status quo, scorn for smarter, more competent elites, plus a limited ability to hustle equally low-information masses with vulgar, unfunny jokes. Others of course paid for this misadventure, even fed his presidential kitty, prompting primitive, nativist sound bites that reflected a career melange of ignorance, prejudices and buffoonery. Is America the land of opportunity — or what?
That so many once cost-conscious Republicans bought into this wildly-expensive stunt was a great revelation to Trump I suspect, and now he’s a permanent blot, perhaps looming land mine to GOP stature. Either Trumpers got the joke and reveled in its disruptive mayhem, making them both cynical and cruel (for here was racism mixed with contempt, thinking only old, white, Anglo-Saxon men should rule), even have inalienable rights. Or credulous suckers who believed this failed tycoon would magically resolve decades of insolvable tensions — that disruption for disruptions sake would naturally produce positives. That never works, worsened by the law of unintended consequences.
So far, with Trump, every outcome exactly reflects his formidable personal limitations, even manic neuroses. Trump is such a pathetic misfit, even by year three he hasn’t a cue how to approach mediocrity — more’s the pity. Time to end the charade that Defective Donald won’t take down the country as he bankrupted so many businesses. Or ever be other than a low-information, low-brow operator whose idea of leadership is 1) broadcast your prejudices and 2) make it up as you go along, damn the results.
So, where is the great (dormant) Impeachment Push? Or talk of the the 25th Amendment? Or simply wider acknowledgement the worst threat to America is to underestimate how much more Trump damage he can afflict before 2020? Waiting is no longer a moral, functional or rational option.