A Man of the People, Redefined

The ten leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination had a debate on Thursday, and it was a spirited contest. Each of the contenders were nearly as critical of one another as they were of President Donald Trump, and sometimes the raucous crowd would ooh at perceived low blows. Our favorite part came afterwards, though, when the candidates were asked about the greatest adversities they had faced in life and how that had affected their politics.
The question was a slow and straight pitch aimed chest high, and of course each candidate took a swing at the opportunity to come off as a bona fide human being voters can relate to. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the last centrist standing in the field, spoke of her father’s alcoholism, and how he overcame it with with help from court-ordered treatment. Former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian talked about growing up in a single-parent home. Former Vice President Joe Biden recalled the tragically premature death of his son and beloved family members, High tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang mentioned the numerous failed businesses he had started and the huge debt he had acquired before achieving success.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had a rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment and a penniless immigrant father to talk about. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke chose to talk about the resilience of his hometown of El Paso, which suffered a mass shooting O’Rourke partly blames on Trump’s racial rhetoric. California Sen. Kamala Harris explained the difficulties of being the first female and mixed-race Attorney General of her state, and  this being a Democratic debate was obliged to defend prosecuting as a respectable occupation . South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is openly homosexual, and that’s not always been as fashionable as it is now. Earlier in the debate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren mentioned she had grown up in Oklahoma and once been a public school teacher, were surely won plenty of pity from a Democratic audience.
None of the candidates bragged about having been in a little log cabin built by their own two hands, and with Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard failing to qualify for the debate no could talk about any military experience, but it was all fairly heartwarming nonetheless. Should the general election come down to which candidate has the more inspiring hard-luck tale, Trump will be at a disadvantage.
Trump is quite unapologetic about being born into opulent wealth, and clearly revels in his whiteness and maleness and heterosexuality and enjoys whatever privileges that might confer. He grew up in Queens rather than Manhattan, which still seems to rankle, but lived in the fanciest house in the less fancy borough.
His father was by most accounts a cold and ruthless man who withheld affection and praise from his children, but Trump can’t hold that against anyone. The old man sent him off to one of those strict military schools where incorrigible rich kids wind up, but Trump boasts of having been the big man on campus. He had to suffer the indignity of a year at relatively downscale Fordham University before the old man got him into the University of Pennsylvania, but he just leaves that unmentioned. At some point Trump suffered from bone spurs, which kept him out of military service during the Vietnam war but don’t seem to have interfered with his golfing and nightclubbing.
Trump is by no means America’s first plutocrat president, but he is the first to flaunt it so brazenly. The Adamses and Roosevelts and Kennedys came from old money and elite educations, but they had also inherited an understated gentility and a deeply felt sense of noblesse oblige that Trump never acquired in Queens. On the contrary, Trump flouts such old-fashioned business and prefers street-level vulgarity and unabashed self-promotion
Interestingly, it seems to to have endeared him to a large segment of the proletariat, which regards him as a “blue collar billionaire.” They prefer it to the perceived condescension of past wealthy politicians, and share Trump’s seething resentment of the most well-mannered upper class, and appreciate the way he appalls all the right people. We also suspect that although they can’t identify with Trump’s much bragged about billions, they can vicariously enjoy the way he spends it on golf outings and private jets and porn stars rather than boring tea parties in the Hamptons. A lot of Trump fans figure he’s just like them, or at least like they would be if they had his money.
Trump is also selling the idea that he was born with the Midas touch, and that his alpha male “bigliness” has always made him impervious to any adversity, so America should be grateful to ride along on his predestined path to greatness, which is arguably more compelling than being a former school teacher or having had to endure poverty or prejudice. The same sales pitch got people to invest in his casinos and airlines and professional football teams, and to enroll in Trump University, and if the economy stops slowing by the next election day it might work yet again.

— Bud Norman

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