By Tom Ehrich
Now we hear that Donald Trump’s first year as a presidential candidate has been just an act. He has been playing a part. Now he’s going to soften that display of bullying, bigotry and rash pronouncements. A new and less offensive act is coming.
That’s what actors do. Within the limits of their acting abilities, they morph from action hero to lost-soul lover to comedian. Beetlejuice becomes Batman becomes Birdman becomes crusading newspaper editor. Sophie becomes Karen becomes Amanda becomes Margaret. If they’re good, the audience goes along with whatever the script writers intended. We pay our money and go home feeling entertained.
The ability to change personas and roles is less attractive when it comes to politicians. We want them to stand for something and to have a core identity that we can examine and find resonant or repellant. It would be foolish for us to expect perfect consistency from politicians. They should be able to change their minds as circumstances and needs change. But taking off one mask and putting on another are unsavory behaviors and dangerous.
Which is the real Donald? The ranting bigot who taught his followers to salute him in a manner reminiscent of Hitler? The insecure narcissist who considered penis size worthy of debate? The failed businessman who insists he was successful? The bully who urged followers to beat protesters?
Or is the new Donald the real Donald? The one who is getting cozy with the GOP establishment and promising to run a closer-to-normal campaign if nominated?
The actor changing characters invites some questions. One, clearly, is whether there is a “real Donald” in there, or just an opportunist who will say anything to get attention. That’s the shapeshifting that parents worry about with insecure adolescents. In trying to win acceptance, they can forget who they are.
Another question: who is writing the script. Up to now Trump has seemed to be winging it, saying whatever came to mind. Not, it seems, mouthing the Koch Brothers’ ugly vision. But the Kochs have the money, and if Trump is playing nice with the party pros, that could mean he will soon be beholden to the odious Kochs.
A third question is for us the voters: we need to weigh our need to be entertained against our duties as citizens. And we need to consider national leaders whose vision begins and ends with our prejudices, anger and fears. A democracy needs responsive leaders who gauge the needs of people. It doesn’t benefit from leaders who figure they can sell anything to us because people are too stupid to care about reality or about their actual interests.
Huge ad buys will accompany the final stretch in this campaign for President. Ads will try to make us forget every horrible thing Trump said along the way to getting nominated (as I am assuming will happen.) Because we cannot bear the thought of a monster in the Oval Office, we will forget that for a year he was behaving like a monster. This instant amnesia works in cinema, but should concern us all in real life.