Maybe all you need to know of Donald Trump is that in 1989 and 1990 he promoted a top level professional bike race in the mid-Atlantic that he named after himself: The Tour de Trump.
It's like he's almost cool. Almost hip. Almost progressive. Almost visionary. He does things. Big things. But he does them his way. To promote himself. On a whim. He's a kind of 20th century Greek god--powerful, arrogant, capable, entitled, and unpredictable.
The Greek's gods wasted nearly no opportunity to showcase their dispassionate disregard for the welfare of humanity, but still the Greeks worshiped them. As do Trump's supporters him, it would seem.
His motto, "Make America Great Again," at first confused me. When was America the great that he wants it again to be, I asked. But I think I get it now.
It's not about objective change. It's not about things actually being different in some meaningful way. It's about how we think about America. It's about how we cheer for America. It's about not entertaining doubts of America's exceptionalism because (of course, duh!) AMERICA IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY EVER WITHOUT QUESTION OR QUALIFICATION!!!
It's really not "Make America Great" at all. It is "Make America The Greatest."
The leadership Trump sells, and the leadership his supporters seem to long for, is the leadership of demagoguery. And I'm not using the word here as a pejorative, that's actually what they want. They want to be led by "greatness," and to therefore be great. No irony. No qualification. No having to think about it. Nuance? Reflection? Of course there's no place for that sort of thing. To reflect (on anything) is to entertain doubt. And to doubt is to suggest the possibility of uncertainty. And Trump is certain. Certain that everything he does or has ever done or will ever do is right and because he wanted it to be that way. That sort of confidence and swagger--who cares if it's misplaced or not, that's hardly the point--is what his supporters want. They long for it. Pine for it. It's their prescription opioid of choice.
It's watching the Olympic games and being absolutely certain that the American athletes are the superior athletes. It's counting medals at the end when the USA tally is twice that of all other countries, combined, and feeling confidently satisfied that all is right in the world, that it couldn't be any other way.
It's doe-eyed pondering on America's military record and creating a narrative of absolute American dominance. We are the greatest. Physically, technologically, and in any other way that's relevant. (If we "lost" a war, it was because of "stupid" people, somewhere, gumming up the works, preventing America from being the greatness that it would obviously be otherwise.)
So why is the America Trump is selling The Greatest? It's economy? It's military? It's history? It's political system? It's people?
No, it's none of that.
To Trump, America is The Greatest because he is American. It's that simple. And to Trump's supporters, America should be the Greatest because they are American.
There are fancy words for this. Egocentricism. Jingoism. But fancy words aren't needed. It's maybe best understood as grade school swagger. It's being one of the kids the coolest kid in your grade doesn't make fun of. That's what Trump's selling. It's the euphoria of jumping up and down in the stands with a throng of others, each with their index finger up and passionately shouting, "We're number one! We're number one!" when you're halfway down the league standings. But league standings are an objective measure of excellence, and in Trump's world the objective has no place.
People love Trump because Trump is a believer. He believes he is great therefore he is. And when he says America is great, the people will also believe.
I mean, really, is it any wonder a guy like that is so popular? It shouldn't be. Americans are arrogant little weeniers. Looking good is better than being good. Feeling is better than thinking. After all, over 50 percent of the ones that vote think a meme like this pretty much sums up what qualifies one to the presidency.
So, again, is it any wonder a crazy rich guy with an impossibly beautiful wife and an I-can-do-anything, just-try-to-stop-me attitude toward life is a popular presidential candidate?