Deacon Ian Punnett –
As any reader of this column could tell you (are there any readers of this column?), over the last year I have struggled to understand how to contextualize Donald Trump’s treatment of Muslims, his unrealistic campaign promises, and his abuse of religion (even mine). Every time I think I have made a kind of breakthrough, I remain unsatisfied that I have explained adequately this weird effect that Trump has on otherwise intelligent people. I swear, if Trump claimed that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were practicing necromancy and raising Muslims from the dead to form an Islamic Zombie Army in a secret lab underneath the Lincoln Memorial, there would be a hundred people posting angry messages at me for not believing it.
A smart man—which apparently I am not—would simply despair of any further attempts to deconstruct Trump. Instead, I am going to give it one more try.
In my final analysis (for now), I believe that the true core of Trump’s disparaging remarks about Muslims, American Muslim servicemen who sacrificed their lives for our country, the parents of American patriots who happen to be Muslim, as well as President Obama for being the founder of ISIS, is not rooted in racism, or perhaps even bigotry, just good ol’ fashioned cynicism.
Does Trump truly believe everything he says? I honestly do not think he does. I also do not think he cares—and that’s the cynical part. Trump does not care if hurtful, even slanderous comments are true, as long as it achieves whatever his fleeting goal is at that moment. Trump is motivated only by self-interest—he’s the only one that matters. If being the most inclusive, Muslim-hugging guy would have gotten him elected to the presidency, I think Trump would have ended every campaign stop by shouting, “Allahu Akbar!”
Rather, influenced by his years of being a “heel” in professional wrestling, throwing insults and chairs all the way to his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame (where he was booed off the stage during his acceptance speech), and seeing how his brainier attempt at presidential politics as a would-be Reform Party candidate in 2000 was also received poorly, Trump cynically decided to go lower than low.
That’s the hit-and-run Trump of 2016, the man who told CNBC that despite how badly he is doing in the polls after attacking the Khan family, “I just keep doing the same thing I’m doing right now. And if at the end of 90 days, I’ve fallen short … it’s OK. I go back to a very good way of life. At the end it’s either going to work or I’m going to have a very, very, nice long vacation.”
No apologies, no accountability for all the damage he’s done, just a cynical man who could not care less about the outcome of his mess because his life is going to be good either way. If Trump wins, his fans will believe it was a fair election. If Trump loses, the system was rigged. It’s because cynicism is contagious that otherwise smart people start saying the dumbest things.
This frames the real battle for me. It’s not Republican vs. Democrat, Christian vs. Muslim, White vs. Non-white, it’s Cynicism vs. Wisdom. Cynicism always wants to pass itself off as wisdom. Truly wise people know the difference.