When I was a child my mother called bad behavior “ugly.” The word can imply bad appearance, but she usually meant improper conduct (mine). On January 20, 2016 Donald Trump’s inaugural speech portrayed an America of disorder, shambles, and ruination. To me, his dystopian reference conveyed ugliness of the physical kind, like unsightly streets, dirty factories, run-down schools, and deteriorating public buildings. But as his presidency unfolded, Trump’s most obvious influence was not on unsafe dams and bridges, urban rot, and decay of roadways, the carnage I thought he criticized.
He might have had a better record if he’d really known how to diagnose and “drain the swamp,” “hire only the best people,” realize he might not actually “know more than the generals,” and prepare national leadership for unlikely but catastrophic possibilities. Trump’s failures are shockingly obvious unless you’ve years ago decided he is god’s anointed, therefore must be believed and protected . . . as do large segments of evangelical Christianity, Republican officials, and Republicans in general (minus those millions who at long last traded their veneration for reality).
Leaders can have another kind of success or failure—in role modelling rather than in material job performance. (Performance failure and modelling failure are not so distinctly separated as that suggests. But perfect dissimilarity is not required to discuss the differences.) In a democracy, for example, it is not enough for a leader to produce economic satisfaction, military preparedness, and trains running on time. There’s a vacuity if he or she is not also trustworthy, considerate, encouraging, and altruistic in character. These are not specific products or achievements, and perhaps not easily calibrated. But without them, no matter the objective achievements of a leader, a soulless gap is left, one only addressed by the earnest touch of an authentic human sensitive to the needs and feelings of others.
This post differs from others I’ve written, my having chosen to emphasize Trump’s incompetence, totalitarian ambitions, and the reckless damage he’s wrought. His “l’état, c’est moi” narcissism motivates his attempts not to lead the United States, so much as to be the United States. Note how often he equates America and Trump. It is no wonder that he brings out the worst in us, not our best. The result is a country wherein otherwise miniscule amounts of undesirable characteristics—for we all have some—are incited and roused. America has become a harsher, cruder, coarser country. We are less inclined to respect each other, more able to countenance mistreatment of children at our southern border, and unconcerned by bullying a small country that trusted us to assist its growth of democracy. He has criticized female lawmakers’ appearance, regularly ‘punches down’ against persons of less power, rants at journalists for simply doing their jobs, unilaterally discards Inspectors General. He has not only botched Americans’ Coronavirus-19 response, throwing all responsibility on others, but due to his malfeasance wantonly caused deaths.
I’m sure my late mother’s words would not have come to mind if Trump had turned out to be kind, thoughtful, honest, and competent. But his personality, conduct, and character are simply ugly. His unkindness, cheating, mocking, and bullying have become increasingly vile. His endless self-references hijack any conversation ostensibly about national issues. He was and remains an unpleasant person, a dreadful role model though it seems he doesn’t understand other-directed responsibility. He’s well versed in “look at me,” though “how are you?” is useful only for redirection to the former. He is ugly in both ways my mother meant. We the electorate made the egregious error in 2016 of entrusting a person with such odious features with the highest position in the land.
Donald Trump is an ugly man and an ugly president . . . without commitment to America or Americans or worldwide humanity, without thoughtfulness, without character, without ethics, without integrity, without empathy, without decency, and without honor. And perhaps most toxic, these attributes are spreading across America like a virus.