Posted by Thomas J. Hubschman
If I see one more posting on my Facebook page of a painting or photograph of Barack Obama in a blue, gray, tan or no suit all looking like an ad out of Gentleman’s Quarterly, I might “phrow up.”
That venue, GQ, would be appropriate. Obama is seen by his fans as the Very Model of a Gentleman. He is dignified, well-spoken, well-dressed, well-mannered, good-looking and neither more nor less intelligent than a gentleman should be. In other words, he is not Donald Trump.
Never mind what kind of president Obama actually was: his capitulation to Wall Street even before he took office and his abandonment of millions of stressed American home-owners, his ratcheting up of a war in Afghanistan even as he was being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, his deportation of more than 2.5 million immigrants, his Tuesday drone strikes that killed nine bystanders for every alleged terrorist targeted, his neglect of African Americans, etc. He looked like a president. He spoke like one, better than anyone since John F. Kennedy. He was respected and even loved by other heads of state with the exception of Vladimir Putin. If being the leader of a great nation is about looks and eloquence, he can’t be beat.
Contrast that with the current occupant of the White House. Donald J. Trump is inarticulate to the point of idiocy, unsightly, mean (read his tweets), ignorant of even basic matters any minimally-informed citizen is aware of, vulgar, vain and egomaniacal to a degree someone less well-heeled might be institutionalized for. And that’s leaving out his appalling history of sexual predation (did I mention Obama’s squeaky-clean record on that account at least since his college days?).
How could anyone but someone who is delusional support, never mind be happy to have, someone like Donald Trump for president?
But, leaving aside that both Obama and Trump serve the interests of big money, the difference between them is mainly in style and personality.
Obama is in the mould of the charismatic politician writ large. He’s slicker and smoother than Clinton and Bush Senior, smarter than W and Reagan, but fundamentally the same, a political creature begat from and existing in a political environment. His morality is that of politics, not the world of trade and finance, though he served both. A politician like him may be corrupt, but he knows how to appear not to be and to stop short of behavior which might cost him his job.
Trump is a businessman. His morality is a businessman’s. That’s why he exposes himself so flagrantly to criticism and derision as a public official. In his world, the world of business, it is moral to bribe and return favor for favor. A businessman need not be acting cynically if he does a deal that, from an outsider’s point of view, involves threats and extortion, just as a politician can sincerely believe s/he is acting in the public interest if s/he engages in behavior that involves compromise, horse-trading, pork-barreling and daily lies to the public. The businessman justifies himself on the grounds of “that’s business,” the politician with “that’s how politics works.”
When I was a civil servant I was offered what amounted to an illegal gratuity on two occasions. In neither instance was the person offering the benefit (a free meal, a pair of shoes) aware that she or he was doing anything inappropriate. In the ordinary course of doing my job I had inadvertently made their own job or personal life a little easier. The proper etiquette in their eyes was to show appreciation, and in both cases it would have been out of their own pockets. What amounted to a crime under the law was to them the done, i.e. moral, thing. It would have been wrong, as they saw it, not to respond with a tangible token of their appreciation.
But business morality becomes problematic when it gets transferred to a political environment. Business, certainly big business, is feudal. The king reigns, everyone else takes orders. If he is king, he is by definition always right by the grace of God. Trump is used to that kind of environment and still thinks within it. He hires and fires as if he were sitting in his office in Trump Tower. He doesn’t feel any need to care about the good or bad impression he makes. His object is to win, make the deal, come out on top ahead of the competition. And winning is not just good, it justifies the winner (think war). Business people believe this as sincerely as any cleric does the validity of his or her faith. So do most heads of crime families.
But what Trump-haters I know actually object to is his personal style, not his policies, which are not all that different from the administration’s that preceded his. It’s his lack of “class”that infuriates them. He acts and talks like the sort of people they try avoid having for neighbors. They love Obama because he would not be an embarrassment at their dinner party, would in fact be the making of it. The atrocities and false promises Obama was guilty of don’t enter into the picture. Appearance is what matters. Trump is killing Americans by the thousands with his cuts to the social safety net and his failure to prepare for or deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not his incompetence or even his lack of common decency that irks Trump-haters. It’s because he represents everything they find distasteful, especially about the lower classes.
In ancient Greece, as in modern Great Britain, manual labor was incompatible with gentility. No Greek who worked with his hands, even if he was the sculptor Phidias, could be considered a gentleman. Likewise, no member of the gentry in England wants their child to marry someone in “trade” (though many have, for the money). A similar snobbery is at work with Trump-haters, though they seem unconscious of it.
My Trump-hater friends’ willingness to embrace Joe Biden, knowing or caring nothing about what he has stood for or is likely to do as president, is the measure of how far they are willing to go to rid themselves of the orange buffoon. To do that they seem willing to suspend not just their judgment but their rationality. I too would like to see the back of Trump, but not to replace him with whatever is at hand and guarantee more of the same with different optics. I’d rather a slob who does the right thing than a gentleman who doesn’t have a clue to what the right thing is or care. Alas, I’m not going to get either.