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The Donald Trump Phenomenon

“Unlike the Europeans, Americans have never hated the rich, only envied them.”—Gore Vidal

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign; no more water, but the fire next time.”—from Mary, Don’t You Weep, a pre-Civil War gospel song

There was a sociology experiment conducted some years ago to illustrate “class distinctions.” Of course, it’s always been a matter of faith that we egalitarian Americans, unlike our snooty British cousins with their monarchs and powdered wigs, take pride in being a “classless” society. While that makes for a tidy, self-aggrandizing fable, we all know it’s not true.

This was the experiment. Using two cars as props—one a shiny new Cadillac, the other an old, rusted-out Ford station wagon with chrome missing, and a broken taillight—they measured the amount of time it took for a driver to begin honking at the car in front of them when the traffic light turned green.

The results were revealing but not surprising. The experimenters found that the overwhelming majority of drivers began honking at the “poor” car almost immediately. Indeed, only a few seconds elapsed before the drivers began honking impatiently at the beat-up Ford. By contrast, the motorists waited, on average, more than twice as long before politely honking at the “rich” car.

Here’s another experiment, this one a bit more open to interpretation. The venue was an informal real estate seminar. After lecturing the class (approximately 30 students) for an hour, the seminar leader passed out a quiz, and asked the class to answer the questions as best they could. She urged them not to look up the answers in their booklets, and then left the room.

During these seminars, two male students were used as props. They stood out from the rest of the class by (1) sitting in the front row, visible to all, and (2) by asking questions. In Scenario A, the student doing the asking was poorly dressed, poorly groomed, coarse, and inarticulate. In Scenario B, the student was well-groomed, well-dressed (he wore a coat and tie), handsome, and exceedingly well-spoken.

Both of the student “props” were instructed to begin leafing through the booklet, searching for answers, the moment the seminar leader left the room. The experimenters were curious to know which student, A or B, exerted the most influence on his classmates.

Again, the results were revealing but not entirely surprising. Whenever the unkempt Student A began openly “cheating,” two or three other students could be depended upon to follow suit. The results were consistent. Two or three others would began cheating soon after they saw him do it.

But when the “refined” Student B, opened his booklet and began hunting for answers, six or seven others invariably did the same thing. The results were consistent. More than twice as many students were persuaded to cheat when they saw it being done by someone they “respected.”

Granted, it’s a flimsy premise, but I think the argument can be made that the dynamics illustrated in the preceding experiments go a long way toward explaining how Donald Trump got elected president. In a word, we tend to “respect” the wrong people.

An acquaintance of mine, an executive with a Fortune 200 company, told me that the reason he was voting for Trump was because Trump was so rich and independent, “he didn’t have to answer to anyone.” By “anyone” it was clear he meant special interest groups, the very groups that have, in his view, resulted in the paralyzing political gridlock we now witness.

Perhaps thinking it would help us grow closer together as men, he resorted to crude locker room language. He said that Donald Trump possessed what is referred to as “fuck you” money, which is to say, Trump is so wealthy and independent and macho, he can say, “Fuck you” to any person, organization, or country, and get away with it. While I recoiled in disgust, this fellow seemed filled with envy at the prospect of that.

Although I haven’t seen him since the election, I’d be curious to know where he stands today. I can understand why some naïve individual—someone unfamiliar with Trump’s bullying, lying, and near pathological insecurity—might choose to vote for a “political outsider,” but it’s hard to fathom how anyone could continue to support this pathetic man-child, now that we’ve seen him in action.

Maybe it’s time we acknowledge the obvious. Maybe it’s time we acknowledge the fact that the people whom Trump is habitually addressing with his signature, “Fuck you” is us. It’s the American public. Not only is it us, but we were his intended target all along. And viewed solely on the basis of “degree of difficulty,” it has been a classic takedown.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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