Sunday, September 18, 2016

Why It Might Not Be Wise to Portray Trump as a Con Man

Hillary Clinton has been running an anti-Trump ad that shows one of the many people Trump has stiffed.  This one was an architect who designed one of his club houses.  First a bunch of Trump people ganged up and refused to pay more than a third of bill.  So he sent a bill for that amount, but Trump again refused to pay more than half.  He complained that Trump thinks he can only win by making the other guy lose.  The sub-text here is clear -- Trump is not on the side of the little guy, and he doesn't keep his promises.

There's just one problem with the ad.  I don't think it will hurt Trump with people inclined to favor him.  Why not?  Because supporters are apt to see another subtext.  Trump drives a hard bargain, and he wins.  The other guy knuckled under.  That is just the sort of person they want for a leader.

You see, Trump supporters are the sort of people who think in terms of Us and Them.  And not just that but people who think it is immoral to give any ethical consideration to Them because it means a lack of commitment to Us.  So who are They?  Well, foreign countries, clearly.  And illegal immigrants.  Muslims.  Those liberal elitists who look down on the white working class.  And the Republican leadership who sold out to the Democrats.  And probably others, too.  In fact, it is best to be a bit vague on who they are because it allows each listener to fill in the blanks for himself.  Basically They are anyone who is not one of Us.  It is pointless to worry about distinctions among Them like the difference between Mexicans and Arabs, Muslims and atheists, Communists, socialists, and fascists, because the mere fact that you are parsing such fine distinctions among Them is proof enough that you aren't one of Us.

And then consider how this looks to someone who thinks They have no ethics whatever and have been taking unfair advantage of Us for a long time, at least since Obama has been President.  Again, it doesn't matter whether They are China selling cheap goods, Mexico sending in illegal immigrant, Iran making a nuclear deal or allies not paying their fair share.  Nor does it matter whether They are Democrats who always seem to get their way in government showdowns or the Republican leadership that keeps caving, illegal immigrants stealing US jobs or black people crying racism whenever they don't get their way.  Nor does it matter whether these perceptions are factually accurate.  The point is, you want someone who knows how to fight dirty to champion Us against Them.  And who could be a better champion than a man who first tricked some sucker into accepting a third of the payment he proposed and then chiseled that down to half.  Now there is someone who could stand up for Us and give Them a taste of their own medicine.

All right, you may say, and it is understandable if people applaud when Trump stiffs the banks and other high rollers who really are Them and really do deserve it to some degree.  But this architect is the little guy Trump claims to champion.  Isn't he one of Us?

To this I assume most Trump supporters would agree that, okay, Trump was kind of unethical with this guy, and he really shouldn't have done it, but just think what those skills will look like when deployed against our enemies.  Or, put otherwise, there is no reason to believe that the architect is one of Them, but neither has he quite established sufficient credentials as one of Us to have any special claim on our sympathies.  This was, after all, simply an arm's length business deal and not something that gives the architect any special claim on Trump's loyalty.  Or maybe we should use more chilling language -- it wasn't personal strictly business.  If you want to make Trump supporters outraged about their hero's lousy ethics, you have to make it personal.  Instead of Trump is an unethical businessman, the subtext has to be, Trump is a sociopath with no loyalties to his supporters.

That's why I think this story would have a lot more legs than the architect.  This was the story of a kid band that sang songs like, Deal from strength or get crushed every time.”  The band and their adult manager were faithful Trump supporters who played at one of his rallies. Naturally he showed his gratitude by failing to pay them.  It wasn't a large amount, only $2,500, but presumably that is a lot more money to a kiddie band than to Donald Trump.  Instead he offered to allow them to make up the money by giving them a free table to sell their CD's.  Of course, he didn't keep that bargain either, although it would not have cost him any more than a little space at his event.  And when they failed to learn their lesson and foolishly agreed to fly to Iowa to play at another rally, Trump wouldn't even reimburse their travel costs.

So how is this different from the architect story?  Obviously both are about Trump chiseling the little guy.  But I see two differences.  One is that here Trump is cheating children, and mistreatment of children trips a lot of triggers.*

The other is that these aren't just some random guy he is dealing with at arm's length.  These are supporters who went all out for Trump and got the shaft.  They have clearly established themselves as belonging to Us (i.e., Trump supporters), but he treated Us just as badly as he promises to treat Them. It needs a bit more subtext, but that basic point is that it isn't just Them that Trump plays for suckers. He is trying to play Us for suckers too.

*Something similar occurred to me when Trump joked that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn't hurt his support.  My comment at the time was that he probably could get away with shooting a person, but if he was ever caught strangling kittens that would be the end.  And just to make clear, I have no evidence whatever that Trump strangles kittens.


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