Trump, Chauncey Gardiner, And America’s Accidental Presidency
The Trump phenomenon is a curious example of the village idiot who would be king, being propped up by a system that needs him to succeed in order to survive.
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Part of a series of articles on the recent Trump rally in Wildwood, NJ on Jan 28, 2020
In the 1979 comedy “Being There”, Chance is a simple-minded gardener who has lived his whole life protected inside the walls of a wealthy man’s estate. Upon the death of his benefactor, Chance leaves the house for first time in his life, meets Eve, the wife of a powerful man and advisor to the President, and tells her his name is “Chance, the gardener,” which she mishears as Chauncey Gardiner. All Chance knows is gardening, and whatever he sees on television, but throughout the film, everyone mistakes his simple references and empty mind for deep insight and cunning ideas. By the end of the film, the political leaders of the country discuss making Chauncey Gardiner the next President of the United States, as he wanders off and walks across a lake, literally walking on water, simply because he doesn’t know that he can’t.
Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States came to the small, seaside resort town of Wildwood, New Jersey on Tuesday and was met by 10,000 adoring fans, some of whom slept outside in the freezing cold then waited in line all day, just for a chance to be in his presence and say they were there.
Walking among them, it was hard to fathom how all these people could be so enthralled with a man who boasts no recognizable oratory skills, business or political acumen or even basic leadership prowess. His critics see a willfully-ignorant buffoon who appears incapable of understanding the complexity of the office he never expected to hold, and unwilling to even try. He prefers watching television to reading, fast food over gourmet cuisine, and shiny objects over substance. It has been said that he is a poor man’s idea of a rich man, an idiot’s idea of a genius, and a weak man’s idea of a powerful one.
The fact is, that Donald Trump is currently walking across that lake as the world watches, oblivious to the reality of the world around him, perfectly happy to believe he is where he is, because of his own prowess and superior intellect. He is literally too ignorant to understand what he doesn’t know, and has reasoned that only a man of great intellect could have achieved all that he has done, oblivious to the political and cultural systems that are keeping him in power.
Trump deserves zero credit for his success, from his many business failings including bankrupting casinos—a business model that practically prints money, to his disastrous policies that have decimated the lives of many of the very people who adore him. So how did so many people delude themselves into this mass hallucination that is the Trump phenomenon we see today?
They answer, is that they needed a hero, and so they made one in their own image, to suit their own needs. Trump is a figment of their imagination.
His supporters wanted someone who shared their fears of the world around them—of losing power, prestige and respect. They found in him a leader who was to too ignorant to be afraid of the dangers surrounding him, so he appeared confident and sure. They hired a man who failed at nearly everything he has ever done, yet who believes he is a shrewd negotiator and a savvy businessman. They elected a leader who desires to be a king but acts like the court jester. They promoted one of their own, and were absolutely delighted when he broke into the most powerful office in the land, and started wrecking the joint.
The improbable election of Donald Trump says more about how misguided and uneducated the electorate are about complex issues of government and foreign policy, than it does about any prowess they might believe he possesses.
His most ardent followers fantasize that he is not lumpy and obese, but rather muscular and powerful. They imagine that he is playing a next level chess game, when in fact he is failing at checkers. They see the television star who marries models, fucks porn stars, and thumbs his nose at anyone who says you can’t do that. To them, he’s doing everything they would do, if only someone would give them a chance. He’s like the poor schlub who wins the lottery and wonders why the people at the country club don’t respect him when he shows up still wearing overalls and a cheap trucker hat.
All the while, Republican leaders and powerful business interests, who certainly know better, ignore his moral and ethical failings, his complete lack of aptitude for his job, and distain for the office he holds, and continue to support him because they see in him, a useful idiot that will help them dismantle the institutions that impede their greed, and reverse the policies that keep them from robbing the public coffers. They install friendly judges, line their pockets, and subvert democracy in order to keep themselves in power.
This might all seem as though it is being suggested that all his supporters have been duped. While that may certainly be true, it’s far more complicated than that and deserves a deeper understanding of why they continue to support him.
Walking around the various parking lots chocked full of his supporters in Wildwood, the boardwalk full of vendors selling merchandise, and the streets lined with people, you didn’t see desperation or fear, what you saw beneath the red hats, branded scarves and American flags, was pride and a sense of community. They were all there together in person, as well as in spirit. This is why disaffected youth join gangs—to feel safe, protected and part of something bigger than themselves. He may be a bully, but he is their bully.
This is why they cling so tightly to him. He is a talisman of hope for them. A symbol that they have not been forgotten. That all is not hopeless. That they have someone in power that speaks for them. That even though they are not the elite, they have one of their own at the table.
You may find Donald Trump vile, and he has done plenty to deserve that distinction, and certainly, many of his supporters are racist, misogynist, fearful bigots, but you should recognize that many of his supporters are not, and simply believe that while he may be a flawed hero, he is their hero and when he is attacked, they feel that they too are attacked. They see liberals as elitist intellectuals who look down on them and their hero, and relish the idea of Trump sticking it to the Democrats, again and again, even when they are being hurt as well. Better to burn it all down, then to let those smug snowflakes win.
And so there he was, right here in South Jersey, at the beach in Wildwood, with his long, red tie, ill-fitting suit, spray tan and died combover—a corrupt Forrest Gump, smiling and calling out his enemies using schoolyard taunts and grade school grammar.
And they cheered him on, not because he is great, and not because he is wise, and not because he is good, but because he is one of their own.
You can follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard