What if Trump Did That?

We’ve been asking the question the wrong way.


The meme is as cliched as it is necessary.

What if Obama did that? What if Clinton did that?

What if either had trafficked, as Trump had done (and does), in treason, perfidy, incompetence, nepotism, emoluments, and other crimes, big and small, against nature, the nation, not to mention the endless, incomprehensible, grammatically-challenged, thin-skinned tweeting?

What would have happened?

We know.

Back before Nov. 8, 2016, we assumed —  okay, hoped  —  our president would bring a wisdom, a lawfulness, an innate genius to the White House, would comport himself accordingly, would … read.

Instead we elected a UFC ring announcer as commander in chief.

In 2015, President Obama went to Iowa. While there, he went to see author Marilynne Robinson (Gilead) at Iowa State University. He did so, he said, to spend time with someone he admired — a writer. He wanted to talk to her about her books, yes, but also about the free flow of ideas and the magic of libraries, about faith and its limits, about fear and anxiety. He wanted to talk about America.

“There’s all this goodness and decency and common sense on the ground, and somehow it gets translated into rigid, dogmatic, often mean-spirited politics. And some of it has to do with all the filters that stand between ordinary people who are busy and running around trying to look after their kids and do a good job and do all the things that maintain a community, so they don’t have the chance to follow the details of complicated policy debates.”

He had more questions than answers.

Chronicled in two parts in the New York Review of Books, the conversation is not rushed, not formulaic, not fawning. The president, in fact, does most of the asking.

“Marilynne, it’s wonderful to see you. And as I said as we were driving over here, this is an experiment, because typically when I come to a place like Des Moines, I immediately am rushed over to some political event and I make a speech, or I have a town hall, or I go see some factory and have wonderful conversations with people. But it’s very planned out and scripted. And typically, we’re trying to drive a very particular message that day about education or about manufacturing. But one of the things that I don’t get a chance to do as often as I’d like is just to have a conversation with somebody who I enjoy and I’m interested in; to hear from them and have a conversation with them about some of the broader cultural forces that shape our democracy and shape our ideas, and shape how we feel about citizenship and the direction that the country should be going in.”

Why bring up this 2015 interview now?

Because Donald Trump has no such approach to life — or governance. Rather than being awed by the things he doesn’t understand, he blames them, discounts them, ignores them, or claims special powers over them. Can you imagine him going to talk to a writer about books  —  imagine him with a book  —  and asking about culture and direction and national mood, instead of barking about them? Can you imagine him trying to understand, to appreciate, to respect the 65,844,610 who didn’t vote for him? Can you imagine him trying to deconstruct the new 21st Century paradigm, not only for himself, but for the country?

Here Obama was trying to understand those forces in America — many of them deep, dark ones, ones after him, ones blaming him, ones hanging him in effigy.

“Well, now there’s been that strain in our democracy and in American politics for a long time. And it pops up every so often. I think the argument right now would be that because people are feeling the stresses of globalization and rapid change, and we went through one of the worst financial crises since the Great Depression, and the political system seems gridlocked, that people may be particularly receptive to that brand of politics.”

And then there’s this

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?” Trump said at a rally, drawing cheers and laughter. “Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell  —  I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.

That’s the president, too, but it was Trump’s take on the disharmony.

What was remarkable about Obama’s talk with Robinson wasn’t so much the insights  —  there are no real takeaways, unless you count decency and humility and respect for art and artists  —  but it was the showing up, the desire for discourse, the coming to a topic with curiosity, not certainty, just to talk.

When you think about your books and you think about your faith and you think about your citizenship as an American, when do you feel most optimistic? What makes you think, you know what, this experiment is going to keep going, I feel encouraged?

And listen to a voice other than his own.

What if Trump did that?

Barry Friedman is a comedian in Tulsa, Okla., and blogs at FriedmanOfThePlains.com.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2017


Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652