I can tell something bothers me when I wake up thinking about it. That happened after the first presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
An article the day after the debate that appeared in the “Christian Science Monitor” helped me clarify my concern. Written by Peter Grier, it was entitled, “The Roots of Donald Trump’s Anti-Intellectualism.” Clinton had irritated Trump by noting that 50 Republican national security experts considered Trump to be unfit to be president.
Trump retorted that he had been endorsed by the border patrol union and “over 200” generals and admirals. He blamed the experts for putting us in the mess we have been in for the last 10 years (That would have included much of George W. Bush’s second term.)
Trump is uninterested in details, trusting his instincts to make decisions rather than reason, facts and expert advice. His less-informed position and freewheeling style strongly contrasted with Clinton’s careful preparation and carefully controlled responses during the debate. Dealing with details and having plans and goals are very much part of Clinton’s way of processing information.
It seems we are in a repeating cycle. George W. Bush made many important decisions by “listening to his gut.” The American public reacted to his approach by electing a deep-thinking college professor, Barack Obama. Obama’s approach has been largely logical, thoughtful and cautious for the past 7.5 years. Many voters who support Republicans are tired of Obama’s style and are searching for a major change.
Now, in 2016, it appears that many Americans are yearning for a president more like them – not cerebral like Obama, but someone who has proven himself through his business successes that he can adapt and learn. Indeed, most Americans are not intellectuals. Only 39 percent of the population between 25 and 64 have two- and four-year degrees, according to Grier.
Trump’s distrust of experts has some validity. All one has to do is to examine the Vietnam War debacle and the causes for the 2008 economic meltdown. As Trump stated, experts often “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Trust of government and establishment institutions, which include Congress, the military and the media, is at an all-time low according to Grier, dropping from 38 percent in 2007 to 32 percent today.
Trump touts his business acumen and successes as proof that he will be a successful president. His belief, like many who have never served in political office, is that government can be “run like a business.”
As Hillary Clinton, with 30 years of governmental experience, clearly pointed out, government is not like business. It has different goals – to serve and to protect its citizens, not to make a profit. That is a major fallacy in Trump’s thinking due to his lack of experience in government.
The founders of the Constitution instituted checks and balances to protect us from ourselves. By its very structure, government was designed to be plodding, convoluted and inefficient, pitting diverging interests and views against each other in the hope that the selfish, the self-serving and the greedy would butt heads with each other. Out of these conflicts would arise compromise, which would be good for the nation as a whole.
Largely, this structure has kept us strong and adaptable as a nation in the past.
Hopefully, no matter who gets elected in November, the Constitution’s safeguards will protect us: the candidate who acts according to his/her instincts, or the candidate who is careful, concerned about details and well prepared.
It could be, though, that I am wrong. We live in a different age than that of our founders who created the Constitution. Today, the president holds the power of life and death of the entire world at his/her fingertips. A president could make the wrong choice, dooming us all to destruction. That is what wakes me up in the middle of the night, with concerns that the American voters, in their frustration and loss of faith in their institutions, will make the wrong choice.