I met Donald Trump—a long time ago, before he polluted American politics, before his ego willed him to plaster his face on our TVs, even before his skin turned that inviting orange hue. I met him before he was “The Donald.” It was only a year after Trump Plaza had filed chapter 11 bankruptcy, and two years after Trump Taj Mahal did the same. I was only a day old. On Oct. 13, 1993, Trump’s second wife, actress Marla Maples gave birth to one of his daughters, Tiffany, at St. Mary’s Medical Center, West Palm Beach Fla. I was at the very same hospital being born myself.
It is easy to write off Trump as a narcissist, as a bully or a fool, but it is harder to write off his poll numbers. A surprising number of Americans have resonated with his message, and no matter how many more balk at the idea of him taking office, they shouldn’t ignore the reasons why so many in the nation consider voting for him. Right now Trump is being talked about more than ever, a positive for him. In Trump’s mind, there is no difference between fame and infamy. And why should there be to someone who can rewrite their own history, revising their faults and failures into successes?
As my dad was walking through the hospital carrying me in a swaddle, Trump came down the hall and said, “You have a beautiful baby.” It is to date, the most human, unguarded, non-publicized statement he has ever uttered and it would have suggested a human core in him if he had just said it while looking at me. According to my father, he never glanced at either of us and just carried on walking. Of course, I’ve only heard the story secondhand, but imagining that surreal moment, that he felt the need to say something but had no real sentiment behind it.
That is the crux of the political whirlpool around Trump. There is no real depth or sincerity to what he says, and yet many people support him regardless. Five times in his life he has changed political parties, and the fickleness he shows in regards to his politics is possibly overshadowed by the “tell it like it is” attitude. For instance, on June 16, speaking on the “The O’Reilly Factor,” he insisted that the only way to beat ISIS would be if the US had boots on the ground. Minutes later, he contradicted himself, suggesting there was another way.
So what do his supporters see in him? Part of his appeal is similar to Bernie Sanders’, in that potential voters view Trump as untainted by outside wealth. He has enough money to run his campaign without selling what’s left of his soul to corporate giants and they feel that makes him trustworthy.
Trump is also appealing because he is unfettered by the usual restraints on a politician. In mudslinging races, small gaffes can tarnish a candidate’s reputation if they’re too clean, but the sort of comments that could derail a campaign fall out of Trump’s mouth nearly every time he opens it. While this has alienated many voters, it has also solidified him as a politician who “isn’t afraid to tell the truth” or who “says what we’re all thinking.”
Finally, people like the fact that he is so crass and unpresidential—how could any candidate with that much obnoxious bravado possibly be scripted? In a lot of ways, Trump’s surprising popularity is a rebellion against the politically correct walk on verbal egg shells the race for office has become.
In the end, the people who will vote for Trump are the byproduct of a stark political landscape, one where people feel their voices cannot stand up to special interests’ money, and where every politician has to act like an inviolable saint when more than likely they are not.