I hate being wrong.
Knowing that I’m an unabashed political junkie, other Jesuits I live with regularly ask me for the latest update on what’s going on in the political world. Donald Trump has, predictably, been a common topic of inquiry for the last six months. Every single time someone has asked me about Trump’s prospects of actually winning the Republican nomination for President, I have emphatically told them the Donald’s chances are absolutely zero.
Like many people, I was utterly convinced that Trump’s candidacy was just a sideshow. I thought it most likely he was just running as a way of boosting his own brand. My more cynical side thought that his candidacy was just a charade to draw attention, and viewers, to the Republican primary. People would hear about the crazy things Trump was saying, tune into the debate to see if he said more crazy things, and wind up learning about and ultimately supporting the “real” candidates like Bush or Christie.
I was utterly convinced he wasn’t a serious candidate and that he couldn’t possibly believe the awful things he was saying about women, Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, torture, and killing people. So, I decided to meet his outrageous comments with silence. If this guy is just doing all of this for the sake of attention, I would undercut his goal by depriving him of publicity. Don’t mention his name in my articles. Don’t post stories about him on social media. In short, don’t feed the troll.
I take some consolation in reading “Everyone was wrong” about Trump and his campaign. The best political reporters in the country were adamant that Trump absolutely could not win the nomination. There was no way enough voters would support his ludicrous and hate-filled statements. And then he won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia.
I was wrong. A lot of people were wrong.
As Trump builds his lead in the race to be the Republican nominee for President, people seem to be waking up. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are beginning to realize that a Trump nomination could harm Republican Congressional candidates’ prospects if they’re on the same ballot as Trump.1
John Oliver devoted a full 22 minute segment to Donald Trump Drumpf, which is as sad as it is funny.
A man who, in 2016, couldn’t decide whether or not to denounce the Ku Klux Klan is the frontrunner to be the Presidential nominee of one of the two major American political parties.2 Let that sink in for a minute.
America, this is unacceptable. Is Donald Trump in this just for the sake of publicity? I still don’t know. What I do know is that he is giving voice to a horrifyingly ugly part of the American electorate, and it isn’t too late for more of us to wake up to what this says about our country.
Trump’s success says far more about us as a country than it does about him, or even about his supporters. His message of fearing those who are different, mocking those who disagree with us, rejecting established standards of what constitutes acceptable public discourse, and putting our own interests ahead of our sisters and brothers is resonating for a reason. Trump receives support because he’s saying and doing things that other people believe. The ugly part of America the Trump campaign is exposing is also an ugly part of my heart, of each of our hearts. That this ugly part has been brought to the forefront of our political conversation has forced me to take a long look in the mirror and ask myself if I’m willing to let this ugly part of myself, of ourselves, be what we share with the world around us.
Donald Trump is the Republican front-runner, but he still has a long way to go to win the nomination. While I have serious disagreements with the views of every single Presidential candidate (on both sides of the aisle), the possibility of this man and this message getting this close to the White House ought to give us all pause. America can still wake up and realize that we’re better than this ugly part of ourselves, and ignoring Donald Trump is not the way for us to do so.
Trump’s message is not what I want to be about. Trump’s message is not what I want our country to be about.
I hope I’m not wrong this time.
Cover image courtesy Flickr CC user Gage Skidmore, available here.