Despite the man’s flaws and failings, Trump’s appeal is understandable

Photo credit: AP/Andrew Harnik


No one has superseded Donald Trump’s impact and influence on American politics since he came down the famous escalator in 2015 to announce his improbable presidential run. Following his 2016 campaign, upset win, presidency, impeachments, leadership during COVID, campaign of 2020, claims of election fraud, January 6 activities, subsequent role in the 2022 elections, and latest presidential campaign, a withering amount of information and counterclaims have emanated. 

At times, I agreed with Trump, disagreed with Trump, sympathized with him, and found him revolting. I didn’t always know what to make of him. He is charming and repellent, entertaining and divisive, charismatic and bombastic. 

His temperament and behaviour reflect his mentor, the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times documents this friendship in her best-selling book, Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and The Breaking of America. The two men’s paths crossed in the mid-1980s when Trump bought a piece of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. Looking at possibly building a stadium for his team, Trump sat on the same board with Steinbrenner called The New York State Sportsplex Corporation. 

Haberman relates, “At a press conference following the board’s first meeting, in 1984, Steinbrenner complained that Trump was hogging the microphone. ‘This isn’t going to be a one-man show or I’m not going to stick around,’ he said, raising his arms to obscure Trump so photographers could not capture them together. That show of ego, and willingness to set the terms of debate, did not stop the men from becoming friends, and Trump was a constant presence in the owner’s box at Yankee Stadium.” 

In later years, Trump used Steinbrenner’s reputation for firing his high-end employees to develop his Apprentice persona using “You’re Fired” as a stock line. In 2017, after assuming the presidency, he admitted that as Steinbrenner had a revolving door of managers with the Yankees (he fired and rehired Billy Martin five times!), he would also like to keep his White House appointments on short leashes, turning the firing of executives into an art form. 

Unfortunately, most of Donald Trump’s first term involved fending off accusations of Russian connections, a charge later shown to be hard to prove and more of a Democratic attempt to explain Hilary Clinton’s loss than anything substantial. Once the Democrats took over Congress in 2018, the inevitability of impeachment seemed obvious, but two impeachments were unlikely. The January 6th nonsense broke illusions I had about Trump as a serious political reformer. He had four years to carry out his cull and had done little to change the culture. His acolytes claimed the Russian hoax was to blame. 

Recently I have had to revisit my stance on Trump. While still critical, I have been challenged and humbled by one column and a few written exchanges with trusted friends. David Brooks, a political and cultural commentator for the New York Times and one of the hosts on the PBS political segment Brooks and Capehart, published a widely read and mostly warmly received (at least in the conservative sphere) article entitled, “What if We’re The Bad Guys Here?” If you have not read it, I recommend it as a prepper for understanding why many Americans, Christians, and friendly folks risk alienating neighbours, friends, and relatives to support Trump. 

What appears at the surface requires a deeper look and more outstanding study. I recall a dear friend not long ago reminding me of this after she had read Spare, the book Prince Harry wrote. While not excusing his tasteless behaviour, the story does provide context and builds empathy if we still care about forgiveness, humanity, or compassion. Trump deserves the same, and for the millions who back him, there had better start to be some understanding, or Americans will never reconcile. Trump did not begin the American descent into divisive politics. He served as a symptom of that split. 

Brooks does not argue favourably for Trump, but he instinctively knows that people are experiencing something more than wanting to support or cheer on a New York businessman with a sketchy past. Trump represents a problem, something I encountered when I spoke to several friends the past few weeks whose devotion to Trump confounded good sense. Brooks captured the angst of the working class and explained well the reckless attitude of the professional class. Trump speaks for people forgotten. 

The workers who struggle to make ends meet, or worse, cannot find jobs to match their skills or previous incomes. During COVID, the keyboard warriors could arrange to stay home, wear pajamas, or simply call it a day when COVID stress overwhelmed them. And when this remote collective did acknowledge workers, they focused on fellow professionals like nurses and doctors, who deserved praise, but who became a protected class of their own later in the pandemic, often refusing to see patients in person until recently. How about plumbers and electricians? They didn’t escape in-person work. Neither did less trained workers. Think of the waitresses, custodians, grocery workers, PSWs, or small business people who could not sit at home and collect pay for doing the minimum. 

These people believe Trump hears them. They watch him face indictment after indictment, many of the charges inflated or made up, and the frustration mounts. In what world did it become okay for a president to wink at his Department of Justice when they go after his predecessor and potential opponent in the next election? Then provide sweetheart deals for his son to avoid prosecution. Their understanding of the law may be insufficient for the highly educated, but their ability to identify “a standard for me and a standard for thee” became highly sensitized over time. 

No, I have not become a squish on Donald Trump. He made mistakes, as did Hilary Clinton when she wiped her server clean amid the 2016 campaign. James Comey said it did not look right to indict an active candidate. That was when Clinton’s party held the White House. The lack of self-awareness among the dominant media and inside the Democratic Party stretches to a new elitism. It permits people to think that working-class folks should pay for their college debts, two standards of justice can co-exist, or pandemic rules only apply to the great unwashed. These ideas defy gravity. Creating resentment within millions of homes across the land, inside States that think differently than urban centred cities, or among classes of people trying to make a living does not wear well. 

I do not like Donald Trump’s behaviour, but the opportunity to remove him from office occurred during the impeachment proceedings. His infractions are political. Making them criminal turns him into a sympathetic figure with his supporters. It justifies their belief that he fights for them and reinforces their conviction that this professional class of elites, specials, powerbrokers, and political lifers possess a get-out-of-jail card, immunizing them from the prosecutorial mania that Donald Trump has faced and many in his crowds fear. 

Lady Justice’s blindfold has gone missing. I am afraid the thieves are the very ones telling her to look at everyone but them.

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