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Newsom vs. Trump


Our new Governor here in California, Gavin Newsom, has found himself on the receiving end of Trump’s barbs lately, which is surely a sign that Trump fears him. Just over the weekend, Trump called Newsom “grandstanding,” which he meant as an insult, I suppose, although it’s not at all clear just how he thinks the Governor has earned that epithet. It’s true that Newsom has taken to Twitter with the same ferocity as has Trump; the Governor posts numerous times each day. But there’s a big difference between Newsom’s and Trump’s tweets. Newsom keeps his strictly to policy issues. He doesn’t insult, or brag, or lie, or accuse, or smear. He has certain well-known priorities, such as climate change, human rights (including women’s rights and gay and trans rights), sensible gun control, and fairness in immigration policy, that he believes passionately in, and for which the people of California elected him. He uses Twitter effectively to spotlight those issues and to frame his approaches to them. But there’s no negativity, no archness or sarcasm, as there is with almost everything Trump tweets. Instead of Trumpian Sturm und Drang, you get the well-considered political philosophy of an intelligent, stable leader.

So why is Trump needling Newsom, who isn’t even running for President? Couple reasons. For one, Trump just likes picking fights. It makes him feel alive and vital; for a man whose inner life is fundamentally sterile, it lights a spark within him. For another, Newsom is a Democrat, and hasn’t shied away from directly criticizing Trump, particularly on the Wall.

It must gall Trump that the governor of the richest, most populous state in the nation, with a big border with Mexico, has called out Trump’s Wall as useless and pointless, has described Trump’s “national emergency” as fake, and is working with California’s Attorney-General to sue Trump over the “emergency.” We know that Trump doesn’t like to be disagreed with, by anyone, but when the sitting governor of California is the disagreer, it drives Trump up the wall.

It must be really hard to be Donald Trump and to feel you have to be gladiatorial all the time. Trump is president, true, but he’s also just a person, and most people like to think they get along with others. We all have people who rub us the wrong way, but generally we try to avoid them, and to keep from getting into overt fights with them. Not Trump. He hates a lot of people, not necessarily because he even knows them, but because somehow, they threaten something important to him. Leading such a pugnacious life has got to be tedious. I think of our greatest presidents—Lincoln, Washington, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Obama, even Ronald Reagan—and they were all people who had a fundamental affection for other human beings. They were social creatures, comfortable in their own skins, enjoying social interactions, with many friends—kind, peaceful men, instinctively gregarious, quick to laughter. That doesn’t describe Trump. Does he have any friends? We know almost nothing of his private life. Does he hang out with anyone? Even Nixon had Bebe Rebozo! JFK, the model of a modern president, had friends to spare. We’ve read how he loved to share a drink and a cigar with them, to laugh and relax and play touch football. We know that Reagan too loved to share a cocktail or glass of wine when the workday was over, even with his political “enemies” such as Tip O’Neill. FDR famously would invite his friends to his living quarters in the White House during the evening and mix up his own martinis. Obama had a circle of buddies to play basketball with. These were nice men, happy, psychologically secure, who loved and wanted to be loved. They were normal.

Trump is not normal. Even his fans know that. They know that there’s something deeply twisted in his makeup. I doubt that his most ardent supporter thinks he or she could relax with Trump, or that Trump could relax with him or her, should they find themselves alone together. What must it be like to always be on guard, always looking for the next enemy, the next insult, the next threat, the next attack? What a horrible way to live.

I’ve been with Governor Newsom. He laughs easily, including at himself. He listens carefully, with the attentiveness of someone who cares about the thoughts and feelings of the person he’s with. He genuinely cares about the welfare and happiness of those who are less well off than most: the immigrant, the outcast, the victim. Does anyone sincerely believe that Trump cares about anyone except himself and his family?

I do a lot of talking about the virtues of caring and compassion, even as I know that I’m not the nicest person in the world. That’s why I look for politicians to set examples of decency in the world, to express our better angels: I want them, who have so much power, to do God’s work, in all the ways in which I cannot. I want them to do better than I can. That’s why I’m a liberal and a Democrat. Democrats don’t always do the right thing, but they tend toward rightness, in the way Dr. King said the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. That’s all we Democrats ask: Let America bend toward justice, even if it often fails to realize it. With Donald Trump, the moral arc bends toward disintegration, anarchy, vengeance. It bends toward the end of morality. That is what the Republican Party now stands for.

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