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Trump “authentic”? What the heck does that mean?


Newsweek just published a story in which Cliff Sims, Trump’s former communications director at the White House, called Trump “the most authentic” president in American history.

This, despite Trump’s astounding, outrageous pattern of pathological lying. The Washington Post has counted 8,150 such lies since Trump became president—an assertion neither Trump nor any of his family or friends has disputed, because they cannot.

So what is Sims talking about? How can such a deeply untrustworthy, amoral man possibly be “authentic”?

Trump basically looked at the American people and said, ‘This is who I am. You know everything about me,’” Sims says, adding, “He’s pretty much exactly the same behind the scenes that he is out in public. And I think that resonates with some people.”

I get it. Trump is authentic, in the dictionary sense of the word, which is how Sims meant it: that which can be believed or accepted. He’s authentic in the same way that Kenneth Dahmer is an authentic psychopath, or that wildfires are an authentic fact in California.

My problem with Sims’ depiction is that, by inference, it suggests that other politicians are inauthentic. Hillary Clinton is often portrayed by the right as inauthentic. The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page writers ought to be ashamed of themselves for helping to install Donald Trump as president, frequently calls Hillary that; for instance, in this op-ed piece from last Fall, they said she’s “inauthentic, unlikable and out of touch.” The extremely rightwing Town Hall, said to be funded by the Koch Brothers (its columnists include Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin), similarly called Hillary “inauthentic, not trustworthy, and someone who plays by their own rules.”

To call Hillary Clinton “inauthentic” and Donald Trump “authentic” presents me with some serious pretzel logic. Whether you agree or disagree with Hillary’s positions on the issues (and Lord knows, she’s been outlining her positions for more than 30 years), it makes no sense to call her inauthentic. She’s authentically who she is, the same way you’re authentically who you are and I’m authentically who I am. To me, she’s a decent, moderately progressive woman, fair and empathic, who’s studied issues for most of her adult life, understands their causes, and has positive ideas on how to make life better for the majority of Americans. It’s true she doesn’t insult people, or threaten her political opponents, or lie blatantly the way Trump does, or use vulgar language publicly. But why does that make her less authentic than him?

I mean, Trump definitely is a character, the sort of guy we might see in a T.V. sitcom, not as the star but a minor player, like Kramer on Seinfeld. A little schmucky, pompous and delusional, a braggart, a bit of a bully, a sex addict, with a sharp tongue and utterly blind to his own faults. But at the same time, all that unpleasantness is salvaged by his own naïve sincerity that he’s absolutely right, all the time; if he were a T.V. character, his T.V. neighbors would be astounded that such a person could even exist, so outrageous is he. But, in a weird way, they’d like him.

But Trump isn’t a T.V. character. Well, he is, in a sense, but you know what I mean: he’s a real person who happens to be President of the United States of America. The question is, why would a person like him be perceived by so many people as more authentic than Hillary Clinton (or, for that matter, any of the Republican candidates he beat for the nomination)?

This gets to the heart of the matter of why people like him. Sure (his fans concede), he’s an asshole. They think: I admit he’s an awful person. I wouldn’t leave my daughter alone with him for 5 minutes. I wouldn’t make any business deals with him because he’d probably stiff me. I know he lies all the time. He probably is taking advantage of his job to make money. He probably does have a secret deal with Putin. But (their thinking goes) he’s funny! He’s got a great sense of humor! Kind of dark, edgy, but I like it when he insults people like Elizabeth Warren. He punctures lots of balloons. I react (the thinking continues) the same way he does towards a lot of the people he insults. I don’t like the pretentiousness of most politicians either. They talk one way and act another. They’re just in this for their own benefit, not for mine.

Well, dear reader, I think I’ve managed to read the minds of Trump’s people accurately enough: to them, he’s “authentic” because he reacts the same way they do to similar phenomena, and he has the ability to put his reactions into words that are easy to understand. But, to revert to my puzzlement, why is this kind of “authenticity” desirable in a president? I want someone who really knows how to solve America’s problems—income inequality, obesity, our deteriorating relations with our allies abroad, climate change, runaway plutocracy, Russian meddling in our elections—not someone who reminds me of some wacky character on a sitcom.

I’d love to be around in fifty years to see how psychographic historians describe Trump’s rise to power. I think they’ll be shocked that Americans actually elected a sitcom clown to lead them. At any rate, I’m not buying this “most authentic president” stuff at all. Reasoned, measured, logical, common sense, intelligent approaches to problems—that’s what I want in a president, not someone who amuses me.

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