Between alienating hurricane survivors and insulting the solemnity of a 9/11 moment of silence, it has become clear this week that Donald Trump lacks a certain empathy necessary to his position. Combined with his white supremacy support, his Muslim ban, and his DACA position, it is increasingly difficult to overlook the moral deficiencies in Trump’s White House. The larger problem is that too many Americans are still expecting Trump to be human.
Donald Trump’s downfall is not his inability to lead, his mental incapacity, his boorishness, or the megalomaniacal delusions that occupy his minute-by-minute thoughts. Each of these contributes to his failure as a politician, but Trump’s ultimate demise will be that he is not a person.
In civil law, there are many stipulations as to what constitutes a person. Most readers are accustomed to a person being defined as a living, breathing, conscious human being. A person is who we see in the mirror and the multitudes we encounter on a daily basis. It is who we are surrounded by, comforted by, and who we associate with on socially, biologically, and existentially.
However, when working within the confines of the law and legal definitions, a person is not always a person — especially in the context of lawsuits. Very often, in actions against the government or corporations, a lawsuit may be dismissed because the named plaintiff is “not a person” for purposes of a specific statute or rule of procedure. Now that Trump is a government entity and subject to myriad lawsuits, his viability as a person is diminished even further.
Fundamentally, Trump is a brand and as a commercial brand, he is a more of a caricature than an individual. When he walked onto the stage during his first campaign appearance almost two years ago, Trump was there to sell a brand. His fans and consumers saw only a product and not a person — like children who see a talking Tickle Me Elmo that merely spits out lines when his string is pulled. As a branded product, Trump is incapable of the empathy that other humans share after hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disastrous events that bring them together.
A brand is not a person for purposes of the law or humanity, but it is unfortunately what American leadership has been reduced to in the post-2016 election apocalypse. As such, the next election in 2020 will not be about people, emotions, or even issues. It will be a battle of the brands.
During the past six-months, the Republican brand has lost much of its traditional trustworthiness and loyalty. The Democratic brand is not even on the shelf yet. Political consumers from coast to coast are standing in the election store — like Russian babushkas in line for bread — with empty shopping carts while they await the next delivery.
As a brand, and not a person, Trump has altered the political landscape in America and not in a good way. Politics should not be about packaged branding and slick wrappers, though it is a trend that began 57 years ago this month. That’s when America witnessed its first televised presidential debate between a suave Massachusetts senator, John F. Kennedy, and a sweaty and cadaverous vice-president named Richard Nixon.
Trump has elevated branding to a new level. Radio listeners in 1960 said that Nixon won that debate, but television watchers disagreed. In 2016, a well-developed reality television brand carried Trump through ill-prepared debates, awkward speeches, and a variety of gaffes and missteps. A few canned lines, slogans, a repeated motto, and some red hats that appealed to his consumer-oriented base made the real issues and his lack of preparedness and experience irrelevant.
In voting booths across America, men and women chose a brand with flashy “New & Improved” labels instead of a tried and true product. Americans who voted for Trump received the low-quality product they paid for, and many a case of buyer’s remorse, too. As one Trump brand supporter is learning, there is no lemon law for elected officials. Vladimir Putin will have to be satisfied with the Fiat he bought thinking it was a Ferrari.