The American Nightmare

So yesterday, Barack Obama unveiled his birth certificate.  He's the first President in our history to do so.  And if that weren't sickening enough, Donald Trump followed up with a press conference of his own, congratulating himself for forcing Obama's hand.

I've read a lot of opinions in the last 24 hours about both men, in newspapers and on the blogosphere.  But most of these opinionators dodged what I feel is the most important question.  It's a question that was posed to me by a colleague who I think might have been fighting back tears when she said to me, "Why the f*ck does anyone care what the hell Donald Trump has to say, anyway?"

And the sad truth is that ... we do. We. Us. All of us.  Love him or hate him (and please, count me in the latter camp), we're interested in what he has to say.  And this is a sad truth for one sad reason: he's loaded.

I blame the American Dream.

Folks in this country generally understand "The American Dream" as the belief that if you work hard enough, you can be as successful as you want to be.  It doesn't matter where you were born, or who your parents were, or the color of your skin, or whatever challenges life has thrown your way.  And because this is America, we generally understand "successful" to be synonymous with "rich."  Believing in the American Dream is important to us, and there's no denying that it works for some people (Exhibit A: Oprah.  Exhibit B: Barack Obama, himself).

But we, as a nation, need to do some growing up when it comes to the American Dream.  Because we've confused the idea that it's possible with the notion that it's possible for everyone.  I've often wondered why so many working class Americans consistently vote against their own economic interests in favor of the billionaires, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's because they're voting in the interests of their perceived futures.  After all, they're all working really hard.  And this is America.  So who's to say that they won't be billionaires themselves someday?  Except, of course, that they won't all be.

And there's another downside to the myth of the American Dream, and it's this: we've bought into the notion that intelligence, work ethic, and character will make you rich in this country, and have slowly come to believe that the reverse is also true: that riches are a sign of intelligence, work ethic, and character.  And it's simply not true.

Let's take for example, The Donald.  Donald Trump is the very opposite of a self-made man.  He made a fortune by being born to rich parents.  Period.  Now, I'm not suggesting that people who inherit money are automatically arrogant, ethically misguided, stubborn assholes with bad hair (although that's certainly true in Donald's case).

What I am suggesting is that the size of your bank account has no correlation to your intelligence or character, whatsoever - no matter how you made your money.  I'm suggesting that we, as a nation, should judge who merits our attention based on a person's words and actions, because a person's words and actions are a much better gauge of a person's intelligence and character than the size of his/her bank account.  And using this test, Donald Trump fails miserably.  As James Poniewozik so astutely noted yesterday ...
Trump's remarks literally began, "I am very proud of myself." Because of course he is. Because who wouldn't be proud to have cynically embraced a toxic nutjob theory, on the basis of no good evidence, questioning the President's legitimacy, then having his suspicions shown to be an Al Capone's vault? Who wouldn't be proud to have turned himself from a national punchline into a national punchline with a shot at a Presidential nomination, through sheer, up-by-the-bootstraps pandering to Internet conspiracists? That takes talent, folks!
And there you have it.  Donald Trump has a ton of money.  That doesn't make him worth your time, or mine.

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