The Trouble with Electing an Outsider

Benjamin Netanyahu and Viktor Orbán could tell us something about the way Donald Trump will govern.

Businessman Donald Trump appears at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump appears at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

What made Donald Trump seek the presidency?

A bit of armchair psychology is required to answer that question. Based on the way way he conducts himself and the many profiles I’ve read about the man, I think it’s safe to say that a powerful motivator was his desire to prove himself.

It helps to understand where Trump came from.

Matthew Yglesias reports for Vox that the president-elect of America inherited a real-estate empire in the outer boroughs of New York City and used his father’s money to move into Manhattan and join the island’s cultural elite.

“It never worked out for him,” writes Yglesias, “basically because he has terrible taste.”

Trump’s gold-plated condo and other ostentatious ticks are considered horrifically gauche by his fellow Manhattanites.

Trump never understood this. He spent his entire life trying to get into an upper class that wanted nothing to do with him. The harder he tried, the more ridiculous he seemed to them.

That made Trump who he is. The rejections, the contempt and the mockery of his poor taste have made him a vindictive outsider.

That’s not going to change now that he is two months away from becoming the most powerful man on the planet.

And that could tell us something about the way he will govern.

Poor strongmen

Consider the examples of two other populist rightwingers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Viktor Orbán. They are in power in Israel and Hungary, respectively, but continue to agitate against the establishment.

This isn’t just rhetoric or a trick to win votes. It’s their mindset. Both are illiberal strongmen who define themselves against the corrupting influences of the effeminate big-city elites — after those elites snubbed them for their boorish behavior.

Netanyahu, despite his secular Tel Aviv upbringing, never found his way in the liberal Ashkenazi circles of the Israeli establishment.

Orbán, despite his Oxford education and early involvement in the Hungarian democracy movement, never felt welcome in Budapest high society either.

Both men are in firm control of their political parties. Both have been in power for many years and there is little chance of them losing it soon.

Yet they continue to act as though they are not in charge.

Their whole life has been an uphill battle for approval. This has made them who they are. It doesn’t matter how many elections they win or how much power they accumulate; they will always be outsiders in a way and that makes them bitter.

Angry tweets

Back to Trump, who, days after being elected leader of the free world, finds the time to compose angry tweets about The New York Times, for reporting critically about his presidential transition; Saturday Night Live, for satirizing him; and the cast of the musical Hamilton, for admonishing (or “harassing”, as Trump put it) his vice president-elect, Mike Pence, to govern for all Americans, regardless of color, creed and orientation.

It’s not just tweets. In an off-the-record meeting with news leaders on Monday, Trump reportedly berated television executives for their “dishonest” coverage of his campaign.

No matter that Trump received more free airtime than any presidential candidate before him; no matter that he won the election and made all of us in the liberal media look like fools, Trump still felt the need to tyrannize those who — to his mind — treated him unfairly.

This is not going to stop. Trump is not suddenly going to feel secure. He is not going to feel comfortable in power, which is a prerequisite for letting things go. Rather, he is going to be the most thin-skinned, revengeful president since Richard Nixon.

That’s the trouble with electing an outsider.

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