Donald Trum p won’t be the next president of the United States and here is why.
At the end of the day, he is not the kind of person Americans want to lift up and celebrate. To steal a line from a friend of mine, we are “a better angels country,” and Trump appeals only to our worst instincts.
The better angels phrase appeared at the end of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, delivered just before the start of the Civil War in 1861. “We must not be enemies,” Lincoln pleaded. He hoped that the “mystic chords” of Americans’ collective memories would be touched, “as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Lincoln could not have been more wrong. No angels descended from heaven to spare Americans the loss of 620,000 lives on the battlefield during the ensuing four years of combat. Instead, it was the satanic actor-activist John Wilkes Booth who appeared, and snuffed out the life of the president who appealed to our better selves.
And yet the phrase stays with us. Time and again, when Americans have to choose sides, they will opt for a nebulous, uplifting promise of “hope and change” over more realistic policy promises. The demagogues whom scaremongers love to compare to Trump — the racist presidential candidate George Wallace, the anti-Semitic radio barker Father Coughlin — went nowhere in US electoral politics. They were outliers — hateful, fear-mongering outliers, to be sure, but, in the end, subparagraphs in the chronicle of American history.
I have mixed feelings about this American character trait. I am no stranger to resentment, fake grievances, and self-pity; Trump often speaks to my reptilian core. Unlike the Utah Mormons — are they our better angels? — I’m not sure that I would welcome colonies of Syrian refugees into my state, or hometown. I love that Trump calls Senator Elizabeth Warren “The Indian.” I don’t mind the odd nasty crack.
His childish sobriquets for his rivals, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz and “Little Marco” Rubio, were amusing, in a grade-school kind of way, and quite effective. One shudders to think what horrible label he will attach to Hillary Clinton.
Insults and snarky comments amuse, and boost television ratings, but they don’t endure. Americans want to believe the best about people, an instinct that I don’t always share. I learned a lesson many years ago when the investigative writer Steve Weinberg published a devastating, truthful biography of the odious fellow traveler, oil baron, and self-promoter, Armand Hammer. The book came and went. Hammer twice commissioned his own fanciful autobiographies, full of evasions and fancy name-dropping. Those books were bestsellers.
I may find Oprah Winfrey ridiculous, but I would be in a distinct minority. Winfrey has created a vast personal empire built atop the themes of betterment and perfectability: You can lose that weight; you can get that promotion; you can lick that incurable disease. “Oprah just discovered the benefits of resistance flexibility training,” her magazine website announces. You can’t make this stuff up.
Oprah’s business success, which rivals that of Donald Trump, according to Forbes magazine, hardly compliments the collective intelligence of the American people. You may well not get that raise, and most diets fail. Do miracles happen to men and women with terminal diseases? More often than not, no.
But her success does speak to Americans’ generous wishes for themselves and for others. Those feelings aren’t universal, but they are a lot bigger than Trump. We are better people than he wants us to be, and we know it.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at email@example.com.