The Ultimate Ugly American
By John Rolfe
As I apply my quivering quill to parchment, the 2020 presidential election has been called ,but Joe Biden’s victory is being disputed by President Trump and will be for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, a few thoughts on the past four years of Trump’s reign:
To me, Donald Trump is the personification of the classic Ugly American, commonly defined as “loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric.” He's a reflection of a society that slavishly reveres fame, wealth and self-worship, often mistaking them as signs of virtue. So I’m not surprised that Trump is adored by millions, some of whom see him as an exemplar of the American Dream.
A pathological liar who rode to fame on the myth of being a self-made man and artful dealmaker, Trump is the ultimate president for a society that has long been in love with illusion: movies, scripted “reality” TV, video games, medical procedures to mask telltale signs of age, and going into debt while creating the appearance of wealth. It’s fitting that in 2018, the Guggenheim Museum offered to lend his White House a gold toilet, the ultimate metaphor of what Trump represents: opulence on the outside and crap inside.
I never fully appreciated a president’s influence on people’s behavior until Trump moved into the Oval Office. He’s fostered a kind of mass insanity in which people will argue one point and then the polar opposite with no sense of the absurdity of what they are doing.
I’ve been stunned and disgusted by how the many people I thought were rational and decent have excused or hailed his incessant, painfully obvious lying, often comical ignorance, racism, and Machiavellian ways. They say things like, “He may be a bully but he’s our bully” or “His lying is why I like him. He’ll do anything to get things done.” Or, as one of my neighbors put it, “Tell your kids to hurry and have kids. We need more white people or the minorities will take over and ruin the country.”
Despair is all I feel about a president who continually makes wild, baseless accusations, such as widespread voter fraud, that encourage violence. It boggles my mind that he’s been allowed to do it without providing proof or even evidence in many cases.
“The Next Hitler” accusation is as stale as last month’s gruel and has been heaved at presidents from both parties for decades based on behavior or remarks that now seem quaint. But one similarity haunts me:
“The words [Hitler] uttered, the thoughts he expressed, often seemed to me ridiculous, but that week in Nuremberg I began to comprehend that it did not matter much what he said but how he said it,” William L. Shirer wrote in The Nightmare Years, his account of living in Germany in the 1930s. “Hitler’s communication with his audiences was uncanny. He established a rapport almost immediately and deepened and intensified it as he went on speaking, holding them completely in his spell. In such a state, it seemed to me, they easily believed anything he said, even the most foolish nonsense. Over the years, as I listened to scores of Hitler’s major speeches, I would pause in my own mind to exclaim, ‘What utter rubbish! What brazen lies!’ Then I would look around at the audience. His German listeners were lapping up every word as the utter truth.”
Trump encourages in his supporters a refusal to acknowledge unflattering or unpleasant realities, such as the demands and toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. For good measure, he’s welcomed the lunatic fringe into the mainstream as part of his base.
Perhaps the most alarming example is the QAnon movement, which now has supporters in Congress (Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert), leading me to believe Trump is behind a vast, sinister conspiracy to banish the use of the mind in America. People in my daily life are now confirming my suspicions with things like claims that Bill Gates and George Soros actively control the weather.
“In our land of opportunity, you could grow up to be president!” is one of the great American verities we feed to kids. Well, Trump has certainly proved that anyone can be president without even really having grown up, or having a shred of knowledge about government or a minimal interest in how it works and the rules it is supposed to follow.
The Ultimate Ugly American has made intelligence, knowledge, honesty, integrity, decency, civility, compassion, respect for differences, responsibility, and even coherence optional in politics and life in general for that matter. All that matters is getting what you want by any means necessary.
The popular Trump follower’s slogan “F**k Your Feelings” says it all. I’m surprised the President hasn’t added it to the American flag by now. A lot of people would salute.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.