We live in a time of stunning transformations. In recent weeks we’ve seen Bruce Jenner transition from a male Olympic medalist to Caitlyn Jenner, a self-assured woman gracing the cover of Vanity Fair.
Then there’s Rachel Dolezal, the ex-president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP. She lived as a black woman until her parents revealed that she was not, technically, black. Czech, Swedish, German, and Native American, but not black.
Those transitions pale in the face of the latest political switcheroo: Donald Trump, real estate magnate and reality TV star, is now a proper politician. In case he did this too quietly for you to notice, he’s officially running for president.
This spectacle reminds me of an old story. Jack Warner, the head of Warner Brothers Studios, hears that Ronald Reagan, one of his former contract actors, is going to run for governor in California.
“No, no,” says Warner, mistaking the news for a film pitch. “Jimmy Stewart for governor. Reagan for best friend.”
I wish Warner were still with us. He might say something like: “No, no. Tom Hanks for president. Trump for court jester.”
For years, Trump has been content to serve as the nation’s favorite buffoon billionaire. Time and time again, in word and deed, he’s embarrassed himself without ever seeming embarrassed.
His announcement speech alone would have mortified a meeker man. On and on it went. In addition to slandering all Mexican immigrants and boasting about how he underpays website developers, Trump blurted out: “I beat China all the time.”
And to be fair, he’s laughed all the way to the bank. To put it mildly — which he doesn’t — he has a talent for making money. When he isn’t losing it.
The Donald has filed for bankruptcy four times, always seeming to come out richer than before. He’s earned a reputation as someone whose handshake on a deal requires a careful count of one’s fingers afterwards.
Until now, Trump had merely threatened to run for president. This time around he seems to be doing it for real — even though his most enthusiastic supporters at the kick-off event were actors, as Hollywood Reporter observed. They were paid $50 for their maniacal cheering.
Other candidates have broken barriers on race, creed, and gender. The Donald is registering another first.
It’s hard to find a serious previous or current contender without even a scintilla of a qualification. Sure, some of the other dozen or more GOP hopefuls have no chance at victory. Can you say President George Pataki without cracking up?
But at least that guy is New York’s former governor. Trump is bumping the bar to a new low while raising a great question: What are the proper qualifications for president?
Do we want someone smart (but not too smart)? With the common touch (but not too common)? Is broad experience in government (but not too broad) essential?
I suppose the answer is that we never know it until we see it. Even then, it often turns out to be the wrong choice.
Take experience. In the past 50 years the two presidents who exceeded all others in that department were Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.
They’d each served in the military, in both houses of Congress, and as vice presidents. Their resumes were immaculate. Yet they both crashed and burned once in office.
And who was smarter than Jimmy Carter? He was a nuclear engineer for crying out loud. He’d been a liberal governor of a conservative state. And while he’s got a stellar record as a former president, his presidency was lackluster.
Then there’s Barack Obama, a whiz kid who can give a great speech and is a good guy besides. It’s been a rocky trip for him and a disappointment for his strongest supporters.
Do what you want to, but you vote for Trump at your own risk. Don’t blame me if you wake up one day to find a statue of The Donald sitting on Abe’s lap in the Lincoln Memorial.