The final chapter of the chief became too predictable. It really came down to just three items.
• Trump got “Peter-principled” when he got to Washington. The new arena did him in. His skills were good enough for life in New York before he entered politics. But he miscalculated the leap to the national stage. He was bound to get terminally roughed up by the Washington press corps, a battle-tested group, before which falsehoods die in agony.
• He refused to accept defeat — a necessary skill to survive in politics. Ask any team member in any sport. They are tested to recognize losses, learn from them, and take the field again next week. They learn to distinguish between a bad week and a ruined career. Trump became a classic Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time player.
• Trump’s resume showed no ability to take responsibility. He tended to shuck and jive, and Washington sees right through that. Trump’s dual successes were both hype jobs: his ability to sell luxury as a lifestyle, and his supreme skill at his “Apprentice” reality-TV franchise. But in a fix, he would neither admit weakness nor ask others for help.
Trump also blew the math. His “base” would never get him beyond perhaps 35% of the vote. That works in a field with many contestants, as you’d get in a primary. But he found success tough in trying to depend on a thin base against a single opponent in a general election.
If Trump were asked to apply for the presidency and bring his resume, he might never have been hired. As a starting pitcher in MLB, he would have become flustered by the second or third inning and yanked with little deliberation. But Trump managed to slide into a position for which he never learned how to sit down and shut up — skills the rest of us learned the hard way.
The Trump legacy was also thin on actual victories. He pushed through a “tax cut” which really did the reverse and busted the budget. His Wall Street-friendly front also included ugly spats with folks you’d normally listen to — like your treasury secretary and the Fed chairman. His great wall — who was supposed to pay for it? It was just a monument to immigrant phobias two centuries old. You wondered where his “China policy” came from. He understood little about trade economics, and he may have simply disliked the Chinese because they are — well — Chinese.
He stocked his cabinet not with the most able candidates, but with yes-types and political hacks who’d swear loyalty, or big contributors who effectively paid for prestige jobs. Their flubs put unfair pressure on the boss.
Still, give him credit. You often rooted for him, though you knew his pledges were difficult. He peddled himself to legions of supporters who felt a personal connection. Trump didn’t survive politics by entering at the state or Congressional level. He took a long shot at the top job he never expected to win — and in 2016 he did. Now what?
Here’s the thing about the “Trump experiment.” Remember how in school you were taught not to try those messy lab experiments at home? The U.S. electoral system had a set of exposed weaknesses and Trump saw them for what they were. He didn’t prepare to win because he didn’t expect to. He didn’t pack to move in, and certainly not out.
Trump exposed the weaknesses in a democracy. He hit on just the right combination of selling his agenda to some of the people some of the time. There are weaknesses in crowd psychology, because crowds sometimes act in ways their participants themselves never would alone.
In other top professions, there are stumbling blocks a Trump might not survive — job interviews, resumes, references, background checks. These are well known to lawyers, architects, physicians and business consultants. If you live in the White House, you can binge-watch TV or play a lot of golf. That doesn’t mean you should.
Trump ran his show himself. He arrived at the door and got in with no background check. He had the “king thing” down — but he’d have done better by asking the queen for a few tips. He almost literally tripped her up during a walk on that trip to London.
We hadn’t heard the words “involuntary extraction” outside the dentist’s office. Let’s hope we can skip that job. It’s up to us. Maybe the difficulty in finding the right candidate is on us.
I’m not trying to unload on anyone here. I just feel supremely let down. I’d almost say we got bumfuzzled. How come his “sell-by” date arrived so soon?
The writer is a founder of the Aspen Daily News and his column appears here Sundays.