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Op-Ed: US Election


Blowing your own Trump-et



By John Zimmer, back from Washington




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The Niagara Falls are at the border between the US and Canada. John Zimmer, who grew up north of them, shares his opinion of what's going on south of them, in the run-up to the US presidential election. (AFP)

The Niagara Falls are at the border between the US and Canada. John Zimmer, who grew up north of them, shares his opinion of what's going on south of them, in the run-up to the US presidential election.

(AFP)

Like most Canadians, John Zimmer knows what it’s like to not be an American. In this essay, the seven-time winner of the Toastmasters European Speech Contests takes a tongue-in-cheek look at a US Presidential candidate who takes himself very seriously. 

By John Zimmer

This article . . . is gonna be a great, great article. I will write . . . the greatest article that you’ve ever seen. Believe me. It’s gonna be beautiful. They’re gonna put my name on this article and it’s gonna be gorgeous. Believe me. It’s true, folks.

OK, I’ve channeled my inner Donald Trump and, mercifully, that’s all there is.

But love him or hate him, readers are going to have to get used to the idea that Donald Trump is going to Washington, and he is going to Pennsylvania Avenue. This is not idle speculation on my part; it is a 100% certainty.

As I write this essay, it’s less than one week since I returned to Geneva from Washington, D.C., where I had a speaking engagement. On the way to the hotel, as I was heading north on 12th Street, I reached the intersection with Pennsylvania Avenue just as the light turned red. As I waited, there it was to my right: a beautiful building with an enormous blue and white sign that read:

Coming in 2016: TRUMP

Yes, I had stopped beside the location of the new Trump International Hotel, scheduled to open in Washington on September 12, 2016. The address? 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue. See, I told you: a 100% certainty.

Now, I suspect that more than a few readers are breathing a sigh of relief, but like Donald Trump himself, that hotel is uncomfortably close to the White House. Prior to the Republican and Democratic primaries, I didn’t think that American politics could get much more bizarre, but this election cycle has proven me wrong.

A northerner's perspective

As the big vote draws near, American politics is the subject of more and more conversations. I’m often asked what I think, sometimes by people whom I’ve just met.

When they first meet me, and if we’re speaking in English, most people think that I’m American. In fact, I’m Canadian (and also Swiss through the naturalisation process). Having grown up in small city on the shores of Lake Erie just across the border from Buffalo, New York, I know that my accent can sound American. Of course, if we’re speaking in French, everyone knows right away where I’m from.

People are always pleasantly surprised when they find out that I’m Canadian. And who can blame them? I mean, who doesn’t like Canadians? Even Barack Obama has said, “The world needs more Canada.”

Of course, once people learn that I’m Canadian, they immediately want to talk about Justin Trudeau and how cool he is and how good-looking he is and how he plays with pandas and how he has a tattoo and how he does yoga and how he used to box and how he is a great family man and all of this is fun for about two minutes at which point I’m ready to talk about anything else. Even Canadians can only take so much, eh?

Not being American, I am as mystified as, well, most every other non-American on the planet (with the exception of Nigel Farage) as to how Donald Trump made it this far. I understand that he has tapped into some sort of malaise that has gripped a segment of American society. But to hear Trump speak, you would think that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were stampeding everywhere in America. Everywhere except Trump Tower.

Shades of greatness

And how about Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”? It isn’t even original. In 1980, Ronald Reagan said, “Let’s Make America Great Again” and in 1960, John Kennedy promised “A Time For Greatness”. How far back in history do we have to go to find a time when America was great? The Great Depression?

Sure, Americans eat too much saturated fat; and true, the official state drink for Nebraska is Kool-Aid; and yes, the official state vegetable for Oklahoma is a watermelon; and unfortunately, Fox News is still broadcasting. But the United States is still a great country.

If Donald Trump were going to recycle an old campaign slogan, I would have expected him to go with something like Ulysses S. Grant’s 1868 “Vote As You Shot”, especially after his comments about proponents of the Second Amendment protecting their right to keep their guns. For a more dignified slogan – admittedly, not really in keeping with the man – Trump could have chosen Barry Goldwater’s 1964 “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right”. Of course, Hillary Clinton would have been able to counter with Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 response to Goldwater: “In Your Guts, You Know He’s Nuts”.

Key ingredients

When I hear Donald Trump speak, I am usually torn. I can’t decide whether his comments are repugnant, juvenile, or just plain incoherent. Usually, it’s a mix of all three. But there is no denying his ability to captivate and persuade a large segment of the population. What’s his secret?

For one thing, he is authentic. Say what you like about him, but Trump is the real deal. He is completely, unabashedly obsessed with himself. Remember when you were in elementary school and your parents wrote your name on your shoes so you wouldn’t lose them? Somewhere along the way, this benign practice mutated in Trump’s mind. From Trump Airlines (grounded) to Trump Steaks (mooooved on) to Trump Vodka (on the rocks) to Trump University (admissions closed), the man is his own biggest hero.

Trump also speaks in a simple way that people can understand. For example, speaking about the Obama Administration in December 2015 in South Carolina, he said the following:

“I used to use the word incompetent. Now I just call them stupid. I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words . . . but there is no better word than stupid. Right?”

You may roll your eyes and smirk at this statement. But Trump makes a good point. Simple words are effective. He is like the guy with whom you strike up a conversation while standing at the bar. Of course, very quickly, he turns into the guy standing at the bar who has had too many drinks and is now just being obnoxious. But you have to be sober yourself to realize it.

His own enemy

Fortunately, as of late August (when this piece was written) it seems as though Trump’s campaign is floundering badly. It’s difficult to pinpoint the reason. Is it his misogynistic comments, his slandering of Muslims and Latinos, his backing from white supremacists, his attack on the parents of a slain American soldier, his promise to build a ridiculous wall on the Mexican border, his joke about dating his own daughter, the hair? A combination of all of the above?

Whatever the reason, Trump has managed to drive several prominent Republican politicians and supporters into the arms of the Democrats. Even Paul Wolfowitz, a leading neoconservative who was one of George W. Bush’s main advisors, has said that he might back Hillary Clinton. Paul Wolfowitz supporting a Democrat!? Have we all just teleported to some sort of parallel universe?

Without question, Clinton comes with her own baggage and concerns. (Hey Hillary, you’ve got mail!) And with the election still two months away, anything can happen. Look at what’s happened already. But the idea of President Trump is almost unfathomable. I have no problem with him getting to 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, but 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be too far.

Winston Churchill famously remarked, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.” Let’s hope that, on November 8, 2016, Americans don’t try Trump.

The views expressed in this article are solely the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch.


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