It’s a shame Ronald Reagan made so many westerns. Maybe if he hadn’t, half of America wouldn’t be so obsessed with finding another shoot from the hip cowboy to run the country.
Donald Trump isn’t folksy and he isn’t a real cowboy, of course. Awkwardly positioned as a blue-collar billionaire, Trump is a Northeastern elite who has never looked natural when bending his knee in the clay and mingling with regular people who feel like they’ve been robbed of the American dream. Still, while he comes from a different universe, he shares their anger… or rather, he recognizes it and respects the power of it more than most. To many, that’s enough. Even if he is, as many suspect, an opportunist trying to ride a poisonous wave into power. He’s their pandering opportunist.
To the delight of many and in keeping with that straight-talking cowboy stereotype, Donald Trump is not elegant, polished, or politically correct in his words. He’s prone to making deplorable generalizations about Mexicans and Muslims, mocking the disabled, and as we were all reminded on Friday, he has a history of making statements about women that are utterly degrading and incredibly concerning.
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.
“Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
You may be repulsed, but to Donald Trump, these remarks represent “locker room banter” and “a distraction.” Those are, of course, carefully selected terms designed to both diminish this controversy and Trump’s actions and return equilibrium to the election as quickly as possible. But it isn’t going to be so smooth, this time. After an election filled with Chicken Little-esque doom prognostications for Donald Trump’s scandal-ridden candidacy, maybe maybe we can see cracks in the sky. Maybe maybe the sky is starting to actually fall a little bit.
To the (minor) credit of some in the GOP, this 11-year-old recording represents the final insult. They’re done with Trump. Granted, it’s far too late to forgive them for looking the other way on the numerous foul statements Trump has made through the years and during this election but they’re right on time to disembark before the ship sinks. Those people don’t likely account for a majority of Trump voters, though.
Some Trump supporters are surely taking Trump’s apology (a rare thing in and of itself) at face value and others are probably just shrugging because Donald Trump says what he feels and they usually like what he says. These are the people that were watching TV last night while doing their best disbelieving Mike Pence headshake impression. These are the people that probably wish they could get away with saying the things that Trump does — and that probably doesn’t exclude the vulgar things he said about women with Billy Bush in the Access Hollywood clip. These are voters who also celebrate the fact that, in the words of Mike Pence, Trump is not a polished politician, which is a badge of honor in the eyes of those that are so lost in the Trump mystique that they don’t feel a need to question the qualifications or demeanor of someone who wants to run the country.
To the hopelessly glamoured, Trump embodies the Republican fantasy of a strong cowboy leader. He’s the maverick but in the form of a businessman who is supposedly imbued with the frontier spirit (please remember that they did some really foul sh*t on the frontier) when it comes to mastering the feisty plains of the boardroom. Trump shoots from the hip and doesn’t apologize (even though he just did). There’s an almost romantic simplicity to it all, even though it’s all bullsh*t. See, when you shoot from the hip, you’re bound to miss a whole bunch. And when the cowboy myth fades, all you really have is someone who is impulsive, sloppy, and ill-prepared to lead.
That much was evident last week when Trump took to Twitter at 3AM to attack Alicia Machado (impulsive), allowed hubris to dictate a shrugging bare-minimum initial response to the Access Hollywood video (sloppy), and implied that PTSD sufferers were “weak” (ill-prepared). All bad looks. All shots that missed their mark.
Though it may not be clear to Donald Trump, we don’t elect kings, here. Sorry for the oh-so-brief civics lessons, but the president has to work with the legislative branch (and often, both sides of the aisle) and within the bounds of the constitution as determined by the judicial. Though they might bend a little due to partisanship, those checks against totalitarianism won’t buckle from the weight of Donald Trump’s tough talk and neither will the international community.
We can’t afford to pay the cost in blood and gold that will come from having a short-tempered shoot from the hip leader. We live in a world awash in complexity where our fortune and fate is intertwined with those of our allies and rivals. Careful attention must be paid to the enduring strength of our friendships, the concerning power of our enemies, and the need for fairness in our trade agreements. All pathways to resolution must be carefully considered. There’s no space for impulsive thinking.
We can’t wall ourselves off from those facts — not literally or metaphorically. You can’t lead the free world and be, at once, apart from it. You can’t lead America and Americans with that kind of detachment, distaste, and distrust either. “United we stand, divided we fall” isn’t just a pithy bumper sticker. It’s an undeniable truism, old as the bible (Mark 3:25) and just as sacred.
Though we don’t occupy the same fiery wasteland that Donald Trump presents when speaking about this country — a work of fiction devised to tap into that powerful anger and play into people’s fears — we do have problems and we need to come together before we break in such a way that we can’t be reassembled. Donald Trump only moves us further away from that necessary place, rendering himself incapable of actually running this country with any level of effectiveness. That’s the damage done by a campaign fueled by fear and rancor, a candidate that can’t help but be divisive and short-sighted in service to his “no bullsh*t cowboy” branding effort, and someone that doesn’t recognize that the cowboy myth’s biggest fallacy is that the “Go it alone” mentality can be applied to governing when that’s just not so. It truly does take a village.
“I alone can fix it,” said Trump during his speech at the Republican National Convention to a pool of glowing supporters who believe he can ride into town, flash his star, and clean things up. But Donald Trump isn’t Wyatt Earp, he’s more like Gene Hackman’s villainous mayor in The Quick And The Dead, ruthless and hopelessly deluded into thinking that the people need him. But we don’t need a protector and we don’t need a savior — we just need someone who can point us in the right direction and keep us together. And if there was any doubt before this last week and specifically Friday night, it’s crystal clear now that Donald Trump can’t be that someone.
Jason Tabrys is the features editor for Uproxx. You can engage with him directly on Twitter.