— George Cassidy Payne
Henry Kissinger once said, “Donald Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries have not seen. So it is a shocking experience to them that he came into office.”
Kissinger’s remarks are indicative of a perspective that both Democrats and Republicans share towards the president. Despite their radically different appraisals of his effectiveness, one party sees him as a newfangled incarnation of wickedness and incompetence and the other sees him as a political virtuoso of world-shattering stature, both regard him as unprecedented political figure in American politics.
But there is nothing singular or extraordinary about Trump. The truth is he is just another politician who has chosen to take sides in the long battle over human rights in this country. This battle goes back to the founding of our nation.
For example, some European colonists protested the xenophobic and militaristic stance their families maintained towards Native Americans. However, other colonists feared Native Americans and did everything in their power to subjugate them. Which side do Trump’s policies reflect more?
Some Puritans believed religious fanaticism curtailed liberty. For them, that is why they risked everything to cross the mighty Atlantic to settle in a new world. But others believed that God ordained them to colonize these lands in order to make them amendable to Christianity. Which worldview is more aligned with Trump’s?
During World War II, some citizens believed interning Japanese-Americans was inhumane. Others believed citizens of Japanese descent could not be trusted. When the bomb dropped, some believed that we committed a terrible sin against the human race, while others believed it was the only way to end a horrific war. It’s not hard to imagine what side Trump would take if put in the same position today.
Moreover, throughout the Civil Rights Movement, there were those who stood on the side of freedom seeking minorities and those who believed in the necessity of segregation. Whereas some citizens spoke out against the horrendous atrocities of Vietnam, others felt that the war was the only way to combat the menace of Communism. Whereas some viewed President Nixon as embodying law and order, others saw him as a crook in the White House.
What side is Trump on when it comes to matters of racial justice, freedom of speech, uniting people of differences, and reigning in executive powers?
No, Trump is not special. Trump is not unique. Trump is not an anomaly. On the contrary, Trump is just another politician who has chosen sides. Despite the hyperbole and dizzying self-promotion, the man was born in this country; he was educated in this country; and he was shaped politically by this country. By treating him as a “phenomenon,” we actually shirk responsibility for his actions; for if he is so extraordinary, his actions no longer exist within the sphere of our understanding or control. By turning the president into a larger than life personality who is acting in a way that we have never seen before, both Democrats and Republicans have diminished their capacity to judge his policies in light of not only historical events but the real life challenges we currently face as a nation.