The Ugly American – Part 1


Republican Presidential hopeful, Donald John Trump, Sr.

Republican Presidential hopeful, Donald John Trump, Sr.

The Ugly American, a 1958 political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, depicts the failures of the United States diplomatic corps, whose insensitivity to local language and customs was in marked contrast to the polished abilities of East bloc (primarily Soviet) diplomacy and led to Communist diplomatic success overseas. The title character, Homer Atkins, is introduced late in the book. He is “ugly” only in his physical appearance. Atkins’ unattractive features, his rough clothing and dirty hands are contrasted with the bureaucrats’ freshly pressed clothes, clean fingers, and smooth cheeks. Their behaviors have the opposite contrast: Atkins cares about the people of Southeast Asia and wants to help them create practical solutions to their everyday problems; the bureaucrats want to build highways and dams that are not yet needed, and with no concern for the many other projects that will have to be completed before they can be used. Perversely, Atkins embodies the opposite traits from the pejorative traits now popularly associated with the term “ugly American.”

Today, the term “ugly American” refers to perception of the loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home. It is a pejorative term.

Well, the “ugly American” is very much alive and kicking…and his name is Donald Trump.

I have resisted writing about Donald Trump until now, because really, why waste the ink? But it occurs to me that the reason I find him so repulsive is because he embodies everything that is said about American tourists who used to roam Europe, routinely embarrassing the rest of us – the “ugly Americans.” Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Period. Here is why.

Let me begin with Trump’s narcissism: He believes that he is “exceptional.” He insists that he is always right, and any critic is wrong, jealous, and unable to appreciate his superiority. Trump says that he is smart. In fact, in one speech he was heard to say “I’m very smart” twenty-three times in the course of his remarks. If he really is smart, he should know that such tedious assertions only suggest that he is deeply insecure about his own intelligence. After all, this is a man whose lifework has been putting up giant buildings that resemble bowling trophies, some of them in the service of one of the worst activities of our time, legalized gambling, which is based on the socially insidious idea that it is possible to get something for nothing.

Then there is Trump’s glorification of money and the delusion that he is self-made: “I’m rich. I’m really rich,” he tells us. So according to his logic, that makes him better than the rest of us, and it is all due to his brilliance. He does not owe his (exaggerated) fortune to his inherited wealth, or to his ability to avoid the consequences of bad business decisions through multiple bankruptcies, or to the “old boys” network available to the sons of well-to-do white Christian males.

Further, there is Trump’s substitution of witless name-calling for political discourse: If he disagrees with you, you are a dummy or a clown. He does not have to explain why you are wrong, or what he would do instead, or why his idea is better.

Even further still, there is Trump’s full-throated bigotry and racism: President Obama is black, so he could not possibly have been born in the United States; brown people are all illegal immigrants who are murderers, drug addicts or dealers, and rapists.

And let us not forget Trump’s downright chutzpah: He denigrates Senator John McCain’s military service, while he was taking advantage of student deferments available to the pampered and the privileged.

Even Donald Trump’s supporters acknowledge that he is brash, arrogant, egocentric, and opinionated. He believes in American exceptionalism and lauds himself as a prime example of that exceptionalism. He is never without an opinion – whether he knows anything about the subject or not. Trump sees the world in black and white, with seemingly no understanding or appreciation of the complexity of an ever-evolving geopolitical landscape.

Trump is thin-skinned and petulant, indulging in public feuds over petty slights. When it comes to judgments and criticism, he can dish it out, but he certainly cannot take it.

Trump speaks in inflated hyperbolic language, issuing grand pronouncements with dramatic, sweeping gestures and exaggerated body language. When I was in seminary, we were taught that when your sermon had a weak point, just pound the pulpit! Well, Donald Trump does a helluva lot of pulpit pounding. And he is loud – oh boy, is he ever loud!

There is much more, but what I fail to understand is how a significant part of the American public – not just the Republican base – can take this delusional buffoon seriously. He is an embarrassment to the country. I cannot begin to imagine him sitting down with some Head of State and that meeting not be a humiliating experience. I remember only too well when he told Larry King on network television that he had bad breath and asked to sit farther away from him because of his halitosis! I see that kind of experience – only writ large and on an international stage were he to be the Leader of the Free World. Heaven help us if that happens.

Granted, the rest of the presidential hopefuls range from undistinguished (to put it mildly) to terrifying (to also put it mildly), but Donald Trump’s antics are so capacious as to even make Rick Perry (“Oops!”) look intellectually perceptive by comparison.

We live in a world that is complicated and increasingly interdependent. We need a leader who understands those complexities and who can analyze and debate the available options for dealing with them – not a purveyor of bumper-sticker slogans, faux machismo and belligerent balderdash.

Everything that is wrong with Donald Trump – everything that makes him such a danger to the country – emerged in the opening minutes of his announcing his candidacy for President of the United States.

On June 16, 2015, in the midst of announcing that he was running for President of the United States of America, Donald John Trump, Sr. said many horrible things about Mexico. Two weeks later, ten percent of Republican voters said they wanted Trump in the White House. What does any of this say about us? I guess it says that at least a percentage of us hate Mexicans. And immigrants. Oh, and the Chinese too. Though Trump did not call the Chinese rapists, criminals and drug dealers as he did with Mexican immigrants, he has said that the Chinese are stealing American jobs and may or may not be stupid. Now some of these immigrant-hating voters say that they like Trump because he says what is on his mind, does not hold back and is not a politician. He “tells it like it is” or so says an increasing number of white working-class voters who feel that their jobs have been stolen by those damn “furr-in-ers.”

Donald Trump had ostensibly been planning his campaign for quite some time. And since that announcement, he has been given multiple opportunities to “walk back his comments.” For those not immersed in politics, “walking back your comments” means “you now realize that something you said was wildly unpopular with or unbelievably offensive to people from whom you need something, so you make a half-ass apology or blame someone else for what you said.” But that is not the way that Donald Trump does things. Trump has not stepped away from his comments in the slightest. In fact, he has threatened to sue people who have ended business relationships with him because of those same comments. What Donald Trump literally said in his announcement that he was running for Commander-in-Chief/Head of State/Leader of the Free World was this: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” When people think about sending Donald Trump to the White House, do they think that they are sending their best? Or are they even thinking at all?

I must say, however, there is one thing about “the Donald.” Just when you think he cannot get either worse or even more outrageous, he turns around and does just that. Some say he could not get any lower than when he slammed Senator John McCain for being captured. I happen to disagree. I am not a big fan of Senator McCain, but I thought that Trump’s comment about McCain’s wartime captivity was a cheap shot. I am convinced that “the Donald” will find a way to get even lower. It is just a matter of time. I cannot help but wonder out-loud, since when did being argumentative, outlandish and totally clueless become desirable traits for the President of the United States?




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