I love what Donald Trump is doing to politics. I hate how he’s doing it.
I love his accessibility—how he’s ubiquitously available on TV, answering anchors’ questions, and hosting news conferences; how he tweets and retweets at all hours, engaging his supporters and enraging his enemies; and how he floods the zone, singularly reshaping Teddy Roosevelt’s bully pulpit.
I hate how he exploits the media’s lust for ratings and clicks, trading access for softball questions. I hate how almost every interview is an autopsy of the horserace rather than a test of his mettle. I hate how he bullies opponents and plays footsie with the truth. God, I hate how he lies.
I love his ad campaign, which is to say I love how he barely has one. I love how he is exposing media consultants as high-priced frauds, purveyors of a form of persuasion whose effectiveness peaked in the 1950s, when a hit TV show could still capture 70 percent of the audience. I love that he is showing future political candidates how to amplify a potent message on platforms democratized by technology.
I hate the message he peddles. Beware of the other, Trump says—those Mexicans and Muslims, that African American president he birthered. Women are “disgusting animals”—fat pigs and dogs and slobs—and the journalist who dared to feed him his own words is a “bimbo.”
I love his connection to people. Amid the public’s disillusionment and disconnection toward politics, Trump offers bracing change. Thousands of people wait in long lines and bad weather to attend his rallies. They send donations to a billionaire who denounces PAC money. Many know Trump to be a flawed candidate, even a flawed man, but they hear him speaking for them. I call his supporters, respectfully, “Crazy Buts.” Trump might be crazy, they tell me, but he’s a winner, and they’re tired of America losing. I hear versions of this that amount to saying:
"Crazy, but he can't be worse than what we got."
"Crazy, but he's punishing the establishment."
"Crazy, but he's driving the media nuts."
"Crazy, but he says what I can't say."
I hate how he exploits people’s fears instead of appealing to their aspirations, their better angels. I hate how he gives people license to say hateful things. I understand why Trump’s backers are angry, and I don’t subscribe to the theory that most of them are bigots. But they are condoning bigotry.
I love his fist to the face of the establishment. In the last 10 years, Americans have weathered historic economic change, the biggest technological surge since the industrial revolution, a demographic makeover, and two major wars. Through it all, the nation’s institutions and their leaders have failed to adapt. Trump is the public’s middle finger wagging in the face of elites.
Among those slow to recognize Trump’s potency, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote today, “Many Americans seem to be questioning the traditional liberal-v.-conservative paradigm. The parties might want to pay attention.”
I love that Trump is disrupting politics. I hate how he’s doing it.
My friend and former business partner Matthew Dowd, a political consultant-turned-journalist, considers Trump a necessary evil. “Should he be president of the United States? I certainly hope not,” Dowd wrote for ABC News, “but if his emergence helps destroy the sick building so many of us try to enter, then he has served a valuable purpose.”
A “sick building” is Dowd’s metaphor for the U.S. political system, a structure we both want to see transformed. On Twitter, where I list my political affiliation as “Disruption,” Dowd tells me that Trump may not be a bad thing.
“[I] am one that welcomes that which accelerates us to a new and better place,” Dowd tweeted today.
Yes, I get it: America can’t build a 21st-century political system without burning the old one down. A new generation of political leaders could benefit from Trump’s model of disruption, using the new rules to unify the nation behind structural reform. I just think people are playing with fire, and Trump is their arsonist. We don’t know what he would do with power. We can’t even be sure, should Trump be denied the White House after winning the GOP nomination, that that the electorate’s churning anger won’t metastasize into something uglier.
I’m having trouble expressing my disdain for Trump without appearing to cast aspersions upon his supporters, or to be a defender of the establishment. So let me be clear. I loathe him. I respect his supporters. And I hope that after Trump is finished grinding the gears of the political machine in 2016 Americans find a better vehicle for change.