Trump Reveals True Character in First Debate

Ben Silverman, Contributing Writer

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has confounded the country about his core values. His rambunctious arrival on the scene and subsequent climb in the polls left much of the U.S. confused as to why this particular candidate has slid into the political world. Since his candidacy announcement speech, however, some of his motivations have become clear and illuminated the current nature of the country.

On Aug. 17, 2015, The Atlantic published an extensive article titled “Why Do People Support Donald Trump?” It featured articulate letters from Trump supporters elucidating their reasons for supporting him, including a desire for an upheaval of the new cultural hegemony, restoration of the American Dream and four years of quality entertainment. But despite fixed Republican support, the character of Donald Trump is still an enigma — perhaps more so than any other candidate in history. He has spouted an absurd number of falsehoods on the trail, so much so that his fans support him less for his policies and more for a sense of emotional connection.

But no more; with over 80 million viewers, Monday’s debate left our candidates no reason to bring anything but their most perfect selves in all aspects of their character, including rhetoric. This new dynamic had particular consequences for Donald Trump, as both supporters and critics must now face the full reality of his candidacy. As November draws closer, his status as a reality TV figure is replaced by his potential role as a powerful political figure. In the transition from character to world leader, he will be increasingly judged for his tangible influence rather than what he represents in people’s minds.

“Words matter,” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said last Monday, welcoming Trump to the arena of political discourse. From this point on, his words carry more weight than in the early months of the race, finally giving us a chance to draw conclusions about Donald Trump’s values.

A major area in which Trump’s rhetoric does not match his supporters’ perception of him is on his signature issue: the economy. A unifying point among Republicans today is the need for a return to an older conception of the American Dream in which someone could feel proud of the wealth they amassed in their life, as it represented their success and achievement. In this world, a white man could feel truly successful without being shamed by elites saying the system was tilted in their favor. Today, Trump supporters look to “The Donald” in hope that that dream may yet be realized.

In a failure of tact, Trump revealed Monday night that he didn’t pay taxes on multiple occasions and that he thinks himself smart for doing so. At this moment, a floodgate opened to reveal Trump’s true character. Within the tirade of cynicism that constituted his first 30 minutes of the debate — a cynicism that brought him to the point of a jab at LaGuardia Airport that could have been written for Seinfeld — his empty, singular view of the world became clear. Personal achievement and power, whether in the form of money or ownership of vapid clubhouses, is what making America great again is all about. This code of ethics is derived from business practice, leading to a morality that sanctifies capital over welfare. His condescension towards African-American communities, disrespect of women and dehumanization of Mexicans and Muslims is not another Southern Strategy-style conceit. It’s just the mark of a man with a vision of a dark future.