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Great Falls, Montana

July 6, 2018 (778 words)

Ever since Budd Schulberg’s lacerating 1958 screenplay for A Face In The Crowd, and the 1968 Joe McGinniss bestseller, The Selling Of The President, and the 1972 vehicle for Robert Redford, The Candidate, we’ve all been hip to the idea that public figures are not always what they seem.

We have known for some time that politicians, in particular, are sold to us like any other consumer product. Images are shaped and molded by teams of handlers who whisper sweet nothings into the ear of the current contestant. The primary objective is always to convey sincerity. Being able to fake that is the well-known key to success in political life.

Meanwhile the public yearns for even a glimmer of authenticity, the unrequited search for which reluctantly brings us to a consideration of our current president, Mr. Donald J. Trump.

… in search of a glimmer of authenticity

One thing even his fiercest critics have to admit about President Trump is that his prickly public persona cannot possibly be the work of a professional image maker. We may recoil at his rather uncomfortable brand of authenticity, but there is no denying we are experiencing the real man, as he has proven to be thoroughly incapable of filtering himself in any way, shape, or form.

It just so happens that the current leader of the greatest nation in the free world held a rally in Great Falls, Montana yesterday afternoon, which was broadcast live on several cable news outlets. The time difference meant the telecast was happening in prime time on the East Coast, where I live. Presumably this rally was being held to promote a local candidate who is on the ballot in this fall’s mid-term election.

No doubt this is the standard type of pre-election appearance every sitting President has made in the past, as the busy presidential schedule may allow. But I doubt any previous president conducted such a local political rally the way Mr. Trump choose to do so yesterday.

In the few minutes I could stand to watch, our President was once again reliving the triumph of his come-from-behind rookie campaign of two years ago. To hear him speak you would have thought it all went down last month. He started the roll call of “important states we unexpectedly won” by reminding everyone he was the first Republican to win Montana – and its game-changing three electoral votes – since Eisenhower did so in the 1952 campaign.

This is not to belittle the sparsely-populated state of Montana, which is a stunningly beautiful place everyone should try to visit at their earliest convenience. Or the historic city of Great Falls, which is still a good town to hang one’s hat and make a life. I happen to know the current mayor there, an old high school hitch-hiking buddy by the name of Bob Kelly.

… emulating the altruism of an old hitch-hiking buddy

Mr. Kelly, you should know, is a retired municipal bond trader who is dedicating his second act to public service, trying to make his corner of the world a better place for all its residents. Even though my old friend was an avid supporter of Hillary Clinton in the last election, one can say without hesitation we would all do well to emulate his altruism.

President Trump, on the other hand, has a well-documented tendency toward preening and pettiness in his public appearances that is a) embarrassing to behold, and b) utterly beneath the office he holds. How did this man get to such an advanced stage of life without having some of his rough edges sanded smooth by the school of experience? Where are all those media-savvy handlers and image makers when you need them?

Whatever you may think of their politics, the Trump children at least seem to be capable of maintaining a semblance of decorum in public, and that respectful composure has to come from somewhere. It can’t all be the product of their mother’s influence.

Most of them work for their father and are therefore in fairly close contact with him, one would assume. So he has more than likely imparted something of positive value to each of them, no matter how improbable that may seem to those of us on the outside. True, some of these now-adult children may be showing signs of the trademark defensiveness, but they are rank amateurs at best, when it comes to mimicking their dad’s more regrettable traits.

Let’s hope in this case not all the sins of the father will be visited upon the sons and daughters.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
July 6, 2018

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