How to Avoid Future Trumps?

SIMPLE OR IMPOSSIBLE?

Out of curiosity, I read Mary Trump’s rather boring but episodically interesting book about the Trump family – in particular, Uncle Donald.

It’s impossible to know what impact this book might have had were it published before the 2016 election. Certainly, it reveals much of the pathological insecurity, lying as oxygen, and self-aggrandizement that America has come to recognize – and abhor – since the election. Whether the public would have given credence to the niece’s damning account of her uncle’s intellectual and emotional flaws (in large part directed at his brother/her father) and thereby tilted the result to Clinton is unknowable.    

Mary Trump’s book comes as Joe Biden is vetting his Vice Presidential candidates. There is nothing like that vetting for Presidential candidates. Someone aspiring to the second slot is compelled to subject themselves to an intrusive and deeply personal examination of their finances, relationships, sexual proclivities – even their children are fair game. Those running for the top job, though, need only concern themselves with information that is publicly available, and are free to release data they believe will advance their election, and suppress those things that might impede their prospects.

That leaves the press to conduct vetting of presidential candidates. Generally, they’re quite good at it, but, as Trump has shown, a candidate determined to cloak himself in secrecy can be surprisingly effective in doing so.

There is, as a result, a significant difference in what is known about a president in advance of their election and what, how and when the public gets its own inside look.

Highlighting the critical need to address that imbalance may be the biggest contribution of Mary Trump’s book.

We should find a way to institutionalize a vetting process for all Presidential candidates in the future. It cannot hurt, and it might keep unfit people from embarrassing themselves and (far worse) damaging the country.

It’s uncertain whether states can require, say, candidates to release their tax returns as a condition for getting their names on the ballot. If not, perhaps something like the independent vetting of Supreme Court candidates by the American Bar Association might work – candidates could be required to submit tax returns and other vetting materials, and an independent commission – WITHOUT releasing the details that were shared – could rate candidates on factors such as openness, honesty, integrity and cooperation, along with more traditional metrics like conflicts of interest or blatant corruption.

It is too bad that Mary Trump did not write her book before the 2016 election, because it forces us to forever wonder, “what if?…”

With plenty of time on their hands as the novel coronavirus continues its deadly march across the country, philosophers, artists and intellectuals have been contemplating the idea that the virus may be nature’s way of restoring harmony – of sending us a message about togetherness being the only effective weapon against divisiveness.

It’s not enough to survive – either this virus or this President (though surviving both WOULD be nice). We must find a way forward. As a clinical psychologist, Mary Trump has given us insight into the corrupted and tragic character of her uncle; we must not let the damage infect our nation’s soul.

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