The President26 Feb 2016
He started off as an outsider, came into the race unexpectedly, and seemed to mock the very institution whose presidency he was running for. From the outset, he painted all of his opponents as cronies, and himself as someone who would bring some plain-talking common sense into the presidential race, and hopefully to the presidency itself.
I’m not talking about Donald Trump.
The candidacy I’m talking about is from way back in 1988. And it wasn’t the U.S presidency at stake, but the student council presidency of the public high school I attended in Austin, Minnesota. I had never participated in student government, and was basically the kind of nerdy outsider (not widely hated, but definitely not in with the in crowd either) who would never typically try to win a popularity contest.
But that spring, I heard that several popular kids were all going to run for student council president. I figured that maybe I could attract the votes of the other outsiders, and that the popular candidates running at the same time would unwittingly complete the “divide” part to allow me to “conquer.” Plus, I had just recently started playing in bands, had developed a taste for standing on stage in front of a crowd, and figured it would be fun to stand up in front of the entire student body and say some things. So I signed up.
The exact words I spoke at the podium, in front of hundreds of kids, are lost to history (I had written out a complete speech, but that piece of paper is long gone). My best recollection is that, in brief, I said something like this:
We all know that this is a popularity contest. I'm not the most popular candidate up here today, and I'm not an athlete, so I really don't expect to win. So by all means, do what you normally do on election day, and just vote for whichever one of these guys you imagine you'd want to have as a friend.
The crowd erupted in cheers. Much to my surprise, I realized that I had them. I had apparently hit a nerve. The election was a few days later, and I won.
I hadn’t made any campaign promises. I hadn’t proposed any real solutions to any real problems. Hell, I didn’t even talk about any real problems. The only “problem” I mentioned at all was that the election process was geared towards letting popular kids win for no good reason (which is a problem, but a small one). All I had done was appeal to people’s sense that things weren’t fair. That the deck was stacked agains them, and that an elite were taking advantage of everyone else.
In short, it was pure populism. And as I watch the unexpected rise of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries, and see the other Republican presidential candidates fight each other for scraps while Trump’s juggernaut of a political machine sucks more and more voters into the fold, I can’t help but be terrified. I’ve seen this scenario play out, from the inside, and I’m afraid that Trump is doing all the “right” things to win. At least when I won my presidency, I wasn’t a vile, power-mad, tasteless, misogynist, racist monster.