I have friends, good people, who are distressed that President Trump is not being “given a chance.” We should not be so negative about him they feel, so skeptical.
I am a skeptic by nature, as my father was and as my son is. The credulous, those who instinctively align themselves with authority and power, fill a role in this world, but so do we skeptics. Credulity can bring material benefits, I have often observed, but I cannot change my nature.
My father, skeptic that he was, worked for a number of years as a political newsman. (Newspaperman, as he would say; he never liked the term “journalist.”) Through him, and some other family connections, I early came into contact with political figures. The first whom i recall with any clarity was J. Goodwin “Goodie” Knight, then governor of California. By chance, when I was 16 I passed about three-quarters of an hour with Knight in the guest house at Camp Roberts while we awaited the delayed formal review of the 40th Armored Division, California National Guard. (My godfather, Brig. Gen. Wayne C. Bailey, was the assistant commander of the division.) I did my meager best to hold up my end. I had no quarrel with what I knew of Knight’s policies and he certainly was very nice to me. But as I reported to my father afterward I felt that there was something fake about him. He assured me that there was nothing unusual or unnatural in this.
So I was to find in succeeding encounters over the years. If you think a politician is genuinely interested in you, you are likely wrong. His interest will usually prove largely if not purely transactional. There is nothing wrong or unnatural in this, but if you repose trust in him because you feel that he understands and cares about you, you are very probably making a mistake.
But there are degrees in this, and they are important. While J. Goodwin Knight’s interest in me was no doubt somewhat feigned, I did feel that he cared enough about me and other ordinary Californians (at least white middle-class Californians) not to betray us in any serious way, a judgement borne out by his record. (That he was brought down by the rather reptilian Bill Knowland speaks not too badly of Knight.)
I make judgements of people, and I offer no apologies about it. We are equipped by nature to judge those we come in contact with; it’s one of our important faculties. (Psychologists know it as “theory of mind.”) I try always to review and revise my judgements as I acquire new evidence, but find most frequently that my theory of mind as regards others becomes deeper and more subtle but is not radically transformed in the process.
For one of my disposition, to know Donald J. Trump is to mistrust him. His overbearing, boastful, and brutal style immediately marked him as untrustworthy in my view. As I heard more from him I found that he lied constantly, often in matters where the truth would seem to have served him equally.
Oh, but I am being deceived by the falsehoods of the press, am I not? No, I am not. I no more take the word of the press at face value than I do that of politicians, but I have made a long and reasonably successful career of digging out the facts behind appearances, and time and again have found Trump’s assertions to be radically at variance with facts I could verify independently. Since I read a lot and can do mathematical calculations to check the consistency of data—actions he is evidently not only incapable but contemptuous of—I have a significant advantage over him in this.
So if by giving President Trump a chance it is meant that I should abandon critical thought and surrender to his lies, then the answer is no, I have no intention of doing that. Indeed, I am incapable of it.
And as I see some of my credulous friends do just that my trust and respect for them declines in proportion.