The Teflon Don and Honest Abe
I think most people remember the name John Gotti. In the 1980s-‘90s he was a Mafia boss who was given the nickname “The Teflon Don” because criminal charges against him never seemed to stick. Three times he went to trial and each time he was acquitted, and as a result the New York tabloids talked as if he were invincible. Unlike most organized crime bosses, Gotti kept a high profile in the City, apparently believing that he really was the Teflon Don who was impervious to government prosecution, right up until the point when he wasn’t; in 1992 John Gotti was convicted of murder and sentenced to Federal prison where he remained until his death in 2002. Gotti’s story came to my mind while I was thinking about another Don, Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. As Trump seems to have absolutely no filter whatsoever on his mouth, many people have wondered if and when one of his outrageous, over-the-top statements would cripple his campaign. Personally, I have to admit that when Trump denigrated Senator John McCain’s war service (“I like people who weren’t captured, okay?”) it would doom him with Republican voters, but I was wrong. So is Trump the new Teflon Don? Will he maintain his popularity and win the White House despite (or maybe even because of) his vile, seemingly beyond the pale statements? I very well could be wrong again (and heaven help us if I am) but I don’t think so.
Through American history there have been a number of demagogues who looked impervious until they weren’t. Senator Joseph McCarthy was riding high until he took a fall. The cumulative effect of all his cruelty and hate finally reached a tipping point when, in his vast arrogance, he took on the U.S. Army, and the American people finally decided they had had enough of the senator from Wisconsin. And so when Joseph Welch asked him at the Army hearings “have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?”, all of America waited to hear the answer, and McCarthy didn’t have one. Will that do-or-die moment, when the American public can finally stand no more, eventually come for Trump? Given his proclivity for hateful statements, I think it will.
As Abe Lincoln famously said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”. Trump has already fooled all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time. But to win the presidency, he will have to fool all the people all of the time, and it may be wishful thinking, but I just don’t think he can do it. In the past week Trump has asked the Russian government to hack American email servers and has insulted a Gold Star family, and there is no sign that he has either the ability or inclination to stem the flow of vileness that issues forth from his mouth in a seemingly unending stream. And so I’m putting my faith in Honest Abe that in the end, the people will not be fooled and they will reject this incompetent, know-nothing bigot.