Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion Politics

The danger and ego of Donald Trump, all in one gesture

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump asks his supporters to raise their hands and promise to vote for him at his campaign rally at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida on March 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski

On Saturday, Donald Trump took a straw poll of his supporters in Florida, asking those in attendance to raise their right hands and pledge to vote for him on or before the Florida primary on March 12.

And a whole lot of people are calling this action very, very stupid.

So, here’s a quiz. Is this stupid because:

a) The Florida primary is actually on March 15, not March 12?

b) It’s a safe bet that superfans who came out on a weekend to a Trump rally can probably rouse themselves to vote for Trump without him making them publicly raise their hands and swear to it?

c) Trump just failed his very own Godwin test and played right into the hands of all those folks who think he’s a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler? Or . . .

d) All of the above?

Ding ding ding! I know you guessed D, which means you are already smarter than Trump.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump asks his supporters to raise their hands and promise to vote for him at his campaign rally at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida on March 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump asks his supporters to raise their hands and promise to vote for him at his campaign rally at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida on March 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski

Now I don’t know what was in Donald Trump’s mind when he asked people to swear their allegiance. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t foresee the consequences — didn’t imagine that, when he raised his right hand to demonstrate the gesture, his supporters would up the ante by enthusiastically raising their entire right arms in the manner of a Nazi salute. (Or that some of them would do so even before he told them what they were pledging. Saints preserve us.)

Let’s give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn’t realize that this whole scenario would smack of 1933, with him playing a role that would require him to defy his well-publicized follicular challenges and grow a mustache.

That could have been the end of it, had Trump learned anything at all from the ensuing outcry and angry comments, like when the longtime chair of the Anti-Defamation League, a Holocaust survivor, slammed the salute as “a fascist gesture.

But Trump is not apologizing for it, not at all. Here is what happened on the Today show this morning:

“Honestly, until this phone call, I didn’t realize it was a problem,” the Republican front-runner said Tuesday in a live interview on TODAY.

Trump claimed the crowds simply were “having a good time” and even demanded he lead them in the pledge.

“If it’s offensive, if there’s anything wrong with it, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.

Over the weekend, Trump urged supporters at a rally in Orlando to raise their right hand and repeat a pledge to vote for him. Despite critics comparing the scene to one of Nazi rallies, Trump repeated the effort at two more rallies days later.

The most revealing part of Trump’s response is this line: “If it’s offensive, if there’s anything wrong with it, I wouldn’t do it.”

In other words, Trump’s egomania is so all-encompassing, and his horror of apologizing so far-reaching, that anything he does is automatically unimpeachable in his eyes. He knows what’s right. It doesn’t matter if Jews protest. It doesn’t matter if the current and former presidents of Mexico protest.

Their opinions aren’t important. The only opinion that matters to Donald Trump is Donald Trump’s.

Trump has throughout this campaign traded in the outrageous and flirted with the offensive. So far, his candidacy has proven to be so well-coated in Teflon that nothing he has said or done has significantly reduced his support — causing him to boast in January that he could even “shoot somebody” and not lose voters.

He’s probably right. But I sure hope America wakes up to his ongoing ego trip and proves him wrong. We need real leadership, not dangerous demagoguery.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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