My Dad and Donald Trump

My Dad and Donald Trump
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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My father passed away this week and I’m writing about Donald Trump.

If that seems a little weird, I get it. But there is not so much to do when you’re spending a week in mourning keeping your mom company at her house. I’ve already written the eulogy. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve eaten a ton. I’ve comforted my mother as best I could and I’ll keep doing that. But that’s about it.

So, I took to writing a bit. But writing about Trump now is not entirely random. As I found out in the last month or so, my father was the only person I personally know who was supporting Donald Trump for president. When there’s a national phenomenon and you don’t know anyone involved, it says something about you and the bubble you live in. Well, I found out recently I did know someone for Trump and he was the man I loved and respected most in the world. So there’s that.

At first, and I mean this seriously and not as a shot at Trump, I dismissed my dad’s view as the illness talking. Mostly his anger at the situation. He remained cognitively with it until the end so it wasn’t about diminished capacity. But fighting an unbeatable glioblastoma would frustrate anybody. And the simple explanation “he likes Trump because my dad is just crazy angry right now” fits my standard narrative about why people like Trump. After all, I’ve already written about Trump’s hypocrisy regarding the financial industry. I’ve tweeted things like “I wish I had Trump-level accomplishments. I’m still stuck on wife 1, bankruptcy 0, political philosophy 1, and hair God gave me.”

More substantively, I disagree with Donald’s economics. I believe that imposing giant tariffs on Chinese goods is absurd. I don’t like his cruelty, believing that we can have disagreements on immigration policy without demonizing immigrants. I even doubt his sincerity—to the point of taking comfort in the hope, as he piles up Republican delegates, that he doesn’t actually believe many of the things he says.

As a part-time Republican and full-time libertarian (think: “social liberal, fiscal conservative”) I think Trump is a disaster for the GOP, and for the country. He’s about the most authoritarian and least libertarian candidate you could imagine the GOP fielding. I’m a Marco Rubio supporter, admittedly not exactly a libertarian either, and have happily donated to the “establishment’s” efforts to stop Trump (I still find it amazing that so many people dismiss our recently elected Tea Party rebel candidates as “establishment” now partly because they couldn’t repeal Obamacare with Obama still sitting at The Resolute). I could go on and on, which I have: My friends are sick of me talking about it.

But I don’t come to bury Donald. I actually come to praise him in an odd sort of way.

Like many others, I have struggled to explain Trump’s strong support. Prior to recent revelations I’ve mainly concluded, in my “establishment” way, that the plurality (you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an overwhelming majority from the media coverage) ardently supporting him are simply idiots attracted to a vaguely fascist‑in‑style strongman.

Historically, voters gravitate toward people like Trump when they’re scared and angry (though it’s a little sad that today’s disappointments have gotten us here so fast – we can all argue about how bad or good things are right now but this ain’t the 1930s). So, a stupid mob has formed into a still‑well‑less‑than‑half plurality, and a series of ridiculous coincidental events have led to this plurality being on the verge of winning. That’s been my story up to now.

I still kind of think all that. But that doesn’t explain my father’s support. Not at all. My dad was a brilliant man who detested any whiff of fascism—not just for appearances’ sake, but because it was anathema to him. He hated bullies and I always thought he had a real instinct for sniffing them out.

Half my just-written eulogy is about him standing up to bullies in various courageous ways. Yet, the fact remains, he supported Trump. He thought Trump was the only one who could change things for the better. He believed reports that Trump is a very different person in private than his public persona (I countered that someone always makes that excuse for a bully). He thought the country was so far gone in so many ways that we needed a Trump. And he thought The Donald was what the political and corporate establishment (that word again) deserved.

“Trump will kick their asses,” he liked to say. My dad was a deeply fair man, and we were exceptionally close. I really just lost my best friend, but he didn’t care if mine was one of those asses to be kicked! My pop was just that kind of guy.

So, I apologize if there is no thrilling conclusion, no neat tie-up where I say “Aha! I get it!” I don’t. All I know is that my facile “only angry fascist idiots are for Trump” explanation is refuted, as the logicians say, by counter-example. The man I loved, and more important to this issue, the man I respected most in the world thought Trump was the change we need. At the very least he thought it was time to try something or someone like Trump.

Me, I can’t go that far, even as Rubio is hanging on by his fingernails. I’m still not with Trump and still can’t see going there. I continue to disagree with him on too many matters of substance, and to find his personal style simultaneously mean-spirited and worringly seat-of-the-pants. I still think the lesson of the recent times is we need a smaller government with more respect for personal liberty. A less authoritarian government, in other words, not a more authoritarian one, which I think we’d get with Trump. Of course Trump keeps promising a “smarter” one. I’m certainly not against “smart,” but in politics the word usually means that we’ll try the same stuff that failed before but which we’ve now rebranded and usually grown bigger—government grows one “great deal” at a time. And just promising “smart” isn’t nearly enough!

But I can’t dismiss Trump as easily as before. I have to keep a more open mind—if not about his qualities than perhaps about the need for Trump despite some of those qualities. I have to do this not out of filial piety but because for 50 years I’ve found that when I disagreed with my dad I usually turned out to be wrong. I’m not going to ignore my last chance to realize my old man was right.

So, I’m still #againsttrump, but with a bit more confusion, and a bit more willingness to listen than before. At the very least, even if I still vehemently disagree with them, my view of his supporters has changed because of one particular supporter. I know that may seem like a small payoff for reading this missive. A weak conclusion, not a thrilling answer to a tough question, but it’s all I got. The man I loved and respected most in the world believed something I thought very obviously and very badly wrong. That doesn’t change my mind, but makes it a bit, just a bit, less obvious to me today than it was a week ago.

Clifford Asness is the Managing & Founding Principal of AQR Capital Management. He writes at StumblingOnTruth.com and welcomes comments at comments@stumblingontruth.com.
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