Unraveling the Riddle of Donald Trump

During the last three months everyone who is anyone has been stumped by Trump. The riddle is how he does it. How does he remain immune to attack given the outrageous nature of what he sometimes says?

Trump’s time on the national stage has been punctuated by remarks ranging from politically incorrect to wildly offensive. But nothing he has said has stopped him, or even slowed his rise in national polls. Why? What is it about Donald Trump that lets him get away with political murder?

A description of his most recent assault – on Carly Fiorina – provides a clue. The content of what he said was wildly offensive. “Look at that face,” Trump insisted. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” But the tone in which he said it was inoffensive. Instead of looking and sounding like an abusive alpha male, he looked more like a kid who had deliberately decided to misbehave. According to the account in USA Today, just as Trump insulted Fiorina his “expression soured in schoolboy disgust.” Notice the word “schoolboy” – again Trump came across as more naughty than contemptible.

Imagine Richard Nixon – dark, glowering, even menacing – saying what Trump said. Unthinkable! But Trump is not Nixon: his face is different, his body is different, his voice is different, his speech is different, his gestures are different, and his hair is different. There is, in other words, something about Trump physically that disarms his admirers and undercuts his opponents.

  • His face is ruddy, puffy, more round than hard.
  • His body is doughy, soft, aging at the edges.
  • His voice is high not low, more friendly than edgy.
  • His speech sounds like a kid’s – words like “amazing” and “great” and shameless pronouncements of self-importance.
  • His gestures are silly, almost dopey, not exactly Gary Cooper at High Noon.
  • And his hair of course is ridiculous, the object of our collective derision, orange in color, thin in texture, and blown in a fashion more evocative of a woman who is vain than of a man who would be president.

On Wednesday night during the next debate take a look and listen hard. Then tell me if you don’t see what I see: a man who can say things that others could never because of how he sounds and what he looks like.

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