After listening to some diehard Donald Trump fans talk about him being the ideal American success story and that they want to emulate him, I got to thinking. Just what defines the American success story?
The fact is that in this country, the odds are great that if you start out rich, you are likely to remain rich, even if you screw up several times, and if you are born poor, you are likely to remain poor, even if you make a series of great decisions. Americans don’t like to be reminded of that truth because we often are too busy patting ourselves on the back for being the greatest country in the world.
But the stories of Trump and President Barack Obama illustrate the two sides of the American success coin.
One of them was born to a single mother and essentially raised by his grandparents and at least briefly needed food stamps to help make ends meet. He overcame the bad connotations that come with an “exotic” name and rose up by working hard in school, then forfeited a life of riches on Wall Street to help poor people on the streets of Chicago while juggling student loan repayments into his 40s before making enough money in the private sector to pay those loans off, before becoming president of the United States and making unpopular decisions that helped pull the country out of an economic free fall that was largely created by men and women with over-inflated egos who were associated with Wall Street. In his adult private life, he’s made the kinds of decisions men and fathers are taught to make: be committed, loyal, disciplined, responsible and present in the life of your wife and kids. And he served two terms in the White House and implemented a variety of historic changes.
His primary message: Be born in America then work your way up.
Wealth surrounded the other guy since he showed up in his mother’s womb. He squandered that wealth multiple times but was able to use a bankruptcy and tax system designed to favor the already-wealthy to walk away from obligations and to regain riches and to gain even more - even as his creditors lost billions of dollars and the companies he was in charge of lost about half a billion dollars in valuation during his tenure. His over-inflated ego even helped sink the primary challenger to the National Football League, the USFL. In his adult private life, he has changed wives like others change underwear. And he brags about how great he is while calling other people dummies. And he’s leading most of the early polling for the GOP nomination for president.
His primary message: Be born rich knowing American-style capitalism will make it hard for you to fall down no matter how irresponsible you are.
To recap: One has lived a life in private and public that men and boys are taught to emulate while the other has lived life in private and public that adults are told to avoid.
No wonder we revere one as the consummate American success story while tens of millions of us questioned if the other is even truly American.