We’ve called him many things. We pundits have overworked our thesauruses and our imaginations to describe Donald Trump. Kathleen Parker called him “the biggest goofball ever to enter the Oval Office sweepstakes.” Nicholas Kristof called him “ill-informed,” “deceptive,” “vacuous” and a “crackpot.” Yours truly called him “a tire fire in an expensive suit.” But if there were a prize for getting it right, all of us would be runners-up to Fareed Zakaria. Last month, in a live interview on CNN and a later column in The Washington Post, he nailed Trump perfectly. The Republican candidate for president, he said, is “a bull–-t artist.”
Yes, it’s a coarse and vulgar term. But there is no demure synonym that captures the man with such crystalline accuracy. Donald Trump is not just a liar, a word that connotes strategic untruths told for expedience or advantage. No, he is a BS artist, a man who speaks most forcefully where he knows the least, and whose entire modus operandi is to bluff, bluster, boast and bully his way through whatever the subject or situation may be. Think Cliff Clavin holding forth in “Cheers,” or Eddie Murphy rousting that redneck bar in “48 Hours.”
Perhaps the clearest proof of Trump’s BS artistry came last week when he conceded what intelligent people have known for years. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period,” he said. It was a terse, grudging statement at the end of an event at his hotel in Washington celebrating the glory of all things Trump.
“President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.” Well, gee, thanks for clearing that up. That this was ever a matter of controversy speaks volumes about the intellectual state of the Union. That the majority of Republicans still doubt or disbelieve the president’s birthplace speaks volumes about the intellectual state of that party. That Trump led this racist movement for five years, that he fanned its bizarre conspiracy theories and claimed to have hired private investigators to look into them, that he dumped the whole thing when it became political baggage, that he did not apologize for what he did, that he instead attempted to shift blame and to claim — lying through his teeth — that Hillary Clinton started it all, speaks volumes about the moral state of the would-be president.
Indeed, it provides redundant proof that there is no “there” there, no core values holding him together, unless you count the value of always doing whatever gratifies or advances Donald Trump and his ego in a given moment. Otherwise, he is formless, a cloud sculpted by the breeze, water taking the shape of the glass.
He is, transparently and obviously, exactly what Zakaria called him. And he is rising in the polls. That ought to give you pause. Trump is not an overly clever man and certainly not a subtle one. He does not hide what he is. Yet some of us are nonetheless drawn to what he is, to the way he validates their anger at all the faceless others — Muslims and Mexicans, gays and transgender, blacks and uppity women — whose rising has changed America. They want “their” country back, and Trump, with the easy grin of a conscienceless man who stands for nothing and therefore, stands for whatever you need him to, promises to give it to them.
Just as he once promised them he’d once solve the “mystery” of Obama’s birthplace, only to unceremoniously abandon that promise when it became politic to do so. You’d think Trump’s acolytes would see a warning there. The stench of bovine excretions could not be more obvious.
But for them, apparently, change smells even worse.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.