A Grain Of Saul: The Candidate Donald J. Trump Could Have Been

When it's all said and done, Trump missed a chance to be something better.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

Donald J. Trump could have been the greatest presidential candidate of all time.

The day he descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his presidency, Trump could have taken the microphone and — as an experienced businessman — explained the value of immigrants, a global economy, and how they literally helped him build his empire and his family. Instead, he made headlines by deriding Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, and then began the deterioration of the 2016 presidential race.

As a rich, white man who received multi-million dollar loans from his father, Trump could have spoken to Americans about the privilege he had, the way the rich get richer in our economy, and how it has the worst wealth inequality in the world. He could have spoken about how easy it is to make money once you have it, how people like him are getting a disproportionate amount while those at the bottom miss out. Instead, he insisted he had gotten where he was on his own, that his loan was "small" and that people who were poor could simply become un-poor by working hard.

An image of a Colorado Springs rally from Trump's campaign.

As a billionaire business owner with familiarity of tax loopholes, as someone who has admitted taking advantage of tax breaks for the wealthy, Trump could have shown the entire country his tax returns and explained how the playing field wasn't level, how it needed to be changed. Instead, he's been accused of hiding his taxes, blamed his opponent for not changing the federal tax code when she was a senator (as if that were possible), advocated for tax cuts that would benefit him the most, and insisted all rich and powerful Americans like him take advantage of the system the same way he does (they don't). 

As a man married to an immigrant with an amazing story of perseverance, hard work and self-made success, Trump could have given his wife the microphone and let her tell her story of achieving the American dream as an immigrant. Instead, he's relegated her to the shadows, insisted her priority is taking care of the children, and repeatedly demeaned and attacked women and immigrants. 

As a Washington, D.C. outsider, Trump could have pushed his reported anti-war stance with a fervor for pacifism, like Bernie Sanders did. He could have spoken to the suffering of men, women and children entangled in wars overseas. He could have exposed the way politicians benefit from the military-industrial complex. Instead, he's threatened to "bomb the shit" out of Middle Eastern countries, advocated for nuclear proliferation, avoided saying he wouldn't use a nuclear bomb, and insisted we turn our backs to refugees fleeing the worst civil war of our lifetime because they come from Muslim countries where terrorists might live.

As a businessman with a bottom line, Trump could have stressed the importance of bringing overseas jobs back stateside by restructuring his business to employ more American workers. Instead, he put the blame on current politicians for not changing regulations, he insisted countries like Mexico and China are "stealing" our work, and he repeatedly — and inaccurately — claimed that trade deals like NAFTA are bad for the U.S. economy when most economists disagree.

As a media mogul who benefitted greatly from the 24-hour news cycle because he was bombastic and brass, Trump could have exposed the vulnerability and the unreliable, tabloid-like nature of television news. Instead, he continued to use the media as a pawn, while attacking The New York Times and The Washington Post, the finest institutions of journalism we have.

As a centrist who has registered both as a Democrat and Republican, voted for both Democrats and Republicans, donated to and repeatedly praised his opponent Hillary Clinton, Trump could have run as the anti-partisan gridlock candidate. He could have run on the platform of bringing people together, getting Congress in motion again, and shooting down the middle. Instead, he divided his own party, took up with alt-right nationalists and has veered into the strange, conspiracy-laden world of Drudge Report and Alex Jones.

As a populist candidate with grassroots appeal, Trump could have encouraged the greatest voter turnout and investment in democracy our country has ever seen. Instead, he told lies about voter fraud and election rigging. He ignored the restrictive voter I.D. laws and gerrymandering of his own party, the kind of election rigging that actually hurts democracy, and gave lip service to already-debunked myths of voter fraud that perpetuated the 2012 election.

As an employer of so many people, someone representing the white working class, Trump could have spoken to his supporters with love and care. He could have preached the need to innovate in Middle America and find ways to connect to the metropolitan economy, to accept that racial divides and immigrants aren't the things hurting our economy, that instead, our economy suffered because it focused too much on the rich and not the middle class. He could have appealed to the camaraderie and patriotism of rural Americans that I know, but instead he played on their fears and hate, their suspicions and frustration, and he left them looking uglier and less educated to the "liberal elite" than ever before.

As a man with two daughters, a staff full of women and millions of female supporters, Donald Trump could have been a candidate for women. He could have advocated for equal pay and extended maternity leave and tried to put more women in government. He could have elevated conversations around feminism and the importance of giving young women a voice like the women before them never had. Instead, he doubled down on disparaging comments he'd made about women, dismissed predatory language as locker room talk, and claimed his opponent — the most qualified presidential candidate ever — wouldn't be where she was if it wasn't for her gender. 

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hugs a student in Malawi during an official visit in 2012.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hugs a student in Malawi during an official visit in 2012. The White House / Lawrence Jackson.

As someone who deferred from the military five times and claims to have a distaste for war, Trump could have spoken with humility about our armed forces. He could have said that men and women in uniform were braver than he ever could be, more courageous than he ever was;  he could have said our military was more prepared and better armed than any military on earth. Instead, he attacked prisoners of war and a Gold Star family, he insisted he knew more than the generals, that he had a secret plan to beat ISIS, that our military was weak and disintegrating and not what it used to be, even as we spend more money on our armed forces than the next eight countries combined.

As a rich man with powerful friends and a knack for making splashy headlines, Trump could have truly taken money out of politics. He could have won the election without special interests. But instead, he got into the Super-PAC game, came up short on promises to self-fund his campaign, and abandoned the issue when splashier ones came around.

Trump could have wielded his power on the behalf of those in need in a battle for unity and progress. Instead, he took that power and used it to scorch the earth, publicly shame and ridicule opponents, disenfranchise millions of Americans who are already hurting, attack the press, nurture distrust and appeal to the worst appetites of the American people.

Donald J. Trump could have been the greatest, most transformative president of all time. But instead, he'll go down as the most divisive, disruptive candidate we've ever seen.

For more political commentary, you can follow Isaac Saul on Twitter @Ike_Saul