Donald Trump and The Center for Michigan

How does a loud-mouthed business guy with a bright orange comb-over go from being a narcissistic, often embarrassing politico-entertainer to the clear leader in the current national contest for the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency?

I’m referring to – you guessed it – Donald Trump.

When he announced last spring he was running for president, nobody took him seriously. Even though his campaign took off like a rocket, everybody figured he’d fade over the summer.

He’s done anything but. Here it is almost fall and there he is, the subject of round-the-clock media coverage, the object of passionate support from his fans, the leader of the pack.

Something very odd is going on in the bowels of the American political system –if not America itself.

I’m thinking there are three causes.

First: Trump ranks as a comparative giant on a stage otherwise crowded with dwarves. Each might in a smaller field look like a plausible candidate for national office. But today they seem lifeless cardboard cutouts next to The Donald.

His performance skills – sharpened by his long TV experience – just blow his competitors away.

Second: Trump may be lots of things to lots of different people, but there is no question he loves letting it all hang out for all to see.

Those who support him say he’s the only guy in the race who has the guts to tell it exactly like it is. Most of the other candidates seem like puppets, scripted by consultants skilled in homogenizing clients into carefully calibrated, poll-driven, lifeless figurines.

Not Trump. As Maureen Dowd put it in the New York Times on Aug.29 “It’s deeply weird, but the jeering billionaire reality star seems authentic to many Americans. Trump is a manifestation of national disgust – with the money that consumed politics, with the dysfunctional, artificial status quo…”

Third: Over the last 20 years or so, the American political system has ossified into one largely fenced off to ordinary folks. If you’re not the boss of a big company or the head of a powerful union, nobody’s going to listen to you. Got a billion bucks, politicians clamor for your advice. Run a big interest group, the doors are open.

But if you’re an ordinary citizen with a gripe or a good idea, it’s tough to get anybody on the inside to listen.

Lots of Trump supporters – who polls tell us are largely white, lower income, often lacking college degrees, irregular voters – feel particularly excluded by the political system. For these folks, Trump’s posture resonates: Alarm at the drift of the country. Anger at the system and the stupidity of those politicians in charge.

Not surprisingly, he’s calling for a return of the “silent majority,” a term first used by Richard Nixon as a code word for mostly white people unhappy with minorities and intellectual and cultural elites.

I worried about many of these things back in 2006, when I started the Center for Michigan. Our “democratic” political system was simply not open to ordinary people. So the Center was specifically designed to provide a route for citizen entry to the halls of power. We do that by holding a series of community conversations all over the state, small (10-20, typically) groups of ordinary citizens who gather for a couple hours to talk over the big issues of the day.

Scribes carefully note the discussions; conclusions are captured by “clicker” technology; results are published as annual “Citizen Voice” reports. Since the Center started doing this, nearly 40,000 Michiganders have participated – the largest public engagement campaign in state history.

And this isn’t just idle chatter. Politicians are listening. As a result of our citizen engagement work, for example, Michigan now leads the nation in increased public support for early childhood programs aimed at poor and vulnerable four year-olds who need extra help to succeed in school.

There are two basic approaches to fixing our ailing political system. Trump’s trying to bust it wide open. The Center’s trying to focus and mobilize public concern.

Don’t get me wrong. I consider Trump utterly unqualified for the presidency. He offers no remedies that make sense.

But maybe, just maybe, we needed a loud-mouthed narcissist with impossible hair to smash away at the bad parts of an increasingly broken political system.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:30am
Trump as But just flying to events on THE TRUMP, funding his own campaign( it would seem) and standing there and saying what we've all known..."I've contributed to lots of politicians and when I call for a favor I get it" he's kind of ripped the curtain away like the wizard of oz. Except it's not a small ordinary thing to be so afraid of, it's just as big and overwhelming as we feared. Pile on if you must, but when I see efforts to eliminate unions for workers, I wonder what we average folks have as a unified voice to be heard. Our politicians, any party any wing, aren't statesmen. Signed: frustrated
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:31am
Why is Trump not qualified? Because he's a republican? Because he has ideas different from yours? Because you're afraid he will make things work in a way that is different from your thinking? You are correct when you say we need someone to smash away at a bad political system.
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:45am
Trump isn't qualified because, simply put, he's an autocrat. He issues orders and has them followed. That isn't how our process works. He won't be able to order Congress to do anything. So, unless he's going to rule entirely by Executive Order, he's unlikely to be able to accomplish anything. Congress controls the purse and The Donald won't be able to deal with that.
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 3:38pm
And this is any different from the Community Organizer who says that he has a pen and a phone? Have you been following the republican party's "efforts" defund things that offend its so-called base like Planned Parenthood and Obamacare? Congress is weak and impotent and it is lead by buffoons. If Trump were to get elected, Trump's management style would actually work to rebuild America.
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:28am
How can I participate in the discussions that you mentioned above? Please send me some information on the "Center for Michigan". "Trump" is a narcissist, hypomanic (maybe not hypomanic but truly manic) person. He is smart, flexible, and radically opinionated, however he is talking the talk many want to hear. He is not hampered by "political correctness (PC)" and that is, in and of itself, freedom. The rest of us are caged by the iron rods of PC and we are unable to say what we really think and feel. My hope is that Trump's rhetoric will be heard by the politicians and some of what he is saying taken seriously. "LETS GET RID OF PC FOR GOOD"
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 3:50pm
Clem, I have attended several of TCFM conversations in the past. They are great to meet other like-minded people and discuss current events, but the rest is where the likes of Mr. Power plays fast-and loose with the facts. There discussions with the "clicker" technology utilize what is called push-polling in which the person asking the question is seeking to obtain their desired answer by how they ask the question to the people attending these events. TCFM staff would bring up several issues on a projection screen and give you several suggestions on how to fix them (Should we tax person "a" or group "b" to pay for a program?). If a participant throws out solutions of their own (Cut program "a" or program "b" and redirect the savings towards the same goal), you are told that is not an option and to select the options provided for you on the screen. I'm just forewarning you ahead of time so that you don't become disappointed from what you see.
Sun, 09/20/2015 - 10:11am
KG-1 - Spot on. That's what I observed when I participated in one of Mr. Power's sessions. We (my wife and I and others) felt 'herded' toward what Mr. Power felt was the right answers. Some topics and views were not offered as 'options' and some topics were clearly not to be discussed period. Kind of like those 'surveys' we used to get from our representative in congress that only offered you the solutions that representative wanted to hear. I wrote ours once about getting a UM statistics group to design and conduct a real survey and he would never respond. Not the 'answers' he wanted to hear.
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 11:47am
Why is Trump not qualified to be president? Because while he does understand the political system to an extent, and he knows how to get things done in the business world, he seems to have no grasp of the balance of power our forefathers built into our system of government, for one. While that system has become very unwieldy, thanks to lobbyists, special interests, and politicians more interested in getting re-elected than doing what is right, it still functions to protect any one branch of government from being too powerful. Additionally, I cannot imagine Trump shooting his mouth off the way he does now on an international stage. What many find to be refreshing candor from a candidate would be highly inappropriate when dealing with other countries and cultures. While I do believe that we need leadership that strongly believes in and supports freedom and democracy, and speaks candidly about what the US does and does not support, we need a leader who can do this with tact and sensitivity. What I hear from Trump the candidate would be an embarrassment to this country if he were representing us internationally, and would stand in the way of advancing the ideals this country should stand for. I strongly believe we need a huge change from the direction the United States is now headed, and that we need conservative leadership, but Trump would be the one Republican candidate who could push me into voting for a third-party candidate if he were the nominee. This is coming from someone who votes Republican the majority of the time, but not always, BTW.
peter clark
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 12:49pm
Perhaps you might consider writing about the substantive Bernie Sanders who is proposing solutions. His crowds are larger than Trumps. In fact he is currently beating Hillary in Iowa and New Hampshire and based on his messaging I expect him to expand upon his lead..
Ned S. Curtis
Sun, 09/20/2015 - 8:14pm
I would love to hear more about Sen. Bernie Sanders! Peter is correct...Sanders draws large crowds to hear his detailed policy issues. We should hear more!
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 4:10pm
Mr. Power approvingly quotes Maureen Dowd as saying, " Trump is a manifestation of national disgust – with the money that consumed politics, with the dysfunctional, artificial status quo…” . Perhaps that, or any of Mr. Power's other hypotheses, is not the case. Perhaps the popularity of Mr. Trump is a reflection of the irrationality of some American voters. Without the patience or concentration required to think through the complexities of the world, they are more than happy to applaud ideas like building a fence along the Mexican border at Mexican expense. These are the same voters who, when asked how to balance the budget, advocate eliminating foreign aid, something which makes up a miniscule part of our spending. These are the same voters who cannot face up to the necessity of reforming entitlements, relying instead on the elimination of "waste, fraud and abuse." In short, Mr. Trump appeals to those voters who are frustrated because they cannot find politicians who will deliver two dollars worth of services for one dollar's worth of taxes. They are people who insist on inserting a "fudge factor" that makes things work in their approach to public policy. There is another source of his appeal. Chimpanzees, our primate cousins, have leaders who have succeeded in exerting dominance over the rest of the group. That is exactly Trump's strategy.
Wed, 09/16/2015 - 7:01pm
and what may I ask is wrong with getting rid of waste, fraud and corruption? Are we to assume that it happens, so just live with it. There are all three, in government and in the application of the entitlements. Start by getting rid of that, then move on. Also, I would happy to get an hours worth of work for an hours worth of pay, from all government elected and appointed officials.. HB
Tue, 09/15/2015 - 10:33pm
Did Phil Power just ‘jump the shark’? Did Mr. Power spend a whole commentary about the Presidential candidates talking about hair and personal style? Did he really say sitting governors, a doctor that has overcome barriers that many feel are insurmountable, a woman that has broken the ‘glass ceiling’ to lead a technology company that covers the globe, were ‘dwarves’? Is he so enthralled with style that he can.t find substancesive issues that matter? Will his next commentary be about how Bernie Sander’s style is sharper than Hilary Clinton’s because he is rising in the polls? What is next, the Bridge’s will be about celebrities and gossip and turning the White House into a TV set for a reality show? Do you think Mr. Power’s has a leather jacket in his closet for channeling Fonzi? They call the build up to the Party nominating conventions the ‘silly season’, I would say Mr. Power just confirmed it.
Wed, 09/16/2015 - 7:00am
It is high time someone dismantled the absolute crazy that has taken hold in the GOP of late. The GOP has kicked moderates and sane negotiators out of their party over and over. Trump is the end result.
Chuck Bowman
Wed, 09/16/2015 - 8:39am
My oh my, where do I start? In the first line of his article, Mr Power devolves into calling Mr Trump "loud-mouthed, bright orange hair, narcissistic, and embarrassing." Then, as if to convince the reader that he is politically balanced, Mr Power reluctantly concedes a few accolades for Mr Trump. Eventually he degrades us - his readers - by calling us lower-income, lacking college degrees, irregular voters. ( I may be new to Bridge, but at age 64, I have voted in every presidential election I was old enough to vote in.) Mr Power ends with (my version) "But, lest anyone may possibly mis-understand, let me be perfectly clear; in my lofty opinion, Mr Trump is utterly unqualified." Gee Mr Power, at least he has run a couple dozen multi-billion dollar businesses and made something of himself. That is more than I can say for the community organizer, a job, by the way, that does not require a college degree.
Sun, 09/20/2015 - 10:18am
Chuck - ' least he has run a couple dozen multi-billion dollar businesses and made something of himself. ' More like he inherited a ton of money and his father's businesses and went from there. Our community organizer pulled this country back from the brink of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, got our troops out of a morass in the Middle East and finally got millions health insurance. It appears he did pretty well and better than the son of a former president and a movie actor. Trump has yet to provide even minor details to our problems; just 'trust me, it will be great'. If you are dumb enough to vote for that kind of 'solution' then you're part of our ignorant voter-ignorant candidate and not part of the solution.
Sun, 09/20/2015 - 3:35pm
Rick, pull your head out of the sand. Look beyond the surface and you will see just what the incompetent one has done other than 'snow' you.
Sat, 09/19/2015 - 11:03pm
I do not see anyone on the Republican stage that I could vote for. They are either flawed in understanding government, supportive of tactics that would compromise national security and our credibility in the world, or dismissive of the needs of the majority of the American people. What happened to competent Republicanism??
Ned S. Curtis
Sun, 09/20/2015 - 8:22pm
For God sakes, the entire premise of Mr. Power's column was that "the Center for Michigan and Trump BOTH grew from the idea of getting more people involved in the process." And he's right about that whether you are a Trump fan or not!
Mon, 09/21/2015 - 3:41pm
I would add a forth cause to the odd things going on in the American political system. The main stream media seem to regurgitate what left-wing politicians say and have become untrustworthy in their duty to report the truth. Americans have finally caught on to that and their support of Trump seems to increase as the media increases it's criticism.
Mon, 09/21/2015 - 9:33pm
One of the most important qualities of being president is the ability to get elected and that means being able to connect with voters. Obama came out of nowhere, so did Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, even Eisenhower was a non politician. If Trump talks well, don't discount him, he might get nominated and get elected.
Mon, 11/09/2015 - 3:52pm
The MSN jumped on the Trump's attack on Megyn Kelly thus capitalizing on this loud mouth comments to their advantage as ratings equal money and the MSM and Trump are riding the "wave". John Q public watches in awe of the MSM GOP circus and staged coronation of Lady Hillary. Polls, talking heads and reporters covering the side show.