Trump University, for awhile, seemed like a hamhandedly sleazy attempt at getting people's money--one to laugh off, without a lot of thought about the people whose money actually got stolen. It also seemed so like him--this childish grab at anything that connotes power, luxury or prestige. Gold. Steaks. University. A vision of the good life that I might have had at 5. At 70, he was continuing to not just rush after it, but pursue it with an obsessiveness that meant others getting crushed. And, okay, maybe people who believed that he was a skilled businessman might buy that his university would share what he knew, help them even in the midst of the silly rhetoric, and get out before they got hurt.
Then, several dozen million people voted for him to become president--to hold possibly the most powerful position on earth. And what I believed I could see, what I still believe I can see, as the sham of the man, the transparent cash grab that his life is, came to seem complicated. A way for people to get reeled in that must be investigated, probably by a lot of people with a lot more knowledge and/or experience than I have. Not, ha ha, educated at Trump University . . . though millions and millions of people appear to have been taken in by it. In one way or another.
What is this education? And have I had it, myself, in different ways?
At 8, in third grade, I went to school in a church--a private, Christian school, with not a lot of funding but a lot of conviction and a staff of teachers, was housed there. We had a curriculum, but a lot of freedom, and I remember being able, at least for a while, to run in the woods across the giant-seeming parking lot from that dark brick building, and building a snow fort carefully designed by my brother when the winter hit just right. And, for a little while, a lot of us got into designing our dream homes. We had no limits, and we had markers and paper.
Helicopter landing pads on roofs, gardens next to gardens, central buildings that led to hallways that led to wings and other wings--we taped notebook paper together to make them even better, more enormous, more ostentatious, anything and everything more. And I can't remember a single thing that made mine unlike the others; I tried to do theirs, but better. I was going to look richer than them, because I had that kind of a dream--yours, but better. It might have lasted a week, or even less--until we had to go back to whatever school work we'd left. But we left the project with our homes plotted out.
And I had picked out the girl in class who'd be my girlfriend if she'd just wake up to that fact. She was blond, and that qualified her. Because I knew blond was what everyone wanted, what I should want if I was the kind of guy people wanted to be. She had some traits I didn't really like--too excited about Christmas, too talkative, and too close to the window, a cold spot. But I was willing to be her boyfriend, as long as I didn't have to ask her, and risk, not rejection, but public rejection--everyone in class either seeing her turn me down or hearing about it. Because they would.
From that year, I don't remember any subject matter--any actual schoolwork. Along with the snowfort, I remember playing kind of an abstract game of chasing through the woods with two sisters who were not quite the golden blond of my intended girlfriend (or the principal's daughter, which she was--the right alliance, for sure). And some of us collected honeysuckle blossoms in McDonald's clamshells, if that's what they're called. And we played in other ways, and I read and read.
But I also remember signing my name in cursive on a piece of paper--so big it took up the whole page, just my name, nothing attached to it. A red-haired, older girl came into the classroom where I sat with it, and I showed it to her--my name. Stylish. Ready to be brandished, shown to everyone, used for some kind of pride. Pride wasn't big in our part of the Christian faith, but I had stumbled onto a streak of it. And maybe my mansion was part of the reason. So what if it would never be real?
His pick for Secretary of Education would have supported that school, probably, but wanted tax dollars to go to it. She might have fought for me two years later, when I was crying to my mom for sending me to a public school, where I heard curse words maybe daily on the playground, where I had no common bond of religion or church membership, where my being a "gifted kid" started to get me set apart, put in different classes, encouraged to enter contests, and generally taken way out of a comfort zone I identified with a magical past. Suddenly, the kid who decided to be my friend was African-American, and he told me "be cool." And I couldn't, and never could be. I needed, believed I needed someone to sweep me up into a school I could run myself, if need be. And the tears came without my trying, not just to Mom, but at school, where I got sent to the guidance counsellor because I couldn't stop crying. Not really knowing why, I offered some of the reasons I just shared. But I really didn't know.
Betsy DeVos might say "toughen up," but another message of hers, and of his, of the whole administration, of fascism and its corollaries, is that we have to go back to the great way it was, and our plan means removing whatever blocks us from that. Schools, homes, religion, whatever were safer, warmer, more competitive, and most important, respected once upon a time, and that group of people ruined it. Or they will, if we don't stop them. Or they mostly have, but (and this is really the message, isn't it?) we can undo their dark, dirty work, with this plan. That's how a colossal wall, one drawn across a whole border like a mansion on a sheet of notebook paper, can seem reasonable. It blocks us from what is, and we're left with what was. And it's the best. It's Eden. It's who we really are. And we're not men, are we, if we won't step into that identity? That's his message, because it's in maybe some primitive drive, but definitely in our history. Mussolini more than Hitler.
Reading about him seems too close to deification--about his life, I mean. He might be an interesting part of history after impeachment, or if the even more out there possibility does blossom and this election is actually reversed because of electors changing votes or something else. It also seems secondary--nobody voted in a man, did they? It's an image, animated by their fears. Isn't it?
But I can easily imagine this: he learned how to be educated before he went to school. And he learned that appearance is everything, in the sense that one can become an image and let it permeate nearly to the level of spirit, so he could imagine his gene code reading "TRUMP," if he could imagine. He learned that education endangers--really learning things attacks that mindset, that sense of self, that storyline in which the hero gets fame and pride not only for himself but for everyone he defends, and he learned, on a level below knowing, how to store fear so it catches the right kind of fire, eating at weak feelings and anything else that threatens that "man" in him, the one he must have seen in someone else.
He learned that he was all alone.