The unlikely road to the White House for Donald Trump started not in Iowa or New Hampshire or Cleveland (site of the GOP convention), but well over a decade ago on the set of The Apprentice.
Every week, Donald Trump appeared in the homes of millions of people stepping off a helicopter, entering a golden building with his name on it in the largest city in America. He told people what to do and they would do it. At the end of the day, he would retire for the evening with his wife, a supermodel.
To many of those who grew up in New York (including me), Donald Trump was the “rich” guy with funny hair that talked a good game but didn’t have the capital (real or otherwise) to back it up.
But to millions of people in suburban and rural America, Donald Trump was the “self-made” millionaire who beat the odds to become highly successful. Donald Trump was everything they wanted to be.
Donald Trump was the American Dream.
Fast forward to the first Republican presidential debate in August 2015 with ten (!!!) candidates on stage. Those candidates were Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich.
Who is the most recognizable person in that group?
In an era where celebrities are more highly regarded than ever, Donald Trump (with absolutely nothing to lose) stepped on stage that night in Cleveland and was nothing more than himself: the boss celebrity.
After that debate, polls indicated Trump had 25% of GOP primary voters in his corner, a huge number considering he had 16 opponents (only 10 were invited to the participate in the main debate).
As each candidate dropped out, the majority of his or her votes went to the celebrity. When the establishment (hi, Paul Ryan) condemned the boss celebrity and tried to make him fall in line, the boss celebrity fought back. He basically said, “I’m a boss! I don’t need you!” and kept on marching. And he was right.
Donald Trump connected with millions of people who felt (right or wrong) that the American Dream was still possible, because HE was the living embodiment of it. To quote the esteemed philosopher Stephen Colbert, he was America (and so can you!)
Donald Trump, after bullying, downplaying, insulting and ignoring millions of Americans (while connecting with millions more in the process), will become the 45th President of the United States.
Donald Trump is the American Dream, and his supporters are now going to live the dream vicariously through him in a way they couldn’t have with his predecessor.
Maybe the American Dream isn’t what we thought it was.