by Marion Marks
The lesson Muhammad Ali teaches us about Donald Trump is appreciating the most fantastical American figure of his age, a self-invented charismatic character who was consistently honest and insightful. The Ali image is appealing in both simplicity and depth as opposed to the Trump contrived reality-show star shell. Ali, born Cassius Clay in Jim Crow-era Louisville, Kentucky, was a mere skinny, quick-witted kid, whose self-supporting parents were a simple sign painter and a house cleaning maid. Ali only took up boxing at the age of twelve to avenge the indignity he suffered from a bully who stole his most prized possession, a shinny red bicycle.
Ali created his amazing persona, many considered the most famous person in the world, a supreme athlete who became vindicated by the Supreme Court, an artist or wordsmith whose blend of pugilistic force, improvisational wit, ballerina balance and a jet-engine blasts mastered rap-style taunts and derisive jabs while he created a racial pride the white-power establishment could not begin to fathom.
The public image of Ali morphed though shifting personas as he discovered his power. His belief in himself and those he trusted only magnified his creative talents. To most he was merely a prize fighter or a brawler. Whereas, to others who took the time to look closer, he was a draft resister, an Islamic preacher, an activist, a separatist, a pacifist, an integrationist, a joker, an actor, a dancer, a flighty butterfly, a nimble bee. But none who gave him more than a second look could view him without understanding his steely demeanor and unabashed courage.
Ali detractors found him wanting from their perception of questionable decisions, but there was never a question that Ali was committed to every path he took. Just as ultra conservatives could not see past his color or his braggadocios attitude, they would respect, even if in silence, his unquestionable commitment to win.
With Donald Trump, many publicly are enamored with his eagerness to take seemingly noble stands on issues, but his feet rest in quicksand and his words demonstrate battles poorly chosen. Trump outbursts resemble temper tantrums of a petulant child who refuses to eat a meal before expecting a fully tray of desserts. And the double-down words Trump has uttered on so very many issues only define the isolated bigoted stances that now his Republican followers must commit to defend.
Trump’s concept of “fair play” has never been illustrated by any acceptance of responsibility for his history. The Trump University litigation, in his own words, is someone else’s fault. After all, the judge is a “Mexican,” who must be prejudicial. And now he states that no Muslim could ever possibly judge him because of preexisting bias. Ethnic difference always appear to be the premise for Trump’s contentious outbursts. His reputation too closely resembles racist rants David Duke or similar race baiters use in their illogical schemes. Too many Trump targets begin as foreign-born groups or their offspring he can connect to his opposition. His ease of connecting the foul dots of his arguments should trouble any thinking voter.
Trump University, a “fraudulent scheme,” claimed a former university sales manager who indicated that organizational policies “preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.” Trump responded with his usual indignity, immaturity, and fake dedication to American ideals of fair play. Again, the judge was against him because he was “Mexican.” Responses are like cries from out-of-control children, a pattern so troubling we just can’t afford to ignore.
Trump gleefully accepts credit as a leading public face of the birther element claiming Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii but in Kenya. Trump takes every opportunity to proclaim “I have a birth certificate. People have birth certificates. He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there is something on that birth certificate, perhaps religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim, I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or he may not have one.” Clearly, the implication was Obama had not been born on American soil, he should not have been eligible to be President. As Trump says about why he should be believed, “it’s common sense!”
Many birthers faded from their chants when Hawaii released Obama’s “long-form” birth certificate, in 2011, but this was never really the point for Trump. His point has been to feed religious and racial prejudice, and Trump has never renounced these falsities or apologized for spreading them.
President Obama said this: “We are in serious times, and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the Presidency of the United States.” One of the hardest things about this election is that Donald Trump just isn’t funny anymore.
As we mourn the loss of Ali and honor a great American athlete, a symbol of his era who helped bind many wounds in his life, we also mourn the loss of dignity in the race for America’s highest elected office. Our infatuations with reality show symbols and entertainment too easily blends aspirations and mirages based on bigotry and hate called Donald Trump. The fraud and bankrupt reality of Trump’s existence continues to hoodwink too many for too long. As Ali found respect and dignity in a proud black culture, Trump uses dark arts to delve the depths of the worst of divisive politics we must strive to expose.