Columns, Opinions

Friedman ’19: We are who we are

By
staff columnist
Sunday, February 5, 2017

In the fifth grade, I applied to become a news anchor for my elementary school’s morning news show, “Good Morning Centennial Elementary.” The show’s anchors discussed the lunch menu and weather on a daily broadcast to every classroom in the school. The selection process was actually quite extensive, and the application required a level of introspection that, at the time, my ten-year-old mind was not capable of. The final question of the application required me to write the name of my role model. I thought about writing down “my dad,” but after giving it further thought, I filled in “Warren Buffett,” celebrated investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. To my surprise, I actually didn’t get the anchor job; I became the cameraman instead. Though I think my teachers were floored by the fact I knew who Warren Buffett was at age 10, I also suspect that they viewed my responses as overly materialistic and status-seeking.

Nine years later, as I sit down to declare my applied math-economics concentration, I fear that my academic intentions are still in flux. In an effort to cultivate meaningful hobbies that would provide me with role models outside of finance, I took up folding origami sculptures, playing piano, and running on the cross-country team in middle and high school. But it is probably not a coincidence that these activities looked great on the Common Application. While I cast myself as a service-minded urban studies concentrator in my supplement essays to Brown, I am now adding a concentration in the more materialistic discipline of applied-math economics. I sought, between fifth grade and now, to redefine the person I wanted to become, but I’m afraid that my infatuation with the idea of “Warren Buffett” and conventional success has only become more entrenched.

Perhaps, as an applicant, I presented a version of myself with whom I no longer identify. Or maybe I never fully understood my goals in the first place. The immersive nature of my college experience has fundamentally altered the goals and aspirations I held for myself before I moved away from home. But this same sort of transformation happens to lots of other college students. Goals change based on context.

As it turns out, even presidents are subject to the same sort of transformations, though perhaps for the worse. As a presidential candidate, President Donald Trump made certain promises to energize the conservative base. Then, as soon as he secured his title as president, he was granted the freedom to indulge impulses he had been forced to suppress during the campaign trail. Just as it’s likely that Brown wasn’t looking for another future employee of the financial services industry, Trump’s voters didn’t want another member of the establishment in the White House.

After reading the news since Jan. 20, I can’t help but see an identity crisis reflected in the recent actions of President Trump. The president has, for better or for worse, followed through on specific promises he made on the campaign trail — the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the revocation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, building the wall between Mexico and the United States and nominating a conservative Supreme Court justice — but his recent policy actions are neither conservative nor liberal. Two years ago, Paul Ryan publicly stated that Trump’s Muslim ban “is not conservatism.”  Trump’s border wall is perhaps the opposite of conservative, as it may cost American consumers a 20 percent tariff on imports. And, at the same time, Trump toes the Republican line by supporting the repeal of Obamacare and nominating ultra-conservative judge Neil Gorsuch. It seems that the only common thread between Trump’s policy actions is that they are isolationist, xenophobic and empty.

Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C. has proven entirely false, following his nomination of Rex Tillerson, Exxon-Mobil CEO, and Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, to his cabinet. Yet Trump delivered a populist manifesto for his inaugural address on Jan. 20, declaring that he is “transferring power from Washington, D.C.” and “giving it back” to the people. How he can make such a claim after nominating wealthy CEO’s with almost no government experience to his cabinet is beyond me. Trump, despite his claims to rid Washington of elitism, cannot deny his obvious roots in the world of business and political aristocrats. In the end, we are who we are.

But even to his own voters, Trump remains an enigma. Trump voters, paradoxically dismayed when the president follows through on specific campaign trail promises, have taken to Twitter to express their concerns. A new Twitter account, Trump Regrets, which catalogs these unlikely sentiments, has already collected 187,000 followers. Trump has chosen to follow through on certain campaign promises and completely renege on others, and this lack of transparency and predictability is causing Americans — and the world — an unprecedented level of distress.  Either American voters elected a version of Donald Trump he no longer represents or elected him based on falsehoods.

I admit that my personal attempt to redefine myself, under pressure from the college environment, revealed itself to be more reversible than I once thought. But I can forgive myself with the knowledge that I am a college student whose peers are most likely undergoing similar changes of heart. On the other hand, many Americans won’t be able to forgive Trump for his lack of a clear political ideology or the fact that he has already betrayed promises that once gave so many hope.

Andrew Friedman ’19 can be reached at andrew_friedman@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.