This is an awkward story. The longer the Trump campaign rolls on the more it bothers me. Time to get this off my chest.
Our tale begins long ago in a simpler age. Phones had wires, MTV played music videos, and quality airlines offered seating in a non-smoking section.
In Southeast Texas, government teachers from several area schools hit on a brilliant idea. Bring students together for the day in a mock political convention. Civics and patriotism would come to life as young people simulated the process of selecting a party’s Presidential nominee.
Seven or eight local schools participated, each sending a delegation of students from that semester’s government classes. Each school would act as a state delegation. There would be speeches, committees and so on. At the end of the day the delegates would select a nominee.
Organizers invited local print and TV journalists who would get a chance to fill space with an easy feel-good story. Principals and school board members made appearances. What a great opportunity to show off the best and brightest building character and preparing to take their place in our democracy.
It isn’t a party until somebody starts breaking stuff.
Problems loomed right from the beginning and they were evident just by looking around the room. Two of the schools, mine included, were almost entirely black. The rest were entirely white. Partly by chance, and partly because they were unusually large schools, those two black schools had brought a large number of students. However, since the simulation was built around the Republican nominating race, these students were generally disinterested, a little annoyed, and entirely unfamiliar with the candidates.
As the process got rolling, earnest political nerds from some of the suburban schools dove in head first, making their case for Bush or Kemp or even Robertson with a bit more passion than the situation called for. For all their fervor, they assiduously avoided the section of the convention floor where my school and another black school had been seated. Apart from a few sparks of interest, that corner of the convention was disengaged, bored and awkwardly ignored, waiting for it all to end so that they could collect their additional class credit and go home.
We were, however, a massive voting bloc. The two schools, if they could collaborate, would account for about 38% of the delegates. Yes, I was counting. The other six schools were divided among the four candidates. In our delegation about four of us were deeply interested in the process. It didn’t take us very long to recognize that we were sitting on a deciding vote.
We began shopping the room for alliances, but we had a problem. It was proving very difficult to unite our delegation around any of the four available candidates. Worse, creating any link with delegations from the other schools was difficult because of…cultural differences. There was tension. Our bloc held a dominating share of the votes, but we were being treated like a junior partner from the administration on down. It was difficult to get someone from the other schools to even come over to speak without discomfort.
We decided to break the deadlock by breaking the process. Screw it. We were going to make up our own candidate, forge our own alliances, and take over the convention.
This was an idea that the delegations from the two black schools could get behind. Being a giant business dork, my first candidate had been Lee Iacocca. No one knew who that was, so I pivoted to…you guessed it.
Since Trump was not a candidate and as such had no stated policy positions, we just made some up. But policy didn’t matter much. What won the day was an impressive show on the floor and a willingness to turn the whole exercise on its head.
The organizers had given us campaign signs to simulate the scene on a convention floor, but obviously there weren’t any for Trump. In a scramble for material we discovered that someone had half a pack of Now & Laters (for those who don’t know, it was a roll of candy from olden’ times). It became a vital prop as several of us delivered campaign speeches across the convention floor.
In a perfectly timed gesture, someone would throw me the candy roll. I would finish my speech with the tagline that Trump was the candidate for “Now (catch the roll in midair, logo facing forward) and Later.“ It was a nice trick that actually earned applause.
Earnest participants from the other schools were outraged as we began to build committed support from among their delegations for a candidate that wasn’t even running. A couple of them even made tentative, uncomfortable visits to our little neighborhood in a too-little, too-late gesture. A few of their faculty representatives barred us from coming over. A certain subtext of racial tension began to bubble as our large, otherwise disengaged, black coalition began to see an opportunity to exercise some power.
Before the teachers and administrators could organize a response we managed to force a floor vote. When Trump won there was a cheer. An actual cheer. But the process wasn’t over. More civics lessons were coming.
With reporters and administrators nervously hovering, the organizers scrambled. They were planning to have their faces on the evening news, but not like this. “Area educators lead students in patriotic exercise” had just devolved into “Disgruntled teenagers hijack civic exercise, foreshadowing dark times to come.”
One of the teachers took to the stage to announce, in a patronizing “we’ve received a message from Santa” style, that Donald Trump had called in to decline the nomination. The crowd was not pleased. We had already run over our time. Now we couldn’t go home until we’d finished this stupid exercise. No one goes home until souls have been crushed into a malleable paste.
Our group at first refused to submit a vote, but then we were informed that our class credit was at stake. We agreed to get it over with and nominate whoever the kids from the suburban districts wanted. I don’t even remember who won. I do remember who lost. I don’t think they ever attempted that simulation again.
Needless to say, that memory is a little awkward for me now. My first taste of the political process involved a semi-successful campaign to nominate Donald Trump.
By the way, this is probably the best movie about politics that’s ever been made: Election