Daryl Austin: Why I wish our president was nicer

(Alex Brandon | AP) U.S.President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in New Delhi, India.

At the close of last year, Donald Trump’s long-ago friend, Howard Stern, sat down with his longer-ago friend, Hillary Clinton, to discuss — among other things — our nation’s President.

At one point Howard suggested that Hillary could have won the 2016 election by testing then-candidate Trump’s lack of foreign policy knowledge on the debate stage. As if his not knowing where “Russia is on a map,” or the name of the “president of Yugoslavia” — as Howard put it — would disqualify Trump in the eyes of potential voters. (A tad bit of irony there, Howard, as Yugoslavia has no president because it’s no longer a country.)

Hillary laughed in delight at the suggestion and agreed: “That’s a great idea, actually!"

Old friends or not, they sure don’t know Donald Trump very well.

He’s the guy, after all, who gave birth to birtherism, cheated on all his lovely wives and accused poor Ted Cruz’s father of conspiring to assassinate John F. Kennedy.

No, if all that plus his grab-em-by-the handful of other unmentionable abominations didn’t discourage some 63 million Americans from voting for him, I’m not sure his inability to win a game of “Guess Who?” would have done the trick.

The irony is that I too knew about all of Trump's past transgressions and voted for him anyway.

You see, my cynical opinion of most every politician is so low that I don’t pay much attention to which of them is covered with more mud. Having to choose between the lesser of two evils is par for the course for me and other Americans most every election cycle. Especially because what is and isn’t considered evil varies significantly from one political party to the next and righteous policies will have to be championed by wicked politicians no matter who I support in the end.

The same will likely be the case for me this November and, if past is prologue, this election will be neck-and-neck. As The Washington Post reported, in 2016 Trump prevailed in the Electoral College by just 79,646 votes in three swing states — and he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million. That’s hardly any latitude and he’ll need every vote he got last time — and then some — to hope to win again.

And yet, many Republicans like myself are still undecided. Our home state of Utah is particularly polarized. Though we’ve always backed the Republican nominee for president in every election for more than half a century, Trump came up short of a majority in 2016 — winning just 45.5% of the vote of the vote here. As for 2020, almost every Utahn I’ve spoken with still doesn’t know what they’ll do come November — though all agree it’ll come down to who ends up running against him.

In the meantime, Trump’s everyday actions continue to discourage many, and everyone who doesn’t vote for him this fall will have ample justification for not doing so. Though I understand the different reasons many have for not supporting him, for me it all comes down to humanity’s need for increased civility.

Since Trump’s inauguration, I’ve wanted a much kinder and more decent human being in the White House. So have a lot of other people. A Pew Research poll found that a whopping 55% of Americans think Trump’s rhetoric has changed the tone of this country for the worse. (Only 24% say he’s changed it for the better.) What’s more, 76% of Americans are “concerned” by the things he says, 69% are “embarrassed,” and a staggering 67% are just plain “exhausted.”

And still Trump wears his divisive rhetoric like a badge of honor. He thinks it makes him a tough guy, a man’s man. He’s said over and over again that he believes apologizing is for “losers,” and that he’s “proud” to be a counter-puncher.

But he plays more offense than defense, and he divides far more than he unifies. I understand this administration is up against a mountain of negative media coverage, but that doesn’t give Trump the right to treat others with indignity. If the Rev. Charles Miliken was right that the way one treats his inferiors reveals more about his character than the way he treats his equals, then I find Trump’s character lacking.

As a Republican, I appreciate many of the campaign promises Trump has kept his first three years in office: a robust economic record, Conservative judgeship appointments, elimination of ISIS, tax cuts and better trade deals. I try to give him credit where it’s due. But he’s also broken a promise that meant a lot to me: his commitment to “tone down” his rhetoric if he won the election.

On a “Today Show” appearance in 2016 he said: “At the right time, I will be so presidential, you will be so bored.” At another point he said he would stop tweeting after he became president because it was “not presidential.” Except he didn’t. If anything, his divisive language became worse.

It may not bother me as much if not for the fact that my four young kids are getting old enough where they can now understand some of the things our president is saying and tweeting. Frankly, he's setting a horrible example for them and for all of America’s children.

He’s not doing himself any favors, either. His nicknames for others make him look ridiculous — not the people he labels. His every “counter-punch” exposes his own insecurities. His attacks against anyone who contradicts him reveals the depth of his pettiness. And his Justice Department meddling is simply wrong.

Though the bar set for politicians is already far too low, I fear with Trump it’s gotten lower still. I want a much kinder president. Someone who shows others respect — even when they disagree. Someone who apologizes when they get it wrong and accepts responsibility for their mistakes. Someone who demonstrates decency, knows how to use Twitter, and understands that the way to make America great again is by lifting each other up, not pulling each other down.

Daryl Austin is a Utah-based journalist from Orem. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, The Guardian, USA Today and Newsweek.