I have 99 (thousand) reasons to hate Donald Trump and to find his campaign stomach turning. I won’t list them here. The Google graph showing the rising use of the word “bloviate” in American political discourse should stand in place of any detailed accounting.
But what’s grabbed most of the attention since John Oliver mentioned it recently on his show, Last Week Tonight, is Trump’s name. As Oliver notes, “Trump sounds like money.” But, he continues in tones of shock and dismay, “It turns out the name Trump was not always his family name.… An ancestor had changed it to Trump from Drumpf.”
My family name wasn’t originally Skwire. It was Skwirsky. My grandfather and his brothers changed it — right around when Trump’s ancestor changed the family name — because back in those days, it was hard to get jobs in the United States with an obviously foreign name. Trump’s ancestors, I’m sure, did the same thing.
There’s no shame in being from places that aren’t America. There’s no shame in having a last name that’s unusual. And I am bothered by the pleasure we are taking in mocking a name that sounds a little bit funny and a whole lot foreign. It sounds like the kind of rhetoric Trump uses. So I’m not going to indulge.
(And this is a very big “however.”)
I do think there’s something to talk about here, and I don’t think it’s funny at all.
The focus on Trump’s original family name is not analogous to the focus on former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie’s ample girth. Governor Christie’s poundage was immaterial to his campaign. He has not publically bloviated about the need for the obese to stop being lazy, to start exercising, and to start eating right. He has not signed on to regulatory agendas like former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to control what and how much people eat and drink. He hasn’t, in other words, turned his weight into a centerpiece of his campaign.
Trump, however, has made immigration one of his central issues. Even those of us who have tried desperately to avoid the whole political season have heard that he wants a bigger wall along the border with Mexico, that he wants Mexico to pay for it, and that he would deport 11 million illegal immigrants in short order. A little research turns up Trump's repeated references to immigrants as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists. Birthright citizenship is dumb, he opines. And the barriers to immigration should be towering, because, Trump says over and over, the people born here should be our first concern.
It’s not funny that Trump’s family name used to be Drumpf. That’s just a standard American story that most of us probably share. To be an American, for most of us, means we’re not really from around here.
But the idea that we might have an American president who thinks it’s fine for the Drumpf family to come to America and achieve unimagined success in a few generations, but who will do everything possible to keep the Rodriguez family or the Habib family from doing the same?
That’s a tragedy.