I decided long ago I would never run for president.
Not just because I didn’t have the patience to solicit money from strangers or go over the finer points of legal documents. It’s because I didn’t want my past exhumed by rivals and used against me, regardless of whether it was truly awful or not.
That belief in privacy is passe in our social media-infused times, and Donald Trump is the beneficiary.
It wasn’t so long ago that controversy, when it collided with morality, could make you radioactive. Sen. Lester Hunt killed himself in 1954, partly over a blackmail threat about his gay son’s arrest. Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential aspirations were pretty much destroyed by his divorce. Ted Kennedy wore Chappaquiddick around his neck. Even Jimmy Carter’s revelations to Playboy – that he had “committed adultery in my heart many times” – were met with shock, though it wasn’t enough to derail his 1976 election.
The morality police have been blunted in recent years. The divorced Ronald Reagan was elected president, as was the adultery-tainted Bill Clinton. Indeed, those who may have been angry if the candidate wasn’t on their side – evangelicals in Reagan’s case, feminists in Clinton’s – defended their man.
These days, it’s social media that brings down the outrage. But many people must be yawning instead of furious, because it’s not enough to stop a person from becoming president.
Donald Trump was a public figure before the web even existed. His outrageous persona made him a regular cover subject of New York’s tabloids and helped earn him his role on “The Apprentice.” He was all over magazines, TV shows and radio. He turned Twitter into his own personal soapbox, 140 characters at a time. A lot of that chatter was full of insults and threats.
And now he’s president. For all the tut-tutting his talk earned in the news media, millions of Americans – even if they didn’t necessarily like it – were willing to overlook it.
Maybe they were titillated. Maybe even outraged at times. But obviously not put off by it.
George Clooney once said he fucked “too many chicks and did too many drugs” to be a politician. But maybe not. He’s never denied his past, anyway.
I don’t miss the morality police and I hate when certain folks fly into a high-minded hypocritical frenzy. None of us are perfect, and most of us have incidents that we regret – or at least are embarrassed by. Perhaps the media will feast on outrage, but the public will move on.
Still, we shall see how Trump’s election manifests itself in public dialogue.
In the meantime, if you’ve posted shocking statements on Twitter, uploaded photos of your drunken escapades to Facebook and Instagram and engaged in a nasty dialogue on some service that’s supposed to automatically erase your stuff, don’t worry.
You might have trouble getting a job, but you can still run for office.