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President Trump Is Exactly the Same Selfish Blowhard I Knew Back In New York

A year ago, I wanted to believe Trump might grow into his role. I was wrong.

by Rev. Al Sharpton /
Image: Donald Trump, Al Sharpton and Don King attend the "Art of the Deal" book party in 1987Sonia Moskowitz / Getty Images file

As we mark one year since Donald Trump was elected, the nation is reeling from the loss of 26 people killed at a Texas church. These tragic deaths come almost exactly a week after a suspected terrorist attack in New York that killed eight and about a month after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history in Las Vegas killed 58.

In the White House, the President is being investigated for possible Russian ties, two of his former campaign aides are under indictment and he seems more interested in using Twitter to distract voters with talk of “crooked Hillary” than clarifying the situation. Meanwhile, in Virginia a racially tinged gubernatorial race featured a Trump-backed Republican candidate running on a platform that includes preserving his state’s Confederate heritage.

And perhaps the worst part is, we knew this was going to happen.

Or at least, we should have known. As a native New Yorker, I have watched Donald Trump’s star rise and fall over the past 30 years. Over my long career as both an advocate and politician, I have spoken with, argued against, and counseled the last four U.S. presidents. I have, to varying degrees, marched, fought and celebrated with the Bush’s, Clintons and Obamas. And the conclusion I have come to is that Donald Trump’s temperament, intellect and emotional health make him wholly unqualified to serve as President of the United States of America.

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This is not a new argument, I realize. Many people before me have said similar things. But now we have something approaching definite proof that not only is nothing going to change, this is a man incapable of change.

Whether vehemently disagreeing with President George W. Bush during the start of the Iraq war or pushing back against President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform policy, our arguments were based in subject matter, but never character. It was professional, not personal. In the Trump era, however, the opposite is true.

This distinction is important because while policy ideas may change and evolve, a man’s soul rarely does. America has, in all likelihood, three years (at least) left of this man. We need to realize, and quickly, that he is never going to “pivot.”

I should know — I have been there. I marched against Trump during the Central Park Five case in the 1990s, and I socialized with him when he surrounded himself with black artists and athletes in the 2000s.

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 Outside the Central Park Five trial with Tawana Brawley in July of 1990. Joseph Major / AP file

No matter the scenario, Trump was always a consummate narcissist and self-promoter. But these qualities were not the most disturbing things about him — many politicians and businessmen act in similar ways.

What disturbed me the most was that he never ever showed a different side of himself. There was no loyalty there (except perhaps to his family); he was not driven by ideology or a sense of a broader purpose. He did whatever he could to enrich his coffers and build his brand. This was his main motivation in 1989, and it remains his main motivation in 2017.

Of course, there are other reasons to be considered about Trump’s presidency. Besides his self-centered demeanor, he is incredibly stubborn and refuses to admit even the slightest mistake. On the other hand, he latches onto perceived sleights, never passing up the opportunity to publicly criticize or mock an opponent.

There were hopes last year that the executive office would temper some of this pettiness, but sadly we now see this is not the case. Rather than attempt to grow and learn, Trump has leaned into his role as divider-in-chief. This is exactly the same racially divisive, unapologetic blowhard I knew in New York.

Rather than attempt to grow, Trump has leaned into his role as divider-in-chief. This is exactly the same racially divisive, unapologetic blowhard I knew in New York.

And the results unfortunately speak for themselves. His ugly, contentious presidential campaign has translated into an equally ugly and divisive first year. Whether it’s attacking Congresswoman Frederica Wilson following the tragic deaths of four soldiers in Niger, hesitating to condemn white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, advocating for the firing of NFL players exercising their First Amendment rights, or politicizing terrorist attacks, Trump’s time in office has only made this country more polarized.

Put simply, Trump took America’s existing racial tensions and made them even more toxic.

A year ago, I wanted to believe that there was hope. I wanted to believe that this man who had spent years questioning President Obama’s birthplace might be humbled by his office. I wanted to believe that the gravity of the situation would eventually kick in, and he would work to achieve something admirable with his newfound power. I wanted to believe America was not in the hands of an unyielding demagogue incapable of growth. And I was wrong.

Rev. Al Sharpton has held such notable positions as the youth director of New York’s Operation Breadbasket, director of ministers for the National Rainbow Push coalition, and founder of his own broad-based progressive civil rights organization, the National Action Network (NAN). Rev. He hosts PoliticsNation, which airs from 8-9 a.m. ET on Sundays on MSNBC.

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