Parallels Between Trump and Me
But We Respond Differently

After several years writing about our fake president, it dawned on me that Trump and I have some things that we share in common. Okay, only two things we share: feeling dumb and poor.

This is my backstory. My father got a promotion at the company where he worked and had to leave Pennsauken, NJ and move to Mt. Lebanon, which is a community in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, PA. I went from being an above average student in an average school system to feeling dumb in Mt. Lebanon just before 6th grade. At Mt. Lebanon, I would get mostly Cs and, on occasion, some Bs and As. It caused me to feel dumb in comparison to how I felt in Pennsauken.

I knew intellectually that Mt. Lebanon was the 19th best school system in the country. We were reminded of that fact all the time while at school. I wondered what my friends thought of me related to my grades. Surely, they believed that I just wasn’t living up to my abilities. However, I translated that into not being capable. Why? I was dumb. While I did slightly better in college and graduate school, that feeling still haunted me. Why wasn’t I as good academically as my friends whether in high school, college, or graduate school? It wasn’t until I got my doctorate that I realized that I had made a mistake in my calculations about my mental aptitude.

Then there was the issue of feeling poor, which mirrored feeling dumb. I moved from Pennsauken, which was a very lovely middle-class community to Mt. Lebanon, which the richest community in Western Pennsylvania. It stands to reason that a wealthy community could afford the crème de la crème for their teaching staff.

My parents were able to manage to live in Mt. Lebanon by cutting corners everywhere possible, and they did. The blending of those two worlds of riches and intelligence had a profound effect on me…a negative one.

That feeling of academic inadequacy and not having a lot of money lurked in the back of my head for much of my early adult life. Nonetheless, somewhere in the middle of my life, I realized that being dumb and poor was a mistake. I radically change my Weltanschauung. As a result, in the last quarter century, I have taught at the college level. Why? I didn’t want this generation’s college students to feel as I did decades before. I woke up to the reality that I had more potential than I thought I had.

Ask any of my students that I have taught whether they have heard about Mt. Lebanon. The pain of doubting myself during the early part of my life was the motivating force that explains why I am still teaching at 76. The curse of years ago has become a blessing for me in the latter half of my life. In addition to my students realizing their potential, it allows them to find better paying jobs due to getting a better education. That addresses their potential feeling of being poor.

Therefore, with the change that took place in my life, one would think that my transformation would have been a sufficient driving force in my life to be able to sit back and relax.

Fortunately, it wasn’t. A half dozen years ago, I went to Myanmar (Burma) for a month in the hope of interviewing the Lady, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I had written to anyone who might relay my desire for an interview with her… and failed. Strangely, I met a young lady, Ti Ti, who I consider my granddaughter. At that time, she was nine years old. My tour guide had to pick up some papers at her home. While there, I met Ti Ti; she was home on winter break from school. We played Scrabble for less than an hour in their living room.

I left Ti Ti knowing that I had met my granddaughter. She linked my family to hers. Ti Ti had two younger sisters that I also met on my first trip. They were too young to remember me, but, on my second visit, we enjoyed the time that we shared together.

On my second trip to Myanmar, I gave Ti Ti my laptop, because I used it merely as a storage device for my videos and pictures that I took while traveling in Myanmar. I copied them to an external hard drive and gave Ti Ti the laptop. The reason is that she is brilliant. She can use it to further her education. Myanmar is an emerging country. It is estimated that only about 10% of the students have used or have access to a computer.

However, my giving Ti Ti the laptop raised two additional issues. The Internet access is limited. To fully utilized her laptop, the Internet reception needs to be improved. Additionally, my three granddaughters attend school with about 1250 other students, which makes those students a part of my extended family. That is the reason for my fundraising drive for a half million dollar. I need to improve the Internet service and to supply the two schools with laptops that my granddaughters attend. Much of my motivation to raise a half million dollars had its genesis years ago with my feeling of being dumb and poor.

Now, you can understand why I felt being dumb and poor and how in my twilight years I am a different person. You should be asking yourself what were the motivating forces that allowed me to discover that I wasn’t dumb. There were two reasons: the pain and my mentors. I kid you not. I didn’t like the pain of either being dumb or poor. Trust me. I hated it.

Nonetheless, had it not been for my mentors who were motivators in my life, I wouldn’t have changed my life without them. The word mentor comes from Greek. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus has to leave home to fight in the Trojan War, which meant that he had to leave his son, Telemachus, with Mentor. Mentor was entrusted to care for Telemachus while Odysseus went off to war.

Mentor instructing Telemachus

The two most important mentors in my early life were Brooks Oakford and Louie Palmer. Brooks was a relative of mine who owned a candy store. Before I was ten years old, he asked me to help him in his candy store. I spent a lot of time working on a conveyor belt machine that coated pretzels. It never dawned on me then that he believed that I was capable of working on that machine when I was very young, but he did. I was so excited about being in a candy store that I would have done anything for him.

This was the coating machine that I worked on over six decades ago.

The other most significant mentor that changed my life was Professor Louie Palmer.  Louie taught The Arts at Muskingum College. It was a required 10-hour class taken in either your junior or senior year.  I took it in my junior year.  It was a difficult course, and most students feared it.  I enjoyed the class but didn't ace it.  However, at the end of the second semester, Louie called me into his office. Louie asked me to be his teaching assistant. It was reminiscent of Brooks asking me to work in his candy store.

Louie Palmer

Nevertheless, this time I got the message. He saw in me something about which I didn’t see. In my senior year, I taught a handful of subsections each week. He allowed me to teach my classmates as his teaching assistant…before I even graduated from college. I also wrote and graded the midterms and finals for both semesters. 

Enter our fake president. I don’t know where Donald the Dumb got his feeling intellectually inadequate, but he is obsessed with feeling dumb. He not only feels inadequate academically but psychologically. Trump is always reminding his listeners about his intellectual prowess and mental stability. He tweeted, “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being like, really smart…not smart, but genius…and a very stable genius at that!” Maybe, when Trump releases his tax returns, our stable genius can release his college grades.

Our stable genius

Albert Einstein was one of the world’s greatest intellectuals. He said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.” However, imagine Einstein saying instead, “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being like, really smart…not smart, but genius…and a very stable genius at that!”

I suspect that Congress will get Trump’s tax returns. Methinks that he is lying about his great wealth along with everything else that he utters.

He got put into a situation like I did. He made mistakes of judgment like I did. However, no one attempted to help him get on a more correct path. Trump is 73 years old; it is doubtful that he will ever see the light.

The question for each of us is how to avoid having people like Trump running like a present-day Narcissus? What each of us needs to do is to be mentors to those beginning their journey down their yellow brick roads of life. We should reach out to others as others have done for us.

This video is from The Daily Show.

This is my list of mentors: Brooks Oakford, Louie Palmer, Teddy Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, Norm Vaughan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bobby Kennedy, T. E. Lawrence, Carl Sagan, Steve Biko, Don Quixote, William Forrester, Anne Perry, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Aung San Suu Kyi, Randy Pausch, and Elizabeth Warren.