OP/ED: Donald Trump, GOP’s 400-pound gorilla in the room?




On May 28th a three-year-old boy slipped into the gorilla cage at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden where he was grabbed by a 17-year-old gorilla named Harambe. Zoo officials felt obligated to kill Harambe in order to prevent injury to the youth. The decision made by these officials gripped the nation as people sought to find someone to blame for the unfortunate event. Ironically, the tragedy in the Cincinnati zoo has a metaphor in our presidential politics. To wit, Harambe the Gorilla and Donald Trump have a lot in common.

Harmabe’s seizure of the small boy is reminiscent of the manner in which the Republican party has been commandeered by Donald Trump. Perhaps unaware of the risks, or perhaps fanciful about playing with a coarse orator, the primary voters elected to enter the presidential arena with a politician who demonstrates primitive instincts and a brusk manner. Some have dismissed that choice as naive, others as a demonstration of the impulsiveness of a dissatisfied or disgruntled electorate. In either case, both the young boy and the Republican party made a risky decision to engage an unpredictable protagonist.

Let me be clear that no one should wish any physical harm to Mr. Trump. Politics should be about arguments and not violence. But the parallels are instructive. Of course, this is not to suggest that Trump has a gorilla’s atavistic disposition, though some might presume this to be an apt description. Rather, Trump’s behavior, like that of a gorilla, is both unpredictable and potentially dangerous. When Trump contemporaneously argues that a Federal Judge is biased by virtue of his ancestry, or that Mexicans are rapists, members of his own party recoil at the inherently racist associations that such denunciations encumber. Time and again, Republicans hope that Trumps rhetoric will evolve into a more civilized discourse.

Similarly, for those standing outside the gorilla cage, the drama was terrifying and engaging. Would the gorilla revert to its primitive instincts and harm the young boy, or would it evolve a human-like empathy and provide gentle protection. Anyone watching could only hope and pray for the latter. Yet, within seconds the gorilla regressed, grabbing the young boys feet, dragging him thoughtlessly through the water. Of course, one could hardly blame Harambe. A gorilla was acting like a gorilla. No one could seriously expect him to grasp the danger to the boy or the exasperation of the watching crowd.

So, too, does Trump dismay his party when he reverts to a xenophobic, sexist, and nativistic discourse. Party loyalists hope and pray that these outbursts will come to an end only to be disappointed each time Trump reverts to his baseline campaign themes. Like Harambe, Trump is dragging the Republican party by the legs to an uncertain future.

For those of us watching from the outside of the cage the risk to the Republican party by Donald Trump is reminiscent of the risk placed upon the young boy by Harambe. Will Trump destroy the party? Will he bring down the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate? No one knows for sure and many are afraid to find out.

For the “Anyone But Trump” movement, the risks clearly outweigh the potential benefits. Like those who wanted to eliminate Harambe, there is an intolerance to risk which drives this group to take political action. Party elders such as Mitt Romney have expressed this opinion loud and clear. Presently, their best hope is either to rally behind another candidate or to find a way to stop Trump at the Republican Convention. Yet, others will continue to support Trump with the hope that he will become a kindler and gentler candidate.

We will never know whether Harambe might have spared the young boy. Quick thinking by the zoo officials in an effort to avoid tragedy averted that risk. Trump, on the other hand, is likely to continue his manhandling of the Republican Party for some time. We can only hope that he behaves as humanely as we would have hoped that Harambe might have done.

-Jeffrey Oppenheim is a neurosurgeon and the former Mayor of Montebello, New York