Donald Trump, the substitute teacher of American presidents

A glimpse of the four years to come, in which chaos reigns and nothing of any substance gets done

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published December 30, 2016 12:59PM (EST)

 (Getty/Timothy A. Clary)
(Getty/Timothy A. Clary)

The world was gloomy before I won - there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10% and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars!"

"Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition - NOT!"

"We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

These are tweets from President-elect Donald Trump's account.

“Aren’t you scared?” my friend Q asked, tilting his red cup back as I filled mine up. “The world will be laughing at us. He’s like a substitute president. Trump is the substitute teacher of presidents!”

We laughed even though it wasn’t funny.

“Substitute teacher?” I replied, scratching my head.

I never really thought about it like that, but Q is so right. I instantly flashed back to sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade and straight through high school, and to the universal language all kids speak: A substitute in the classroom means a day off, no work, a break until the teacher decides to come back and question why nothing got accomplished while they were away, as if they already don’t know the answer.

No one ever thinks about, looks for or honors substitutes; they have no Sub Of The Year Awards, appreciation days or even a system to gauge their effectiveness. The only difference between Donald Trump and a classroom sub is that I can never imagine a substitute taking credit for fixing or even trying to fix a school system.

Like Donald, substitutes are outsiders, nothing like the people responsible for shaping a normal routine. Full-time teachers normally hold degrees in their fields and have completed the work to attain and maintain some type of official certification. They are qualified, for the most part. Teachers don’t just step into a classroom one day because they are bored with business or want to somehow Make Teaching Great Again. But I do remember a number of substitutes from my years in school who would say things like, “I don’t need this job, I have my own business! You need me more than I need you, and all you kids will fail at life!” Sounds familiar.

My favorite sub in middle school was Mr. Yancy. He’d make those types of statements over and over again, but we never really listened, because he was a sub! But we liked to hold a trash can above his head and slam dunk paper balls on him until he threatened to call the principal. On good days, Yancy would try to block the dunks or attempt to slam one himself, which is why we liked him, but all in all, no one really learned anything, because we couldn’t take him seriously. It reminds me now of how we think of Trump and his sophomoric Twitter tirades as a joke, too. Which brings me to the fear question my friend Q raised.

Other countries follow our celebrities and public figures; they pay attention to our reporting and are witnessing Trump's incomplete, logic-free stump speeches. They see the way in which he celebrates racism and divisiveness — to many of his fans, the good ol' days. What are they thinking? Will they still want to do business with us? Will they continue to see us as a super power, or are we now super idiots?

Hopefully they’ll be able to understand that this is just a brief four-year intermission, a last hopeless attempt at sustaining white supremacy. Like Yancy, Trump will disappear. He’s a substitute who won’t be around for long. Some things may become chaotic during his tenure, like with any substitute, but real leaders will return some day soon, and we can get back to business as usual.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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