What if the Trumps had wound up in Schitt’s Creek rather than Washington?

Donald Trump might be a better man — and we wouldn’t be up a creek

Reading The New York Times recent expose of Donald Trump’s tax records and his collision course with bankruptcy, I was struck by an alternate history scenario. What if Trump had lost the 2016 election, and wound up in a real-world version of Schitt’s Creek?

Schitt’s Creek, to non-Netflix heads, is the Emmy Award-winning, hilarious and often-touching series about a rich family laid low financially and forced to move to the modest town of Schitt’s Creek. There is a bizarro-world parallel between Johnny Rose, the head of the once-mighty family, and Donald Trump himself. Rose is hit by bolt of bad luck. The business manager of his video business fleeces the family out of virtually all its wealth, effectively evicting him, his wife and two grown children from their gilded mansion.

Trump, by contrast, was hit by a bolt — or several bolts — of good luck. He made his presidential run against one of the least popular opponents in history, with the help not only of Russian interference but James Comey’s new probe into Hilary Clinton’s emails just weeks before the election.

What if the fates hadn’t smiled so kindly on Donald and his kin? Judging by the Times report, it is entirely possible to imagine Trump in dire straits by now. In a 2016 Trump loss, one can imagine him forced to pay some $100 million to the IRS by now. That potential hit, along with growing debts from sub-par golf course investments, and his personal guarantee of immense loans, could have him looking a lot like Johnny Rose.

And that might have been a good thing — not just for America but for the Donald himself. In fact, I daresay such a humbling experience might have helped Trump mature as a man.

Donald Trump today is a child-man. He demonstrates none of the honor of earlier generations of traditional men, such as the decency to protect others from his own illness or the good sportsmanship to accept a loss. Nor does he show up with the positive traits of a different masculinity emerging today. This “liberating” masculinity is freeing men to play new roles — such as empathetic caregiver — and expanding their relationship tools with emotional expressivity and a sense of connection to all peoples.

Trump will share his feelings, all right. But juvenile self-pity is the main one, along with old-school anger. He is like a surly, sexist teen refusing to grow up, defined by bullying, intolerance, and arrogance.

Johnny Rose begins his stay at in Schitt’s Creek with a Trump-like self-importance. But little by little, the family patriarch becomes less…patriarchal. He sheds his sense of superiority over the locals. He supports his wife’s run for the town council, albeit begrudgingly. And he finds a measure of success again as a businessman not as a captain of his industry but as a partner — with a woman.

In another Trump-Rose coincidence, Johnny’s new line of work is Trump’s! Hotel management. And it’s telling that one of Johnny’s greatest customer service moments isn’t when he’s bragging. It’s when he is vulnerable. Johnny admits to some guests that their sheets may have lice, because his daughter had been found with the bugs and just made their bed. Rather than berate Johnny, the guests sympathize.

Schitt’s Creek also helps Johnny as a dad. Before his financial fall, Johnny had superficial ties with his two kids. He coddled them silly. At times, he continues this poor parenting — secretly rewriting his daughter’s economics class essay. But without the distractions of globe-trotting trips or an army of domestic servants, he and Alexis have a frank talk about her need to achieve on her own. When Alexis finally earns her high school diploma, Johnny brings a cake to celebrate.

Trump hasn’t learned such lessons. He and many of his followers are stuck in an adolescent no-man’s land when it comes to their masculinity. And the Times report shows how that has hurt Trump as a businessman and a father. As if giving his daughter Ivanka an undeserved role in his administration weren’t bad enough, Trump’s tax records suggest he may have transferred major dollar amounts in questionable ways to her. Daddy’s little girl may never grow up.

And all Trump’s bravado, his “truthful hyperbole,” hadn’t translated into success at his golf resorts. People had tired of his Apprentice act by 2015, and irresponsible spending had him facing huge bills and personal bankruptcy.

Trump running for president may have been more about running from creditors than anything else.

The fates had it that Trump won the race and landed in Washington, where he has revitalized his brand.

But what Donald Trump may have needed more is a reinvention of his masculinity. If he’d followed a path more like Johnny Rose, he might be a better man today.

And we wouldn’t be up a creek.

Ed Frauenheim is co-author, with Dr. Ed Adams, of the forthcoming book, Reinventing Masculinity: The Liberating Power of Compassion and Connection (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, fall 2020).

I write about work, culture and masculinity. Concerned about the present but hopeful about the future.