"Dad," Scout once told me about a second-grade classmate, "Molly has charisma."
It's not hard to understand what charisma is, and a seven-year-old can have it. But knowing what it is doesn't make you resistant to it. And having it doesn't make you a winner.
I think of this when superior people like me and my friends marvel at other people are drawn to Donald Trump, even though we've all logged 100 engine hours over the last year listening to someone who most of us dismissed as a perfect asshole in about 1985.
I would venture to say that if Donald Trump walked into our living room, our very first instinct, before the pangs of conscience and the principles of higher intellect kicked in, would be to leap up and run over and shake his hand and call him Mr. Trump.
How do I know? I once wrote a long investigative magazine story about Drew Peterson, the suburban Chicago cop whose wives kept dying (Kathy Savio) and disappearing (Stacy Peterson). Remember Drew?
I spent a couple of months talking to dozens of public officials—prosecutors and coroners, police colleagues and lawyers. I sat for several quiet Sunday grandfather clock hours in the living room of Savio's sad sister.
Finally Peterson's lawyer gave me his phone number so I could interview him. Took a walk around the block. Got a cup of coffee. Got two pens ready. Called him up. Heard the voice of a man who I was utterly convinced had murdered two of his wives.
And immediately set about trying to make him think I was cool and smart and funny. I heard myself chuckling at his jokes, and making cracks of my own.
Because he was clearly cool and smart and funny, and supremely confident. And that stuff is kryptonite to humans.
For whatever Donald Trump is not, he is sure of himself. And because he has charisma—like Drew Peterson or young Molly—everyone who sees him wants him to think they are sure of themselves too.
So Trump followers act sure of themselves. And then Trump praises them for being the only Americans who aren't afraid to be "politically incorrect"—who aren't afraid to be sure of themselves. And for the first time in a long time, they feel sure of themselves.
No wonder they're voting for the guy. I'd vote for someone who made me feel sure of myself, too.
The Donald doesn't do it for me, but I can see how he does it for others—others who might not even have fallen for a wisecracking wife-killer.
Postscript: Despite his ability to charm a fool on the phone, the wife-killer is serving a 38-year sentence. We'll see how it turns out with Trump.