Published: Dec. 18, 2015

Original article can be found at The Denver Post  
Originally published on December 18, 2015 By Patty Limerick 

Thirty years ago, designing and conducting an innovative research project, I established myself as a founder and pacesetter in the field of Jerk Studies, an area of expertise that gains relevance every day. 

My research methodology was as simple as it was rigorous. I sought out the company of people who work with the public: waiters, hotel clerks, cab drivers, receptionists, pharmacists, barbers, supermarket clerks. My poll consisted of one question. “What percentage of the human population,” I asked my survey participants, “is composed of jerks?” 

My research uncovered an unexpected degree of agreement. The great majority of my informants gave the same answer: 15 percent. 

Every now and then, someone would depart from the consensus. A not-entirely-pleasant man who had just installed a furnace in our house told me that 90 percent of his clients were jerks. This stirred up the hope that our new furnace would work without malfunction and that we would not need this fellow’s services for a long time to come. 

At this point — and most of you saw this coming — we must speak of Donald Trump. Many writers far more qualified in punditry and prognostication than I am have appraised, analyzed, and characterized Trump. But I now stake my claim to a distinctive appraisal, resting on the credentials I earned with my pace-setting research. 

Trump should be understood as the standard-bearer for the currently booming “Jerk Pride Movement,” in which the Fifteen Percent stride vigorously out of the closet and present themselves to the world, shouting out wildly over-generalized, destructive, and polarizing sentiments and then, still shouting, congratulating themselves for their impressive forthrightness. 

And here my analysis takes an even more distinctive turn: Trump is not in himself the problem, even though such a statement would (I can only hope) injure his vanity. 

Interviewed recently by the New York Times, Brian Wagenaar, a 21-year-old college student in Minnesota, out-performed all other commentators. “We all have to safeguard against an inner Trump,” Wagenaar observed. In other words, preoccupied with and fixated on the flagrantly “external jerk” of the hour, we give a pass to the “interior jerk” lodged within us all. 

Whether we are exulting in or cringing over Trump’s excesses, we are releasing ourselves from the burdensome task of noting and finding remedies for our own episodes of over-the-top expressions of contempt for those who disagree with us, and for our own inclinations to keep talking when we could, much more profitably and beneficially, listen. 

Speaking of the benefits of listening, what follows is the peak moment of my pace-setting research in Jerk Studies. I leave it to readers to choose whether they find comedy, paradox, heavy-handed irony, or maybe just misery in the fact that our nation’s capital provided the setting for this spectacular conversation. 

As a cab driver was patiently maneuvering through dense and chaotic traffic, I asked for his estimate of the percentage of jerks, some of whom seemed at that particular moment to be out in droves for a Beltway drive. 

“Only five percent,” he said. 

I could not silence my surprise: “Only five percent?” 

“Five percent,” he repeated. “But they move around a lot.”