Posted Wednesday morning, March 21, 2018.
All alone and feeling blue, but emboldenedly blue. Photo by Doug Mills, courtesy of the New York Times.
This is Part Two of what I think will be a three-part series of posts. Might be four. Well see. At any rate, Part One is here.
The president is enjoying the process of assessing his team and making changes, tightening his inner circle to those he considers survivors and who respect his unconventional style, one senior White House official said.----from Washington Post, March 15, 2018.
This isn’t his “style.” It’s just him being him---impulsive, self-indulgent, careless, thoughtless, undisciplined, irresponsible, with no idea what he’s doing and too much vanity to ask for help or advice or even listen to it.
Trump clearly doesn’t think politics and diplomacy require the constant attention, keen thinking, and appreciation of complexity Roosevelt and Churchill gave them, which is convenient for him since he’s incapable of any of those qualities. He’s convinced that all it takes to be a great president is to be Donald Trump. I’m not sure he even wants to be a great president. All he wants to be is the greatest Donald Trump he can be. The presidenting can take care of itself. Which is also convenient for him since being Donald Trump is what he knows how to do best. Which is a short way of saying what he knows how to do best is lie, cheat, bully, grab---money and pussy---boast, brag, and preen, pose, and grin for the cameras. Oh, and hurt people. Hurt them and humiliate them. He’s really good at that. And he enjoys it. It makes him feel tough. I guess it also makes him feel like he’s President.
Of course, his adoring mobs think that’s all it takes too---for Donald Trump to be a great president all he has to do is be Donald Trump.
Against the advice of aides, advisors, members of his cabinet, generals, legal counsel, friends, allies in Congress, and experts in all fields---despite their advice, in spite of their advice and, knowing him, to spite them for having the nerve to give him the advice---to think he needs it or wants it---Trump announced he would meet face to face with North Korean dictator and fellow madman and megalomaniac Kim Jong-Un, imposed tariffs willy nilly on friends and foes alike, risking mutually destructive trade wars all around, fired his Secretary of State, and fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, strengthening the case of obstruction of justice Robert Mueller is building against him.
The slew of stories about Trump’s feeling free to be the Trump he wants to be all use the word emboldened to describe his giddy recklessness. Over the weekend, he seemed to be emboldening himself to fire Mueller.
Calling these decisions ill-considered, rash, and reckless, even calling them decisions is a category error. It puts them within the realm of the rational. Hasty thinking, wishful thinking, thinking based on insufficient or mistaken thinking is still thinking. But while there may be some calculation at work there’s no thought behind any of it. Trump doesn't think. He feels.
I say that like I would know. Who does know what goes on under that weave? Trump has always been a dissembler about who he really is. Everything he’s ever said about himself for public consumption going back to his early New York celebrity days when he was a source for reporters looking for gossip about him has been a lie the way all advertising is a lie. Trump has always been selling a get-rich scheme he calls Donald Trump. (Slogan: “Trust me, and I’ll make you rich!”) Unless he’s been keeping a secret diary or Hope Hicks or someone else close to him has been a confidante as intimate as Daisy Suckley was with FDR and as diligent and observant a Boswell, we’re never likely to know what he’s really thought about anything.
Calling him ill-informed, misinformed, uninformed is also to miss the point. He is willfully information resistant. He believes he knows everything he needs to know, and what he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing.
To think even wrongly you have have something in your head to think about. Trump has very little in his head a President needs to have to think like a President. All he knows about Little Rocket Man is he’s a bad guy. He knows nothing about trade except that his voters blame it for their economic troubles. He doesn’t really know what a Secretary of State or any of member of his cabinet is supposed to do. All he cares about is that they destroy their respective departments, avoid offending Vladimir Putin, not get in the way of his own agenda, whatever it is on any given day, and not make him look bad. Tillerson failed him on three of those four points. As for McCabe, that one was pure vindictiveness. He’s been plotting to get even since at least December. And Mueller…
It’s obvious Trump doesn’t understand all the ways he’s in trouble, but he’s especially unclear of the concept of obstruction of justice, which is why he continues to dig an ever deepening hole for himself with every move he makes to thwart Mueller’s investigation.
There’s really not much new in any of these stories about the---as he sees himself---new and improved Trump. (“Now with more emboldenedness!”) They’re much less about him than about the chaos, confusion, fear, and despair he’s causing within his own White House. Reading between the lines, you can hear various aides and staffers desperately telling reporters “It’s not our fault!” and “We’re trying to keep things running but he won’t let us!” The real news is the malicious glee he seems to be taking in terrorizing the people who work for him. He’s always been a bully and a sadist but he’s never had so many at his mercy before and the increased opportunity for fun and mischief is making him giddy. I suspect, though, there are yuge elements of self-pity and self-consolation beneath it. It’s as if he’s saying, “If I’m going down, I’m taking you all with me because you’re to blame for all this, not me!”
There is no mention in the stories of Trump’s realizing he needs to learn a few things about the job of presidenting, if he wants to get better at it. Apparently it hasn’t dawned on him that his own ignorance---about policy, about law, about trade, about the economy, about how the government works, about how the world works---is a major source of his trouble and the root of incompetence. He’s failing and flailing because he doesn’t know what to do because he doesn’t know how the job is meant to be done.
More understatement from the New York Times:
[Aides] say privately that Mr. Trump does not understand the job the way he believes he does, and that they fear he will become even less inclined to take advice.
In short, he’s going to go on being the same old Trump: impulsive, self-indulgent, careless, thoughtless, undisciplined, irresponsible, mean, vicious, malicious, destructive, and hurtful, increasingly self-isolated but increasingly confident that he’s doing the job he was elected to do as he was elected to do it, and his base will cheer and cheer and cheer some more and ultimately re-elect him. Trump may not know much about presidenting but he knows what sells and how to sell it: give the suckers what they want, even before they know themselves what it is they want. And as I and others have said again and again, what his suckers want isn’t a good President---that is, one who knows what he’s doing. They don’t believe there’s anything to know. Being President just takes the right principles, the right policies, the right attitude, and the right degree of toughness. A President has to be smart, sure, but smart is as smart does. Common sense matters more than education and experience. That Rooseveltian-Churchillian obsession with paying attention, thinking keenly, and appreciating complexity, that’s for weak and timid intellectuals and neurotics who would rather think than act and, anyway, usually think their way to the wrong answers. What Trump gives them is a President who thinks like they do. A President who presidents the way they would themselves if they were President. A President who is like them. A President who does the most important right thing which is to make them feel as if they are right.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a Trump thing. Or a Republican thing. It’s an American thing.
It’s a democratic thing.
And so it’s a Democratic thing too.
End of Part Two. Part Three is in the works.