Donald Trump has been president for just under a week. So far, he has shown every intention of serving as America’s CEO in precisely the manner he campaigned for the job. The gravity of his office has yet to endow him with the slightest hint of gravitas that might help obscure his transparent and exploitable character flaws.
The man is a flaming narcissist. The original Narcissus fell so deeply in love with his own reflection in a pool of water that he lost his balance, tumbled in and drowned. When Trump tumbles, he may take his country, even the world, down with him.
His easily-bruised vanity is far more worrying than his autocratic instincts. He is boorish and unlettered, crawling with resentments, and selfishly, not strategically, vengeful.
Vengeance not vision fired his bid for the presidency if you believe Omarosa Manigault, who worked with him for many years on his Apprentice series of reality TV shows and who is now, remarkably, on his White House staff.
In an interview last year for Frontline, a Public Broadcasting Service documentary series, Manigault was asked why Trump was running. She replied: “Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who has ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.”
As if that were not sufficiently alarming, Trump lacks the intellectual depth or curiosity to understand — as yet — what America’s founders wrought and how, with checks and balances, they rigged things to safeguard the republic against mountebanks such as himself.
Perhaps with experience he will get it. But he is 70 and chances are his wires are irrevocably hardened. In any event, the experience is bound to be bitter, and as president, he does have a lot of dangerous toys — many more than James Madison or Alexander Hamilton ever imagined — to throw from his cot as the learning curve is put in front of him. That is the worry. It’s not that the institutions set up to contain his ilk will ultimately fail. Over the long term they won’t. More to be feared is the immediate mayhem he can wreak while flailing against them and revving up his base to do the same.
A grown-up who won the White House with a respectable majority of electoral votes but a minority of popular kind would accept the result with good grace and appropriate humility. Such a win is entirely legitimate under the agreed rules. Great presidents have been elected without popular majorities, among them Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest.
Trump is not made of the same stuff. He simply cannot accept that he received 2.8 million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton. It does not mesh with his personal narrative according to which winners like himself may not come second in anything. Therefore the tally must be fraudulent, the result of millions of non-citizens voting to “take away the country” from the “forgotten” majority that voted for him.
He’s entitled to seek consolation in such fantasies if he keeps them to himself. But to whinge on in public and have his surrogates keep repeating the lie is to blow on the embers of resentments that are scorching this country and which any responsible president would be working overtime to douse.
Fanning flames may be Trump’s cynical intention, of course. There may be artifice, too, in his infantile rage over the comparisons fairly drawn between his inauguration crowd and the far larger one that came to see his predecessor take the oath in 2009. But his fury is clearly real.
He could not contain it when he spoke to CIA staff on Saturday. He was supposed to be making nice with the intelligence community he had earlier called Nazi because of its conclusions regarding Russian efforts to nobble the election in his favor. Instead he stood in front of the wall honoring the agency’s dead and whined about his treatment by the media. The same afternoon he obliged his cowering spokesman, Sean Spicer, to vent on his behalf in a bizarre, lie-laced rant to an astounded White House press corps.
Presidents dis the CIA at their peril. It knows stuff and its calculated indiscretions are especially prized by the media.
“CIA Starts Recruiting its Newest Asset: Donald Trump” was the headline to a piece published on Tuesday by The Daily Beast, a respectable online purveyor of real news. The agency’s deliverables include granular profiles of foreign leaders with whom presidents and their teams have to deal. The Beast asked agency officers present and former (not entirely distinct sets) to assess Trump for exploitable vulnerabilities.
One response: “He is extremely insecure like an adolescent boy. If you are very secure with yourself, you don’t talk about yourself the whole time. People who are loud and bragging and projecting confidence, they are overcompensating for their own personal insecurities through their behaviour.”
That is an accurate measure of America’s 45th president. To play him, flatter him.