Guest column: Inside the mind of Donald Trump, and America
Special to the Tribune
Thank you, Mr. Trump — you’ve brought the nightly news to fever-pitch excitement about your every utterance. Has anyone ever owned the news cycle the way you have in recent weeks? It’s downright epic. The President should be so lucky.
Last I looked, you were the front-runner on the Republican side of the coin. You came from nowhere — you weren’t even on the track — to take the lead going around the first turn. Not the backstretch, not yet, but remarkable, nonetheless.
A poll released by Morning Consult in July gave you a commanding lead, 22 percent of the vote, way ahead of the next two in the Republican race, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.
The three major networks devoted 80 minutes to the campaign from early June through July 17 and a remarkable 37 percent of it focused on one candidate, Donald Trump.
What’s going on here? The media just can’t get enough of him. No matter where you turn, TV news, pundits, print mavens, columnists, there’s Donald, pointing a finger in your face, huffing and puffing but always moving to run someone or something over.
Rem Rieder, at USA Today, wrote on July 23 that Mr. Trump is an “… arrogant, self-aggrandizing showboat with no interest in serious policy issues,” and, “…there’s little doubt that Trump will dig deeply into his formidable arsenal of preposterous to hog the headlines.”
Mitch Albom at the Detroit Free Press, on July 19, said, “He’s a buffoonish businessman who seems to have dedicated his life to collecting piles of money, escaping debt, sticking his name on buildings, putting himself on television, over inflating his importance, and making sure he always has a beautiful young woman on his arm, perhaps to counter his haircut.”
Even my 99-year-old mother-in-law says, “Trump is for the birds.”
So a real loser, right? Worth a few billion or so, beautiful women in his life, front-runner for the Republican nomination. Others have had it worse, I suspect.
Actually, any number of teenage boys and no small number of both single and married men have dreamed of just such misfortune. Well, maybe not the presidential candidate part.
Could it be that Mr. Trump is not just some blowhard, blathering buffoon, a grandstanding small-minded showman of little substance?
Hollen Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal, on July 22, thought so, noting that while he doesn’t believe Mr. Trump’s star will continue to rise, he is “… not an idiot. In his business, he has a history of hiring good people, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and giving them room to run. He employs strong female executives. He inspires loyalty.”
OK. So maybe there is more to Trump than the self-absorbed chattering class of pundits might want to acknowledge.
But why the dramatic, meteoric ascent of this particular successful businessman and entertainer?
Here’s my take: For one, Americans love winners with out-sized wealth and mesmerizing self absorption. This movie plays well in short-run screenings.
Another truth, Americans are not history buffs. After all, we’re still a young nation, youthful, frolicking and adolescent in outlook, excited about the unknown future, largely oblivious to the known past.
Trump comes along, all action, promising to clean up the mess right now, nevermind the complex historical and existential challenges that got us here. Many Americans love it — fist-pumping promises of a more prosperous tomorrow win every time.
A substantial minority of Americans are also fed up with politicians who, they say, are self-dealing, conniving, untruthful and pandering to anyone with the financial means to float their boat.
They believe Trump “tells it like it is” and is perfectly willing to “speak truth to power,” whether about illegal and unsavory immigrants or fake war heroes.
While Mr. Trump’s version of the truth may strike some as racially tinged ignorance or insulting unAmerican mindlessness, others do not.
When Trump vows to beat up on any nation that “takes American jobs” or is perceived as threatening American security interests, the intelligentsia roll their eyes, struck by his simple-minded and dangerously silly depiction of the world. Others see a tough tactician, willing to make the hard decisions.
As for Trump, he’s loving it. Mr. Trump demonstrates, in high relief, many of the qualities of the successful narcissist — an inflated sense of his importance, a need for constant admiration and deficient empathy for others.
He revels in the miracle that is Donald Trump — The Donald is the best negotiator, the toughest dude, the take-no-prisoners assassin, a lover of the most beautiful women, a force of nature who never loses.
Life, on the other hand, has other plans for all of us. At some point we fall, we lose the girl, we fail. Narcissists adapt poorly to these defeats with angry recriminations.
In the end, I’m struck by the vicious media attacks on The Donald. Why, if he’s merely a boisterous buffoon, a sideshow of limited amusement, waste so much print and television time on the man?
Me thinks the media mavens protest too loudly, that their attacks belie a deeper worry. And that worry?
That Donald, for all his bravado, is speaking to the average American in a language they understand and relate to, undermining the so-called serious politicians who usually dominate the media.
Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. His column focuses on drugs, mental health and substance abuse in an effort to raise better awareness. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.