The revulsion evoked by Donald Trump as he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland goes far beyond his speech, which was memorable only for its angry mood, not its vapid content. What repelled so many Americans in that moment was the realization — or simply the intuition — that the candidate of the Grand Old Party in 2016 is a living repudiation of every hope, every principle, and nearly every word that made this country great.
Imagine for a moment what George Washington might have felt in observing the personage of Trump, whose vanity, prevarication, and rage are so opposed to the modesty and restraint that the first president personified. It is impossible to conceive of Washington proclaiming that only he could solve the country’s problems, or insisting that he had never been wrong, or making any of the audacious boasts emitted by the Republican nominee whenever he opens his braying mouth.
Washington refused to accept a crown, leaving office voluntarily so that the new nation could find its way toward a democratic succession. His country’s future was far more important to him than his own aggrandizement. Of Trump, nobody can honestly say that.
To Washington, Trump’s vengeful and bloodthirsty attitude toward the nation’s enemies, real or perceived, would be as loathsome as his monumental narcissism. The seasoned general who led the American revolution — against the overwhelming force of the British empire — refused to imitate the brutal practices of the imperial army, rejecting the mass executions, torture, and mutilation that were then so common in warfare. He ordered that any Continental soldier who abused a British or Hessian soldier be punished severely, and commanded that every prisoner be treated humanely. He would have detested Trump’s vow to imitate the most barbaric conduct of the criminal Islamic State as well as his vile promise to murder the families of alleged terrorists.
Listening to Trump assume the leadership of the Republican Party, a degrading event compared to death by many Republicans, inevitably brought thoughts of that party’s founding president. While Abraham Lincoln remains among this country’s most revered leaders and always will, he is naturally despised by many of Trump’s most ardent supporters, especially those who still lurk in the remnants of the Ku Klux Klan.
Beyond the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, what Americans remember most about Lincoln was a brief address whose most indelible lines — “With malice toward none, with charity for all” — could never be comprehended, let alone uttered, by someone like Trump. For if there is anyone who literally embodies malice, both personal and political, it is this bullying braggart. He would not “bind up the nation’s wounds,” as Lincoln died trying to do, but delights in inflicting pain on the defenseless, the crippled, and the weak.
The third American titan whose shadow loomed over Trump’s triumph is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose creative government rescued the country from Depression and the world from Nazism. The crude promotion of fear in nearly every line of Trump’s convention speech is precisely the opposite of Roosevelt’s injunction in his famous first inaugural address, when he said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That same message lifted the nation through the searing challenge of the Second World War, when harbingers of evil and their dupes, both at home and abroad, predicted that American democracy lacked the strength to endure. Now only our chronic historical amnesia allows Trump to scream “America First,” the name of a movement that sought to undermine this country’s resistance to fascism, and was secretly subsidized by the Nazis for that purpose.
Like Washington and Lincoln, FDR would have regarded Trump and all that surrounds him as abhorrent.
It is not that any of these presidents was perfect, or that America has adhered in every hour to the ideals they tried to uphold. We know that they, and this country, veered too often from those aspirations, to say the least. But we now confront the rise of an authoritarian pretender who admires despotism and abandons fundamental principles, a political figure whose character is so deficient that his candidacy mocks our history. The only way to honor what is best in our heritage, to deliver what we owe to our ancestors and our heirs, is to defeat him in November with resounding force.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, July 22, 2016
“How Trump Got In Jeb’s Head”: Endlessly Mocking And Belittling, Unlike The Other Bushes, Jeb Can’t Handle It
When Donald Trump calls Jeb Bush a “low-energy person” whose campaigning lacks spark, a voter might be tempted to think Bush suffers from “Low T,” the mostly made-up malady marketed by the pharmaceutical industry. Whatever Trump’s true intention, the psychological warfare he’s so good at waging had the intended effect, finally provoking a response from Bush, the self-described “joyful tortoise” whose passivity toward his tormentor has been baffling.
“If you’re not totally in agreement with him, you’re an idiot, or stupid, or you don’t have energy or blah blah blah,” Bush said in Spanish at an event in Miami last week. He said Trump attacks him every day with “barbarities,” to which Trump responded with choice tweets.
“It’s the 2016 version of ‘the Wimp Factor,’” says Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. That’s hitting Jeb where it hurts. When his father announced his presidential candidacy in October 1987 to succeed President Reagan, the cover of Newsweek featured the Vice President piloting his yacht with the words, “Fighting The Wimp Factor.”
It was a searing metaphor for the elder Bush’s passivity and his seeming lack of toughness. A decorated World War Two veteran whose heroism had never been questioned, Bush’s New England patrician sensibilities had long ago obscured his war record, and eight years as a subservient vice president didn’t help.
The elder Bush went on to win the nomination and to run a campaign second to none in its toughness. He set down a marker that his first-born son followed – George W. embraced the psychological warfare it takes to win— and perhaps now his second-born son will, too.
But for now, Trump is the master. He’s taunting and mocking and belittling the other candidates, and if the other candidates ignore him on the theory they don’t want to feed the beast, he gets covered and they sink in the polls. If they engage him, as Bush has tentatively begun to do, it’s the same phenomenon. He gets covered and they sink in the polls.
“Candidates routinely play with each other’s heads, but no one has been as blatant and brazen as Trump,” says Pitney. He recalls Bob Dole barking to Bush in the ’88 race, “Quit lyin’ about my record,” and Bush needling Republican rival Pete Dupont by calling him “Pierre.” Now, it’s an every day occurrence for Trump to call other candidates “morons” or “idiots” or “losers,” and with rare exception they take the broadsides.
The dynamic is reminiscent of a joke President Reagan used to tell about a guy who seeks help from a psychiatrist because his brother thinks he’s a chicken. How long has this been going on, he’s asked. Fifteen years. Why didn’t you seek help sooner? Because we needed the eggs, he replies.
That sums up the dilemma Republicans face. They need the eggs; they don’t want to offend Trump’s supporters.
Trump has shone a harsh light on the rest of the Republican field, exposing the vapidity and mediocrity of the candidates, who have been touted as this sterling field of current and former governors and senators. None has shown good political chops; they don’t know how to make themselves and their ideas stand out, to the extent they have any beyond the usual sound bites.
“One of the problems is they’re all scared to death he’ll take his marbles and go home,” says Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former domestic policy advisor in the Clinton White House. “An independent Trump candidacy would destroy the Republican Party’s prospects, and they know it. They have no idea where his limits are—if any exist.”
Trump is very good at negotiating tactics and he’s using the leverage of a potential third party bid to suppress the full-throated response that many of the candidates would like to voice but don’t dare for fear of what Trump might do. He’s now signed the RNC’s “loyalty pledge”, but not everyone is convinced that a non-binding agreement will ensure Trump doesn’t play the spoiler.
As for what motivates Trump, I turned to Dr. Jerrold Post, Founding Director of the Political Psychology Program at George Washington University and author of Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory, which was published last year. Post said he was sorry he didn’t have a chapter on Trump, and in keeping with the ethics of his profession, he spoke about narcissists in general, rather than singling out Trump.
Narcissists react to any kind of rivalry and have a very difficult time in sharing the limelight. They are “exquisitely sensitive to slights.” Anyone who vaguely stands up to Trump gets this massive pushback.
“The aspect that is interesting is the ease and sense of mastery—the consummate narcissist believes in his capacity to run the world basically, and conveys such a sense of confidence with such absolutely absurd positions,” says Post. For example, Trump on immigration, what he conveys is, “I am supreme; I am able to do anything, and if I say the Mexican government will pay for this, it will be done.”
Trump’s success in the polls for now has a lot to do with his followers and “the empowerment he provides,” says Post. “He offers something to the person who feels inadequate in himself.” Voters powerless to change a government that is failing them are an easy sell for Trump’s sense of mastery and strength and power.
“You stick with me and I’ll get rid of these people who are using the system,” is the message that Trump conveys. Call it populist, or narcissistic, when it comes to mind games, Trump has not yet met his match.
By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, September 7, 2015