Here’s what I don’t get about Trump and his supporters. Despite some obvious fumbles in his first hundred days in office, he can point to some real successes and yet he continues to play the aggrieved victim. Sure most of the media play his successes down while amplifying his errors and reversals but conservatives, while we may see the screw-ups, also see his wins. Most of us know that human beings stumble at times and his good moves, especially those that have panned out, counterbalance the blunders. Nor are we swayed by the way a hostile mainstream press ballyhoos the bad stuff at the expense of his successes. But that’s not enough for Trump. He can’t simply enjoy proving the doubters wrong. He has to lash out and overplay his hand every time.
He desires nothing but praise, unstinting adulation. Just listen to his people do interviews. Nearly every other sentence uttered contains an allusion to the president’s oversized role in everything they are touting, to his smarts, his “leadership,” his strength of purpose, to his keeping his promises to the American people. Nothing is more praiseworthy they’d have us believe than “this president,” himself, in all his wonderfulness.
It’s painfully obvious, of course, that they know the drill when working for a Trump White House. It’s all praise to the president, all the time. Every positive thing they tout springs, they tell us, from his great brain, emanates from the Trumpian well of remarkable virtues.
It’s clear these people understand that, if they’re going to be effective courtiers in a Trump White House, they better do a damned good job publicly polishing this president’s apple. And from everything we see of him, they probably understand the need to keep stroking him privately, too.
It’s behavior more suited to medieval monarchy, in the era of the presumed divine right of kings, than to a democratic republic like ours where presidents are elected to their office to serve, not rule. But that mindset isn’t Trump’s. And now he’s done yet another rally of his base, this time in Pennsylvania, obviously intended to distract from and drown out the media attention that would normally have gone to the White House Correspondents Dinner where presidents typically allow themselves to be the target of some good natured ribbing and, of course, often rib back. But Trump is not a man to be ribbed, to be joked about like ordinary men.
Trump is a king in his own mind and you don’t disrespect kings. So, instead, our august monarch has chosen to disrespect the anti-aristocratic traditions of our own two centuries old republic and just skip the great levelling dinner to rally his base and revel in the cheers he elicits by attacking the media — instead of taking their jibes with the good humor of a man who understands he’s really just like the rest of us with flaws and foibles, another citizen of the republic, temporarily raised to higher station by the will of his fellow citizens.
Not for him the give and take of democracy. His instincts, his heart are of a different sort. They reflect the inflated self-regard of an emperor of the old Roman imperium.
Even rallying his base, he can’t help boasting of his successes in the crassest possible self-congratulatory terms. He can’t wait for others to praise his victories while he humbly acknowledges their judgment. Instead he craves the chariots beneath the triumphal arch, Caesar’s wreath of victory upon his brow, the swooning citizens at his feet. He must crow about his own accomplishments in the brashest way possible, luxuriating in the adulation of the mob. The most amazing thing to me about all this is how much the crowds he draws seem to love it.
They don’t recoil from the man’s shameless self-esteem as would normally be expected of thoughtful voters. Indeed, they apparently see nothing wrong in such brazen braggadocio. For some unfathomable reason they revel in it, growing more excited the more he mugs and struts for them.
Where have we gone wrong as a nation that this kind of shallow, self-inflating narcissism appeals to so many? Have we lost our sense of proportion, self-respect, honesty, integrity, humility, proportion? Have we forgotten the value of humility and self-effacement, even in the face of great deeds done?
Do the people in his rallies, as he preens and struts before them, not see how he demeans them — and all of us — by doing so, playing us like his personal fiddle, manipulating our basest instincts? Is this finally how democracies come to an end, with the rise of men who hold themselves above all others and the willing consent of those who sustain them?
(And for the record, in case my conservative friends misunderstand my point, I support most of Trump’s policies and applaud his recent actions on the global stage and I despise the transparent self-serving phony self-righteousness of people like Schumer, Pelosi, et al, with their partisan obstructionism. But none of that means I have to like Trump, the man, or what he has done and is doing to our national political discourse. If only we had elected a better man to go with his better policies.)