I’m not a psychiatrist, but I doubt that Donald Trump is actually crazy — or any more crazy than, say, your crazy uncle who needs his hourly cable-TV-news fix. Sure, he’s unfit for the office. He’s an incompetent who surrounds himself with incompetence. He’s a race-baiting, dog-whistling, fear-mongering demagogue. He’s a megalomaniac and a narcissist who seems to have a major empathy problem. As Trump would say, he’s a sick person. But crazy?
OK, he does have a truth phobia. He began his Phoenix speech lying about the size of the protests outside the hall. That was an easily checkable lie. Everyone who watched the rally on TV had also seen the crowd of protesters. The people at the rally had walked by the protesters. In other words, everyone knew it wasn’t true. Everyone. Does that mean he’s crazy? Or has Trump spent a lifetime lying so baldly that the lie itself becomes its own kind of truth — seen by his supporters as basically a dare to deny the Trumpian reality that they and Fox News and much of right-wing radio share?
I’m not in the three-dimensional-chess crowd of Trump rationalizers. I don’t think he’s a threat in a game of checkers. But this version of Trump is no more unhinged than any of the versions of the man who we came to know as the self-aggrandizing, tabloid-hungry, reality-TV-famous, short-fingered vulgarian. The difference is that once there was Trump, and now there is Trump in the Oval Office.
The crazy, the real crazy, is that enough people in the most powerful nation on earth felt sufficiently moved by his sense of group victimization to elect him president. And if his numbers among Republicans are slipping, the great majority, somewhere around 80 percent, still support him, which is why Republican politicians still support him. Maybe you can explain why people voted for him. But how do you explain why so many stick with him?
What I’m saying is, look at these numbers from the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll. Among all voters — not just Trump voters — 43 percent blame the white supremacists most for the violence in Charlottesville, but 36 percent, or nearly as many, say the supremacists and the counterprotesters were equally to blame, and nine percent blame counterprotesters more. So, we can do the math. A slight plurality — 45-43 percent, within the margin of an incredible error — thinks the counterprotesters were equally or more to blame for clashes with … Nazis, one of whom drove a car into a crowd and killed Heather Heyer.
That’s a lot of crazy.
We’ve watched Trump struggle through what appear to be his recent mood swings. On Charlottesville, he first said “many sides” were to blame. Then he gave his hostage speech, sticking to the prompter, calling out neo-Nazis for being Neo-Nazis. And then came the mad Tuesday press conference in which he gave his bizarre views on moral equivalency, insisting there were “very fine people” on both sides.
And then, again, in his speech on his “new” Afghanistan policy — which is much like the old policy of never-ending war — Trump spoke of a united America that hurts when any American hurts. And the very next night, he offered up his divisive speech raging about the “they” who are trying to steal “our” history and “our” culture by removing statues of generals who fought to defend the institution of slavery. Meanwhile, as the non-unity centerpiece of his speech, he basically promised to pardon the racist and bigoted Sheriff Joe. What did he say on Wednesday? “It is time to heal the wounds that divide us.” Yes, he did.
They look like wild mood swings, but they’re not. These were entirely predictable Trump reactions to the facts on the ground as he sees them. The sticking-to-the-prompter speeches were those in which his advisers had convinced him to use their words to try to clear up the mess he had made. The going-off-the-prompter speeches were the liberated Trump, insisting that there was no mess, or if there was one, it was entirely the fake media’s fault.
He is obsessed with the media. Or maybe he’s just obsessed with the strategy of blaming the media. If it’s not the media, it has to be those in his own party. You may have seen the New York Times story about how Mitch McConnell is privately saying Trump is unable to save his presidency. If you watched the rally, you saw Trump rage against Sen. Jeff Flake (without naming him) and criticize Sen. John McCain (though not by name) even as he fights brain cancer. And he didn’t even mention the sailors lost on the USS John S. McCain.
To show how much he misses Hillary Clinton, Trump called the media the “crooked media.” It was an homage, I guess, like when he said the media don’t care about America. He did rant. He did rave. He did blame the media for not reporting the truth, even as he lied about his own Charlottesville speeches. It was classic Trump. He read from a sheet of paper quoting himself while leaving out the controversial “many sides” and “very fine people” parts of the quotes. Is that a sick guy, or a sick lie, or both?
Trump, the president of the United States, can actually say things like this in defense of his Charlottesville failure: “I hit ’em with neo-Nazi. I hit ’em with everything. I got the white supremacist, the neo-Nazi. I got ’em all in there. Let’s see. KKK? We have KKK. I got ’em all. So they’re having a hard time. So what did they say, right? ‘It should have been sooner; he’s a racist.’”
That’s the actual quote, which you can deconstruct this way: It is crazy that this man is president. On CNN, James Clapper said it was scary that Trump is anywhere near the nuclear codes, and he’s right.
But is Trump suffering from dementia? Or is he suffering, along with the rest of us, from him being Trump?
This is the Trump presidency. A man who believes that winning is everything — he disingenuously promised his latest plan meant victory in Afghanistan — keeps losing. And, being in way over his head, he has no idea what to do about it. If he’s not panicking, that would be crazy.
He keeps firing people. It doesn’t help. He blames the people who work for him. It doesn’t help. He wars with McConnell. It doesn’t help. He blames Democrats. It doesn’t help. He blames the media, and the media counters by listing every lie he tells.
That drives him crazy. It doesn’t mean he is crazy. If only it were that easy.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr