There’s only one thing more worrying than President Trump’s hourly eruptions of furious tweets, and his dumbfounding inability not just to grasp but to even locate the levers of power. It’s the news media’s shock and amazement at each fresh evidence of Trump’s far from hidden character flaws.
Oliver Sachs would have been fascinated with such an affliction, the inability to remember the true nature of the president twenty seconds after witnessing some new outrage. So each time Trump comes chugging ‘round the bend with a fresh trainload of manure the pundits experience fresh astonishment and confusion. How can this be happening?
They keep expecting him to learn from experience, to modify his behavior to match his changed circumstances, to discover the rules, norms and mores that govern life in Washington and international affairs. Not an unreasonable notion. But Trump is clearly incapable of adaptation. He doesn’t even realize he’s not in Kansas anymore.
Trump is simply the geriatric version of the spoiled rich boy that used to do his pussy grabbing at Studio 54 to a disco beat. Then, at least, he was presumably able to concentrate sufficiently to deal with architects, contractors, bankers, politicians, unions, undocumented aliens and the mob to get gaudy, city-blighting buildings erected.
But was he? He learned the real estate racket from his father Fred who was still alive until 1999, and he had a highly regarded construction manager in Barbara Res. They may have done the heavy lifting. And when Trump strayed from the family comfort zone of real estate, he invariably came a cropper.
Almost everything else he has touched has failed, especially his casino catastrophe. And his divorce from Ivana in 1990 may have been the turning point. She seems to have been a tough business partner with an eye on the numbers. In her absence, the bankruptcies came fast and furious — four or six, depending on who’s counting, between 1991 and 2004.
By the end he was no longer able or willing to concentrate on something as complex as managing a large organization or construction project. Instead, he was a brand, licensing his name which symbolized “class” to rubes. But he found his greatest fame as a caricature on TV. Emily Nussbaum offers a look at his tenure on “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” between 2004 to 2015 in “Guilty Pleasure,” (“New Yorker,” July 31).
Her summary, for those of us lucky enough to have ignored most of Trump’s televised buffoonery, explains why the gig appealed to him and his audience. Trump got to bully contestants, pretend to be a business genius, and listen while praise was lavished on him by supplicants. Clearly this evolution from landlord to sideshow barker offers a key to the Trump presidency that has proven so baffling to the news media, the Washington establishment and much of the country.
Trump is as incapable of managing the country as he was of managing his business. He was consistently selling snake oil, but would unwisely diversify into businesses he didn’t understand, over-extend his empire with reckless borrowing and find himself in one catastrophe after another. He was ultimately all sizzle and no steak. No wonder his first six months as president have been marked by big promises, little follow-though and no results. It’s his M.O.
He is our Reality TV Host president. And he learned in that venue that success is defined by acting important, pushing people around, engineering needless conflict and giving the audience a new shiny object to fixate on with every episode. The key to TV was sound and fury, a larger than life persona, melodramatic surprise, and breaking news.
So, in the last few days, he hasn’t sought results, he’s sought attention. He threatened to fire Bob Mueller, denigrated Jeff Sessions, blamed Republican Senators for failing to fix healthcare, banned trans people from the military, hired another outer borough bozo to manage communications, and spoke to Boy Scouts to whom he imparted life lessons in self-regard, nursing grudges, and measuring a man by his net worth. None of that crap about morality, helping others or doing one’s duty to God and Country.
Since he’s the hero of his own show, he must have enemies and they are not just in his own party, but in his White House, leaking. And anyone who criticizes his behavior or notices he does’t know how to do his job is a purveyor of fake news. Since Trump is just a performer and writing scripts is hard, he cribs his daily rants from unhinged media outlets like FOX, Breitbart, and Infowars. Retweeting their imagined conspiracies is easier than crafting legislation or managing the executive branch.
Many people regard this presidential regime of bread and circuses an even more dire sign of terminal decadence than “Celebrity Apprentice” or Trump Tower, but Trump fans who ate up his shows and mistook reality TV for reality are just as enthralled by his crude presidential style.
Many are the same white men over 40 who completed two years of college or less, have middling income, come from small cities, rural states or those with a carbon-based economy who jammed his rallies and gave him his electoral edge.
They are angry and don’t think America is great anymore, but they still think that Trump is. He may be no Washington, Lincoln or FDR, but he’s a hell of a lot better president than panty-waists like Ryan Seacrest, Jeff Probst, or Simon Cowell would have been.
And if he doesn’t get them jobs, healthcare, a tax cut or a better future for their kids, it won’t be because Trump’s a fraud but because his enemies are real — the dark state, minorities, wily Democrats, turncoat Republicans. Stay tuned for the next episode.