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Beyond the Madness of King Donald

Posted on May 15, 2017

By Paul Street

  Donald Trump has a 40 percent approval rating. (Pixabay)

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President Frankenstein, Donald Trump, has been pretty much the bizarre “insane clown president” (Matt Taibbi’s phrase) that I and many others expected. He’s only shocked me twice: his weird Twitter meltdown alleging that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones and his appallingly timed firing of FBI Director James Comey on grounds that seemed to take us all for complete idiots.

“Banana Republic” President

Does Trump’s dismissal of Comey prove that the president is in cahoots with Russia? No, it shows that Trump was incensed with Comey for cooperating with the Senate investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, for ramping up the FBI’s inquiry into the same matter, for drawing too much media attention and for contradicting Trump’s wacky wiretapping charge.

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Lack of outward devotion to the new commander in chief is what got Comey canned. His sin was insufficient fealty to Herr Donald. In a sharp New Yorker essay published one day before the Comey discharge, Evan Osnos reported on an instructive dialogue he had with Jerry Taylor, president of the libertarian Niskanen Center:

It is not a good sign for a beleaguered President when his party gets dragged down, too. From January to April, the number of Americans who had a favorable view of the Republican Party dropped seven points, to forty per cent, according to the Pew Research Center. I asked … Taylor … if he had ever seen so much skepticism so early in a Presidency. “No, nobody has,” he said. “But we’ve never lived in a Third World banana republic. I don’t mean that gratuitously. I mean the reality is he is governing as if he is the President of a Third World country: power is held by family and incompetent loyalists whose main calling card is the fact that Donald Trump can trust them, not whether they have any expertise.” [emphasis added]


Comey was shown the door because he failed to obsequiously kiss the ring of the orange-haired beast, who shows great admiration for authoritarian strongmen like Vladimir Putin (Russia), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (Egypt) and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey).

Whatever his motives and intentions, Trump has, if anything, poured fuel on the Russiagate fire. Recall that it was the cover-up, not the Watergate burglary itself that undid Richard Nixon—another strange and paranoid authoritarian with a knack for cloistering himself off from reality and surrounding himself with frightened yes men.

The firing certainly looks like a Russia-related cover-up to many, especially to political and media actors who are locked into a neo-McCarthyite Russia witch hunt. Many top Democrats and corporate news elites are fiercely determined to tar Trump with a Kremlin brush. Now they can probably enlist some key Republicans to join them in calling for an independent special committee or special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election.

“Fortress Trump: His Drug Is Himself”

Trump fanned the flames further with his preposterous initial claim to have acted because of how Comey reignited the Hillary Clinton email scandal on the eve of the election. As anyone who pays remotely serious attention to U.S. politics knows, candidate Trump praised Comey’s disturbing October surprise, which may have inflicted significant damage on the Clinton campaign. Now Trump is angry at how Comey helped undermine “Crooked Hillary”? It doesn’t wash.

Did Trump really think that Democrats and others would fall for his pretext for firing Comey and not see Comey’s removal as an effort to derail federal investigations into his real and/or alleged Russian connections—and into whatever else might come up in the process? Is he really surprised, as he tells Fox News, that his move sparked a huge backlash? Could he really be that out of it? Seriously?

Yes, it’s quite possible that he is that clueless. Look at what Osnos discovered from his in-depth research on the young Trump presidency:

By this point in George W. Bush’s term, Bush had travelled to twenty-three states and a foreign country. Trump has visited just nine states and has never stayed the night. He inhabits a closed world that one adviser recently described to me as “Fortress Trump.” Rarely venturing beyond the White House and Mar-a-Lago, he measures his fortunes through reports from friends, staff, and a feast of television coverage of himself. Media is Trump’s “drug of choice,” Sam Nunberg, an adviser on his campaign, told me recently. “He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t do drugs. His drug is himself.”

It’s not clear how fully Trump apprehends the threats to his Presidency. Unlike previous Republican Administrations, Fortress Trump contains no party elder with the stature to check the President’s decisions. “There is no one around him who has the ability to restrain any of his impulses, on any issue ever, for any reason,” Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican consultant, said, adding, “Where is the ‘What the fuck’ chorus?”

Trump’s insulation from unwelcome information appears to be growing as his challenges mount. His longtime friend Christopher Ruddy, the C.E.O. of Newsmax Media, talked with him recently at Mar-a-Lago and at the White House. “He tends to not like a lot of negative feedback,” Ruddy told me. Ruddy has noticed that some of Trump’s associates are unwilling to give him news that will upset him. “I don’t think he realizes how fully intimidating he is to many people, because he’s such a large guy and he’s so powerful,” Ruddy went on. “I already sense that a lot of people don’t want to give him bad news about things. I’ve already been approached by several people that’ll say, ‘He’s got to hear this. Could you tell him?’ ”

The madness of would-be king Donald is no small matter. It’s all very Czar Nicholas- and Richard Nixon-like.

Malignant “Dunning-Kruger Narcissism”

It is the on-record opinion of many mental health professionals that Trump exhibits hallmark characteristics of the psychological condition known as “malignant narcissism … characterized by grandiosity, a need for admiration, sadism, and a tendency toward unrealistic fantasies,” Osnos reported.

READ: The Psychopathology of Donald Trump

Malignant narcissists live in bizarre defiance of reality and of anything that doesn’t fit their lavish sense of their own superiority and excellence. They delight in the humiliation and even the crippling and killing of others.

I would add another psychological dimension here: the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” As Wikipedia explains: This is “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive incapacity, on the part of those with low ability, to recognize their ineptitude and evaluate their competence accurately.”

It’s not just that Trump is stupid. It’s that he thinks he’s really, really smart, something the outside world has certainly been telling him for decades by showering him with absurdly undeserved riches and power. And he’s got nobody around him with the standing or courage to tell him otherwise to check either his folly or his hubristic taste for ruling with sheer impunity.

On this last characteristic, recall Trump’s “locker room” comment: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Remember also his campaign statement that he could stand on New York’s Fifth Avenue “and shoot somebody” and still not lose voters.

Removal Prior to 2020?

Could Trump be removed before the end of his first term either through a 25th Amendment ejection (on grounds of incapacitation) or impeachment (on criminal grounds)? Given Republican control of both the U.S. House and the Senate, I would have put the chances of that at less than 10 percent before the Comey firing.

Now, the chances have gone up significantly, especially if Democrats take back the House in 2018. Trump is counting on keeping enough of his base supporters—people who would let him “do anything,” even shoot somebody in broad daylight—so Republican legislators will not feel compelled to abandon him.


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