The Coward that is Donald Trump

Guys,

I’m writing to you as a fellow White guy.  I’m getting older but I can still remember lacing up my cleats in football and trying hard—and unsuccessfully—to dunk in front of the home crowd in basketball.  I had to try.  I still have my hiking boots, though they are more like a memento than something I wear.  I’m writing because I’m confused and need you to help me understand this Trump love of yours.

When I played sports, we were taught not to find excuses when we lost or when we didn’t play our best.  The idea was simple: I’ll do better next time.  We were taught to respect our opponent, especially if they had played a good game.  The way Red Sox and Celtic fans cheered for Jeter and Magic when they retired and how Yankee fans will cheer Big Papi next week.

We respect quality and effort.  We hate people who don’t give it their best.  We love that Brady works his rear end off.  We love the hustle guys, like Dustin Pedroia.  We hate the guys who trot to first base or who give up on plays.  We hate guys who focus on their individual statistics at the expense of winning for their team.  We love team-first players because… because they represent us.  At least, they represent the best in us, the people we want to be.

We aren’t the naturals who make it to the big leagues.  We have to hustle.  We have to depend on our teammates.  And we love our teammates.  When we are playing, there is no closer bond.  The closeness is visceral.  Truth be told, that’s one of the only place we can express that closeness without being considered a little less than the men we want to be.  At least that was true when many of us were growing up.

We like guys who keep their own counsel and don’t have to be told all the time how great they are.  What a drag those guys are, with their faces always in the TV camera, their insincere smiles begging for praise.  And when the praise isn’t forthcoming, they do the work themselves.  They boast and preen.  They are braggarts because they are needy.  They lack inner strength and faith in themselves.

Most of all, I think we respect courage.  The ability to take on something that’s hard, where we might fail, where we have to rise to the big moment. Watching guys like David Ortiz, bases loaded in the ninth inning in the World Series, we kind of know we wouldn’t rise the way he did.  But we dream of it and we admire it.  Guts.  That’s what he has.  That’s what the cops that we love following on TV have.  Guys like Frank Reagan in Blue Bloods.

We respect Frank Reagan not because he would take a bullet for a friend, though he would, but because he’ll wrestle with morally complicated issues.  Should he do the ‘right’ thing or should he favor his son.  Should he take the easy way out to please the public or risk public opprobrium to do what he most believes is right.  He struggles, he stays awake at night, he consults.  He does everything in his power to follow his ethical compass.  He’s not a poll watcher.  That takes courage and we admire him for it.

We would like to knock bullies on their rear ends.  We’ve all known them on the playground and at work.  Too many colleagues and especially too many bosses are bullies.  They pay us and they think it gives them the right to push us around, yell at us, belittle us.  We know that, in different circumstances, we could show them a thing or two.  We have heard like everyone else the line “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  We’d like to help with the fall.  We know that bullies are cowards.  But when do we get to be in places where we can force them to show their true colors.

We despise cheats.  Look at those guys who hit hundreds of home runs with the help of performance enhancing drugs.  Keep those guys out of the Hall of Fame.  Right?  Look at Spy Gate.  When Belichick and the Patriots stole signals from other teams, it turned the whole country against them.  Think about the basketball players who flop when you brush them with your pinkie.  They get fouls and points that way.  They are despicable.  Right?  They’re not our kind of guy.

These are all forms of lying.  Lying is not what men do.  We face the music.  We’d rather not cheat—that’s not what men do, either—but when we do and when we’re caught, we face up to it.  We like guys who, when they are wrong or when they let us down, they say something simple like “my bad.”  Then we’re done with it.  Guys who can’t admit they’ve failed are cowards.  They are weak.

Weak is not losing.  It’s losing without trying—for fear of losing.  Weak is when we can’t admit our own limitations.  Weak is when we can’t depend on others, just like point guards depend on big guys for rebounds and big guys need the guards to get them the ball in good position.  I just read that Derrick Rose, once one of the premier talents in the National Basketball Association, said that his job was now to support Carmello Anthony.  Rose had carried teams by himself until he began injuring his knees.  He’s still good but not great anymore.  He could demand to be treated as the top guy, he could let his ego rule, but he wants his team to win.  If that means recognizing his limitations and changing his role, he’ll do it.

I can’t speak for combat experience, but I can well imagine that guys who have been to war wouldn’t have much time for a person who only values himself and his own success, who lies and cheats and bullies, a buy who has no guts.  This is what puzzles me the most.  How could guys with these values connect with such a blowhard and a coward as Donald Trump.

Imagine how people would react to Donald Trump if he were to say that he doesn’t know that much about public policy but he’ll try to learn and he’ll surely depend on others to help him.

Imagine if Trump, upon being thumped by Clinton in the Debate, were to say that he lost fair and square and admires her abilities.  He could even say that debating isn’t leadership but still admit she’s a better debater than he is.

Imagine if Trump said that he exaggerates a great deal, probably because he’s afraid that the bare facts won’t pump him up enough.

Imagine if he said he is, in fact, thin skinned, gets hurt pretty easily, and then gets angry when he feels attacked.  He’s sensitive guy but he’s trying to stop that from ruling him.

Imagine if Trump were to admit that he’s like lots of other people: biased against people of color because he doesn’t trust them.  It’s hard, after all, to trust people he doesn’t know—really doesn’t know—and who look angry when he’s in the room.

He’d be a different guy and some people might give him a second look.

But there’s no chance that Donald Trump will fess up to the truth—because he is a coward.  That’s what’s underneath.  He lies, cheats, bullies, brags, and preens like an insecure little boy in search of a big blond mother to make him whole again.  That won’t happen either.  He won’t feel whole because he is looking outside, not inside, for the sources of his anxiety and fear and neediness.  That makes him both pathetic and dangerous.  Dangerous because he will do almost anything to try to reclaim his absent manhood.

 

A Man of False Promise

I read that Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Republican Congressmen.  No doubt he will promise or appear to promise many things to them, and suggest that they will be great partners if they trust him.  His rhetoric is filled with phrases like “believe me” and “trust me.”  But those who do trust Trump are bound for disappointment and sorrow.  And it is a sorrowful day that even these most obstinate, oppositional congressional “leaders” feel that have to give it a try.  If not, the demonic Democrats lurk on the horizon.

Trump’s promises are familiar to most of us.  They sound like the husband who says he’ll really try to get home on time, take more time with the kids, say what’s on his mind—from now on.  But he never does.  It sounds like the alcoholic and the drug addict who understand deeply, not only that his health is at risk, but that he has been letting down others; and they couldn’t, in good conscience, do that again.  But they do.  They do it again and again.  It sounds like the abuse victim—not the abuser—who says that she’s finally learned her lesson.  She knows that all of his sobbing regrets and meaningful promises aren’t worth the air he breaths.  No sir, she won’t go back to her man.  But she does.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the victim or the victimizer.  Neither can or wants to believe that the other doesn’t want to reform, that there isn’t a kinder, gentler, more generous side to the offending party.  Maybe it’s almost impossible to believe such a thing.  Maybe it goes against so much of what we believe.  Some degree of trust, however small, appears to be our default setting.  How could we go on in our lives if we became that cynical.

The willingness to believe Trump is not a trivial matter.  If people were more skeptical, he might not get away with his swaggering lies.  Unless, of course, he was always dealing with new people.  There is a powerful marriage that is formed between the liar, the cheater, and the cheated–if they continue together.  They need one another.  Trump’s jilted partners have continued to believe that they can make a good deal, that a relationship with him will pay off in the end.  Some need the broken deals so that they can be better than he is.  Some, like Marco Rubio and Chris Christi may have a masochistic streak. Who knows.

There is one way, however, that Donald Trump is different than all of these intertwined pairs—husbands and wives, parents and children, addicts and enablers, abusers and abused.  They usually do feel guilty and have regrets.  Trump does not.  I find it almost impossible to believe that he wakes up in the morning promising to himself or to anyone else that he will stop lying, that he needs people to trust him and understands that he has to earn their trust.  I don’t believe that Donald Trump believes that he has to earn anything.  He has been given things, like his inheritance.  He takes things, like money from vulnerable people in search of an education; or from almost anyone who thinks they can make an honest deal with him.

The picture of Trump tramping into Congress could be funny if it weren’t pathetic.  We know he’s going to make a deal or two.  We know he will go back on the deals the first moment that it is convenient, or the moment someone pierces his very thin skin and offends him.  We know how indignant the Congressmen will be.  We know that their indignation will threaten and enrage Donald Trump.  Then revenge becomes the only possible path for him.  I think that all of those Congressmen know this.  If not, they are even less conscious and observant than I thought.  And that’s not much.

Like the abused women and children, the Congressmen think they are dealing with at least a rational person.  They think that he understands that it is in his interest to deal fairly with them.  Their ego can accept nothing less.  He thinks it’s in his interest to appear to deal fairly with them.  They can’t quite bring themselves to believe that they can’t strike a deal of mutual interest.  He can’t govern without Congress, can he?  Never mind that Mussolini and Putin managed this very readily.  He couldn’t really have so little respect for promises, could he?  Of course he could.

This fundamental willingness to lie, this fundamental lack of concern for and about others—this, and we need to believe it—is the true Trump.  He is a narcissist, concerned almost exclusively about his own enhancement.  And he cannot even feel, really feel, anyone else’s pain enough to change.  What’s more, he is constantly afraid that people will get the upper hand on him.  When these fears emerge, he is convinced that he’s not making them up, that others really are plotting to hurt him, to take him down.  At such moments, Trump sees conspiracies everywhere.  The idea of African plots that install presidents in the White House is only the best of a frequent Trump narrative.

In a couple of essays to follow, I’m going to discuss what narcissism is.  The term has been bandied about a great deal in relation to Trump but I want people to understand it with a little more clarity and depth, particularly when expressed as a narcissistic personality disorder.  And I will also write about how integral lying and paranoia is to that kind of disorder.

For now, this is what we need to know: Trump is a narcissist, a liar, and a conspiracy monger.  He cannot and does not really want to be anything else.  He is not to be trusted.  His word is not his bond.  Anyone who acts on the opposite assumption will suffer the consequences.