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.