The 18 months of his scorched-earth campaign were an extension of the contractual, mathematical, business world he knows intimately, the world he lives and breathes, a world in which he takes no prisoners and brooks no dissent. When he wrote (in his 2000 book “The America We Deserve”) that “I'm a good businessman and I can be amazingly unsentimental when I need to be,” he was telling us in no uncertain terms exactly what moves him, and exactly the kind of unemotional, first-blush world view we can expect from a Trump administration.
Call it Trump’s lack of vision thing. It’s a blinkered view of the nation, reflexive, tirelessly transactional and sadly incomplete, one in which the people of America won’t be citizens as much as minions, operatives in the vastest empire Trump has ever imagined.
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When Trump bellowed “I am your voice!” at the panoramic 20-car pileup of a Republican convention this summer, that was his reach for Americans in the aggregate. When protesters across the country carried signs that read “NOT MY PRESIDENT” the day after the election, it was their way of saying his bid for that wider acceptance had utterly failed. That’s the country he’ll inherit today at noon.
That inability (or unwillingness) to see this nation clearly was indelibly captured in Trump’s own campaign slogan “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” As though the country hadn’t ever been great. As though the country isn’t great today. As if Donald Trump were the only human being in the 325 million who live here who could retrieve that hypothetically absent greatness from an equally hypothetical abyss.
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THE TRUMPIAN absence of vision extends to the marching orders for his own fledgling administration. The Donald has tapped several multimillionaires and billionaires to serve in the Trump Cabinet, but whatever office they will hold, whatever jobs they’ll do will first be focused on rolling back the myriad achievements of President Obama. Trump doesn’t see the folly built into that pursuit.
To spend the first year to 18 months of an administration undoing the work of your predecessor in the White House — repealing this, replacing that, mothballing one agency or another, overturning one executive order or another — is to validate that predecessor’s work by definition. That’s not the same as advancing your own agenda. Not even close.
Undoing the eight years of Obama administration achievements and policies was at the heart of the pledges Trump made throughout his campaign. That was the red meat he threw to crowds at campaign rallies, with both hands, and the crowds couldn’t get enough. It’s the same diet he’s trying to feed to the American people via Twitter right now. Trump hasn’t made the pivot from that behavior, fine for a campaign, to the actions reflecting a grasp of governing. And that will lead to his undoing.
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Earlier this month, Michael Kruse of Politico surveyed some of Trump’s biographers, people who are in the best position (besides his wife and his children) to know what makes Donald John Trump tick. Their insights are troubling.
“News that contradicts his worldview gets flushed down the ... emotional and intellectual dispose-all that I think he carries around with him from the second he gets out of bed to the minute he goes to sleep each night.”
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MICHAEL D’Antonio, who authored “The Truth About Trump,” agrees: “[H]e has this deep fear that he is himself not a legitimate president, and I think that’s why he goes to such great lengths to delegitimize even the intelligence community, which is the president’s key resource in security, and he’s going to do this demeaning and delegitimizing behavior rather than accept what they have to tell him. ...
“I think Donald Trump measures himself by the number of norms that he can violate. The more he can get away with, the more he can thumb his nose at convention, the more powerful he feels. ...
“He stands for what he can get away with ...”
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In the stock exchange of his ego, that privately held issue is always heading up.
People of optimism and sound character have been patiently waiting and hoping for a scales-from-the-eyes moment from Donald Trump. This is a moment he is not capable of. At the end of the day, the debate surrounding the essence of Donald Trump, as a clue to his deepest reservoir of character, isn’t about ethics or morality. This isn’t a moral issue, it’s more foundational than that.
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DONALD TRUMP is wealth. He has always been wealth; he is defined by wealth; he is contemporarily defined as wealth. It is the totality of his public vision and the prism through he views the success of his existence, and he has faithfully reinforced that existential conviction in everything he does, in every facet and contour of his life.
His inability to recognize and respond to the often damaged, sometimes desperate gray areas of the millions of lives he now influences is cellular. Despite its most public face within the frame and world of TV, this is not a guise or an act. This solipsism, this blindness is basic to who and what he is and has always been, and it is what he will be forever.
And it is what he will be starting at noon today, when he will take the oath of office, and re-dedicate himself to his own personal oath: To stand for what he can get away with.
Image credits: Trump in silhouette: Win McNamee/Getty Images. Not My President: The New Yorker. Trump quote image: Screengrab from Clinton 2016 video.