Friday, January 20, 2017

The blind spots of Donald Trump

WHAT ophthalmologists call “scotomas” we call blind spots. Donald Trump, the presumptive 45th president of the United States, has displayed their political and rhetorical equivalents from the start of his public life, and certainly from the start of the campaign that has led him — improbably, shockingly — to this day, hours from assuming the Oval Office.

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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Trump failed to inspire the broad, ecumenical response he claimed to want from the American electorate. The 2.8-million-vote shortfall of the election was the first evidence of that; the dozens of protests around the country since Election Day — and the protests bubbling in Washington today and tomorrow — are and will be more visceral proof of the same thing.

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.

During his campaign, Trump capitalized on the blind spots of his supporters, and their inability to see the country the way it is, the way it’s been evolving. Their highly vocal desire to turn back the clock to an America that only nominally existed to begin with is a sad short-sightedness that hearkens back to an imagined white supremacy, back to the days of blacks and minorities “knowing their place.”

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.

Timothy O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” observed that Trump’s father, Fred Trump, and the ruthless McCarthy witch hunt co-counsel Roy Cohn “are the two most singular influences on his whole life, and they provided him with a militarized, transactional view of human relationships, business dealings and the law. And he’s going to carry all of that stuff and all of that baggage with him into the White House. ...

“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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He has little or no relationship with or use for those outside the realms of his experience. His public life has become a zero-sum-game phenomenon. Whether he’s stiffing contractors for agreed-upon fees or taking everyday people to the cleaners paying for a university that never was, Donald Trump has lived a life laser-focused on adding to two balance sheets: a financial balance sheet and that more personal ledger, the balance sheet charting Trump’s certitude that he is always right.

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.

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