A few days without an outburst. A plausible choice or two for his Cabinet. A succinct and searing comment on the vitriolic United Nations resolution attacking Israel. (“As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”) If you squint, you might see a weak light at the end of the 2016 tunnel, some faint flicker of hope that President-elect Donald Trump is stable, sane and responsible. But then, wham! In 140 characters or fewer, he reminds us how psychologically “off” he is, how a thin veneer of normalcy can easily be pierced. On Monday, he took credit for Christmas sales: “The world was gloomy before I won — there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10% and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars!” On Tuesday, he praised himself in the third person. (“The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index for December surged nearly four points to 113.7, THE HIGHEST LEVEL IN MORE THAN 15 YEARS! Thanks Donald!”)
There you have it, once again: A man whose ego is so frail that he, like the rooster taking credit for the rising sun, sees all good news as a reflection of his own fabulousness. James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute is quoted in Politico as saying, “The president-elect judges his own personal wealth based on his own feelings. So on any given day, he could just decide based on his feelings that America is great.” (The first sentence is a reference to Trump’s own testimony in a 2007 deposition in which he asserted, “My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings.”)
The narcissistic personality is ever-present. Every person is judged to be a “good guy” or a “loser” based on what he or she says about Trump. Every bad bit of news is the result of the no-good, sleazy, rotten, most-dishonest-people-he-ever-met media. Terrorist massacres are not tragedies, but vindication that he was “right” (right about exactly what is not clear). Trump’s seeming inability to take himself out of the equation and assess events, people and policies on their own merits remains the most frightening aspect of his impending presidency. He’d rather ignore a direct attack on American democracy than admit that Russia put its thumb on the scale in his election victory. His psychological need for affirmation, for love even, takes precedence over reality and the needs of the country.
Most Republicans for now are ignoring the prospect of a president whose psyche and intellect make him manifestly unfit to govern. They convince themselves that he is stable, is making excellent choices and in the maelstrom of a crisis will act logically and carefully. And if all that is wrong, if the real Trump is the one congratulating himself on a figure that merely reflects our hyper-partisanship (with Trump elected, Republicans now think things will be swell), what do they do then? Who on the White House staff or in Congress or in the Cabinet is capable of confronting him when his ego won’t accept reality or recognize dangers to the United States? Maybe that person is his 35-year-old son-in-law (who has never held office, worked in the public sector or served in any national security post) or Vice President Mike Pence. What keeps many up at night, however, is the worry that there is no one who can convince Trump that he is wrong. We wonder whether anyone is capable of telling him: “Mr. President, Russia really did attempt to meddle in our election, just as it has done to our European allies time and time again. Denying this makes you sound like a Russian stooge.”
Sure, all presidents have big egos. The problem arises when their psyche impairs their ability to function rationally. Let’s hope that there are courageous and effective people to save Trump from himself — and save the country, too.