The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has taken great pains to curate more than 170 examples since late April of President Trump’s staff, friends, Cabinet officers, GOP members of Congress and international allies suggesting that he is acting like an immature child. Sure, others might say that he acts like a petulant teenager, but I think the toddler metaphor holds up pretty well. Indeed, the #ToddlerinChief thread got so long that the functionality of the Twitter thread itself was somewhat compromised.
For all of that, however, almost every news story cited in the thread contained only one or two specific instances of the president of the United States displaying the emotional maturity of a 4-year-old. There was never a story so long in detail or quotes that I could not fit it into a single tweet.
Until this weekend, that is.
Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, and Peter Baker’s 4,200-word New York Times behemoth “Inside Trump’s Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation” contained so much toddler fodder that it required not one, not two, but five separate entries. You can check out the thread to see the individual examples. It is worth focusing on the larger toddler themes that can be gleaned from “interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.” To put it another way, what are the big behavioral characteristics that make Trump seem like a toddler?
1. The selfishness and narcissism. Some toddlers have a “Me! Me! ME!!!” attitude about life. They get bored if the focus is on someone else for too long. Trump is honestly worse than most toddlers on this score, as Haberman, Thrush, and Baker report:
To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.
2. The inability to filter bad information from the good. Toddlers have that delightful quality of believing in things that are not actually true. They also treat everything they read as literal truth. Part of growing up is learning the difference between fiction and nonfiction, truth from falsity.
Trump hasn’t reached that developmental goal yet:
In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump’s associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.
Monitoring his information consumption — and countering what Mr. Kelly calls “garbage” peddled to him by outsiders — remains a priority for the chief of staff and the team he has made his own. Even after a year of official briefings and access to the best minds of the federal government, Mr. Trump is skeptical of anything that does not come from inside his bubble . . .
Aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories.
Even Stephen K. Bannon was quoted in the story acknowledging to friends that Trump only “reads to reinforce.”
3. The oppositional thinking. If there is one thing young children excel at, it is in doing the opposite of what you would like them to do. Indeed, a sign of maturity is recognizing that just because an authority figure suggests something does not automatically invalidate the idea.
Trump has excelled at oppositional thinking throughout his time in office. If President Barack Obama had favored a policy, Trump opposed it. And we see that in this story when, in response to “a list of 51 fact-checking questions,” Trump denied to his traveling press corps he watched that much television — despite the fact that both the Times reporters and other reporting confirms that he watches at least four and as much as eight hours a day.
4. The insecurity. Most toddlers do not like to be thought of as toddlers. They want to be thought of as perfectly rational small people who should get their way all of the time. When that does not happen, they lash out or inwardly seethe that they are not being treated as they should.
The thesis of Haberman, Thrush and Baker’s piece tells a similar tale:
Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.
For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation.
Other close Trump-watchers agree on this point.
Because of this story, the #ToddlerinChief thread now runs to 176 tweets. It is only going to get longer.