The left had an easy time settling on its attitude toward President Trump’s supporters: a mixture of horrified outrage and sneering contempt. For many of us on the right, though, it hasn’t been so easy. The president’s boosters aren’t our natural enemies; they’re former and hopefully future allies. For three years, we’ve been struggling to find some way to discuss Trump.
We don’t want to destroy Trump supporters but to convince them — that Trump’s main life achievements before the presidency lay in the fields of getting publicity, cheating people less powerful than himself and having a rich, politically connected father who could grease his way into the real estate business, rather than negotiating, managing or building; that impulsive, thin-skinned and belligerent people might be a great deal of fun to watch on television or Twitter but are rarely much good at their jobs; that Trump’s inexperience and lack of interest in policy have made him remarkably ineffective at pursuing even his stated political goals; and that the cost of his inexperience, his indifference to the day-to-day work of the presidency and his bitterly divisive rhetoric are not worth the transient joy of watching liberals have conniptions.
I wish I could say our attempts at persuasion have worked. Some of our former comrades agree with the indictment but argue that the liberal establishment’s radicalism has left them no choice but to support the race-baiting vulgarian. The religious right, in particular, senses an existential threat from a combination of overweening government and “woke capitalism,” and feels compelled to throw in with anyone who promises to fight on its side. Others simply write off our dismay as Trump Derangement Syndrome, or a desire to finally fit in at the proverbial Georgetown cocktail party.
Many days I wonder if I shouldn’t just concede defeat. And then … Greenland. Once more unto the breach.
This is a president who canceled a state visit because the prime minister of Denmark declined to sell part of Danish territory to the United States. Can you really look at that sort of behavior and think Trump’s critics have the derangement problem?
It’s not particularly odd to want to add Greenland to U.S. territorial holdings. President Harry S. Truman thought the same thing and tried to buy it from Denmark in 1946, because the massive island is in a strategically valuable location. What’s bizarre is thinking that the way to go about it was to openly discuss the matter — successful real estate moguls generally try to buy up land as quietly as possible, not float their plans to any random dinner companion who might run to the media, driving up the asking price.
It is odder still to cancel a long-planned state visit simply because the Danish prime minister called the idea “absurd” — which, as deal rejections go, is fairly tame. Besides, if Greenland is so strategically valuable, you’d think Trump would want to deepen the U.S. relationship with the government with which the territory is associated. Or at least you’d think this if you believed that Trump cared more about U.S. interests than about his own fragile vanity.
This is not normal. And I don’t mean that as in, “Trump is violating the shibboleths of the Washington establishment.” I mean that as in, “This is not normal for a functioning adult.”
I’m not trying to perform some sort of amateur diagnosis of Trump as a narcissist, or a psychopath, or an early-stage dementia patient. I’m not Trump’s doctor, and I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Very possibly, it’s simply a terminal case of “billionairitis,” a well-known condition where very rich people slowly lose the ability to tolerate anything except the most obsequious flattery.
But I don’t need a diagnosis to know that the symptoms are pretty worrying. If your company’s owner abruptly pulled out of a conference with an important joint-venture partner just because the other CEO said something mildly unflattering, would you try to defend it as some sort of cunning N-dimensional chess move? Or would you start looking for another job? If your mother canceled a family visit because your cousin wouldn’t sell her the bedroom, would you get mad at your cousin for slighting your mother’s honor? Or would you try to arrange a neurological consult?
Hopefully, you wouldn’t just smile and say, “No, really, everything’s fine,” when it’s very obviously not. The longer you humor people who have clearly gone off the rails, the more time they have to damage themselves and those around them. Moreover, the damage is usually fiercest to the people closest by — which in Trump’s case means the folks who have been standing loyally behind him for the past three years.