Lacking in humanity, Trump has had no idea how to handle either one. He has responded to the police-brutality protests only by making matters worse. Faced with circumstances warranting calls for calm and restraint, he answered with almost sadistic invitations for more violence, fulminating about “THUGS” and extrajudicially “shooting” looters, issuing threats about “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons,” and celebrating “Domination” and “Overwhelming force.”
Tweeting about “LAW AND ORDER!” and “Anarchists,” and ignoring the distinction between peaceful, aggrieved citizens and the relatively few lawbreakers among them, Trump castigated governors in a phone call as “weak,” effectively upbraiding them for not spraying more fuel on the fire. And then, after he was wounded by mockery about having been hustled to a White House bunker as protests mounted, his administration used chemicals and projectile munitions to disperse peaceful demonstrators so that this morally deficient, scripturally ignorant payer-off-of-porn-stars could awkwardly pose with a borrowed Bible as a stalwart defender of public order and Christian values in front of a Lafayette Square church.
And all with little more than token acknowledgment of the tragedy that triggered it all, and of the righteous outrage that has caused the streets to fill. Little more than a few robotically recited lines tucked into a speech at NASA about a rocket launch, and a speech at the White House that prefaced his parade to the church. He made a sympathy phone call to Floyd’s family, but the dead man’s brother, Philonise, said it went by so quickly that he was barely given a chance to speak.
So, too, with covid-19: The pandemic response sorely needed a leader with competence and intellectual understanding, guided by a basic humanity. Instead, Trump began with denials, lies, delusions — cases going down to zero, and the deadly pathogen would miraculously disappear. He veered from extreme to extreme: from covid-19 as a flu-like problem to a national emergency, from calls for precautions to demands for “liberation” from them, with miracle cures sprinkled about along the way.
Erratic press briefings featured Trump blathering and preening, and treating government experts cavalierly, as if he were on a phone call with Philonise Floyd. The briefings mercifully ended after Trump apparently realized they did him political harm.
And all without appreciation by the president of the human toll exacted not only by the virus itself, but also from his own inattentiveness to it. On Memorial Day weekend, as the death count approached 100,000, he indulged himself with two days of golf. When asked during a March virus briefing a simple question that any humane politician could have knocked out of the park — “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now and are scared?” — he responded not to the American people, but with an angry attack on the journalist: “I’d say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I’d say.”
So much of Trump’s inaptness and ineptness in these and other matters stems from his exceptional narcissism, and the empathic deficit that attends it. Few who have considered it would today doubt, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) so perceptively put it in 2016, that Trump was “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.”
But it’s more than just narcissism that drives this failing, flailing president. However difficult they can be, even extreme narcissists can have consciences. They don’t necessarily cast aside behavioral standards or laws, or lie ceaselessly with reckless abandon. Trump’s behavior is conscienceless, showing utter disregard for the safety of others, consistent irresponsibility, callousness, cynicism and disrespect of other human beings. Contempt for truth and honesty, and for norms, rules and laws. A complete inability to feel remorse, or guilt. As a New Yorker profile of Trump put it nearly a quarter-century ago, Trump lives “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” That’s Donald Trump’s problem yesterday, today and tomorrow.
It’s our problem, too, for now: We remain governed by a soulless man with a broken mind. The damage will continue, and it won’t stop until voters end it. Come November, it will be up to the eligible human population of this country to look to their souls, their consciences, their humanity — and to cast their votes for one of their own.
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