The Damaged Personality

Eccentric and unhinged and sometimes evil billionaires are the stuff of cartoons. Scrooge McDuck was the slightly nasty foil to Donald Duck – but harmless. Montgomery Burns in The Simpsons is pure evil – and a joke too. Everyone knows the type – but there are such people in real life. There was Howard Hughes – his tri-cone drill bit revolutionized the oil industry, then he moved on to airplanes. He built beauties that set a lot of records, but that ended with his Spruce Goose – the giant military transport, a seaplane, too late for the war, that finally flew a half a mile or so down in Long Beach Harbor in 1947 – when it really was too late. It was the biggest airplane in the world at the time. It was totally useless – but it didn’t matter. Hughes moved on to the new aerospace industry – his folks invented the communications satellite and much more – but by that time he was a bit of a ghost, an old man wandering around the offices in his pajamas saying odd things to anyone who would listen. Some executives would nod politely. Others got out – TRW was formed by two guys who had enough of this madman. In between all this he was a Hollywood guy – he owned RKO studios for a time. He bought that from Jack Kennedy’s father and he had some hits, like “The Outlaw” with Jane Russell. There his engineering skills came into play – he invented the cantilevered underwire push-up bra just for her. Good for him. That outlasted the movie. Many men, and some women, thank him for that – but Howard Hughes ended his days alone in a penthouse high above Las Vegas, washing his hands twenty times an hour, touching nothing. It was the germs. There were germs everywhere. He ended his days a paranoid in pajamas.

Maybe he was a cartoon, but Donald Trump is a germaphobe too – and he’s not a cartoon, and he might be a bit paranoid too. As Philip Bump reports, he sees things that aren’t there:

Speaking to the U.S. Central Command on Monday, President Trump went off his prepared remarks to make a truly stunning claim: The media was intentionally covering up reports of terrorist attacks.

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris, and Nice. All over Europe, it’s happening,” he said to the assembled military leaders. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

Trump left it at that. Everyone knows their reasons, even if no one does, and even if it has been years of wall-to-wall coverage of anything that might seem somewhat like a terrorist attack, sort of, maybe. This was nonsense, but as Bump notes, nothing new:

Trump’s comment is very much in line with comments he made last June about President Barack Obama.

“Look guys, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart or has something else in mind,” Trump said about Obama’s response to the attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando. “And the something else in mind – people can’t believe it. People cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words radical Islamic terrorism. There’s something going on.”

The clear implication: Obama is on the side of the terrorists. Trump didn’t quite say that the media was siding with the terrorists, just that the media would happily ignore terrorism if it made Trump look bad.

Yeah, yeah – everyone is out to get him, but Bump adds this:

Interestingly, Trump himself ignored the mass shooting that occurred at a mosque in Quebec last week, killing six people. White House press secretary Sean Spicer told the media that the president and the Canadian prime minister had spoken, but Trump himself declined to weigh in…

Trump has consistently seen attacks like that in Quebec – committed by a young man who espoused anti-Muslim politics and defended Trump online – as isolated incidents from mentally disturbed individuals, while attacks by Muslims are part of a broader pattern spurred by radical Islamism. He sees an institution behind attacks by Muslims that he doesn’t see behind attacks like that in Quebec or in Charleston in 2015. That helps explain why he is willing to focus the country’s anti-terrorism efforts solely on terrorism committed in the name of Islam: He doesn’t see how other threats are systemic.

Okay, Timothy McVeigh on Oklahoma City was a one-off. So was the young kid who killed the school kids at Sandy Hook, and the guy who killed all those folks at the Batman movie in Aurora, but this was a different message:

With his comments on Monday, Trump implied that the media is complicit in making terrorists successful. It’s part of a recent pattern of suggesting that others are standing in the way of his terrorism-fighting efforts, which includes disparaging a federal judge who halted his immigration executive order…

Trump’s relationship with the media has never been strong during his time in politics. But he’s never before tried to push the media into the “against us” circle alongside those who commit acts of terrorism – at least, not so explicitly.

Still, that was the message for the day:

The White House released on Monday a list of 78 terrorist attacks that the Trump administration claim were not sufficiently covered by the nation’s press. The list, however, included some mass killings that were covered well enough to make their locales into symbols of anger and grief: Orlando, San Bernardino, the Boston Marathon, Nice and Paris in France, and Brussels in Belgium.

According to a White House official, the international list was sent out to prove the point “that these terrorist attacks are so pervasive at this point that they do not spark the wall-to-wall coverage they once did.”

“If you look back just a few years ago, any one of these attacks would have been ubiquitous in every news outlet, and now they’re happening so often – at a rate of more than once every two weeks, according to the list – that networks are not devoting to each of them the same level of coverage they once did,” the official said.

“This cannot be allowed to become the ‘new normal,'” the official added.

Everyone should be much more terrified than they now are, of course, but this was odd:

Oddly, the list includes no attacks in Israel, despite a spate of knife attacks in 2015-16 that were meant to terrorize the population. It also doesn’t include the mass shooting of African American churchgoers by Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist, at a Charleston church in June 2015.

Of the 78 attacks, 11 occurred in the United States.

This was a nonsense list, but everyone should be much more terrified than they now are. Donald Trump is terrified. Perhaps he washes his hands twenty times an hour too. Everyone should.

The media shrugged. They’ve run themselves ragged reporting on terrorist attacks, but Trump had other grievances:

President Trump early Monday blasted “negative polls” as “fake news,” saying the public wants “border security and extreme vetting.”

“Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting,” he tweeted.

All negative polls are fake news! Again the media shrugged, and a CNN/ORC poll released Sunday found that most Americans oppose Trump’s executive order on immigration, for what that’s worth. Reality isn’t in play here:

Trump also said that “everyone knows” he calls his own shots, “largely based on an accumulation of data.”

“I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!” he tweeted.

What the hell was THAT about? That was about a New York Times item by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman about the first two weeks of the Trump presidency, filled with nasty details like this:

Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president’s, said, “I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.”

And this:

For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day – too much in the eyes of some aides – often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

And this:

[Steve] Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council.

That last one was what Trump’s tweet was about. He hadn’t realized that he signed an order that gave Bannon a vote on the National Security Council and had removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence from the group entirely. There was outrage everywhere at that, outrage that took Trump by surprise. He had done what? Bannon had manipulated him? That couldn’t be – and then there was the Time magazine cover story about Bannon being the second (or first) most powerful man in the world now – the “great manipulator” of course. Trump panicked. He tweeted.

It happens, and the New York Times item also contained this:

He almost always makes time to monitor Mr. Spicer’s performance at the daily briefings, summoning him to offer praise or criticism, a West Wing aide said…

To pass the time between meetings, Mr. Trump gives quick tours to visitors, highlighting little tweaks he has made after initially expecting he would have to pay for them himself.

Kevin Drum sums this up:

Trump watches lots of cable; he monitors Sean Spicer’s press briefing every day; and he fills up time between meetings by showing off the decor of the White House. He doesn’t seem to be very busy with actual work, does he? And yet, he wasn’t fully briefed on a simple executive order, something that would have taken no more than a few minutes. What’s more, it’s pretty obvious that he’s also signed other executive orders that he barely understands.

This is pretty much what we all expected from Trump, but it’s still jarring to see it confirmed. He spends a lot of time in front of the television, he obsesses about polls, he keeps an eye on the daily press briefing, he seethes with anger at criticism, and he putters around whenever there are no meetings scheduled.

Trump sounds a lot like Howard Hughes at the end, as Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman report it:

Usually around 6:30 p.m., Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home.

He wanders the White House late at night in his bathrobe? So he is the paranoid in pajamas, but the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza is a bit more sympathetic:

He is remarkably transactional when it comes to acquaintances – what can he/she do for me today? – which tends not to lead to lots of close friendships. And he is a celebrity, someone with lots of “friends” but no actual, close friends. (Quick, named people Donald Trump is friends with: Don King? Kanye West? Right.) … The simple fact is that Trump has never had real friends in the sense you or I think of the term. The relationship world of Trump has long been split into two groups: 1) His family and 2) people who work for him. And people who work for you are rarely your actual friends…

It’s so sad:

Trump is, in an odd sort of way, a reclusive family man. He is someone who likes routine and likes to be around his family. Hell, he built a hotel that he both works and lives in! Even during the campaign, Trump flew on his own plane surrounded by his kids – a protective, comfortable bubble amid the back and forth of the race…

Without the comfort of Trump Tower and robbed of the proximity of his family, Trump is a man apart. He has cable TV, his phone and Twitter. But he lacks a group of friends or confidantes – again, outside of his immediate family – with whom he can have dinner or just chat. He is isolated – and in the most high-powered and high stress job in the world. That’s a very tough place to be.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog is having none of that:

Stop. Just stop.

We’ve had other presidents who were reputed to have few close friends – Richard Nixon, famously, but also Barack Obama. This didn’t inspire them to sign documents without reading them. It didn’t make them incapable of processing basic information about the functioning of government. Maybe Nixon padded aimlessly around the White House in the desperation of his final days, but he didn’t spend his first month in the White House bored. Trump may be lonely, but – as the Haberman and Thrush story makes clear – presidential loneliness is not the biggest problem here.

Trump doesn’t need a hug. He needs to learn his damn job. Failing that, he needs to resign and hand the White House over to someone minimally qualified (at this point, even Mike Pence would be a slight improvement). Hey, he could say he’s doing it to spend more time with his family.

Well, there’s an answer to that:

Pushing back on a New York Times article detailing disorder in the West Wing, press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday the reporters got their facts wrong – including the eye-catching detail that Trump watches TV in his bathrobe.

“That story was so riddled with inaccuracies and lies that they owe the President an apology for the way that thing was written,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One. “There were literally blatant factual errors, and it’s unacceptable to see that kind of reporting.”

He identified one detail in the piece that rang false.

“I don’t think the President wears a bathrobe, and definitely doesn’t own one,” he said.

That was a mistake:

Shortly after Spicer’s comments, several Twitter users circulated images of a younger Trump clad in a bathrobe.

A spoof Twitter account, @POTUSBathrobe, even popped up, tweeting: “Oh, I exist.”

Oops. But cut him some slack:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that President Donald Trump just wants terror attacks – as well as the “success that he’s had” in his first weeks in office – to get the media coverage they “should be” given.

“He felt members of the media don’t always cover some of those events to the extent that other events might get covered,” Spicer told reporters on Air Force One, as quoted in a White House pool report. “Protests will get blown out of the water, and yet an attack or a foiled attack doesn’t necessarily get the same coverage.”

Spicer said that Trump is “doing what he can” for national security and that reporting doesn’t reflect the “wide degree of support” he claimed Trump’s policies have garnered.

“And that’s why I think sometimes the polls don’t reflect what you see on the media,” Spicer said. “A lot of those stories and success that he’s had – in a mere two and a half weeks in office – aren’t exactly covered to the degree to which they should be.”

It’s just not fair! And this is whining, as is this:

Spicer denied that Trump meant attacks are underreported to make him look bad, per the pool report.

“No, that’s not it,” he said. “That’s not what he said at all.”

Okay, what did he say? He said that “the very, very dishonest press” doesn’t WANT to report any of this – “They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

Sean Spicer has a hard job, but Josh Marshall sees this in a different way:

Trump is a Damaged Personality: Trump is an impulsive narcissist who is easily bored and driven mainly by the desire to chalk up ‘wins’ which drive the affirmation and praise which are his chief need and drive. He needs to dominate everyone around him and is profoundly susceptible to ego injuries tied to not ‘winning’, not being the best, not being sufficiently praised and acclaimed, etc. All of this drives a confrontational style and high levels of organizational chaos and drama.

This need for praise and affirmation and a lack of patience for understanding the basic details of governing are a volatile and dangerous mix. They catalyze and intensify each other. Perhaps most importantly, the drive to be the best and right drives promises, claims and policy pronouncements which may contradict his already existing positions or be impossible to fulfill. Often, because of this, they are simply forgotten. That is because the need to be right, best and praised drives everything.

Everything else is subsidiary and subject to change in an evolving situational context. Once this is clear, much of the chaos becomes logical and predictable. It’s folly to imagine that Trump might pivot or grow up or simply be normal. It is no more likely that a chronically anxious adult would suddenly become serene or a charisma-less person would suddenly grow a charisma organ. This is Trump and he will never change.

So, Trump will never grow up or simply be normal? Richard Cohen agrees with that:

Donald Trump is the most un-American of presidents. Think of Abraham Lincoln – “Honest Abe.” Will anyone ever call Trump “Honest Don”? Will he be known for his humility or for his lust for knowledge? Will tales be told about his industrious work habits or, as with Lyndon Johnson, his furious desire to end racial discrimination? What will Trump overcome?

Or George Washington. Could there ever be an equivalent of the Parson Weems tale about Trump’s honesty: “Father, I cannot tell a lie”? No, it would have to be “Father, some Mexican cut down the cherry tree.” Or Dwight Eisenhower and his chain-smoking determination on the eve of D-Day, or Ronald Reagan and his affable demeanor with a bullet in him, or George H. W. Bush, who left his cushy country club life and volunteered for war at the age of 18, or Franklin D. Roosevelt, standing on atrophied legs, the braces digging into his flesh, or Barack Obama, whose dignity in the face of Trump’s revolting “birther” taunts is now so sorely missed. Trump repudiates them all. He will leave no myth, just an odor.

That’s because he will never grow up:

A father instructs. He raises a child to be good, to be honest, to tell the truth, to be humble, to be fair, not to be petty, to respect women, to accept fair criticism, to protect the weak and not to injure the injured, such as the bereaved parents of a son who died heroically in Iraq and a reporter with a physical disability. Trump teaches otherwise. He shows a boy that the manly virtues are for suckers, that the narcissism of youth should be cherished and that angry impulses have to be honored. Lots of men have failed as presidents, as Trump surely will, but few fail so dismally as role models. He’s a boy’s idea of a man.

So was Howard Hughes and his nifty airplanes – but in the end, he was a damaged personality, a paranoid in pajamas. And there’s Trump in his bathrobe, wandering the halls of the White House late at night. Eccentric and unhinged and sometimes evil billionaires are the stuff of cartoons. Sometimes they’re not.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to The Damaged Personality

  1. We are not yet three weeks into this administration….

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