Socializing Trump

Socialization is odd. Men try to be cool. The feedback is instant and incessant – that was cool – you idiot, that wasn’t cool – be James Bond, damn it – or be John Wayne – so men make instant unending adjustments. That’s how men know who they are, and that may be why they then never think about what they want and what they think and what they need. That’s “women’s stuff” of course. Men need to be cool. They need to be strong. And their lives become a constant check for verification of that.

It’s been said before. The “self” is a social construct. Others let you know who you are, and that’s particularly true for men. Men don’t seek approval. They seek verification. That’s how they become tamed. That’s how they become socialized. That’s how they know who they are.

Yes, this drives women crazy. “Tell me what you really think, what you really feel.” It’s time to panic. The man simply doesn’t know. Okay, what would be the cool response? What would be the strong manly response? What would James Bond or John Wayne say to that? Hey, this isn’t fair!

That may be over-socialization. That’s the man playing a “real man” and lost in the part, and that may be Donald Trump. He knows how he wants to be seen – strong and cool and smarter and sexier and more handsome than any man who ever lived. And he doesn’t hide that. He says that’s just who he is, over and over and over. And no one will ever change him, because all other men are weak and he’s strong.

He has his counterpart in Brazil. All other men are weak and he’s strong. And everyone loves him, so he says, but feedback can be a bitch:

As an ecological disaster in the Amazon escalated into a global political crisis, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, took the rare step on Friday of mobilizing the armed forces to help contain blazes of a scale not seen in nearly a decade.

The sudden reversal, after days of dismissing growing concern over hundreds of fires raging across the Amazon, came as international outrage grew over the rising deforestation in the world’s largest tropical rain forest. European leaders threatened to cancel a major trade deal, protesters staged demonstrations outside Brazilian embassies and calls for a boycott of Brazilian products snowballed on social media.

As a chorus of condemnation intensified, Brazil braced for the prospect of punitive measures that could severely damage an economy that is already sputtering after a brutal recession and the country’s far-right populist president faced a withering reckoning.

On Friday, he said that he was planning to send the military to enforce environmental laws and to help contain the fires starting Saturday.

“Whatever is within our power we will do,” he told reporters.

That would be like Trump giving in on gun control or Trump saying that he thought about it and had decided that Obamacare is just fine, but Bolsonaro is not Trump. He believed it when others let him know just who he is at the moment. He was socialized, not that this will do much good:

It was unlikely that Mr. Bolsonaro’s plan could address the underlying crisis without a fundamental shift in his environmental policies, which have emboldened miners, loggers and farmers to strip and burn protected areas with a sense of impunity. Since the nationalist former army captain took office in January, deforestation has increased sharply across Brazil, including in indigenous territories. Mr. Bolsonaro has pledged to make it easier for industries to gain access to protected areas, arguing that native communities are in control of unreasonably vast areas that contain enormous wealth.

The Amazon rainforest is the source of twenty percent of the world’s oxygen and a major sink for global carbon emissions, so its destruction has the potential to end life on earth eventually or maybe sooner. Bolsonaro doesn’t like that science, and had said that’s all nonsense, but there is that feedback:

Global outrage over the fires has spurred calls to boycott Brazilian products and led European leaders to threaten to walk away from a trade agreement that the European Union struck with Brazil and a handful of neighboring countries in June.

In what has become an unusually nasty exchange among leaders of major democracies, President Emmanuel Macron of France went so far as to accuse Mr. Bolsonaro of lying about being committed to fighting climate change and protecting the Amazon. “Our house is burning. Literally.” Mr. Macron wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Mr. Macron said Friday that he would try to kill a major trade deal between Europe and South America that has been years in the making. He and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that the Amazon fires should be added to the agenda of the Group of 7 summit meeting this weekend.

That made Bolsonaro angry:

Mr. Bolsonaro fired back that Mr. Macron was the liar, chiding him for releasing “photos from the past century” to generate “hatred against Brazil.” As for the Group of 7, he told Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel to mind their own business.

He was playing the role of Donald Trump there. Brazil First! And he might have remembered last year’s Group of 7 summit meeting in Canada. Trump walked out early rather that attend any meeting on climate change or the environment in general, and he refused to sign the joint statement at the end of the meeting. He bluntly and directly insulted each of our allies, one right after the other, and then decided that Justin Trudeau had been mean to him when Trudeau stuck up for Canada on a few matters. Then half of Trump’s base called for war on Canada – and Trump, to his base, was a hero.

The rest of the world thought that Trump was a jerk, but maybe this year Trump would stick up for Bolsonaro in Biarritz, but no:

On Friday evening, President Trump, who supports Mr. Bolsonaro and has not criticized his environmental policies, said he had spoken to Mr. Bolsonaro and offered to provide assistance in containing the fires.

“I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!” Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet.

That was nice, but Trump isn’t going to stick up for Bolsonaro. That guy caved to the Euro-weenies. Trump will send some water-dropping planes down that way, but that’s that, and Trump does have his own feedback problems. The New York Times’ Peter Baker explains Trump’s Friday from hell:

President Trump has again tossed out the economic and political playbook that guided other occupants of the Oval Office for generations as the United States dominated the flow of goods and services across the world.

In the space of a few hours, he declared that his own central bank chief was an “enemy,” claimed sweeping powers not explicitly envisioned by the Constitution to “order” American businesses to leave China and, when stock markets predictably tumbled, made a joke of it.

And then the feedback began, mostly whispers:

Mr. Trump’s wild and unscripted pronouncements on Friday renewed questions about his stewardship of the world’s largest economy even as he escalated a trade war with China before heading to France for a high-profile summit with the leaders of many of the world’s other major industrial powers.

Even some of his own aides and allies were alarmed by his behavior, seeing it as the flailing of a president increasingly anxious over the dark clouds some have detected hovering over an economy that until now has been the strongest selling point for his administration. They privately expressed concern that he was hurting the economy and was doing lasting damage to his own prospects for re-election.

One day, perhaps, one of them will offer the boss some feedback. This really is nuts:

The president’s volatile approach to the economic situation played out on Twitter over the course of only a few hours on Friday. He started the day boasting that “the Economy is strong and good, whereas the rest of the world is not doing so well.”

Hours later, he lashed out at the Federal Reserve Board for not taking the sort of action usually reserved only for an economy that is weak and bad.

Even for a president who has made a habit of personal attacks on his own Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, Mr. Trump then took it further than any president has in modern times by comparing him to President Xi Jinping of China. “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Not content to leave it there, Mr. Trump proceeded to try to unilaterally dictate to the private sector how and where it should conduct business, presuming a role in the marketplace that no other president has asserted in similar circumstances.

“Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA,” he tweeted.

That was direct order from the president. When a soldier disobeys a direct order that solider is court-martialed and that soldier will end up in the brig – in jail for years and years. In time of war, that soldier might be executed. Trump seems to be ordering Boeing to stop selling and now making planes there, and Ford and GM to stop selling cars there, and to end their joint manufacturing ventures there too, and ordering KFC and Starbucks to get out of there now, and ordering Apple to make everything here. And that’s a direct order. Trump added the “we don’t need China” – and everyone in the business world howled. There was feedback. Only on the fringes of talk radio was anyone talking about sending the CEO’s and boards of all the corporations to Guantanamo for a bit of waterboarding. Everyone else pointed out that the president didn’t seem to understand the role of the president in these matters. There is no role.

But he wasn’t finished:

Shaken as both China and Mr. Trump again raised tariffs in a tit-for-tat exchange on Friday, stock markets fell sharply. The president turned that into a laugh line at the expense of a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts who ended his bid for the presidency on Friday.

“The Dow is down 573 points perhaps on the news that Representative Seth Moulton, whoever that may be, has dropped out of the 2020 Presidential Race!” Mr. Trump tweeted. (The Dow Jones industrial average finished the day 623 points down.)

That joke didn’t go over well:

Mr. Trump’s tweets caught most of his advisers and staff by surprise. His advisers have grown concerned that he is creeping perilously close to turning what they had hoped would be his signature issue into a liability. His moves risk scaring away voters, including some of his own backers.

And there was context too:

The president’s comments come at a time when Mr. Trump, known for a visceral brand of politics that shakes things up rather than a calm and steady style of leadership, has seemed especially erratic, spinning out wild conspiracy theories, provoking racial and religious divisions and employing messianic language about himself.

He has also veered wildly on policies lately, reversing himself over the past week alone on gun control, tax cuts and foreign aid. He even abruptly called off a trip to Denmark out of pique that its prime minister would not sell Greenland.

“Is Trump really losing it, or is this just more of the same, but more?” asked Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

No one knew, but people were guessing:

The long-simmering debate about Mr. Trump’s stability has flared again in recent days. On Twitter, the president’s critics have again called for invocation of the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president for incapacity.

Mr. Trump “is a clear and present danger – to our country, to the globe and to himself,” tweeted former Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts, who is waging a long-shot campaign for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination against Mr. Trump. He included the hashtag #25thAmendment.

The global economy will be front and center over the weekend in Biarritz, France, as Mr. Trump meets with his counterparts from the Group of 7 industrialized nations: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. No doubt the other leaders will be watching his moves warily even as Mr. Trump assails them for not following his lead on economics.

There will be feedback there. Trump is planning an address where he will tell those other nations they should be just like the United States and just like him, and thus they too will be wonderful, because he is wonderful. Expect stony silence. He tried that at the United Nations last September and everyone laughed at him but this isn’t funny any longer:

“The administration’s approach clearly isn’t working, and the answer isn’t more taxes on American businesses and consumers,” said David French, a senior vice president of the National Retail Federation. “Where does this end?”

On that, no one could say.

Perhaps Trump needs to be socialized again, but as Megan McArdle notes, the problem is with those who verify his current state:

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.

But that cannot be done by discussing his awesomeness, because he’s just not awesome:

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.

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.

That was too much:

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?

She knows who is deranged here:

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.”

So, in that case, provide some damned feedback for a change:

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.

So re-socialize the man. It’s not too late.

Yes it is. Andrew Sullivan says so:

“Absurd,” it turns out, is a trigger word for Trump, as it well should be. When the prime minister of Denmark, Mette Frederiksen, was asked to respond to the idea that Donald Trump wanted to “buy” Greenland, she found the mot juste. The proposal was “absurd.” Perhaps at one point at the beginning of the Cold War, some kind of strategic presence in Greenland would have been worth considering briefly. Now? Yes, absurd. The only thing more absurd is canceling a planned state visit to Denmark at the last moment in response to the prime minister pointing out the bleeding obvious, and adding the insult “nasty” to yet another independent woman for good measure. But this too is predictable: “We know that a humiliated narcissist must release his narcissistic rage somehow, best on those who caused his psychic injury.” Bad luck for Denmark.

President Donald Trump is absurd. His presidency is absurd. His party is absurd. We have known this ever since that absurd journey down an escalator and the surrealism has only intensified since. Perhaps it takes a sane foreigner, not subject to years of almost hourly Trump abuse, to point out the obvious.

Sullivan thinks Mette Frederiksen is a sane foreigner. Donald Trump thinks she’s nasty. Sullivan is with Frederiksen:

We have no Executive branch in any meaningful or serious sense. We have a joke that’s wearing thinner by the day. There is no institution or company in America – small or large – that would allow Donald Trump to run or represent it for more than a few days – because most sane institutions see immediately that a rape-y racist with no knowledge base or capacity to learn is an embarrassment, and a huge liability.

And this is Sullivan’s feedback:

His economic policy is absurd. In a time of intense economic inequality, he has made the rich far richer, at the expense of the nation’s fiscal balance, during a long recovery. The deficit has exploded; tax cuts did not add any real growth; and an unpredictable trade war with everyone is weighing down the economy. His climate policy is absurd: denying that a crisis exists and encouraging more fossil fuel use. His immigration policy is absurd: the deployment of cruelty as a substitute for legislation even as illegal immigration surges past the peak of his predecessor. His foreign policy is absurd: enabling North Korea, trashing NATO, blowing up summits.

His physical appearance is absurd: the fake orange tan, with the white circles around the eyes, the massive, hair-sprayed and dyed pompadour. How many people in public life look anything like that? His endless lies and contradictions are absurd. And his psychological disorder – the narcissism that guards against any hint of his own absurdity – is getting obviously worse. And it was always going to get worse. Someone with malignant narcissism has a familiar path, as Elizabeth Mika presciently wrote the week after his inauguration:

“It’s not only that he will never get better, but it is certain that he will get worse. There has never been a case of a malignant narcissist in power whose pathology improved, or even remained stable: They always deteriorate, and often rapidly, as they become drunk on (what they see as) now unlimited power and adulation.”

That’s the problem now:

He is delusional. And the only persuasive thread of his reelection pitch – that the economy is booming – is beginning to fray. And that could make his absurdity even worse: “We know that a humiliated narcissist must release his narcissistic rage somehow.”

That was Trump’s Friday from hell, when the feedback started to reverse:

He invented a reality: that the economy was a disaster the day before he was elected and a miracle the day after, and will now have to confront that it was an invention. Every positive stat he has cited could well come back to discredit him; his own sad attempt to claim credit for everything could well morph into blame for everything; and what will he do then?

He will lash out at the Fed; he will become more paranoid; the grandiosity that accompanies his mental condition will likely increase. He will rage and distract; he will smear and inflame; and his deterioration will become more than an absurdity. It will become, as it has already, a massive liability.

The world is laughing at us, as he once claimed (when it wasn’t). And the laughter is entirely justified. If only more Americans would break free of his spell and do the same.

He does need that feedback. But maybe he’ll get that feedback at the G7 in Biarritz.

It’s that kind of place. Remember Hemingway. It’s Biarritz in the twenties, shortly after the War to End all Wars ended nothing, or ended everything. The Great War had created a Lost Generation – those who survived who would never believe in anything ever again, but would do their best, even if they knew that their best would mean nothing. That was the one last honorable thing to do, and Ernest Hemingway wrote about nothing else. That’s what The Sun Also Rises is all about – from Paris to Pamplona to San Sebastian and then, at the end, across the border to Biarritz, ending with this:

A taxi came up the street, the waiter hanging out at the side. I tipped him and told the driver where to drive, and got in beside Brett. The driver started up the street. I settled back. Brett moved close to me. We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out onto the Gran Via.

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”

Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Hemingway’s Jake Barnes knew better. Nothing is what you think. Trump may discover that, finally, in Biarritz.

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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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