Why He Scares Me
Go look at a Donald Trump interview from the late ’90s (or before). He is younger, slenderer, more handsome. He looks less like a doll or corpse. Most important, however, is the disturbing realization that he doesn’t actually sound that extreme. He is clearly smart, subtle in his observations, and, in typical Trump fashion, has a knack for describing things in ways that are both easy to understand and original. And weirdly enough, in that moment, it sort of becomes clear as to why people like and believe him.
Indeed, the most extraordinary feat of all is how a man who’s so incredibly full of shit can feign so successfully the front of not only a person in the know, but the person in the know. A rich kid turned Princeton grad turned Wharton grad who knows, first and foremost — better than immigrant, formerly paycheck-to-paycheck Marco Rubio, better than a president that has experienced what it’s like to occupy the highest office in the land when you have a different skin complexion — what it means to be poor and disenfranchised in this country.
The reason, I think, is because he is swifter than the rest of us. He is a perfect — and dangerous — combination of clever (not ingeniously clever, but clever), morally cavernous, and obsessively sensitive (as all narcissists are) to the point where he’s willing to use intimidation to do anything but confront his own pain, or immaturity, or utter lack of class; or, to make it more relevant to our current situation, his neglect of the way the world of policy works.
Indeed, his swiftness can be felt in the various ways he makes us feel. At moments (most), we despise him. At others, we can’t help but laugh (like when he publically announced Lindsey Graham’s phone number), as he freely and joyously torpedoes elected officials who are so far out of the public’s radar of people who merit feeling sorry for (McCain, who can’t raise his arms above his shoulders because of his years as a POW, is the obvious exception). At others, we even pity him for how feeble, in his delusion and self-obsession, he really is.
The larger point being that I have never seen someone who is such a circus, who is so contradictory, and who can only be described as dada in the human form. It is no coincidence that he and Kanye are often mentioned in the same sentence, as each of them begs the same set of jarring, impossible-to-answer questions: how can someone so ugly be so attractive? How can someone so broken be so famous? How can someone so terrible and despicable be so hilarious?
The only difference between the two, of course, pertains to the office that Trump is running for — both the most important and the most dangerous office in the world, if for no other reason than for the stakes (namely, the stability of the most powerful country in human history; the viability of the most successful democratic experiment in human history), and for the havoc that one could wreak while occupying it.
And this is where the significance of Trump’s personality becomes dangerous, and important to understand. Because the truth, I am convinced, is that Trump isn’t really a nationalist, or a fascist, or a racist. Nationalists, fascists, and racists at the very least have to attach themselves, somewhat selflessly (as weird as it is to say that), to movements and ideas outside of them. They have to subdue the self so as to advance their common, hateful ends.
The Donald, on the other hand, has no ends to advance but his own (and indeed, this has been the one common trend since the beginning, since those interviews he gave in the 90s). It’s not that he doesn’t care about Mexicans, or about Muslims, or about women; it’s that he doesn’t care about anyone at all.
What’s more, my guess is that his particular brand of self-worship (I will say anything to be liked and to garner votes) will only become more evident in the coming months, when he looks toward the general election. He’ll still talk about walls and bans on Muslims from time to time, most notably at his rallies, but more and more you’ll start to see the quieter, subtler, more liberal and sensible sounding Trump of old. He’ll talk about brokering a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, about the corrosion of money in politics, about the war in Iraq as a crucial and fatal mistake (all the while pointing his pointer finger at Hillary with disdain), about getting along in China, with Putin, with Mexico, and all the terrific friendships he’ll make with everyone around the world who all love him.
For at the end of the day, it’s about him. Formerly, capitalism had paved a space for egomaniacs like Trump to explore, to an impressive extent, like a child explores a sandbox, their own greed and recklessness (how many companies has he bankrupted again?). But now it seems that he is bored of all that, and of TV and entertainment as well. He’s finally discovered where the real power lies (if one so chooses to wield it). And now, like Nietzsche’s tireless, endlessly pursuing Ubermensch, he is trying to once again top himself, to prove to us that he can do what no one thought he could.
I can almost picture him with my own eyes in a soft-lit five star restaurant near Columbus Circle a few years back, sitting with a Bill Clinton or Chris Christie, someone powerful and worth impressing. He’s pointing and gesticulating, scrunching his face, giggling, saying to them, over and over, through their laughs, their naysaying, “Betcha I can. Betcha I can.”
And for the time being — as we watch the former tenets of our democratic system, safety and predictability, wash away — we painfully and fatalistically wait to see if thecan comes to fruition.