Magical thinking about President Trump

In psychology, the term magical thinking denotes “the belief that one’s thoughts by themselves can bring about effects in the world or that thinking something corresponds with doing it”. It’s what small children do, often in entrancing ways. But at the moment it’s what the entire ‘liberal’ establishment appears to be engaging in, as its members contemplate the prospect of a Trump presidency. So there’s much chatter along the lines of “well, of course, he’s just the President-elect and doesn’t yet have to operate under the constraints of office”, or “surely he’ll have to give up Tweeting when he’s President”.

For a salutary antidote to this kind of fatuous thinking, see Polly Toynbee’s scarifying piece in today’s Guardian. Way back in 1988 she interviewed — and profiled — Trump. And it’s clear from her report that the monster hasn’t changed one bit. “Trump’s nature”, she writes, “was never a secret”.

He has never dissembled, he can’t dissemble. Why would he when he worships every aspect of himself, each hair on his head, each word he tweets? Greater self-love hath no man.
Apart from his lost good looks, he is unchanged since I interviewed him for the Guardian back in 1988. He was 41 and in Britain to plug his book, The Art of the Deal. Then as now, he was a petrifying megalomaniac with no grip on reality, or not a reality shared by others. At the time I described his “demonic power and energy waiting to spring”. Now look how far he has sprung.
I wrote about his aura of “glitz, greed, glamour and an ambition so colossal that it will probably not rest until he rules the world — which one day he just might”. And next week, God help us, he will. But nearly 30 years ago was his eye already on running for the presidency? I put the question to him. “Not for a period but I am involved politically. You could do it from where I am,” he replied with the same nonchalance he might describe making a pitch for some new property or casino in New York.

She asked him what his platform would be if he ran for President. “Respect”, he replied.

We’re a second-rate economic power, a debtor nation. We’re getting kicked around.” His current determination to tear up Barack Obama’s carefully brokered nuclear deal with Iran has a long history. He told me that as president, “I’d be harsh on Iran. They’ve been beating us psychologically, making us look like a bunch of fools … It’d be good for the world to take them on.”

Sound familiar? That was 29 years ago. Toynbee asked him what he thought about Britain. “Your country’s distaste for success”, he replied, “is a national disease.” Brexiteers, please note. “What kind of trade deal”, asks Toynbee, “does Liam Fox imagine he will broker with this man whose contempt for Britain, even back in its most Trumpish era, was so withering? Just as Trump’s view on Iran is unchanged, I doubt he has formed any new views about Britain”.

And the moral of this little story: if you think the presidency might domesticate Trump, think again. Magical thinking is best left to toddlers.

A version of this post was also published on Memex 1.1

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