I don’t know where you go to find engaging insights into human psychology, but I would recommend that you avoid the psychiatrists. Some psychologists, those of the cognitive and even those of the social psychology variety often have interesting things to say, but one needs to be careful: their theories are often contaminated by ideology. Certainly, you should ignore the psychoanalysts… but I’ve said that before.
In truth, you do not go out looking for insights into human psychology. As Picasso once said, you find them. Today I found an interesting tidbit in a column by Peggy Noonan. Admittedly she is uncredentialed, but as David Foster has often pointed out, we suffer from a tyranny of credentialism. One way to counteract it is to take seriously people who do not have advanced degrees in psycho subjects. Like Peggy Noonan.
After all, Peggy Noonan is a speechwriter. In the old days she would have been an authority on rhetoric, the art of persuading people and of moving an audience. Someone who write speeches must have some very good ideas about audience psychology.
In her column today, Noonan was musing about the candidacies of Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. She chose well, given that the two candidates who once seemed inevitable now appear, in her word, to be “evitable.”
All things considered, Noonan believes that Jeb, having a lot of money on hand, will not go down without a fight. I do not know whether he will ever be able to lay a glove on Trump, but if he feels he has nothing to lose he might rouse himself from his torpor.
To Noonan, Hillary is floundering. A candidate who seemed great on paper seems mediocre and incompetent in the flesh.
As everyone knows, Donald Trump seems to have developed a new kind of Teflon. Not only does nothing seem to penetrate it, but any shots fired in its direction seem to boomerang on the assailant.
Noonan borrows an idea from Chris Christie and suggests that the only person who can really bring down Donald Trump is Donald Trump. One day, perhaps, Trump will sabotage himself. Then again, perhaps it’s all a whole load of wishful Establishment thinking.
But, why would someone who is riding so high sabotage himself. Noonan answers that what might look like self-sabotage is the dawning sense of reality. A candidacy might have begun as the glimmer of an idea in someone’s head. It might have seemed like an interesting and fun thing to do. When you are a colossus in the business world, you have nothing to lose. As everyone likes to say, Trump is more vigorous and intemperate than anyone else because he has nothing to lose.
But, if said candidate, who might have done it for his brand or even on a lark, starts thinking he can win, he might start thinking about whether or not he can really do the job. If he thinks that a 79 year-old billionaire investor is best qualified to be Treasury Secretary... perhaps he's not ready for prime time.
My thought, which is really a question, is that candidates for president, while natural competitors, sometimes get to the point where they think they are going to win, and it messes with their heads. Maybe they fear, deep down, that they’re not quite up to the office—their skills don’t match its demands, their psychological makeup can’t withstand its burdens. They start to think: A guy like me shouldn’t be president! At that point they begin to undermine themselves with poor decisions and statements. I’ve wondered about what Mr. Trumps’s inner workings might tell him in this area. Sooner or later we’ll find out if he has any taste for self-sabotage.
Then, Noonan adds a caveat:
That of course would only happen if in his mind the White House, the office of the presidency, holds a certain mystique, certain historic vibrations: “Lincoln walked here.” “FDR found out about Pearl Harbor in this room.” I’m not sure everyone has those feelings anymore. They used to. Poor Nixon wouldn’t put his shoes up on a hassock unless he covered it with a towel, because it was White House furniture.
I am not totally with her on the last point. If you have been a great success in two fields of endeavor—like real estate and reality television—becoming the presidency of the United States puts you in a position to damage your reputation… irremediably. If you fill up your speeches with encomia to your own greatness, do you really want to risk it all on a job where you are going to have to walk the walk?
Trump has shown uncommon skill in beating down the media, both the liberal and conservative media, but dealing with foreign leaders and foreign policy crises is quite something else-- especially when you do not even know the names of the players.
One might say, justly, that our current president, a walking mediocrity who found himself in over his head has seemed to be able to rise above it all. He can sell out the nation and convince his political party and many in the mainstream media to continue to sing his praises. But Barack Obama did not bring a good reputation into the White House in the first place. He did not ride in on the back of significant political or business achievements.
Trump has nothing to lose by running. He has a lot to lose if he becomes president.
Of course, a nominee or a President Trump would not have the media on his side. For now the leftist media has, for the most part, refrained from criticizing him. After all, he is, in large part, the answer to their dreams.
Conservatives have been much harder on Trump than any liberals have. Which ought to tell his supporters something. Apparently, it has not.
And yet, if Trump is the nominee or if Trump is the president, the tone will shift and Trump will be demonized to within an inch of his life. Perhaps he will find sustenance in the attacks. Perhaps his supporters will love him more than ever. And yet, if the whole world thinks you are a fool or a clown or a malevolent force, you will have sacrificed a towering reputation… for what?
And what happens when you do not really make America great again? Are you going to accept being exposed as a poser, a snake-oil salesman who should have stuck to real estate? Why take the risk?