To his followers Donald Trump appears to be invincible and invulnerable, strong and stalwart, sturdy and robust. He reminds one of what Cassius said of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
As of now no Republican candidate and no member of the fourth estate has managed to lay a glove on Trump. The other candidates either fear his wrath or fear alienating his fervent supporters. Journalists have called him out for being rude, crude and lewd. But, to many people it sounds like political correctness. Since many people have had it up to here with political correctness and the thought police, they are happy to see Trump disparage journalists.
For now, of course, Democrats have kept their counsel about the Donald. One suspects that they are holding their fire until they see the whites of his eyes, that is, until he is a nominee. Before Trump, they looked like sure losers. With Trump they just might pull it out. If they run a Joe Biden, as I suspect they will, they will be able to neutralize Trump’s manifestly macho image.
Always on the lookout for interesting psychological insights I fell upon this, from Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker. In the column Gopnik reports on a scene that took place in 2011, at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. The characters were President Obama, on the podium and Donald Trump, in the audience. It took place just after Obama had released his birth certificate. You recall that Trump had been saying that Obama might not be an American citizen because he had been born in a foreign country. For that reason, Trump suggested, Obama was refusing to show anyone his birth certificate.
Gopnik was struck by how effectively Obama took down Trump… by using ridicule. So am I:
… it was… the night when, despite that preoccupation, the President took apart Donald Trump, plastic piece by orange part, and then refused to put him back together again.
Trump was then at the height of his unimaginably ugly marketing of birther fantasies, and, just days before, the state of Hawaii had, at the President’s request, released Obama’s long-form birth certificate in order to end, or try to end, the nonsense. Having referred to that act, he then gently but acutely mocked Trump’s Presidential ambitions: “I know that he’s taken some flack lately—no one is prouder to put this birth-certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to the issues that matter, like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And—where are Biggie and Tupac?” The President went on, “We all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example—no, seriously—just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice”—there was laughter at the mention of the program’s name. Obama explained that, when a team did not impress, Trump “didn’t blame Lil John or Meatloaf—you fired Gary Busey. And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up night.”
The next time you are tempted to think that Trump is so strong, so macho that he is invulnerable, recall this moment. I have quoted Gopnik’s summary, but here is the clip.
Anyway, Gopnik goes on to describe Trump’s reaction:
Seated a few tables away from us magazine scribes, Trump’s humiliation was as absolute, and as visible, as any I have ever seen: his head set in place, like a man in a pillory, he barely moved or altered his expression as wave after wave of laughter struck him. There was not a trace of feigning good humor about him, not an ounce of the normal politician’s, or American regular guy’s “Hey, good one on me!” attitude—that thick-skinned cheerfulness that almost all American public people learn, however painfully, to cultivate. No head bobbing or hand-clapping or chin-shaking or sheepish grinning—he sat perfectly still, chin tight, in locked, unmovable rage.
I think that Gopnik makes a good point, though, from my own viewing of the video it appears that Trump did manage to sport something of a grin. Perhaps he was in his grin-and-bear-it mode. He did not really smile and did not laugh. Self-deprecating humor is not his strong suit.
I skip over Gopnik’s analysis of American politics to examine his more interesting analysis of what makes Donald run:
And one can’t help but suspect that, on that night, Trump’s own sense of public humiliation became so overwhelming that he decided, perhaps at first unconsciously, that he would, somehow, get his own back—perhaps even pursue the Presidency after all, no matter how nihilistically or absurdly, and redeem himself. Though he gave up the hunt for office in that campaign, it does not seem too far-fetched to imagine that the rage—Lukacs’s fear and hatred—implanted in him that night has fuelled him ever since. It was already easy to sense at the time that something very strange had happened – that the usual American ritual of the “roast” and the roasted had been weirdly and uniquely disrupted. But the consequences were hard to imagine. The micro-history of that night yet to be written might be devoted largely to the double life of Barack Obama as cool comedian and quiet commander—or it might be devoted to the moment when new life was fed into an old ideology, when Trump’s ambitions suddenly turned over to the potent politics of shame and vengeance. His even partial triumph in the primary still seems unlikely—but stranger jokes have been played on American philosophers over the centuries.
Is that what makes Trump run? Did this public humiliation convince him never again to apologize and never again to allow an insult go unchallenged? And did this single event constitute such a trauma, such an assault on his self-esteem that he felt the only way to overcome it was to run for the presidency and to win it.
If so Trump’s a man on a mission. But, does he know whether his mission is about making America great again or about making Trump great again?