Monday, September 14, 2015

What Makes Donald Run?

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? 


Anonymous said...

Donald Trump explains himself

Bizzy Brain said...

I guess the fact that the birth certificate Obama released was a total fake had no bearing on this, your most recent, Trump bash.

Anonymous said...

Sundance answers all the questions regarding Trump's appeal. Well worth reading

Stuart Schneiderman said...

In fact, the post was not about the birth certificate... which may very well be a fake. More importantly was the sense of Trump's vulnerability to ridicule...

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: 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.

Its a good hypothesis, and consistent with his personality. And he's admitted his life is great as-is, and he has nothing to prove in regards to improving his material comfort, but ego is another matter.

Minneaota's governor Jesse Ventura comes from a similar "showman" background, and had more energy than the energizer bunny when he had a bee in his bonnet, or something else doing something wrong, but as soon as the tables were turned, and it was his own behavior or beliefs being challenged, everyone can see his fragile ego fall back into some childhood regression.

And on the birther conspiracy, it does seem a perfect setup, like a trap. The longer Obama avoided proving his birth records, the deeper his critics would fall into frothy outrage, and the more ridiculous they looked, and the easier they were to take down, like the video showed Obama do to Trump, even if the conspiracy was true, looking ridiculous loses the game.

So if Trump is still ruminating on that humiliation, you'd think it would mean he'd be more careful with his facts, or which facts are worth fighting for.

Lastly on the problem of "political correctness" versus "abusive/bullying language and behavior", it does show a predicament. yet somehow Obama's mockery of Trump's "problems" didn't hit anyones Politically incorrect filters, while it could as well show Obama being a bully to another bully, and that's a show that everyone loves.

I guess the problem for the other GOP candidates is they are the scapegoats at the moment, and the mainstream doesn't care about them, and the right doesn't care about them. They don't have the status base to assert truth of Trump. Its like letting yourself be tarred and feathers and finding out no one cares what you have to say about it.

Sam L. said...

It's the ATTENTION, Stuart.

Jim Sweeney said...

Psychiatric babble. I heard that when Trump was a kid, his Mother urged him to play with the other boys by telling him: "Run Donald! Run!" And so he is.

Ares Olympus said...

Adam Gopnik: Populist nationalism is not an eruptive response to a new condition of 2015—it is a perennial ideological position, deeply rooted in the nature of modernity: a social class sees its perceived displacement as the result of a double conspiracy of outsiders and √©litists. The outsiders are swamping us, and the insiders are mocking us—this ideology alters its local color as circumstances change, but the essential core is always there. They look down on us and they have no right to look down on us.

I know this blog topic is about Trump, but the analysis of his apparent populism is also worthy of attention, and the quote above is a sincerely attempted (although perhaps unfair) summary of the temperament of supporters.

Assuming a populist candidate understand this reality of his support, I wonder what a good-intentioned candidate should do?

But I suppose what we know is that people who believe in conspiracies don't really want their facts cleared up by reality, so the proper end-game of a populist is for him to be DESTROYED by the establishment, which would perfectly match how his supporters feel about their political power.

If Trump actually won, they would have to turn on him themselves soon enough, because he'd be forced to abandon all the pet conspiracy ideas and face actual issues that have solutions that require unacceptable compromise with political reality, namely that no one is really in charge any more and nearly everything happens more on system momentum than presidential charisma.

Okay, at least Trump can restore the status of Mount McKinley. Presidents apparently have such power to prove that Native Americans are not true Americans, but really just east Asians who have just been land-squatting for 30,000 years until we came to claim this great land.

Scullman said...

Adam Gopnik has his nose so far up Obama's ass I'm surprised he can draw a breath.

Anonymous said...

Mark Levin explains Trump popularity

Ares Olympus said...

A recent blog topic contrasted passive narratives vs active games. I thought this was an interesting take, seeing Trump as someone who doesn't play by the rules.
...think of “Calvinball” — the “game” from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip in which the only standing rule is that you can’t play the same way twice.

That should give you some sense of what it’s like for the 15 Republican presidential candidates not named Donald Trump to run against the reality star and real estate mogul. Or to debate him, which 10 lucky candidates will get the chance to do Wednesday night on CNN.

You can’t win a fight against someone who isn’t playing by the rules or doesn’t, really, think there are any rules — except the ones he makes up as he goes.

...Point is, it’s impossible for traditional politicians to one-up Trump unless they want to go into territory, rhetorically speaking, that only Trump can occupy.

Engaging Trump in any way, shape or form is perilous, especially given the track record of people who have done it. Yet his rivals are forced to do just that because of his pole position in early-state and national polling. But how do you beat someone who is constantly changing the rules of the game?

Its an interesting point of view - someone who sees life as a game, and has the celebrity status to make up his own rules, and gets away with it, because the horse race media supports him, excusing their support on Trumps support which comes from media's support in an infinite feedback loop.

You almost have to imagine some sort of "fairness doctrine" to compensate against the celebrity effect. Like in classrooms they say young boys are more aggressive, talking before they are called on, and dominating discussions, and girls never get a chance to talk, so a teacher has to find a "fair and balanced" way to equalize the field by making rules that preference girls over boys.

Its clear CNN or other debate sponsors will never shut out Trump, so the candidates are going to have take matters into their own hands.

Perhaps the "new rules" could be for a majority of the candidates "I refuse to attend any presidential debate that includes Donald Trump." and not even bother giving a reason, and then let the Media speculate all the reasons.

Would it work? Could it work? How many candidates would go along with this conspiracy? Would CNN or other debate sponsors cancel a debate if Trump is the only candidate who shows up?

Anyway, at least we can pretend it was separating the "fictional characters" of reality TV from the qualified candidates who are sick and tired of being sick and tired of trump.

On the other hand, perhaps Conservatives are sick and tired of the Republicans and we're really seeing the disintegration of the Republican party.

What was the party that the Republicans replaced? The whigs or something?

...It looks like its not a new idea, although calling them Republicans 2.0 doesn't quite sound like a revolution, just another libertarian fantasy.

At least Trump has taught us that the republican voters are in a PTSD regression and prefer fantasy narratives, so they need a piped piper to lead them over the cliff after which the sensible center can reassert some sort of common agreed reality of what is possible.