Up through the convention there were all sorts of Republican officeholders who weren’t really for Trump, but they weren’t really against him. They sort of endorsed him implicitly, while trying to change the subject.
Their bodies squirmed when they were asked about their nominee. They refused to look you straight in the eye. They made little apologetic comments so you would still like them even though they were doing this shameful thing.
They had all sorts of squirrelly formulations about why it was OK to ride the Trump train: He can be tamed or surrounded and improved. Sure, he’s got some real weaknesses, but he’s more or less a normal candidate who is at least better than Hillary.
Over the past few days, Trump has destroyed this middle ground. He’s exposed the wet noodle Republicans as suckers, or worse. Trump has shown that he is not a normal candidate. He is a political rampage charging ever more wildly out of control. And no, he cannot be changed.
He cannot be contained because he is psychologically off the chain. With each passing week he displays the classic symptoms of medium-grade mania in more disturbing forms: inflated self-esteem, sleeplessness, impulsivity, aggression and a compulsion to offer advice on subjects he knows nothing about.
His speech patterns are like something straight out of a psychiatric textbook. Manics display something called “flight of ideas.” It’s a formal thought disorder in which ideas tumble forth through a disordered chain of associations. One word sparks another, which sparks another, and they’re off to the races. As one trained psychiatrist said to me, compare Donald Trump’s speaking patterns to a Robin Williams monologue, but with insults instead of jokes.
Trump insults Paul Ryan, undermines NATO and raises the specter of nuclear war. Advisers can’t control Trump’s brain because Trump can’t control it himself.
He also cannot be contained because he lacks the inner equipment that makes decent behavior possible. So many of our daily social interactions depend on a basic capacity for empathy. But Trump displays an absence of this quality.
He looks at the grieving mother of a war hero and is unable to recognize her pain. He hears a crying baby and is unable to recognize the infant’s emotion or the mother’s discomfort. He is told of women being sexually harassed at Fox News and is unable to recognize their trauma.
The same blindness that makes him impervious to global outrage makes it impossible for him to make empathetic connection. Fear is his only bond.
Some people compare Trump to the great authoritarians of history, but that’s wrong. They were generally disciplined men with grandiose plans. Trump is underdeveloped and unregulated.
He is a slave to his own pride, compelled by a childlike impulse to lash out at anything that threatens his fragile identity. He appears to have no ability to experience reverence, which is the foundation for any capacity to admire or serve anything bigger than self, to want to learn about anything beyond self, to want to know and deeply honor the people around you.
Republicans are not going to be able to help the 70-year-old man-child grow up over the next few months. Nor are they going to be able to get him to withdraw from the race. A guy who can raise $82 million mostly in small donations has a passionate niche following.
But they can at least get out of the enabling business. First, they can acknowledge that they are being sucked down a nihilistic whirlpool. Second, they can acknowledge the long-term damage being done to the country and to themselves.
Amid the chaos, all sorts of ugliness is surfacing. See the video of the horrific things shouted at Trump rallies compiled by Times reporters. Moreover, Trump is permanently tainting the names of conservatism and the Republican Party and the many good men and women who have built and served it. As Ben Shapiro writes in National Review, “Trump asks something more – your political soul.”
Events are going to force Republicans off the fence. For the past many months Republican leaders have been condemning Trump’s acts while sticking with Trump the man. Trump is making that position ridiculous and shameful. You either stand with a man whose very essence is an insult to basic decency, or you don’t.
Those who don’t will have to start building a Republican Party in Exile. They will have to tell the country what they honestly think of Donald Trump. They will have to build a parallel campaign structure that will survive if Trump implodes, a structure of congressional and local candidates. They will have to jointly propose a clear manifesto – five or 10 policies the party in exile ardently supports.
There comes a time when neutrality and laying low become dishonorable. If you’re not in revolt, you’re in cahoots. When this period and your name are mentioned, decades hence, your grandkids will look away in shame.