I suppose I should be happy that Donald Trump is killing the Republican Party. If you care about the republic, though, it’s hard to find joy in a major political party plunging into a deeply terrifying abyss.
As the presidential nominating process winds its way toward our blissfully and unseasonably warm state, it’s worth taking a pause to consider the implications of a Trump nomination and even, gasp, presidency.
Some argue that Trump is only voicing the opinions that Republicans have implied for years. Or, as one “Saturday Night Live” actor portraying Mitt Romney joked in protest of Trump, “We do not say racist and sexist things; we imply them.” But that is a vast overstatement.
To the extent that Trump can be nailed down on any policy positions, he doesn’t particularly fit on an ideological spectrum as much as he does on one for personality disorders.
There are plenty of checks and balances in the system that limit the amount of damage any one president can do. For example, when President Ronald Reagan was denied his Supreme Court appointment of Robert Bork, we ended up with the much more moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy instead.
That’s not to say that there isn’t immense damage that Trump can do. As someone who has been diagnosed from afar as clinically narcissistic with a personality disorder that lends itself to humiliation and antisocial behavior, the way he uses the attention he gets is already having an impact.
The Economist magazine has listed a Trump presidency as one of its top 10 global risks to the world economy. Ambassadors of other countries have expressed fear about his candidacy – probably best explained by the notion of what foreign policy experts refer to as our potential loss of soft power or our ability to lead without the use of our military. Mexican officials, current and former, have said in clear terms that his candidacy has already damaged our relationship with their nation.
A few days ago, the Chinese state-run Global Times mocked American democracy for producing Trump. When the Chinese government essentially mocks the institution of democracy by connecting a constellation of leaders including Mussolini, Hitler and Trump, there is clearly a problem for America’s image.
But the impact here at home is unmistakable as well. As a country we have struggled with bullying inside and outside of our classrooms and hate crimes perpetrated against people because of their race, gender, religion and sexual identity. Trump embraces that bullying with all the vigor of someone who appears to have missed out on every single lesson in “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
Not intent on just being right, Trump is compelled to humiliate his opposition with a level of clinical histrionics that suggests he has no control over his emotions. He often employs the word “sad” to do so, though he does not appear to have any understanding of what that emotion actually is. I would imagine in the “Inside Out” version of his mind, there are not four distinct emotions of joy, sadness, anger and disgust – just one angry red-faced man on the emotional controls the entire time. Even when things are going well.
That humiliation degrades and ostracizes individuals to the point where physical violence is accepted. This has been an obvious problem at his rallies and events but, practically speaking, when Trump plainly says there could be riots if he isn’t chosen as the Republican standard bearer, it suggests a dangerous disconnection from the implications of his words that would only be magnified if he were president.
Trump represents the kind of asymmetrical threat in politics that is very difficult to run against. But he’s not Jesse Ventura or Arnold Schwarzenegger, he is something far more pathological and dangerous.
In the end, the problem with Trump is that when he says that he wants to make America great again, he means he wants to make people think that Donald Trump is great. And that doesn’t fit into what Americans want from their leaders.
As even President Barack Obama has said, Reagan, for all his faults and the many ways that progressives vehemently disagree with him, was a transformative president. And at the end of his presidency, America stood a little taller than it did at the beginning. Trump doesn’t build things up, he tears them down.
America is great. And though times may be hard for some Americans, the question voters ask every single election is: which candidate can make America greater? And that, in part, is why Donald Trump will never be president.
Bill Burton is California managing director of SKDKnickerbocker in Los Angeles where he is a political and public affairs consultant. Previously he served as White House deputy press secretary and special assistant to President Barack Obama.