WASHINGTON – Donald Trump is stuck in his own skull.
“He lives inside his head, where he runs the same continuous loop of conflict with people he turns into enemies for the purposes of his psychodrama,” says Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio.
Because Trump holds Thor’s hammer, with its notably short handle, we must keep trying to figure out his strange, perverse, aggrieved style of reasoning. So we’re stuck in Trump’s head with him.
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It’s a very cluttered place to be, a fine-tuned machine spewing a torrent of chaos, cruelty, confusion, farce and transfixing craziness. Of course, this is merely the observation of someone who is “the enemy of the American people,” according to our president.
President Trump likes maps. Once it was John King’s analysis of the CNN electoral map that Trump obsessed over. Now he wants policy papers heavy on maps and graphics and not dense with boring words.
So let’s visualize those phrenology skulls mapping distinct faculties in the brain, the ones that spur chastity, sympathy, philanthropy, philoprogenitiveness, mirthfulness, sincerity, grace, morality, generosity, kindness, benevolence.
Then think of the president’s skull, which is stuffed with other humours: insecurity, insincerity, victimhood, paranoia, mockery, self-delusion, suspicion, calculation, illogic, vindictiveness, risk, bullying, alimentiveness, approbativeness, vitativeness. Gall, divided into three parts.
It seems that at some point Trump decided that he didn’t really trust anyone else. While that was a reasonable strategy for a New York real estate developer who was always trying to rip off so-called partners, it’s obviously a limitation when you’re president.
Like all narcissists, he doesn’t like to be told if he’s screwing up, so he surrounds himself with people who don’t tell him.
The president is still oblivious about the shudder that went through the land, beyond the base that likes seeing the press jackals flayed, during his gobsmacking 77-minute masterpiece of performance art in the White House on Thursday.
It was more Norma Desmond than Norman Vincent Peale, the Trump family pastor who wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking” and influenced Donald’s thinking as a child.
If Trump is the swanning, aging diva in the mansion, trapped in a musty miasma, Steve Bannon must be Max, the German director turned butler who massages Norma’s ego. In “Sunset Hair Boulevard,” Bannon is the one who encourages his diva to cling to a delusional world where she is still big and Jeff Zucker and Chuck Schumer are lightweights.
This leaves us in the role of Joe Gillis, who makes one bad choice and ends up floating face down in the swimming pool after Norma loses it and offs him.
The more Trump fixates on an opponent he vanquished months ago and whines about vote tallies and crowd sizes, the more he seems small and insecure.
The more he loudly insists on Putin’s charms, the loonier he sounds.
The more he defends the odd duck Michael Flynn, saying he fired him only because Flynn misled Mike Pence about talking sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Pence went on “Face the Nation,” the more it raises the question: Why didn’t Trump himself tell Pence when the White House counsel told him?
And the more Trump decries America’s lack of innocence in the world relative to Russia and turns journalists into whipping boys and targets of hate, the more he sounds like a thuggy dictator himself.
“When Trump was a kid, he was obsessed with intimidating other boys,” D'Antonio says. “Prior to a ballgame he would ceremoniously eat an orange as if it was an apple, biting into the bitter rind and chewing up the whole thing. The whole idea was to psych out his opponents.”
As presidential historian Michael Beschloss reminded me, the previous gold standard for a president showing contempt for reporters at a news conference was Nixon during Watergate in 1973, when he said just after the Saturday Night Massacre: “Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger. You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.”
Trump got into another megalomaniacal “Me the People” swivet Friday, tweeting the “FAKE NEWS media” was “the enemy of the American people!” So Trump is even using the rhetoric of Lenin? Putin is lovely and the press is the Evil Empire?
Beschloss riposted with this tweet: “On December 1972 tape, Nixon told Kissinger, ‘The press is the enemy, the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy.’”
By suddenly calling his own scream-of-consciousness press conference, Trump was out to prove that he – not Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway or Stephen Miller – is the top salesman in the office. Only he can close the deal.
“It was true Trump,” D'Antonio said. “He thinks confidence is more important than competence and attitude matters more than aptitude. Others may be exhausted by the frenzy. You can see it in their drawn faces and pained expressions. Donald is energized by the fight. It also explains why he expects others to accept a bashing and be fine with him the next day.”
When Trump was corrected on the obvious whopper that his Electoral College vote was the “biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan,” his only defense was, “I was given that information.”
Spin is the bitcoin of Washington. But Trump is in another dimension. He has distorted the truth for so long, he now seems routinely untethered from reality.
As Trump biographer Tim O'Brien puts it, “He’s the emperor of chaos.”