Donald Trump as Victim is a Threat to Democracy
This presidential election has been marked, as one commentator noted, by “repeated bombshells” about President Donald Trump. Only time will tell whether and to what degree these “bombshells” will affect voters. But the criticism of the president’s performance in the first presidential debate, even by some within his inner circle, seems to make it much more likely that the president will not pick up new voters.
Donald Trump casts himself as a victim. He complained to Bob Woodward for Woodward’s book “Rage” that “No matter how good a job I do, I will never get credit from the media….” This self-victimization might gain sympathy from his base, but it is dangerous enough to have a growing number of influential conservative Republicans marshaling opposition to his reelection.
Bad press shouldn’t be surprising. He works at it and knows his base loves it. From the beginning he’s attacked one institution after another, broken every “norm” associated with being “presidential,” including refusing to provide his tax returns as presidents before have done. By actions and words, he displays contempt for public service, seeks vengeance against opponents and critics, thrives on chaos. The titles of Woodward’s book as well as “Betrayal” by his former lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, say much about Trump’s methods.
His comments before the debate, ranging from refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and allegations of ballot fraud to inciting violence, were among other recent “bombshells.” So too have been the indictments of campaign officials and subsequent leniency from a co-opted Justice Department, the vengeance resulting in the firing of those who fall out of favor and punishment of a decorated Army officer who put his concerns and oath to the constitution ahead of the personal loyalty demanded by the president.
Other bombshells have been failure to address the coronavirus seriously with a steady stream of misleading information, his divisive comments about the military — “losers” and “suckers” — and his most respected early cabinet appointments and the release by the New York Times of information showing how he either avoided or evaded taxes, or both.
The New York Times analysis of Trump’s income taxes raises questions about both illegal business dealings and whether he is a threat to national security. That concern is both current and forward looking. Even out of office, and perhaps needing funds or facing criminal charges, his knowledge of America’s intelligence and military apparatus may make him an easy target for foreign state actors.
Bob Woodward’s book, built around 18 interviews with the president, reveals a leader who thrives on “alternative facts” to deceive and deflect, a president who takes no responsibility but is quick to claim credit, even when none is warranted. Woodward concludes that Trump has enshrined “personal impulse as a governing principle for his presidency.”
Playing the victim, he successfully taps into the fears and discontent of people who don’t trust government, believe immigrants are a threat, question participation in international organizations and look to disrupt institutions and traditions.
Self-victimization is characterized by control or influence over thoughts and actions of others; by justification of the abuse of others and the need for attention. Victims tend to be “frustrated and angry.” They avoid taking responsibility — “I don’t take responsibility at all,” said the president in response to a question on the coronavirus – but take credit where none is due.
The president may not be an autocrat, at least not yet, but he’d like to be “an absolute ruler . . . who holds and exercises the powers of government by inherent right, not subject to restrictions.”
He may praise the military and public safety personnel, but demonstrates little or no real respect for anyone committed to military service when he asks “Why would they do that? What’s in it for them?”
He may not be a cult leader, but his followers are defined at least partly by a “. . . common interest in a particular personality,” a point noted by Cohen in his book: “I was willing to get dirt on my hands – and blood if necessary… think of it as being under the influence of a cult leader. . . . I mean literally.”
He may not be a mob boss, but he seeks to run government as if it is a mob organization, defined as a category of “highly centralized enterprises run by criminals to engage in illegal activity, most commonly for profit.”
He may not be a tool of Vladimir Putin, but he acts like one by his words and actions.
It comes as no surprise that many Republicans have abandoned the president. Most prominent are groups such as the Lincoln Project of former Republican campaign officials, Vets Against Trump and Republican Voters Against Trump.
But, the most important signal that the president has gone too far will come Election Day. In the meantime, keep an eye on Senate Republicans who so far have held firm in support of the president.
Carl Gustin writes occasionally on local, regional and national issues. From 1963 until March 2020 he was a registered Republican, now unenrolled.