It baffles me that American legislators and citizens, commentators, and observers from around the world identify two entirely different, and irreconcilable, perspectives of the Trump/American intersection — and then conflate them. Donald Trump and the United States of America are certainly not on the same path
There seems to be widespread agreement among psychiatric professionals and the general public that Donald Trump is a not-too-bright sociopathic narcissist who is incapable of an altruistic thought. That is not representative of most Americans.
Looking for an historic analogy
In that case, the only logical way to think of the intersection is by reference to some historic examples, such as the arrival of Cortez in what is now Mexico, in 1519. Cortez brought with him a lived cultural experience that was further from the lived experience of the locals than can be imagined. He arrived as a racist, believing that all life in Central America was irrelevant to the imposition of the lived experience he carried with him, the lived experience he believed and was determined to plant and nurture. For Cortez and his captains, America existed solely to enrich Spain (and themselves), without any regard for the ‘cost’ to America, whose people were, in their view, less than human. The parallel to Donald Trump’s outlook is complete.
I don’t think Donald Trump is ‘lying’
With this in mind, it seems to me that, most often, Donald Trump is not lying, at least not in the world he inhabits: he is living in another world-view where there is no morality as we understand the word. The rest of us say (often) that we know he is living in another world-view, and then we continue to hope for, expect, demand some moral response from him, as though he is living and working within our world-view, as though he should respond as our world-view calls on him to do. Do we expect that if we call him on his lies often enough he will recognize the error of his ways and apologize. It won’t happen. Perhaps when we call him a liar we hope that the word will penetrate the skin of his ardent supporters and make them think, or ashamed. But that won’t happen either. We have to meet them on different group, with a different message.
As far as I can see, Donald Trump is incapable of feeling remorse or shame for the way he uses words. For him, they are mere tools. The suggestion that the use of words and sentences have moral implications is beyond him. Words are to be used as the occasion requires, and he may use them in 5 minutes quite differently than he used them 5 minutes ago.
Donald Trump’s existential crisis
Maintenance of his own world-view represents an existential crisis for Donald Trump. Horatio at the bridge faced an existential crisis. If he was courageous, he would die. Horatio was capable of altruism: he was ready to die for his community. Donald Trump is incapable of altruism: he cannot take himself to the other side of the chasm for the good of his community. Remember how he asked of fallen soldiers, and he had no capacity to understand: what was in it for them?
His existential crisis doesn’t lie in losing the Presidency. It lies in state-level convictions for which a President cannot grant pardons. It lies in bankruptcy proceedings down the road. It lies in betrayal by foreign agents to whom he would no longer be useful. What he is doing now is not a sound end-game to prevent against such developments. He is engaged in the end-game of a ferret caught in a corner. He will do a lot of very painful damage, ultimately to no good effect for himself (and certainly not for America).
In this situation, Donald Trump has recognized others who face an existential crisis – the millions of white Americans who have clearly joined the ranks of the marginalized in the past 50 years. These men and women want to return to an America of well-ordered and (frequently) unstated (or denied) racism: they dream of being ‘privileged’ again, as they were in the mythical ‘good ‘ol days’. Donald Trump sucked them in to his world-view, offering them the prospect of ‘restoration’, and they have taken the kool-aid.
From his small and diminishing base, he will get the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, they tell themselves, what he is saying in ‘this America’ is a lie, but it isn’t in the America he inhabits, they America they long to inhabit. Magic realism suggests that if they continue to feed his world-view they may infuse enough energy to make it real, to bring it into being.
They are desperate to bring it into being. They may yet succeed.
To paraphrase Edmund Burke — All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people remain naïve, conflate mental illness with immorality and do ‘not enough’.
Next – A Conspiracy?