Me, me, me, me, me.
There’s no topic that Trump can’t bring back around to himself, no cause as compelling as his own. And while I and many others have examined his outsize egomania before, its migration into his administration can’t be noted too often or overstated.
This isn’t just some random brush stroke in his portrait. It’s his primary color. It’s everything. It drives policy. It warps diplomacy. And it badly hobbles his leadership, because you can’t inspire others if nearly all of your energy goes so transparently and unabashedly into inflating yourself. At the least you have to do a pantomime of altruism and self-effacement. Trump seldom even tries.
Consider last week’s telephone call with the prime minister of Australia. The news accounts of this rightly focused on Trump’s gratuitous combativeness with the leader of one of our closest allies, but I was equally riveted by another detail: The president spent a portion of the call reliving and reveling in his Electoral College victory.
He did the exact same thing at the start of his hourlong talk with about two dozen of us at The Times back in November — never mind that we were well aware of that triumph, having plastered it across our front page and atop our website.
He did it at those bizarre postelection rallies, billed as a thank-you tour though it was really a behold-me strut. I’m told that he did it, too, during interviews with prospective members of his administration.
By the time he got to his inauguration, his masturbatory reveries had morphed into the claim that he was the helmsman of “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen.” The Bolsheviks might quibble, and I might point out that only 77,000 ballots in three states gave him that Electoral College win, in contrast to the nearly three million ballots by which he lost the popular vote. The math doesn’t flatter the movement.
But that’s the smaller problem with his assessment. The larger one is that when you’re selling a revolution and convincing yourself of it, you’re obliged to scale your actions to your exaggerations. They must be as sweeping as the supposed circumstances — it’s central to the delusion, integral to the illusion. Hence the wall. Hence the immigration ban. Hence all the executive orders signed and still to come.
The hyperbole trickles down and is taken up by Sean Spicer and, of course, by Kellyanne Conway. It is at this point that we should pause and bow our heads in remembrance of the victims of the Bowling Green Massacre.
Will Trump’s foreign policy be the Me Doctrine? Will Russia get love not because Moscow mirrors our ideals but because Vladimir Putin holds a flattering mirror up to Trump? This possibility persists, though United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent declaration that the United States wouldn’t lift sanctions against Russia until it pulled troops out of Crimea was a hopeful sign that Putin hadn’t entirely bedazzled Trump.
Trump’s analysis of people and situations hinges on whether they exalt him. A news organization that challenges him is inevitably “failing.” A politician who pushes back at him is invariably a loser. Middle-school cliques have more moral discernment.
He railed against executive orders until they were his. He denounced the coziness between politicians and Wall Street until he was doing the snuggling. He cried foul at presidential getaways that cost the taxpayers millions until Mar-a-Lago beckoned.
During the campaign he demonstrated no special concern for free speech, advocating looser libel laws and barring certain news organizations from events. But he took to Twitter on Thursday to register fury over the University of California at Berkeley’s cancellation of an appearance by the far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
Could this be explained by Yiannopoulos’s affiliation with Breitbart News and professed lust for Trump? (“I call myself a Trump-sexual,” Yiannopoulos once said.) I somehow doubt that Trump would have threatened “NO FEDERAL FUNDS” for Berkeley if the school had nixed Sarah Silverman.
And Trump’s copious tweeting is about self-aggrandizement and instant gratification. You know how some animals spread their wings, broaden their chests or stand extra tall to impress mates and intimidate rivals? That’s Trump with the “caps lock” key.
All in all it was some last week for President Me. At the National Prayer Breakfast, he recommended prayers for Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was a way to remind everyone — yet again — that his own ratings on “The Apprentice” were much higher.
Thus commenced an exchange on Twitter in which Schwarzenegger cleverly offered to swap jobs with Trump and Trump responded by saying that he was rubber, Schwarzenegger was glue and everything Schwarzenegger said bounced back and stuck to him. I jest, but barely. Trump tweeted, oh so presidentially, that Schwarzenegger had been a terrible California governor.
Still, Trump’s performance with black supporters in the Roosevelt Room was his masterpiece of me-ism.
He slipped in a thank you to Fox News because it “treated me very nice.” He shared his belief — no, his fantasy — that black voters so liked his campaign message that they voted for him in unexpectedly high numbers. (He got 8 percent of the black vote.)
“In the entirety of his opening remarks,” wrote Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post, “Trump said absolutely nothing that didn’t tie directly back to him in some way, shape or form. His election results. His views on the media. His election results again.”
The meeting, Cillizza added, was fresh proof of “how different this president and presidency is from every one that has come before it.” Trump probably managed to divine a compliment in that statement.