Trump Agonistes

It was inevitable, like the movement of planets circling the sun. We knew with utter certainty that someone, sooner or later, would announce the obvious: the emperor has no clothes. But the identity of the messenger proved remarkable; not “someone” affiliated with the political opposition or the purveyors of “fake news”. Rather, it was someone up close and personal, who knew the man inside out. A senior administration official portrayed the president as an unruly, dangerous child, whose unpredictable and odious character rendered him a modern-day Caligula occupying the world’s most powerful political office. The message was clear and disturbing: those occupying the highest echelons of power were protecting the nation’s welfare from their elected leader.

For someone used to getting his way and doing whatever he pleases away from the glare of public awareness, living in the world’s largest fish bowl represents the ultimate nightmare, like a cruel and unusual punishment meted out on an hourly basis. One can almost hear the bellowing rage against the nameless accuser, who could be virtually anyone, as if he were a mafia boss betrayed by a highly trusted lieutenant.

The recent New York Times op-ed and the Bob Woodward book will prompt the president to channel his inner Roy Cohn. He will become an even more ferocious street fighter like a wounded and trapped animal. He will excoriate his opponents even more. But his hateful vitriol will not eclipse the truth of what was written. We must remember the underlying dilemma of all narcissists: to proclaim to be the center of the universe while believing they are worthless. Seen this way, the president’s desperate, even frenzied attempt to trumpet his brilliant achievements make sense, while his pathetic hyperbole renders each of us spectators to an unrelenting effort to prove his worthiness when he, like the rest of us, know otherwise.

The fallout from the recent op-ed accentuates what is already true: the president’s time in the White House is an exquisite torture. As this becomes increasingly intolerable, he will resign from office. But he will not leave as a humiliated victim because he remains incapable of feeling shame. Rather, he will leave as a self-proclaimed political martyr. Depicting himself to be the target of the greatest witch hunt in American history that drove him from office, he will detonate a political dirty bomb: inciting long-term paranoia and hatred in the alt right and its fellow travelers, anti-democratic forces who would vote for the man even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, as he liked to boast.

This president understands his appeal is sustained not in spite of his awful behavior but because of it. As he revels in defining himself as a wrecking ball lashing out against elites, to score points with fervent supporters even as his behavior confirms his utter unworthiness, the tragedy of this presidency has not reached its climax. Rather, we are merely heading into a tumultuous second act. We should all shudder at the prospect of what lies ahead. This president is determined to destroy himself like Nixon. And the health of our democracy will become collateral damage in this American tragedy’s horrific denouement.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano