Kudos to the Washington Post columnist who captures “Trump’s joyless presidency,” but today’s national train wreck is worse, much worse. “Joyless” implies absent feelings, not having fun: that, alas, equally fits any bland, nasty autocrat coldly wielding power. In fact, Trump only seems to enjoy lashing out with sneering hoots and scowling grimaces, without delight or healthy humor, or good-natured irony. Ever recall him laughing openly in a festive mood? Or once sounding amused at his own folly? Hardly. And because he’s a grim, merciless scold, that’s why he botches awkward joke-telling.
In fact, piled on his brand of joyless malice is something far more dangerous: aggrieved, hot-tempered wrath, with the lowest burn threshold in our history, if not western civilization. Bizarrely, Trump rants about monumental trivialities (like Arnold’s TV ratings) with the same ferocious vexation that drives endless blame and insults, even faux policy commentary. Tweeting, the ultimate in trivial, sound bite distortion, invites facile dismissals and mocking spitefulness.
Rage Ends Badly
Other than sputtering outrage, what has the Trump charade delivered to his angriest voters? Energy-rich billionaires smile over deregulation while Rust Belt sufferers get buffeted by fake promises and indirection. Six months since election and the job training cupboard is bare, as Trumpery lurches between laughing stock and fiasco. Behold, the first (and mercifully last) such Yankee experiment: will this Presidency of Wrath not implode, let alone last four years — or does outrage even against your own party not presage mayhem galore.
Until aptly-named Trumpery erupted, even our most besieged presidents avoided emotional outbursts, for that lets your opponents “see you sweat,” implying loss of control, or a rush to tragic judgment. What better explains, on top of the Trump nothing burger, why temper-tantrum governance confirms undeniably big time, “loser” approval numbers? Funny Trump learns nothing from his mentor, one V. Putin, a world master, damped-down, control freak? Or anyone else.
Breathing fire is out of bounds for every prior president, even more so now thanks to racial biases and gender stereotypes. Thus Barack Obama was legendary for his controlled tone: any glimmering of “an angry black man” only fed more racist hatred, whether you’re from Kenya or Hawaii. Assailed for sometime stridency of voice, the disciplined Hillary Clinton curbed nearly all forceful outbursts, immunizing herself against claims she’s too “emotional,” judgmental, even bitchy.
Noxious Historic Novelty
Until now, presidents had to be, like Lincoln or FDR, cool, calm and collected —and more so when pressure was greatest. Apparently 60% of us fully agree, in polls disowning the mad, ill-tempered, whining tweeter from Trump street. Administration wrath spreads beyond this one angry man: the obstreperous Press Secretary can’t hide his heavily satirized ire, as if HE is constantly victimized by nefarious press attacks. Ditto, irate, fumbling Trump cable defenders, open-mouthed they face tough questions. And then appear Stephen Bannon or Stephen Miller, models of temperance and equanimity.
Let’s face it: rage is in for this gang. Trump team venting in public is in, plus whining, victimization and fulminations. How else to make sense of spitting-mad tweets or reports this president goes ballistic when altogether true “fake news” reminds the world how profoundly mismatched is this putz for the job? It’s no secret that Trump goes volcanic when his righteous intentions are thwarted. And since he has only righteous, innocent intentions, as pure as the driven snow, his spleen gets overworked just like his whirlwind arm gestures.
Trump’s rage (real and calculated) is not simply off the scale compared to all other presidents; dumping anger is his core personality trait. No doubt other presidents got worked up — in private — without bellowing madly to the crowd. Whatever else he is, Trump is the iconic, bullying Angry Man, who all by himself plays the ugly bigot in that superb, famous movie, “12 Angry Men.”
Nasty Bedfellows for Rage
Rage per one acute psychologist explodes because it’s “a whole load of different feelings trying to get out at once” (Harvey, 2004). I was shocked to unearth what Wikipedia links with intense anger —all composing the core Trump profile:
- bullying: persecuting others, using power to oppress, manipulation, playing on people’s weaknesses;
- grandiosity: being mistrustful, a sore loser, demanding center stage;
- hurtfulness: prompting violence, verbal harassment, vulgar jokes, foul language;
- threatening: with words and staging, gestures like finger pointing and fist shaking;
- unjust blaming: demanding punishment, projecting one’s mistakes on others, victimization, public accusations;
- unpredictability: anger out of sync with the cause, indiscriminate attacks, even illogical rhetoric; all topped with chronic
- vengeance: often personal, exaggerated, overly-punitive, glorying in public humiliation.
Trump the so-called victim thus victimizes perceived (and growing) enemies, thus adding insult to injury. Rage doesn’t grow loyal allies or public patience with a newcomer. What rightwing partisan doesn’t cringe to see a so-called GOP president damning Republicans as not better than NeverTrumpers, immigrants, “currency cheaters” and terrorists?
Most significantly, there’s nothing hidden about Trump’s raging narcissism, molecular-thin skin, or unfitness for public life, let alone the White House. Who needs to tap his phones? Who but his gulled fans aren’t convinced here is the worst liar in American history? And the least presidential. Just listen to guy’s excesses during any big speech; listen to his most deranged followers, oblivious to becoming Trump mince meat; note how badly his defenders fail to deflect his unhinged attacks, whether against some old, long forgotten enemy or today’s fabricated nemesis.
No one (especially Obama’s White House) ever had to wiretap a criminal candidate who transparently, almost daily, exposes all his flaws, especially not knowing how power in government works. Trump’s mistakenly thinks just getting elected (however flawed) guaranteed him nothing less than dictatorial hegemony — whatever he demands gets done. Since Trump is never wrong, how can this public delusion of grandeur not explode into vindictive blame flame-outs at obstacles to his royal way? As he ludicrously said to an interviewer, asking why he’s flailing, “I am the president and you’re not.”
What, Only One Deadly Sin?
Any informed Catholic knows Wrath is so corrosive it’s one of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins, along with (Trumpian) Lust, Greed, Envy, Gluttony, and Pride. But I digress. What makes wrath sinful are “uncontrolled feelings of anger, rage, and even hatred” — plus vengeance lasting longer than the life of the targeted object. For psychology, wrath routinely links with impatience, hateful misanthropy, and self-destructive behavior. “People,” according to Will Rogers, “who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.”
Rage in short is not pretty, especially when dramatized by powerful, public figures. Nothing threatens marriages, friendships, or Thanksgiving dinners more thunderously than getting spitting mad at an astounded relative. “Losing your cool” corners the other party with bad choices: to rage back (right!), take cover, or “find another bar.” With an increasingly isolated president in free fall, I suspect voters will take the third option next time out.
Today, we’re stuck with not only a presidency devoid of joy but one powered by amoral rage and denial, evident from the latest Trump idiocy, “I don’t regret anything, because there is nothing you can do about it.” So much for reconciliation or apology. Just what we want in a loving parent. When combined with volatile, shameless lying, this kind of unprincipled defiance defines a reign of unapologetic error (even sin for some) that menaces our democratic stability as deeply as egregious Russian election hacking. What a surprise that Big Wrath found such costly kinship with Big Dictatorship.