What Shakespeare’s Macbeth voices about the void speaks to the Trump nightmare, like the “poor player:”
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
What does public Trumpery signify beyond sound and fury – a fractured T.V. showman whose lying obscures the dread his person “signifies nothing”? Other than the chaos of disruption for disruption’s sake. What of positive substance, beyond parroting reactionary Republicanism, is there – evincing the worst mismatch between personality flaws and presidential illegitimacy? Trump’s not even a good liar because he no longer knows when he’s lying, if he ever did.
Trump invokes the disgraced stand-up comedian who won’t leave the stage, desperately mouthing his crudely tiresome T.V. “roast” barrage. He flails away, blind the act is bombing except for those dislocated enough to believe in fairy dust. What’s sadder than a career fake news purveyor who refuses to hear the groaning and guffaws in the audience?
Can we not imagine a time when Trump’s eruptions are “heard no more”? Imagine another president with a clue what “presidential” means. The nightmare is well beyond “sad,” a favorite word of his along with “fantastic,” “horrible” and “incredible,” the vocabulary of a dull-witted adolescent. Behold his transparent void: knowing so little of political craft, governing, even tribal loyalty for all those he uses, then discards, like yesterday’s confetti.
Empty suit, empty brain, empty heart
What happens when a president isn’t just an empty suit, but an empty brain and empty heart – without compassion for struggling families or awareness that cruelty ends up castigating itself? Sure, there’s the tiresome, infantile lying but Trump is different from predecessors, turning mendacity on its head: he tells the truth as sporadically as his predecessors told lies. He revels in phony verbiage as if that tempers his own impulsive insensitivity. He delivers only one tone (snarky grievance) and one mode (perpetual victimization), thus every rally sounds the same and every tantrum externalizes the child who ages but never grows up.
The president is democratically illegitimate not only because he was routed by the popular vote, but because he daily batters our national legitimacy. His contempt for opponents is equaled by the alienation our closest allies feel, though decline to disclose. Every other modern president, even the dismal Dubya, absorbed something about politics or policy, government or governance – even hearing what most voters said they wanted. All but Trump learned how to dissemble with enough deniability to sustain a glimmer of character and reputation. Scandalized by adultery and thuggery, Trump eviscerates the very idea of presidential “character,” as if another mere obstacle that impedes rule by fiat.
We have fraudulence at the top because a woefully miscast figure refuses to understand what being president means – even a bad one. What the world deems knowledge and perspective (reflecting experience and values) are together what drives rational decision-making, let alone shame or mortification. Whatever it is that defines competence – whether for tiddlywinks, ballroom dancing or precision bombing – is now AWOL – and after 500 days without expectation we’ll ever see it.
Wash Post’s Jennifer Rubin constantly captures this tragic paradox, with titles like “America is strong. Trump, meanwhile, is looking more and more pathetic.” Then her damning indictment, “Trump’s grasp of policy is so shaky that it’s far from clear whether he understands the current legal and logistical situation, the [immigration] policy he tried to implement or the consequences of pulling the plug on what he tried to implement.” Is this not the essence of a “f—king moron”?
No fun in this fun house
Without discipline, the adolescent mind is an unforgiving fun house – full of reaction, overwhelm, and staggering confusion. That leads to desperately seeking whatever momentarily eases the horror of knowing you’re in free fall – without a net. Unending I think is Trump fear that Mueller indictments, legal and otherwise, crack open his fragile eggshell of a presidency, detailing countless crimes that link incompetence and immorality. Mueller will likely astound the world with the range and severity of Trumpian infamy.
To know nothing, however, provides an odd release – for one then clings to simplistic distortions that answer to warped worldviews. When willfulness alone rules, every mental five year old indulges his temper tantrums, obvious to peer scrutiny, social judgments, situation, even effectiveness. To a deranged simpleton, convinced only one’s perverse feelings matter, it’s not hard to mistake whining for domination.
For years, the vast rightwing conspiracy – and some on the left – descended to sound bite campaigns. They pushed feel-good catchphrases, like the Urgency of Now or Make America Great Again, It’s the Economy, Stupid, Happy Days are Here Again, even I’m With Her. None offers real content, but at least until Trump modern candidates sensed they were hawking sound bites. Call them cynical, certainly glib, but no modern politician before Trump so mechanically equated irrational appeals with actual, collective reality – or as trustworthy guides to governance.
Whatever his brainpower or twisted education, Trump lives and breaths sound bites. He knows only loaded, simple-minded phrases that manipulate the equally benighted, ravaged by resentment and hostility to established modes, grievance about not getting “theirs,” or attraction to gestures of domination (as offset to woeful lives).
The skimming rock presidency
Skimming on the surface, like a rock across water, explains everything about Trump. If you don’t know anything, then whatever you make up is just as credible to you as what the rest of the world calls true or real. If you don’t trust anything but irrational instincts, the accumulation of inherited prejudices, you toss off any absurd whopper without doubt or mediation.
There is no Trump center (other than perceived, momentary self-interest) and that’s the hardest agenda for political success. What Founder imagined such a perverse, self-destructive figure? And so adults and politicians watch with horror, lacking not just sensible political reactions but a repair kit to salvage this parody of leadership. Fortunately, I am not alone to think this flood of irrational excesses inspire the opposite – and the relief of returning to the frustrations of normalcy.