The news of President and Mrs. Trump’s positive COVID tests broke just as I was finishing writing this piece. In the spirit of compassion, I wish them both well.
Since the presidential-debate-turned-horror-show, I have struggled to make sense of it, as I’m sure many of you have.
What causes Donald Trump to commit endless wanton acts of cruelty? The constant breaking of norms?
As I’ve written since 2015, his acts are not susceptible to political analysis, only psychological analysis. The “debate” was only the most recent example – and one of the most egregious.
David Brooks wrote yesterday: “…the crucial thing about Donald Trump is that he is not a nationalist who uses immoral means. He is first and foremost an immoralist, whose very being was defined by dishonesty, cruelty, betrayal and cheating long before he put on political garb.”
All societies are organized around a series of norms – “standards or patterns, especially of social behavior, that are typical or expected of a group.” As I quoted Lawrence Douglas in my last commentary: “…norms define the limits of appropriate behavior; when someone violates them, we expect the violator to pay a price. Not so in Trump’s case.”
As the Atlantic article I also cited there said: “Trump’s behavior and declared intent leave no room to suppose that he will accept the public’s verdict if the vote goes against him. He lies prodigiously – to manipulate events, to secure advantage, to dodge accountability, to ward off injury to his pride.”
In a phone conversation yesterday, my companion incisively observed that Donald Trump’s norm-shattering behavior says as much about us as it does about him. Do we reward or punish the breaking of our democracy’s norms?
Then, it occurred to me that we could clearly see this coming. Recent reporting about Donald Trump’s tax returns reveals that he was bailed out of his most recent financial mess by a gusher called “The Apprentice.” A so-called “reality” TV show based on public displays of wanton cruelty. “You’re fired!” The breaking of norms. On TV. For all to see. To actually delight in.
The fact that it was a “hit” tells us something ugly about our collective selves. The 2016 election did, too.
What will this election tell us? About ourselves? Are we really committed to this nearly 250-year-old experiment in democracy? Or, not.
Please, as always, pass it along.