Monday, April 24, 2017

The greatest blog post in history

Recently a lawyer for conspiracy theory-loving radio host Alex Jones described Jones' on-air persona as "performance art." I just have to ask: is anyone really surprised?

On the other hand, I'll tell you something I heard recently that did throw me. According to Jon Meacham's 2015 biography of George H.W. Bush, in 1988 Donald Trump went to Lee Atwater to be asked to be considered for Bush's running mate. Bush thought the request "strange and unbelievable."

This little anecdote should put to rest a belief about Trump that a lot of people (including me) have long held. Trump has been making nods to possible presidential runs for over 30 years. Even now, the conventional wisdom is that all those previous times (and possibly even the 2016 one, initially at least) were intended as publicity stunts. And when he finally became an official candidate in 2015, the Huffington Post decided to run all its articles about him under "entertainment," a move even I found ridiculous at the time.

But now it turns out that Trump went privately to seek a vp spot from the GOP nominee in 1988. It wasn't a public pronouncement; it was entirely behind the scenes, and the most striking thing about it was that it was in pursuit of a position that's supposed to be one of the most thankless roles in politics, basically the president's lackey. It would seem a most un-Trumpian thing to do unless we assume he really was serious, all those years ago, about wanting to get to the White House.

Why is it so hard for so many of us to wrap our heads around that fact? It's because Trump, like Alex Jones, always comes off sounding like a performance artist. It's like we've become so jaded over the years, we just assume by default that any celebrity with a bombastic, over-the-top persona must be doing a kind of act. Thus, it comes as a surprise to discover they may be in earnest.

Trump has been described as a narcissist, and while that is self-evidently true, in a way it misses the point. The fact is that few narcissists behave the way Donald Trump does. It is one thing to believe you are the greatest person alive. It is quite another to believe that the most effective way to convince others you're the greatest person alive is by boldly declaring it to be so at every opportunity. That would be the equivalent of a comedian who laughs at his own jokes.

In 2011 he told an audience, "if I decide to run, you'll have the great pleasure of voting for the man that will easily go down as the greatest president in the history of the United States: Me, Donald John Trump." In 2015, he said, "I'm the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far. Nobody's ever been more successful than me." A report allegedly written by Trump's personal physician declared that Trump would be the "healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

In December a press release by the Trump team went, "The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history." (It was actually the 11th smallest.) A few weeks ago he said, "I think we’ve had one of the most successful 13 weeks in the history of the presidency." (Spoiler: he didn't.) And to top it off, there was his July 2016 interview on 60 Minutes, which featured the following exchange:

LESLEY STAHL: You're not known to be a humble man. But I wonder --

DONALD TRUMP: I think I am, actually humble. I think I'm much more humble than you would understand.

Well, of course. Since he's the greatest human being ever to walk the face of the earth, by definition he must also be the most modest. A man who has surpassed Lincoln in presidential greatness has surely eclipsed Moses in humility.

You know what? I think I've finally figured out who Donald Trump really is. It's coming to me...just give me a second. Here it is:

Yup, Gilderoy Lockhart. The Harry Potter character from Chamber of Secrets who constantly talks about how great a sorcerer he is, who claims to have vanquished numerous dark wizards, who has several books to his name detailing his achievements, who hawks products of questionable quality, who grins and smirks a lot, and who of course is finally exposed as a fraud--a man who takes credit for the achievements of others, as should have been painfully obvious to anyone with a grain of common sense but which somehow escaped the attention of the school administrators who hired him.

You might think it strange of me to be comparing a US president to a comic relief character from a series of children's books, but that's just the point. Trump isn't a standard vain person. He's a cartoon caricature of a vain person, more like the villain from a Disney flick than someone actually existing in the real world. And perhaps the weirdest thing about the Trump phenomenon isn't that so many people believe in him, it's that he apparently believes in himself.

No comments: