Can Donald Trump Be Contained?
Editorial by Mel Gurtov
There’s just no getting around it: the president-elect of the United States is a pathological liar. He is also a terribly insecure individual who is desperate for attention and spiteful of critics. Setbacks are humiliating to him; he will answer them with vicious counterattacks because he cannot stand losing. And when he does lose, he will proclaim victory. Thus, there is no room around him for naysayers (for they are disloyal), no room for experts (since policy isn’t his thing), and certainly no room for the truth (for, as someone said a long time ago, facts are the enemy of truth). This one-dimensional man thrives on threats, the spotlight, and winning at all costs: the profile of a demagogue.
The central question before us is, How can such an egotistical, power-hungry person who has created a wall around him that defies access be upended? For in Donald Trump we have two very imposing obstacles to democratic rule: his superiority complex, and his so far successful strategy of isolation from questioners.
Trump’s character is on display in a PBS video, “President Trump,” that we should all see:www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/president-trump/. Not that we don’t already know most of the aspects of his character that are on the video. But by piecing together the views of people who have spent time with him, in some cases going back to his childhood, the video gives us a picture of an exceptionally ambitious person whose primary purpose in life is winning. From that perspective, we can understand why he does what he does:
Why he admires people like himself (and like his father, for that matter)—autocrats;
Why he can’t stand to lose, and won’t take “no” for an answer;
Why he believes he can order individuals and giant corporations alike to do his bidding;
Why he thinks tweeting is equivalent to governing;
Why he doesn’t believe his promises are meant to be kept (such as holding press conferences, divesting assets, showing his tax returns);
Why he habitually lies and rejects well-established facts that run counter to his instincts;
Why he is so self-congratulatory—he “knows things that other people don’t know”;
Why he doesn’t think he needs intelligence briefings;
Why he is enamored of other super-wealthy people and generals;
Why he characterizes those who oppose him as “enemies.”
We have never had a national leader with such a flawed, and dangerous, character. To be sure, we are all flawed in one way or another, and we have had our share of presidents with serious character issues. But Trump is a case apart, someone so out of touch with traditional American values—compromise, equity, openness, community, justice, lawfulness, respect for difference—and so unpredictable in behavior that I tremble to think how he can possibly deal sensibly with the complicated foreign and domestic problems we face.
I do have one project I would like to see materialize right now: media representatives, mainstream and alternative, come together to issue a joint challenge to the Trump team, and Donald Trump in particular, to start communicating regularly, directly, and factually with the American people on the major policy issues. “Stop lying, stop hiding, fulfill promises.”
Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.