Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Does a Personality Defect Define Donald Trump?

Repeatedly, Donald Trump strikes out at his enemies, even when it's counterproductive. This is terrible in a leader.

An angry picture of Donald Trump is ridiculously easy to find.

Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served in the Reagan administration, paints perhaps the single most alarming portrait of Donald Trump, that of a man who can't control his response when he feels criticized or attacked:
His personality defect would be the dominating factor in his presidency, just as it has been the dominating factor in his campaign. His ultimately self-destructive tendencies would play out on the biggest stage in the world, with consequences at home and abroad that one can barely begin to imagine. It would make him the closest thing the United States has ever had to a dictator, but a dictator with a dangerously unstable temperament that neither he nor anyone else can control.
A chief criticism of Barack Obama is that he's been too cool, too contemplative in his reaction to events during his term in office. For many of us, though, that's a feature and not a bug, that you want a leader to think carefully before he speaks or acts.

What's odd about Donald Trump -- and may be the single biggest factor in his success, so far, in his quest for the presidency -- is that his fans clearly believe that Trump's "political incorrectness" is also a feature and not a bug. They like that he shoots from the hip.

Do we obviously have a segment of society that buys into both Donald Trump's core beliefs and his personal style of handling his opponents with withering attack and counterattack even when that attack often has the unintended effect of horrifying everyone else? Yes, we have such a segment in America.

They are Trump's core supporters. They've been well analyzed and identified. They are principally the undereducated white working class. This core was enough to gain Trump the GOP nomination. But it's not enough to win the presidency. The only reason, as far as I can tell, Donald Trump stands even the vaguest chance of winning the presidency is that a huge number of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are willing to overlook Trump's obvious shortcomings simply to support the Republican candidate, come hell or high water.

The factions are varied but fall into an identifiable group: those that believe any Republican, even one as unhinged as Donald Trump, will support their particular core beliefs, such as abortion, religious "liberty," free and unregulated markets, low taxes and reduced benefits for the poor and aged.

Most of this second group of supporters do understand that Trump is a flawed candidate, a flawed human being. But tribalism, pure tribalism, prevents them from voting with their heads instead of their hearts.

That is, unfortunately, a flaw in our democratic processes, not just in America but anywhere. Some societies -- I've seen them first hand in Europe and Asia -- have a higher sense of the common good and thus avoid the mistakes of the more individualistic societies, like America and the United Kingdom.

What Robert Kagan, though, is warning us about in Donald Trump is a phenomenon we've rarely confronted in U.S. history: a candidate for office so clearly unfit for the office he's running for. We elect him to office at our peril. Let's hope enough of us realize it. Kagan ends his piece on that point:
One can hope it does not come to that. In all likelihood, his defects will destroy him before he reaches the White House. He will bring himself down, and he will bring the Republican Party and its leaders down with him. This would be a tragedy were it not that the party and its leaders, who chose him as their nominee and who now cover and shill for this troubled man, so richly deserve their fate.
No shit.

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