Analysis

Donald Trump Is President, but It's His Ego That's Calling the Shots

The new president is reversing America's course at breakneck speed, from progressive to reactionary.

Donald Trump addressing the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., January 25, 2017.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP

Donald Trump won the elections and was sworn in as president of the United States, but it’s his fragile ego that’s calling the shots in the White House. His ego is telling him to issue executive orders at machine-gun pace so that everyone will marvel at how he’s keeping his campaign promises but his ego is also complicating his life by compelling him to invent more lies and concoct new fantasies, which have now morphed into executive actions as well. The combination of the two - dramatic decisions and delusional claims - is making America dizzy.

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Trump’s confidants at the White House have confided to journalists in recent days that Trump reacts badly and even wildly to media reports that contradict his image of himself. He spent his first two days denying the undeniable fact that fewer people attended his inauguration than those who came out for Barack Obama in 2009. Then he erupted like a volcano against taunting Democrats and commentators who reminded him that Hillary Clinton resoundingly won the popular vote. First he claimed, preposterously, that three-to-five million people, illegal immigrants and other crooks, had voted unlawfully, all presumably for Clinton. When he realized that his ridiculous assertion had only increased the level of ridicule directed at him, Trump doubled down by announcing a “major investigation” into his own claims. From irresponsible talk he’s now moved on to reckless actions, and heaven knows what he’ll do when these inevitably disappoint him as well.

There is no reasonable or rational explanation for Trump’s insistence on casting doubt on elections that everyone agrees he’d won, except to assuage his vulnerable ego and what seems like a latent inferiority complex. His aides admit Trump is obsessed by a sense that his rivals, including the media, view his election as illegitimate, the claim made by Congressman John Lewis, with whom Trump also picked a superfluous quarrel. If Trump was connected more to reality and less to his victimhood complex, he would know that challenges to the legitimacy of his victory would have quickly given way to a focus on his actual actions and statements as president. By his rash reactions, Trump is extending the very debate that he seeks to eliminate. He is damaging his own credibility, eliciting new doubts among Republicans who had assumed that once in office, he would calm and settle down. Some American commentators go so far as to maintain that the damage Trump is inflicting now on his presidency is so severe that it may never truly recover.

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Some analysts, who cannot tolerate the thought that the new president is basically unbalanced, are desperate to find other rationales for his behavior, even if these are actually more sinister. He is laying the groundwork for imposing more restrictions on voting rights in order to ensure his own reelection in 2020. He is trying to blur the distinctions between truth and lies and “to destroy rational thought” on his way to dictatorship, as Roger Cohen ominously opined in the New York Times. He’s the same old wily Trump, his fans insist, laying down red herrings to distract the media as he goes about the radical revolution he has been implementing on a daily basis since he came to the White House.

Indeed, one can’t deny the breakneck speed and daring resolve of the steps taken by Trump so far or belittle their potential significance. He isn’t changing the course of America slowly and steadily, like the captain of a grand ocean liner, but making sharp turns at every corner, like an agitated racecar driver. Trump has internalized the cliché for new leaders “what you won’t do in your first 100 days you never will”, bringing it up to warp speed. In his first one hundred hours, Trump has reversed America’s course, from liberal to conservative, from progressive to reactionary. He has declared his intention to wage war against Obamacare, abortions, the fight against global warming, regulation of the energy industry, government openness and more.

On Wednesday, Trump ordered the construction of his famous wall with Mexico, even though the number of illegal infiltrators over the border has been dropping anyway and even though most experts don’t expect the wall to make that much of a difference. In the next few days he is expected to seriously limit America’s already negligible acceptance of Syrian refugees and to restrict the already minuscule immigration from a host of supposedly terror-stricken Muslim countries. Both measures seem to fit Trump’s emerging motto: One small step for America’s national security, one giant leap for Trump’s voracious ego.