“It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth…arrogance into humility…brutality into patriotism. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” – Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22
Truth, sometimes, is stranger than fiction. This quote from Heller’s Catch-22, in some form or another, has been used to describe Donald Trump by a number of people. His July 16 performance in Helsinki, and the subsequent press conference to clean up that mess, is par for this presidency.
Trump had a complete meltdown less than 10 feet from Vladimir Putin. He proved once and for all that he is a beta male using bravado to hide his insecurities. Watch the video again—his discomfort is visible. I wasn’t surprised by his lying and scapegoating; he does that almost every time he’s in front of cameras. But the timidity was stunning. He looked like a child with a disappointing report card.
The right-wing response to the Helsinki debacle was predictable. Some of his early GOP detractors pounced in an effort to show some sort of strength. His supporters did what they always do: defend him and his ineptitude at any cost, and when that didn’t work, they fell back on Hillary Clinton’s emails and former President Barack Obama’s existence. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stood in front of reporters and “Trumpslained” her boss’s 45-minute comedy of errors. The whole experiment was absurd.
Sadly, this won’t be the last time Trump embarrasses America on the world stage.
Trump’s cult following gets stronger after every one of his catastrophic public appearances. He is the manifestation of Joseph Heller’s quote from Catch-22. His utter lack of character is only surpassed by his most loyal supporters’ ability to ignore and defend his almost daily indiscretions.
Trump has waged a war on virtues, truth, humility, and patriotism.
Donald Trump’s Vices Are His Virtues
Trump’s money, lifestyle, and pseudo-machismo are attractive to many of his followers. Many Evangelicals subscribe to an overly ascetic interpretation of the Bible that causes them to, publicly, deny having urges of the flesh—much less acting on them. The fact that he is an unapologetic serial liar, adulterer, misogynist, and bigot is seen as a sign of strength. He says out loud what some only say in the comfort of their home. Trump’s army of self-professed Christian conservatives always defend him—even when his behavior is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. He turned ignorance, arrogance, and apathy into redeemable qualities.
Donald Trump’s Slander Is His Truth
His mantra of “fake news” is a linguistic and rhetorical tool used to handicap factual discussions. The idea that broad swaths of the American media and intelligentsia should be ignored is a genius strategy for someone who can only be hurt by the truth. This sort of Tammy Wynette gaslighting has been very effective. Trump’s war on the truth and empirical data is the embodiment of the Chico Marx line from the movie “Duck Soup”—”Who ya gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” When confronted with incontrovertible facts his base is unswayed. He has convinced millions of people to suspend their commonsense. His lies and personal attacks are equated with facts in the world.
Donald Trump’s Arrogance Is His Humility
Arrogance is defined as “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.” Trump loves the use of superlatives. He constantly reminds us of his personal greatness. He is the smartest, best, richest, and my personal favorite: “least racist” person any of us knows. In Meher Baba’s 1967 book, Discourses, he described pride as “the specific feeling through which egoism manifests.” Trump is so much better than us that we should be happy he humbles himself to talk to us—even if it is about himself.
Trump’s Patriotism Is Brutal
There is a dangerous and false pride woven into Donald Trump’s “America first” ethos. His attacks on former President Barack Obama’s U.S. citizenship, Muslim Gold Star family, the Kahns, and Judge Gonzalo Curiel over the U.S.-Mexico border wall are tacit proof that being born in America doesn’t mean someone is a “real American.” Trump has a litmus test for patriotism. In his view, anyone who questions the status quo is un-American. He calls NFL players “sons of bitches” for protesting police brutality while he ignores, equivocates, and even excuses Russia’s attacks on the country he professes to love so much. There are segments of the American populace who feel increasingly vulnerable in the age of Trump. The spike in racial attacks, unwarranted calls to police on Black people, and the normalization of bigotry is a form of violence that has been visited upon people who don’t conform to the “Trumpian” view of who is an American. This is a problem many in his camp ignore.
I’ve written over 30 articles about Donald Trump since the spring of 2015. They all have a similar tenor and tone. I have ceased trying to understand or respect a man who has shown a complete lack of character. Trump’s agenda is dangerous to people on the outside of his racial, religious, cultural, and heteronormative conception of who is an American, but it’s become obvious that it is just as dangerous to those in his base.
Editor’s note: A version of this column was published at dagblog.com.