I think it’s worth discussing Donald Trump’s peculiar, even bizarre history with the Coronavirus.
Trump supporters of course agree that the President did everything perfectly, everyone else is to blame, the Chinese lied, governors undermined the country, the WHO is corrupt, and no matter how many die, the President has done and is doing a terrific job, better than anyone else. Nonsense of course.
But it’s worth going back and taking a deeper look. What exactly happened? Why did the United States do essentially nothing through January? Why did the President spend most of February and early March minimizing the issue? Why does the United States continue to flounder today?
Admittedly, not everything can be blamed on the President. Most of the nations of the developed world have been slow off the mark, criminally so. In the United States, there’s an outbreak of what can only be called idiocy as Governors, states, state populations, communities and people just refuse to appreciate the risk – how else to explain mega-church services, or public beaches open in Florida, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Spring break parties, and what appears to be a right wing cause in rejection of social distancing. There’s a lot of blame to go around, especially in the United States.
But I would argue that in this pandemic, there is a central figure who has single handedly moved the needle from crisis to disaster.
Donald Trump: Essentially, he’s a poorly informed, disinterested narcissist.
If it doesn’t actually involve him directly, he’s not interested. This isn’t my opinion. This is actually the recurring observation of a number of sources, including the ghost-writer of Art of the Deal. It’s a recurring observation from a number of sources former white house staff persons and insiders. He hates to read, he likes pictures, he’s uninterested in briefings, he is extremely incurious.
He’s literally only interested in his own initiatives and ideas, whether it be buying Greenland, threatening and then meeting with North Korea, confrontations with Iran, or tearing up trade deals and treaties. Basically, if its not coming from him, he’s just not interested.
This has put most of his senior cabinet on the wrong foot steadily, except for Kushner. Because anything they advocate, or initiate or any progress they make, is a threat to him, so he undermines them, or demands ingratiation, flattery and obedience. Any policy formulation or legislative development from the White House is invariably sabotaged by Trump himself.
Even his reaction to hurricanes and disasters is generally one of disinterest. He’s forced to deal with it, but we can see from the Puerto Rico situation, he tuned out rapidly.
So that’s a big, big problem – this massive narcissistic disinterest in any development which isn’t originating from him, or isn’t an actual personal challenge. There’s almost no capacity for abstraction or foresight.
The other problem of course is his news source – he watches Fox news obsessively, regularly, and its clear from his tweets and public pronouncements that it’s very influential on his thinking. Much more than his staff.
Fox news, however, is thoroughly America-centric, it’s racist and xenophobic, and its excessively politicized with no interest in the outside world. So the China outbreak simply wasn’t a concern to them, and Trump wouldn’t have picked up on it from them. If anything, their lack of coverage and interest would have reinforced his view that it wasn’t important.
The bottom line is that it aggressively wasn’t on his radar, and he simply didn’t care and wasn’t concerned. There were elements in the government that were concerned, including the CDC, and internationally in the WHO. But within the American government his disinterest amounted to suppression.
He didn’t care, he wasn’t interested, and he just wanted it to go away. That’s all. On January 18 a physician was finally able to get a meeting to talk about the Coronavirus, but all Trump wanted to talk about was vaping. That’s not just incompetence, but narcissism – he was aggressively insisting that his subject be discussed rather than the subject of the proponent. He didn’t care about either, he just wanted to control the subject.
On January 31 he finally instituted a ‘travel ban’ that we hear so much about – but the travel ban applied only to Chinese persons in China. It was worse than useless. No other concrete steps were taken, such as precautions to have returning people tested, to have returning people quarantined, or precautions or masks or clothing, or cleansing for Customs officials meeting these people.
The reality was that Trump doesn’t like China, he’s got his trade war, he sees China as a sneaky competitor. So the ‘Travel Ban’ was just an excuse to screw with China. But he didn’t really care about the underlying issue, just screwing with China. We saw the same behavior weeks later, when Italy and Iran were having outbreaks and he imposed a travel ban on Iran only, or even somewhat later when he imposed a travel ban on Europe but not Britain. The only way to explain these actions is to acknowledge he just didn’t care about the COVID-19 issue, except as an excuse for taking swipes at countries or regions he disliked.
Through February and into March his narcissism and disinterest caused him to repeatedly dismiss COVID-19. He wasn’t interested in it, it wasn’t his initiative, it didn’t challenge him personally, so he didn’t care. He just wanted it to go away, and he kept wishing it would. That’s basically his public statements.
He really only became interested in mid to late March, and then only resentfully and grudgingly… He had so little interest, he handed it off to Pence. The reason? Pence isn’t doing anything. Really? He treated it as a ‘make work’ project to be fobbed off. That’s madness.
….until he found a venue in the pandemic to feed his narcissism – basically his daily televised live press conferences, where he is the center of attention, and everyone is hanging on his every word. He’s loving that.
In fact, he loves it so much, he’s begun to publicly crow about his ratings – Monday Night Football Ratings, Bachelor Season Finale Ratings.
But if Trump’s disinterest is a bad thing, his interest may be worse. We can see, for instance, how he has literally shoved Pence aside from the portfolio he assigned to Pence, so he can take center stage. That, in itself is trivial.
But what is not trivial, is his narcissistic, poorly informed, and impulsive approach to the problem. He demands attention and worship, so he just says whatever will get it for him. Hence his talk about cures and miracle drugs. He demands to be the center of attention, and so he reacts angrily and with hostility to Governors in New York and Wisconsin because they’re getting more attention than he is and they’re not sufficiently deferential.
And in fact, he actively undermines Governors and efforts – the most recent example being the GM fiasco. Whether you approve or disapprove of GM producing ventilators, you have to admit the need is urgent. It’s bizarre to simply discontinue a project at the 11th hour…. unless you’re suddenly angry because its not all about you. And yet, I think we’re going to see a lot of this erratic behavior, we’re going to see friction, and confrontations, and sudden changes of direction as initiatives gain traction and then are torpedoed.
Questions of any sort, even the mildest ones, become personal challenges and he responds like a bully. He has no ability to deal with issues, so he treats everything as a challenge or an attempt to blame him, and his response is to aggressively blame someone else – as in blaming hospitals for theft, or attacking reporters for innocuous questions. The most innocent question is an attack on his narcissistic identity. Either a direct attack, or a problem or failure he needs to blame else someone for.
This is disturbing, because if his narcissistic disinterest in anything that doesn’t originate from or relate directly to him has basically caused America and perhaps the entire world to be unprepared and lost us vital months….well, that’s bad enough.
But now this Narcissism, this pathological need to be the center of attention, to be the center of the story, the whole story, to be the hero, the bride at the wedding, the baby at the christening, and the corpse at the funeral seems to be creating a situation where he will actively undermine any initiative, any person, any group or collective effort. He will attack anything he sees as taking the limelight away from him.
I don’t see good outcomes from that. I see damage, albeit a different kind of damage than initially, when he was disinterested.
And the worse may be yet to come. His business career is a series of narcissistic adventures with a common thread. He gets in over his head, and after he’s screwed it up completely, he gets overwhelmed and walks away…. again and again. He loses all interest, shuts down, and cuts it loose. The venture goes into bankruptcy, or its simply abandoned. He distances himself personally, leaving lawyers or agents to handle the lawsuits and the fallout as the whole thing is cast adrift.
How does that translate to handling this crisis? Because he won’t walk off from the Presidency. He’ll just walk away from this crisis. So what does shutting down, losing interest and cutting it loose amount to in a Pandemic. I’m afraid of that.
Because he’s the President, he’s directing the Federal Government, and he’s not going to let anyone else direct or run the Federal government. His narcissism will not allow that, that would be someone other than him becoming the hero…. particularly where he’s failed. Which means when he gets overwhelmed and screws up and walks away…. he will try and take the whole government with him. Suddenly, the Pandemic will no longer be a federal concern.
I can’t imagine that situation. I don’t want to imagine it.
But we may well end up there.