I am fascinated by aberrant human behavior. Give me a documentary about the childhood of a serial killer or a totalitarian ruler, and I’m hooked. What makes people do things most of us would consider so far outside the norm? I read books and spend lots of time wondering about it. I want to understand.
Perhaps one of the most impenetrable and fascinating personality types to me is that of the person with the overinflated sense of his own importance. When someone at the company Christmas party pompously brags about how much they’re loved and doesn’t see the eye-rolls in the room, it makes me wonder: how does that happen? How do you not see the cues? As someone who is hypersensitive to criticism and the opinions others have of me, I probably look on it with a smidge of longing, like I wish I could rub a little Teflon on my own skin and think better thoughts about myself.
I say all this by way of explaining how perplexed and vaguely fascinated I am by Donald Trump. Oh, I’m horrified by his candidacy, of course. I can think of few worse fates that could befall us collectively as a nation than that of him getting anywhere near the Oval Office. But how does one get that way, exactly? How does one achieve his sense of personal importance?
The thought has been rolling around in my mind for a while but was reignited today when I read an Op-Ed in the LA Times entitled “Donald Trump believes he was born to be king.” In it, the author, a biographer of Trump’s who has interviewed him personally, describes Trump’s belief that he is destined for greatness, that he believes in his own “natural ability,” (say, versus million dollar start-up loans and introductions to key officials from Daddy). Donald Trump is a bloviating buffoon basically trolling the entire nation, saying things so outrageous that the media is basically pointing at him, mouths agape, and saying, “Ummm… did you hear this?” And yet he seems to think we are all taken in by his charms. How in the world is he so shockingly blind?
I have long suspected that most blowhards are deeply wounded people, the kind that have a vast emptiness at their core. After all, have you ever met a person who is at peace with who they are and feels the need to walk around saying, “I’m very, very rich”? Have you ever met someone who didn’t have nagging suspicions that his connections, and not his talent, got him where he is who feels the need to repeat endlessly, “When you’re smart like I am, I mean… I’m smart. You wouldn’t believe how smart I am”? Do smart people need to tell you how smart they are?
The one thing about this theory, though, is that it doesn’t seem to fully explain Trump. He may well feel very small inside. (Just a quick examination of his almost pathological need to pee his name in the snow of every building he’s every been associated with would seem to indicate this alone). And yet he seems to be utterly convinced of the inevitability of his greatness, of the fact that his obvious pandering and sleight of hand are going to get him the most powerful position on Earth. Is that insecure? Or disturbingly overconfident to the point of losing touch with reality?
And, back to the original question: how does this happen to a human?
Donald Trump is not going to be president, but in reading the op-ed I came across another tidbit: his son, “Donald Junior,” also believes in his own destiny for greatness. He said, “I’d like to believe genetically I’m predisposed to [be] better than average.” Because, sure. Of course you are, sonny. So this may be a multi-generational pathology that’s going to be foisted upon us. If history is any indication, the next generation gets a little more refined, loses a bit of the dirt that the previous ones had to get on them in the scrappy fight to the top, makes themselves more palatable and less brash. So there may still be a President Trump in the history books at some point, heir to this tone-deaf overinflated sense of self masking whatever emptiness that kind of thing is supposed to cover.
Everyone’s got a bit of the crazy in them, so who am I to judge? But it’s worrying to see the success of this kind of person. I remember what first attracted me to Obama when I first read Dreams From My Father years before he was considered a serious candidate: his self-examination. He has not been a perfect president (it’s impossible to be) but one has always gotten a sense that he is grappling with the issues, concerned with whether he is getting them right. One can only do that with a healthy sense of self and an understanding that sometimes one fails, makes mistakes and has to apologize and then course correct. But if all you can allow yourself is a chant of “I am very rich, I am very smart,” without introspection, how good can you be at navigating the minefield of leading the world’s most powerful nation?
May we never find out.