#Donald Trump, our 45th president, sold the electorate an America First bill of goods, when what he really had in mind was Me First. “I won,” he gloats, “therefore I can do this! I won, therefore I can do that!” In early January, our then president-elect was invited up to the offices of Condé Nast, the parent company of V.F., to meet with the editors of its magazines. The get-together was off the record. (Not my wish. Nor was the #meeting itself.) The standard practice is that, in such a context, nothing of what Trump said can be repeated. It doesn’t really matter, because I recall nothing being said that he hadn’t already said many times before.
Is there any American at this point who hasn’t heard Trump talk about pretty much everything? He always speaks lovingly about his favorite subject—himself. He spent an entire campaign talking about the size of his victories, the size of his rallies, the size of his Twitter following, the excellence of his golf game, and the greatness of his company. A more recent theme, as he prepared to shoulder the burdens of office, has been that the man who followed him on his clammy reality-TV show has lower ratings than when he was on it.
Trump’s messy birdcage of a mind careens from one random thought to the next. He likes to strut and talk big-league. One of his ongoing observations—in tweets and elsewhere—is that “many people” have been calling him “the Ernest Hemingway of Twitter!” These are presumably people who have never read one of Hemingway’s books. In manner and execution, and in his almost touching desire to be liked, Trump comes across not as larger than life but as one of the smaller people on the world stage. He always had a sort of oafish charisma: as we used to say at Spy, a hustler on his best behavior. In small groups, as many can attest, he has mastered the salesman’s trick of creating faux sincerity and intimacy when answering a question by including the first name of the person who asked it. But no amount of grifter charm can conceal his alarming disregard for facts and truth. It’s this combination of utter ignorance and complete certitude that his detractors find most terrifying. Trump not only doesn’t know the unknowns but appears to have no interest in even knowing the knowns. Fact-checkers can’t keep up. How often does Obama play golf? Who cares—let’s inflate the number by 50 percent. What’s the murder rate in a major American city? What the hell—let’s multiply it by 10. The writer Michael O’Donoghue used to say that the definition of insanity is the length of time it takes for a lie to be uncovered. The shorter the period, the crazier you are. By this standard, our president will be setting a new threshold for that definition.
In temperament, we now have an unbridled man-boy in the highest office in the land, one who will lash out at the most reasoned criticism. The brusque childishness of his response to Meryl Streep’s measured comments at the Golden Globes—about Trump’s mocking gestures in reference to disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski—was enough to be worried about. Then he hurled insults at Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a living icon of the civil-rights movement. Really? John Lewis? If he feels that he can so blithely attack two of the most respected people in the country, who is off limits? Trump was always a bad loser. But in the weeks since his disputed victory in the election we’ve discovered that this preening narcissist is also a very bad winner.
As he drags family members into the administration, a certain amount of sympathy has gone out to Tiffany Trump, the president’s daughter with his second wife, Marla Maples. In the end, being the forgotten Trump may turn out to be an asset. Her father’s administration is starting off in typical Trump fashion: renovating a house by first hacking away at the foundation. His disparagement of America’s intelligence apparatus—what former vice president Joe Biden calls “one of the crown jewels of our national defense”—is a complete mystery, and one that may come back to haunt him. On the health-care front, I confess that I’ve never fully understood the frantic scramble to shut down Obamacare—the name that opponents of the Affordable Care Act gave to the legislation, and meant as a pejorative. There are actually people out there who say they don’t want Obamacare—they prefer the Affordable Care Act. All of which is to say: repealing this landmark piece of legislation will serve only to hurt many of the same people who voted for Trump. Do the hopeful citizens of Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—the states that swung the election in his favor—really think that this administration’s collection of billionaires, former bankers, deregulators, and climate-change deniers are going to be looking out for them rather than for themselves and their cronies? I wouldn’t be the first to think that we are wading into a quagmire of exceptions, conflicts of interest, and corruption, both financial and moral, which will then be followed by a long, long road to “Trexit”—our president’s extraction from the White House. Populists like Trump sweep into office on lies. They are undone by truths.