Donald Trump always had money, so he always knew that many people would believe whatever he told them without question or, if they did have questions, would keep their doubts to themselves.
This was originally posted as a Facebook note, back in January, and I found out this week that it’s been reposted almost a thousand times in the interim, without my knowledge…but very much with my consent.
I needed to write this down, for reasons that are somewhat murky, except to maybe, possibly, make myself feel a little better at the spectacle of watching the country in which I was born and which I have always loved become the world’s foremost cesspool of outright irrationality, insanity, and hatred. Like everyone else, I watched in horror as the newly-elected “president” sat in the White House and released daily barrages of lies and invective and contempt for the very people who elected him and whose well-being he stood there and swore to protect. But as for his repulsive ability to tell the most ridiculous, easily-rebutted lies with a straight face and a mulish determination to sell them at any cost, that, for me, has never been a mystery. I’ve been fascinated by Trump for better than thirty years and have studied his past for at least that long. This note explains the root of his profound disconnect from the reality that we all live with and honor.
I could be wrong, of course…but I would bet anything I ever owned that I’m not…
On this unseasonably warm January afternoon, I’m sitting and reading Facebook and Twitter and several other social media sites, all filled to the borders with angry, bewildered Americans, asking each other how we ever sank so low as to have the sad disintegration of someone like Donald Trump not only played out in full view of the entire world but in our own White House, a place reserved for, presumably, those with the intelligence, empathy, and experience to lead not only us but the civilized world. While millions of frustrated, reactionary, short-sighted people revel in Trump’s every hateful proclamation, the rest of us watch as what is very possibly the end of the United States rushes headlong toward us, without even the comforting illusion that we have always, before, been able to cling to, that Americans are mostly kind and mostly smart and mostly wise and humane. Now, we know the ugly truth that lurks behind the wan smiles of our neighbors, the scowls of other drivers, and the pre-fab courtesy that is transparent as window glass: the average American, here in 2017, is quite likely to be someone who is harboring in his or her heart a profound and ill-disguised malice toward almost all of us who do not look, think, and act exactly like them.
Racing out before the bigotry and ill will of all those disgruntled masses through which we swim, daily, is Donald Trump, their standard-bearer, their totemic embodiment of all their rage and frustration with an America which stubbornly refused to become set in concrete in that earlier time when those frustrated masses could always console themselves, no matter their degree of misery and failure, with the thought that said, “Well, I may be down right now but at least I’m not a ni**er or a queer or a Mexican” and when quoting a handy verse of scripture served to end all arguments with the implication that knowing the word of God somehow indicated the approval of God. And those of us who simply embraced the changing face of our society and even encouraged blacks, women, immigrants, gays, lesbians, and other marginalized citizens to speak their piece also became the objects of their scorn and anger.
What gets lost in all our astonished disbelief about Donald Trump and our fellow citizens is that we all actually do know how Trump came about and what made him this way. It’s a story that started when he was a small child, venturing out of the house for the first time to begin that early process of socialization…and got a huge surprise. Trump’s family had money – lots of money. And along with that money came a set of assumptions that even tiny Donald already knew: we belong with the privileged kids, the ones whose parents are on that level equal to our own or higher. We don’t mix with the rabble; those kids who don’t travel in expensive cars and live in mansions. But Donald’s father made his fortune as one of New York’s largest slumlords, raking in dollars on the backs of lower-middle class or even desperately poor people who scrambled, every month, to scrape together Mr. Trump’s rent money…and Mr. Trump was singularly unforgiving when those people could not manage to do it. They received a short notice – sometimes merely hours – and then were tossed into the street. The Trumps were tolerated by the NY upper crust…barely. But young Donald’s classmates had all had it explained by their parents, “We don’t associate with the Trumps. They’re little better than the people in their shoddy apartments.”
Donald felt the sting of that and set out to establish himself as heir to his father’s fortune with single-minded intensity. Realizing that continuing to have the Trump name attached to slums and desperation would never open those doors of the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, Donald soon branched out from his family’s shady past and pursued more respectable businesses. He gambled on real estate; won sometimes and lost spectacularly other times. But the one thing that never changed was the attitudes he watched his father employ; the dismissive hauteur of someone who is holding all the cards and can make or break lives on a whim. Donald Trump always had money, so he always knew that many people would tolerate anything, accept his every insult, obey his every whim, and, most telling of all, would believe whatever he told them without question or, if they did have questions, would keep their doubts to themselves so that they could receive the benefits of an association with his “brand”.
Donald Trump is seventy years old, now; our oldest elected president ever. For at least fifty-two years of that, he habitually told whatever lies were expedient to getting what he wanted. Late for a payment? Oh, the bank is holding up the financing. Project is off schedule? It’s the contractor’s fault! (Usually a contractor to whom Trump was grossly in arrears.) Are you married, Donald, sweetie? No, no, divorce is final now. And very few ever dared contradict him because those with whom he clashed always faced the specter of Trump’s gangs of feral lawyers, tying them up in court until they were bankrupt. Trump, as frequently happens with narcissists, came to believe that whatever he said was right because he said it. The concept of “lying” became, at first, ambiguous and finally irrelevant, meaningless because nobody really ever told Donald Trump “No” and held his feet to the fire about it. Insulated by armies of managers and spokespeople and PR flacks and those flesh-eating attorneys, Trump deepened and cemented his disconnect from reality until, in his later years, reality became whatever Donald Trump declared it to be…and he became genuinely mystified, wounded, and enraged when confronted by anyone who dared to suggest that The Emperor Had No Clothes.
Donald Trump isn’t hard to figure out. He has never really had the experience of having his word challenged, his “facts” scoffed at and dismissed, his motives, rationales, and goals questioned, daily and relentlessly, by people who don’t want his money and are not frightened by his legal and social retribution. He developed this shell of unreality, his private Trump World, in which he was always good enough to play with the other kids or to circulate in the highest circles of Manhattan society, which had occasionally pretended to accept him so they could fund this charity or that community project, but which never opened their arms and welcomed him as an equal…and never would. His whole life, all of his gaudy shows of wealth and excess, his gauche, glitzy lifestyle and frequently shady “connections” were all the permanent residue of the exclusion of that young Donald. At some point in his late teens or twenties, he came to erroneously believe that the gap between himself and the Manhattan elite could be bridged or evaded or erased by the amassing of dollars and the ostentatious shows of wealth and the undisguised, unsubtle, boorish self-congratulation that we’ve all seen a thousand times: “I have words. I have such great words. I am a very smart person. I have the best words ever.”
We all read of each fresh outrage, every new volley of lies and exaggerations and out-and-out fantasies and wonder, “How can anyone look into a camera like this and just baldly say things which are not even remotely true?” – the companion piece to “How can he deny saying this when it’s captured on videotape?!?” Those of us who were raised and equipped to function within the bounds of a normal society are baffled by Trump’s total lack of shame at what he says and his total lack of responsibility – or even acknowledgement! – when caught in his lies. But Donald Trump simply knows no other way to behave. Seventy years, in human terms, is a virtual eternity and none of us, having never done a certain thing in our entire lives and then being obligated to suddenly do it to the letter, would be able to break the patterns of seven decades habit. Donald Trump doesn’t know how to tell the truth. He doesn’t see the rest of society, even on an individual level, as quite real. The ramifications of his plans for America, to him, don’t have any reality about them. People frozen out of health care, who might actually, literally die as a result of his actions, are just abstractions, numbers on a tally sheet, easily scanned, filed, and forgotten..or denied out of hand. When the President of The United States speaks in favorable terms of torture or using nuclear weapons, stridently asserts that it’s now going to be “America first” and that the rest of the world is disposable, children in India and China and Scotland ask their parents, as they’re being tucked into bed at night, if they’re going to die. Trump is blissfully unaware of the ripples on the pond, caused by the stones he throws at his “enemies”. To him, if a nuclear war starts, he will be in his bunker and he will survive and those who die probably had it coming.
What this all adds up to is not something for which we, as functioning, caring humans, should feel called upon to summon up our reserves of empathy or any obligation to “understand”. What we should and rightfully do feel is threatened, imperiled, and preyed upon in the most literal terms. We’ve been blatantly and even gleefully victimized by those in our society who wanted change but bartered off all their morals, American values, their religious principles, and even their basic humanity, just because they didn’t like what America has become and were willing to risk all our lives to change things back to some mythical Good Ol’ Days which cannot be recovered. This country and the world in general has already changed and done so profoundly and only fools think that they can reverse the tides of time and undo progress.The quixotic pursuit of some half-remembered innocence really only exists in their rosy and scrubbed-up remembrances of their own tragic childhoods, when their dissatisfaction and assumptions were never challenged. Their support of Donald Trump is a pitiful, farcical wish-fulfillment fantasy that says that Trump is a rich guy and, therefore, I will become one, too, as his mojo rubs off on me.
The fact that Trump is the product of pain and rejection, that his aura of “success” and competence is at best flimsy and at worst a malignant and cynical facade, and that his coveted millions may not even exist, seems to enter their thinking not at all.