Leonard Quart | Letter From New York: Donald Trump: An anniversary polemic

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NEW YORK — I have held back writing a column about the first Trump year, since it seemed impossible for me to compose something that countless Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes programs, Charles Blow and Paul Krugman columns, and magazine pieces by such gifted writers like George Packer and David Remnick had not already richly conveyed. But I find myself each day so viscerally angered by both Trump's personal behavior and his political actions that I feel an imperative to write a polemic (not my usual style) against this pathological liar, this man devoid of a scintilla of empathy and self-awareness. I wish I could just tune out his presence, but his tweets and the myriad stories he evokes dominate the media and become indelibly stuck in my consciousness.

For the moment, let's forget his nebulous political agenda, and dissect the persona and behavior of this monster of egoism and corruption. For one, I can't think of a public figure in my lifetime as bereft of language as Trump. I can think of no president whose unscripted speech was so dominated by tortured syntax, mid-thought changes of subject, and incomplete sentences.

And his use and misuse of superlatives — every person he appoints is "outstanding," "terrific" or "tremendous." It's a huckster's meaningless hyperbole that he uses to praise the military dictator of Egypt —"a fantastic guy" — and Rep. Tom Marino ("Tom is a fine man and a great congressman!"), who had to withdraw from becoming the drug czar because he played a key role in weakening the federal government's authority to stop companies from distributing opioids. Empty, simplistic phrases that tell us nothing about any of the people he praises, except that nothing the president says can be trusted.

History of lies

But we already know that he lies the way other people breathe. Trump's lies aren't always calculated to protect his reputation; they can at times be spontaneous.

Those who have followed Trump's career say his lying isn't just a tactic, but an ingrained habit that he developed as a real estate mogul in the 1980s and '90s. In his own autobiography Trump used the phrase "truthful hyperbole" — his ghostwriter's term for Trump's stretching the truth when he was closing a real estate deal.

That penchant for lying has been carried over to the presidency. Politifact has chronicled a litany of false or mostly false statements that were either meant to consciously divert us from dealing with weightier matters: the baseless allegation that Obama — his obsession and b te noir — wiretapped Trump tower, was used to distract us from the investigation into the Trump campaign's connection with the Russians.

And whatever false claims he makes, Trump is incapable of apologizing for or examining his own behavior. He`s a man seemingly without a trace of inwardness, who just aggressively asserts his ego, attacking all who slight or criticize him. His mode of attack is devoid of sophistication, totally based on either barroom insults and threats or sloganeering political attacks. They range from his mocking retort to North Korea's ruler, Kim Jong Un, as "Rocket Man on a suicide mission," following that up by threatening "to totally destroy" Kim's "depraved regime" to putting down extremely conservative Senator Flake for being "weak on borders, weak on crime."

Trump is also profoundly insecure, resulting in his often pathetic defense of his image. So he can embarrassingly assert that he is not a "moron" because "I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person."

Still, despite this compendium of character flaws and personality disorders (this barely scratches the surface of their range), his base remains loyal. In fact, they like that he's a populist millionaire, who behaves like any boor in a bar, spouting uninformed, inchoate opinions, and railing against opponents. But at the same time he is a successful businessman and a television star — somebody they can admire. They also take pleasure in his repeatedly waving the flag and issuing racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-liberal press slanders. Trump's media savvy serves him well. He's gifted at divisively touching all the right tribal buttons when it comes to arousing his base's resentment and gaining their support.

A craven Republican Party reaffirms Trump's hold on political power. The GOP may find his lack of concern for and knowledge of policy and his mercurial daily political shifts truly disconcerting, but as long as he supports its agenda and it can avoid being challenged in the primaries by Bannon surrogates, most of them remain good soldiers in his camp.

So many of Trump's political decisions are motivated by an almost demonic need to undermine Obama's accomplishments. And much of this coincides with Republican commitments against regulation, especially health and environmental, stepped up efforts to prosecute undocumented immigrants and proposed cuts of a variety of poverty programs.

Hollow vessel

He also supports the proposed tax bill which is designed to serve the super-rich (Republican donors) and penalize other income groups. Consequently, despite the campaign promises Trump has made to his working class supporters of more jobs and the end of domination by Wall Street, he has done nothing. In fact, he has gone in the other direction, serving the interests of the moneyed and himself.

Trump is a hollow vessel, all rhetoric and no substance. But he is also a danger to the country's very existence given our nuclear arsenal and his bellicose bombast about using it.

Still, I better stop writing, because attacking Trump is an endless endeavor. He just never stops repelling me — personally and politically.

Leonard Quart can be reached at cinwrit@aol.com

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