Watching Trump’s news conference with Putin yesterday the last lines of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” came to mind.
“…you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
I’ll admit it. I am addicted to the news. Blame it on a misspent childhood where I could never quite wash the newsprint stains off my elbows. I love information. In this time especially, probably to an unhealthy extent.
In the frenzy of the daily news cycle, a couple of weeks ago I arrived at a conclusion. We have reached “peak Trump.” By that I mean America has reached a saturation point where Trumps daily pokes and prods to the American psyche will have a diminishing effect.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a hardened skeptic. I don’t spend much time looking for sunshine and rainbows. Nope. Not my thing. So even I was surprised. I felt myself relaxing into the day, confident that America will survive this current crisis of leadership. What was my clue? The man himself.
I tend to check in on the Trump rallies. A few weeks ago I noticed something had changed. Trump was doing his usual recitation but he seemed less comfortable. His delivery was more rushed, more desperate. He was pumping the crowd more quickly for the reassurance of applause and yelling. Then it hit me. He was afraid.
I also watch the faces of the people they put behind him. The vast majority were enthralled and enthusiastic. But in the crowd there was a new look. People looked confused if not bored. The news told me that, strangely, though they had stood in line to get into the event, some people began to drift away half way through his remarks.
Think of the best sporting event you have ever been too. You were hyped and yelling and totally engaged. Then be honest. There was a point where you just had to pull back in and collect yourself for little bit. You may have finished strong, but you couldn’t sustain the fever. It is starting to happen with Trump. The fever breaks. It has to recede because as a human you know if it doesn’t, you die.
We can never forget that even after he was censured by the Senate, Joseph McCarthy was polling at 35 percent support. So Trumpism will never disappear. It is hard coded into America. What will ebb and fade is its power to control events.
In my work life I knew two sociopathic liars and one thoroughgoing narcissist. The liars were both charming and able to weave tales to take me in. They fooled everyone. They assumed positions of power and trust. I went head to head with one of them when I realized what he was. But I lost because he was still fooling people who had power. However, both of these sociopaths ultimately failed and disappeared, not just from the company, from the city.
You see, it is impossible for anyone to sustain the long con forever. The lies intersect in ways they can’t control. Donald Trump is the product of a fabric of lies. He is America’s ultimate con man. But even he can’t sustain his con. No one can. Trump is especially vulnerable to the collapse of his own narrative because of his other dominant personal feature. He is a ninja level narcissist.
I worked closely with a relatively benign narcissist. He damaged others with his fragility. Constantly seeking approval, the last person in the room with praise was the most trusted…for the moment. Yesterday Trump didn’t confront Putin because he psychologically couldn’t.
For a narcissist, everyone around them is failing them is some way. My experience is that complaint about others was a constant, but that complaint and approbation was never directed to the subject of the current tirade. Overriding the anger was the absolute need to be liked. Trump could not criticize Putin face to face because he simply can’t do that in person. To do so would mean that Putin wouldn’t like him.
Yes, it is really that simple. Think of what he did on this most recent trip. Trash a world leader before he arrives then melt face to face.
When I realized we had reached peak Trump, I had no idea how quickly we would reach the high-water mark. It happened yesterday at the Putin news conference. Every flaw in Trump the man was on display. He physically cowered away from a stronger man. He complemented Putin and laughed nervously. He deflected and rolled out his fabric of cover stories. Most importantly to some of his supporters, politicians on the right and the world Trump looked weak. His favorite word is “strong.” That is what he called Putin on his Hannity post-conference interview.
There is a segment of FoxNews state television and his 35 percent of supporters that will go down with the ship. But politically Trump’s support among the right is a mile wide and an inch deep. Politicians who only complain about him off the record are just waiting for the moment to turn on him. What they fear is not Trump the man, but his tenuous control of a voting block. Voters change their minds. The moment there is a crack in power facade, they will bolt away from him. That started yesterday.
I spent most of the day watching FoxNews after the news conference. That is where you have to go to see the real impact of Helsinki. Individual news readers and commentators turned on Trump. They are patriots and he looked weak in front of an enemy. Most importantly, hard right military analysts on FoxNews were apoplectic. The military is part of Trump’s base. He lost the thought leaders in that base yesterday. Soldiers can’t afford to have a weak leader especially one who wavers in the face of the enemy.
Another important part of his base are older white people. As we know, they always vote. They also remember Reagan and the cold war. They know what a leader facing down an evil Russian looks like. They never stopped thinking that Russia is the enemy. Trump’s inability to confront a dictator a few feet from him will stick with them. Why?
No mater the spin today coming out of the White House, we have the pictures. Oh, Trump and his allies will talk tough but Americans know actual toughness when they see it. Yesterday they saw a wimp. And, if they are smart, the opposition will not let them forget. The political commercials write themselves. Imagine what a creative ad maker can do with a clip of Putin handing Trump the ball or him turning to wink at the dictator. Do you really think a video clip of Trump winking at Putin isn’t being going to be part of the next campaign?
The real resistance to Trump is deep in the design of our constitution and the institutions created to defend it. There are patriots in the FBI and in the Justice Department. The Intelligence Community exists to be sure that America isn’t attacked again on their watch. Make no mistake. We were attacked. The indictment of the 12 Russian attackers was released before Trump met Putin for a reason. Mueller knows everything. That other person who also knows everything is Trump. That is why Trump seems even more afraid as the walls come in on him.
I watched the Peter Strzok House hearing. What struck me most was not the circus atmosphere, or the stridency of the attacks against the flawed FBI agent, no, it was what they could not understand. Every day in America people wake up, get dressed and work with people of all types and opinions. They accomplish their goals for the day, are civil and encouraging to their work partners and team members, then go home at the end of the day to their families.
The representatives who attacked Strzok were genuinely mystified that a professional could put aside deeply held political beliefs and simply do their job. Surrounded every moment with partisans, the politicians had no filter to understand what the vast majority Americans do. When there are jobs and goals to meet, challenges to conquer, we put aside our personal beliefs and work together.
This unwinding of Trumpism will be painful. Some people will man the barricades to the bitter end to defend him. But I now believe the tide has begun to ebb. When a bully is shown to be a coward the aura of invincibility disappears very rapidly.
When a con man is revealed, he is the first to know he has to leave town. Yesterday, in Trumps land of OZ, Toto pulled back the curtain. The Great and Mighty Trump was caught pulling levers and shouting. Americans won’t forget.
I hope you’re right. And, of course, I love the Wizard of Oz reference at the end!