Please, Like Me

January 10, 2018

I’m told that there are “explosive” revelations in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, but so far I haven’t seen anything I didn’t already know. Leaving aside the book’s many inaccuracies and typos, we’ve heard this story before. Since even before Trump’s inauguration, his staff and advisers at all levels have been telling the same tale of an ignorant, undisciplined, narcissistic, petty, and easily bored man who is now arguably the most powerful man in the world. No one should be surprised that Trump has no coherent set of political beliefs, long-term strategies, or goals. It should also be obvious by now that he doesn’t understand government or his role in it, let alone the responsibility for governing the most heavily armed nation in the history of the world. He is, as my brother-in-law put it, a buffoon.

That said, one passage, quoted by Ezra Klein, reminded me of something I had noticed long ago:

“It was obvious to everyone that if [Trump] had a north star, it was just to be liked,” says Wolff. “He was ever uncomprehending about why everyone did not like him, or why it should be so difficult to get everyone to like him.”

Trump’s staffers confirm the characterization. “The president fundamentally wants to be liked,” Walsh says in the book. “He just fundamentally needs to be liked so badly.”

Either I’m projecting or I’ve just noticed this because of my struggles with this same issue, which I have described in the past as a “pathological need to be liked.” I used to believe that everything would be OK if I could just make everyone my friend, which led me to some rather disastrous interactions with people who clearly were not and were never going to be my friends.

One of the ways people like me try to get everyone to like them involves self-denial and self-sacrifice. I was taught, as Mormon scripture says,

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God (Mosiah 2:17).

Service is a good thing, and people serve others for a lot of different reasons. For me, a primary motivation was that I just wanted to be liked, maybe even loved.

People who need desperately to be liked will do and say just about anything for that impossible goal. When you’re with someone, your immediate goal is approval and acceptance, so you change your attitude and opinion to fit the moment. Even your most deeply held beliefs can be sacrificed to the god of approbation. My wife told me many years ago that, when we were missionaries, one of her companions told her, “I don’t like Elder Williams. He seems to be a different person depending on who he’s around.” I was horrified, first to know that she didn’t like me, but second because I knew she was right. The scary thing is that it wasn’t conscious. Like Zelig or one of those reptilians who live in the tunnels under Salt Lake City, I was a shape-shifter mentally, if not physically (full disclosure: I’ve been in the tunnels, and they are, literally and figuratively, quite pedestrian). We see some of this self-malleability in White House staff observations that Mr. Trump tends to make decisions based on the last person who talked to him.

In a strange but real way, such constant recalibration of the psyche is a profoundly narcissistic behavior, even if it manifests itself as extreme self-abnegation. Nothing is as important as being liked, so your focus is on satisfying your own ego even as you obliterate it. One predictable consequence of such a morphing self is that, eventually, you can’t remember what is actually you and what is just a tactic for being liked. In the drive to build up your ego, you end up whittling away at it until there’s not much left.

I lived that way for far too long in this pattern of narcissistic self-effacement until I encountered people who not only took advantage of my imagined generosity and returned scorn and hatred. I’m not being facetious when I say that I’m grateful for a few people who treated me with disdain and cruelty. I think I’d already begun to come out of these patterns of narcissism, albeit slowly, when I became aware that people I’d tried to help or befriend considered me beneath contempt. I’ll give one example.

At the encouragement of a couple of friends (real ones, mind you), I wrote a series of posts on postmodernism and how it had been appropriated by some defenders Mormonism. I spent a lot of time discussing what I meant by postmodernism and exactly how and why it had been applied to the religion of my birth. Going into it, my goal wasn’t to argue for or against anything but simply to review the interesting ways people had merged seemingly incompatible ideas about truth and religion. One person began asking me questions in an online forum, and I tried my best to explain the concepts I was discussing, but it was slow going because my correspondent didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about and instead wanted to talk about Pragmatism and William James, which were outside of the topic I had covered. I tried my best to be patient and kind, but the discussion never seemed to get anywhere. As I had so many times before, I had perhaps unconsciously started to make my primary goal not to explain my arguments but for this person to like me. As frustrating as the direction of the conversation was, I felt like I was making a friend.

Then another friend shared with me a private discussion the Pragmatist was having with his friends elsewhere, boasting of how much fun he was having in exposing my stupidity and “mopping the floor” with me in the debate we were having. And here I never thought we were having a debate at all. I reacted with hurt and anger and vented both at this guy and his beliefs. I suppose I wanted him to understand how hurt I was, which again was quite narcissistic. It was all about me, wasn’t it? For quite a while, I returned all the nastiness he sent to me (openly, at this point). Previously, when someone had treated me like that, I just walked away and licked my emotional wounds. But this time, I couldn’t let go, and I continued an acrimonious interaction with this guy for a few years. (Just writing years is kind of horrifying when I think of it.)

With one phrase he finally broke the cycle: he wrote, sarcastically, that we “love each other like brothers,” and brothers fight. I’m not sure why that struck me, but I finally realized I was the only one of us who cared at all about our relationship, such as it was. For me, the relationship produced nothing but hurt and anger, which I still longed to overcome; for him, it meant nothing at all.

That’s when I realized just how stupid it was to care what someone like him thought of me (he’s not a bad person, but I magnified everything in my quest to nurse my bruised ego). Or anyone else, for that matter. I have friends who like me because of who I am, not because I’m desperate for them to like me. If you have to work hard to get someone to like you, chances are they don’t like you. And the truth beneath the need to be liked by others is that we don’t like ourselves. Perhaps the whittling away of the self is intentional in that there will be nothing left to dislike when it’s gone.

I had to get to a place where I wasn’t consumed by what other people thought of me. Obviously, I’m not advocating living a life with no regard for the feelings of others, in which case I’d be a sociopath. What I have learned is to live so that I like myself and what I do. If I do something good or kind, it’s because I want to be good and kind, not because I’m looking for approval.

I’m not entirely free of this disabling neediness (exhibit A being this rather self-absorbed post), but I’m working on it.

But getting back to Trump:

Trump doesn’t care about policy or politics or ideology or coalitions. He cares about Trump. His dream was to put his name on buildings and in tabloids, and now he has put his name on the most important building on the planet and on the front page of most every newspaper in the world. Yet the coverage he gets, outside of a few conservative outlets, is horrible, the worst of any president in memory. He cannot perform his job well enough to be liked or respected, but he only wanted the job in the first place because it would force the whole world to like and respect him — and he is being driven to rage and paranoia by the resulting dissonance, disappointment, and hurt.

Imagine being Donald Trump. Imagine reading about yourself every day and knowing these awful things are being said by your friends, your aides, your allies, perhaps even your family. Imagine knowing you can’t trust anyone around you, suspecting they’re badmouthing you constantly, raising their social status by diminishing yours.

Imagine seeing your stability questioned, your patriotism impugned, your intellect dismissed. Imagine doing the impossible — winning the presidency! — only to be treated as a national embarrassment.

This isn’t what Trump wanted. And it’s not clear it’s something he can bear. A more capable, competent, and stable person would, by now, have either changed their behavior to receive more of the response they crave or given up on getting the response they crave. But Trump appears to exist in an unhappy middle ground, rage-tweeting through his mornings, retreating to his golf club on weekends, searching for the validation he craves in his Twitter feed and on Fox & Friends but never getting it from the elite tastemakers he’s always sought to impress.

It took me a long time to get over it, but I have “given up on getting the response [I] crave.” I can’t imagine being 71 and still feeling and behaving that way, much less being the President of the United States.

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Why This Election is Rigged

October 17, 2016

It’s been interesting watching the Trump campaign in the last couple of weeks. The Access Hollywood tape has caused the candidates and his surrogates to flail wildly to find something to distract attention from what probably was a mortal wound.

But really, this campaign has been over for weeks, and I’m certain the Trump campaign folks know it, but I really can’t tell if the reality of the situation has permeated Donald Trump thicket of carbon-fiber hair and into his brain. One hint that he does understand what’s going on is the resurrection of one word: rigged.

Trump began talking about a “rigged” system in April, calling it a “a rigged, disgusting, dirty system,” after Ted Cruz won some GOP delegates with superior organizing and planning.

We didn’t hear much about a rigged system until August, when Trump was again languishing in the polls after a poorly staged convention (and a much better-presented Democratic convention): “And I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest,” he said.  Another spike in his use of “rigged” came, unsurprisingly, after the first presidential debate, which pretty much everyone agrees did not go well for Mr. Trump. Publicly, Trump tried to put the best face on it, retweeting online polls showing an overwhelming victory, but that one word, “rigged,” once again showed he knew he had lost.

The pattern is pretty obvious: when Trump is doing well, it’s his own doing. No one should be surprised that in a disastrous couple of weeks of casting about for someone to blame–SNL? seriously?–Trump’s speeches have been peppered with that word again and with dark suggestions that there will be massive and widespread voter fraud, particularly in precincts with high African-American demographics.

Could there be some attempts at voter fraud? Sure, but it would require a massive conspiracy in both parties and across multiple states, making it highly unlikely. And even if there were such a massive conspiracy, it would matter only in a close election–and require millions of fake votes.

But this election isn’t close. Trump had one task only in this election: win the states that Romney won and pick up a number of swing states that had voted for Obama. The way to do this, of course, was to attempt to appeal to moderate and undecided voters. That shouldn’t have been a difficult task, as Hillary Clinton is perhaps the second-most disliked major-party candidate in memory–second only to Mr. Trump.

What he needed to do was try to attract college-educated whites, women, and persuadable minorities.And indeed, his campaign kept telling us that was what he was going to do. But what we got instead was classic Trump: an appeal to African-Americans that traded in racist stereotypes (they all live in poor, violent, inner cities, and they need help from the government (him, actually) because they can’t take care of themselves). His appeal to women consisted of trotting out women who accused Bill Clinton sexual assault and then denying he’d ever done what he had bragged about to Billy Bush. Of course, the denials just opened the floodgates, and women are rushing forward to tell the same story about Trump. At this point, no one gives a damn about Bill Clinton’s past because Trump’s behavior just makes him look hypocritical.

Is it any wonder that the operative word this week–in almost all of Trump’s tweets and speeches–is “rigged.” Others have written about how irresponsible and, frankly, unpatriotric and un-American it is for Trump to call into question the sanctity of our electoral process, and I won’t go into that other than to say that, if violence does result from unhappy Trumpistas after the election, we know whom to blame.

As for me, I’m content to know that, finally, inevitably, Trump knows he’s lost. Roland Barthes once wrote that expressing love to another is an “affirmation of extreme solitude.” We tell other people we love them because we understand we are alone, and we hope that they will love us in return and rid us of our loneliness. In the same way, Trump’s assertions that he would be winning, save for a “rigged” system, is a pathetic acknowledgement that he’s lost, and he knows it.

Expect to hear “rigged” even more often over the new few weeks, as the scope of Trump’s loss sinks in. I’ll smile every time I hear it.

 

 


Top Ten Reasons I Support Trump

December 15, 2015

Many of my friends have expressed shock and dismay when I’ve told them I plan to vote for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries and (God willing) the general election. To clear up some confusion, I thought I would just give a list of the excellent reasons I support this great man.

10. He’s going to “make America great again.” Who could argue with such a simple yet detailed plan? Some people say it can’t be done, but the Donald knows better. America won’t be great until he says so.

9. When Trump is president, those hedge fund guys won’t be robbing us blind anymore. Instead of paying 23.8% in capital gains taxes, they’ll be paying 25% in income tax. That’ll show ’em.

8. This country used to be a peaceful place where people of all races were treated equally and prospered. But then 11 million murderers and rapists showed up. We need to get rid of them and put up a big wall to keep them from coming back. It may take 20 years and $600 billion to do the job, but dammit, it’s worth it.

7. Two words: weaponized hairpiece.

6. Trump is our adversaries’ worst nightmare. Putin, the ayatollahs, the Chinese–they’d all be quaking in their boots if they had to face him across the table instead of some idiot diplomats who know what they’re doing.

5. Our budget deficit is out of control, and the best way to deal with it is to cut taxes by $11 trillion over the next 10 years.

4. Just admit it: Muslims are scary. We’ll never have peace and security as long as there are people in our country who make us afraid.

3. Diplomacy is overrated. Let’s just bomb the shit out of everyone.

2. Someone has to close up the Internet. Only foolish people value freedom of speech.

1. He’s the perfect man for our times: ignorant, greedy, narcissistic, and afraid.


Trump Diaries, Sept. 2, 2015

September 2, 2015

[Authenticity cannot be verified. —Ed.]

September 2, 2015

Hit the ground running this morning. I’m trying to broaden my horizons and talk to as many real Americans as I can, so in that spirit, I asked our doorman, Manny, what he thought of my Immigration Reform proposal. He looked a little flustered and said, “Maybe you should rethink it. It plays into some negative stereotypes.” I didn’t have time to ask him what he meant, so I flipped through the proposal in the car on the way to the office. I have to say those fellas did a helluva job on the proposal. I didn’t know half that stuff. Somebody told me that illegal immigrants contribute $150 billion to our economy, and more than 70% pay state and federal taxes, including Social Security and Medicare, which they are not eligible to receive. If I hadn’t skimmed the proposal this morning, I wouldn’t have had any idea that these freeloaders receive more than $4 billion in free tax credits. I’m gonna have to remember to ask Corey and Mike what they mean by “free tax credits.” Also, someone should make sure Manny is here legally.

But maybe Manny is right, and the tone is wrong. I’ve asked my speechwriters to improve the tone by putting more emphasis on the rapes and murders, though that bit about the “trail of blood” was awesome. The whole thing needs to be punchier. Find me some more examples like those illegals who attacked a 64-year-old woman, “crushing her skull and eye sockets with a hammer, raping her, and murdering her.” That’ll hit home.

I was totally on a roll, crushing it.

As soon as I got to the office, however, things took a sour turn. I had on my schedule a meeting with the Hair Club for Men, and that kind of stuff always gets me excited. I was all set to talk about how I get my hair so naturally thick and perfectly coiffed, but when the door opened, in came those geeks from the Club for Growth–you know, those idiots who say they want to shrink the government down to the size at which they can drown it in the bathtub. They want me to sign a pledge that I’ll never raise taxes. I don’t know why they keep asking because I’ve already said I’m going to lower taxes and make sure the hedge-fund guys pay their fair share. How much more specific do I have to get?

So, this loser ex-Congressman (he totally failed trying to run for governor of California) comes in and starts pitching his no-new-taxes bullshit. Yeah, like I’m stupid enough to fall for that. Who do they think I am, Poppy Bush? I told these guys they were barking up the wrong tree. Trump signs pledges for no one! But I said I sympathize with their goals, so I told them if they picked their top candidates for the House and Senate, I’d donate a million bucks to further the cause. So, this no-talent hack Mcin-something accuses me of trying to buy them off. If I’m going to buy someone off, it’s not going to be for pocket change. Who the hell do they think they are? I told them to get the hell out of my office and come back when the guy in charge isn’t named after a muppet.

Had lunch with Glenn Beck. That is one scary fella. If he doesn’t have his chalkboard handy, all he does is cry.

Spent the afternoon getting my tweets just right. This one was for the ages:

The president of the pathetic Club For Growth came to my office in N.Y.C. and asked for a ridiculous $1,000,000 contribution. I said no way!

Pathetic and ridiculous. That’ll teach ’em.

Then I went in for the kill:

When I intelligently turned down The Club For Growth crazy request for $1,000,000, they got nasty. What a waste of money that would have been.

Still crushing it. For real.

Got an unexpected gift from Jeb Bush in the form of direct attacks, in English and Spanish, no less. Hey, numb-nuts, we speak English in this country! So, your wife is an immigrant, big freaking deal! So’s mine, only M. is from a real country, and I didn’t pick her up on some high school charity trip, neither. M. has a college degree, and I married her because she’s so smart, not because she’s a model. She could get a job anywhere she wants. All I’d have to do is pick up the phone, and bam! she’s hired. At least my wife spoke English when I married her. Are we even sure Señora Bush is actually a citizen? Remember to get someone to check.

I hear Jeb wants to focus on policy, not personality. I guess you go with what you have. Obviously not much personality there. But how can he say I’m not outlining policy? I’ve been talking about it nonstop for months: greatness, victory, wall. That moron acts like I’m some kind of idiot. Everyone knows I’m brilliant. People are shocked at how smart I am! Who the hell is he? Calling in the Twitter guys now.