Since the pandemic hit, Donald Trump’s callousness and ineptitude has brought about a man-made disaster. The United States has over 170,000 dead, the economy is failing, and every other problem we face seems to have gotten worse. The president’s popularity has sunk to levels enjoyed by “Sitting next to a guy on the bus, who just shit his pants” and “Getting hit just below the knees with a thick stick.” If the polls are predictors (they aren’t but…), Trump will lose the November election by a landslide. Trump knows this.
Trump also thinks that the popularity hit is unfair and untrue. Watch Trump’s Axios interview and it is painfully clear that the man is delusional. He sincerely believes that he makes sound decisions and that he’s put in the maximum hard work necessary to make the country better. He believes that he is the smartest, funniest, sexiest, most skillful, most charming, and most handsome person in the room. He has been told this all his life by hirelings and sycophants. Anyone who says different, is a jealous liar who wants his stuff and will ruin everything in order to destroy him. If this sounds like a Trump projection, it is. And, while it is untrue in general, it is not false to Trump.
Because Trump thinks that what is happening to him is unfair, he believes that the system which enables the “attacks” on him is unfair, or, in Trump parlance, rigged. Trump has held this conviction for decades, probably since he was a child. When Trump’s Atlantic City casinos started to fail, Trump first tried happy talk. He told the press that despite his casinos money problems they’d be a success (“Frankly, I think Atlantic City over the next two or three years will be far greater than anything I could ever do in Manhattan”). He also turned to bragging (“Let me tell you my biggest strength that nobody knows. My biggest strength is that I get the best people for the job. People want to work for me. Trump does well with management”). While both statements might seem ludicrous in hindsight, at the time, not only did Trump believe what he was saying as true, but the press reported his comments straight.
When his casinos continued to fail, he blamed others – his friend Steve Wynn, the “best people” he hired as executives, his workers, unions, Indian gaming tribes, African-Americans, New Jersey, New York City, and the banks. He complained that the system was rigged against him (chutzpah coming from a casino owner). When the heavy weight of debt forced his casinos to go from financially troubled to failures, Trump sidestepped the failures and psychically owned the debt. In Trump’s reality, he did not fail at running casinos, he became the “King of Debt,” an absurd honorific repeated by the business press.
In Too Much and Never Enough, Mary Trump writes that her uncle Donald knows the difference between right and wrong, and that he consciously makes decisions that he knows are morally wrong. That may be so. However, deeper than Trump’s situational decisions measured by what’s right and what’s wrong is Donald Trump’s belief that he is essentially right, that his world view is the correct world view, that his emotional information is valid, and that his reality is the dominant reality. While Donald Trump might believe that it is wrong to kill someone unless it is in self-defense, Trump’s definition of self-defense is self-referential. In Trump’s mind, locking up kids in cages is self-defense to protect him from losing support and validation, two things that he thinks of as life-sustaining. Because he is “simply trying to survive,” Donald Trump does not see himself as the villain that others do.
The conflict of Trump’s perception of himself and what the most of the world sees Trump fuels Trump’s victim-hood, putting Trump on the defensive, always. Even when Trump goes on offense, it is a defensive tactic. Like a porcupine, Trump’s primary reason for attack is preservation. Trump hits you before you can hit him. You hit Trump, Trump hits back harder. To bolster his defenses, Trump surrounds himself with toadies, “Yes Men,” and spawn. His cadre nurtures Trump’s reality with flattery, while serving as shields and sacrifices.
A good example is Michael Cohen, Trump’s former longtime lawyer and fixer. For decades Cohen served Trump faithfully, silencing scandal and dealing with “problems” by staging vicious counter attacks, burying critics in lawsuits, and buying people off. Michael Cohen did a great job for Trump. He was a useful tool until Trump saw Cohen as a liability, then he was abandoned. When Cohen rolled on Trump, Cohen became a threat and Trump attempted to crush him. Throughout their relationship Trump used Cohen defensively.
Two of Trump’s main defensive weapons are the lie and make-believe. While both weapons are untruths, the lie and make-believe are different things. When Trump says something like, “I never asked Ukraine for information on Joe Biden,” that is a lie, a deliberate distortion of what we know to be true. We have seen the transcript where Trump asks for information on Joe Biden from Ukraine. Trump acknowledged the transcript as valid. When Trump double-backs on the truth, he is lying. We can argue over whether Trump’s lie is calculated or instinctual, but it is a lie that he uses to defend himself. In order to defend that lie, Trump uses more lies, as well as make-believe.
When Trump says something like, “The conversation with Ukraine is a perfect call,” he uses make-believe. While that make-believe might be untruthful to us, it is not a lie. It is a reflection of Trump’s reality and his self-image.
To distinguish the difference between the lie and make-believe we look at measures. Can we measure whether Trump asked for information from Ukraine on Joe Biden? Yes, the information is in the transcript and has been validated by many outside sources. Can we measure whether the Ukraine call was perfect? Because, the definition of “perfection” lives in the speaker’s mind, “perfection” is subjective, measured only by the speaker. So, objectively, there is no measure for the “perfect call.” The best we can do is deny that a phone call can be “perfect,” and even then, we risk falling into a metaphysical debate. What we cannot deny is that in Trump’s reality his call is perfect. Trump lies to protect make-believe.
I’ve spent over a thousand words deconstructing Trump, reality, make-believe, and lies because, over the past four years, we have spent millions of words building a Trump that doesn’t exist. We’ve confused Trump’s primitive defenses with grand strategy and projected our fears on his shallow intentions. We measure Trump against Machiavelli and Mussolini. We’ve fashioned a master manipulator in league with Rasputin and Hitler, a supervillian whose every word is an attempt to gaslight us. This is fiction. The truth is that Trump is a primitive liar, an intellectually challenged man who has limited tools to maintain his sheltered reality, whose untruths and actions have resulted in high disapproval ratings, a lack of significant or even minor presidential accomplishments, and the failure of his business, Trump Org. For three years, many of us have been sparring with shadows. Fact is, Trump is not that complicated.
Apologies to children for this next statement: Donald Trump is a child. He is a spoiled, manipulative child who has learned how to get his way through bullying, lying, and throwing tantrums. He is not intellectually mature enough to persuade through reason nor strong enough to use sustained force. His strategy, if it can be called that, is to conquer our emotions by flattery or fear. Failing that, he tries to frustrate, to wear us out so we give up and walk or we haul off and smack him. When we walk, Trump gets his way. When we smack him, Trump plays the victim. This is not stable genius stuff Trump is playing around with. Anyone who has raised, taught, babysat, or even observed children recognizes Trump’s “strategy” as a primitive power play.
A child, in “need” of candy, throws himself down in the middle of a grocery store aisle in tantrum. The child’s adult acknowledges the child’s emotions (“I know you are upset”) without accepting their closed reality (“I need candy to survive”). The adult asks the child to get up. If that fails, the adult has a few choices to make. She can barter with or give in to the child – two tactics that validate the child’s tantrum and tell the child that their desire is a need and that manipulation is a successful tool for obtaining needs.
Another tactic is reasoning with the child, “treating the child as an adult” in hopes that he will understand and behave. Problem with that tactic is that the child is not an adult. He interprets attempts to reason as surrender. His need has been acknowledged as debatable, thus valid. The tantrum proves to be a successful tactic for garnering and holding the adult’s attention.
Also tempting is picking up the child like a sack o’ potatoes, tucking him under the arm, leaving the store, and locking him in the car. Again, while the child might not like the manhandling, he notes that his actions can provoke a response that, again, makes him and his “need” the center of attention. Worse, because the manhandling is unpleasant, the child see himself as victim and his cause just.
The very few times I tried the grocery store aisle tantrum ploy, my mom asked me what was wrong. When I replied, “I want wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah…”, she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, said, “Well, I guess I am going to get back to shopping,” and walked off. As soon as she disappeared from sight, my audience was gone. I went silent and waited for her to come back. When she failed to show, I got up and ran down the aisle looking for her. I found her standing just around the corner, waiting for me (but not showing it). I’d grab her hand and follow her throughout the store like a quiet little puppy.
Because my mom refused to indulge my tantrums, I stopped throwing them. Kids being kids, I tried many other tactics to get my way, but, unless I was extremely savvy – one time my brother and I went on strike, marching around the house with homemade “picket signs” after we were sent to our rooms, a tactic that worked exactly once – my parents never caved. I learned that playing games was not the best way to get what I wanted.
Donald Trump throws tantrums. Donald Trump throws tantrums many times a day, often all day long. One could argue that the whole Trump presidency has been one long tantrum that, because of his short attention span and lack of follow through, shifts in themes but never ends. When Trump throws his fits, we rarely do what my mom did with me. Rather than acknowledge Trump’s emotions and then deny him the ability or room to use his emotions to dictate reality, we tend to attack the tantrum.
By focusing on Trump’s tantrums, we engage and indulge. We abandon consensus reality and try to barter and reason with Trump on his terms, thus acknowledging his reality as valid for us. Once we’ve opened the portal to Trump’s reality, his monsters come oozing out in the form of lies and make-believe. We attack the monsters, but, because they are untruths, we are in combat with an amorphous blob that refuses to take a single form. We throw punches at the blob and get stuck.
Our fight with the monsters emboldens Trump. He strikes out at people, mores, and laws. We attempt to punish him, which is exactly what we should do. Unfortunately, we are co-parenting Trump with a freeloading, enabling meth-head who encourages Trump’s reality because it makes us upset and gives the crappy parent more power. Backed by this ingrate, Trump is able to turn our attempts to punish into a victim’s win.
We rarely deal with the Trump child by looking at our fellow shoppers and announce, “Little Donald is throwing a tantrum. He thinks that he needs candy. He does not. He will cry to make us feel bad and to make you think we are bad parents. Well, get used to the noise, because Little Donald is not getting his way. We will continue to shop and if he wants to stay here all night long and scream, that is his choice. Goodbye, Donald.”
Since Trump started getting election jitters, he has reacted with a series of tantrums, all of which are attempts to replace consensus reality with one that supports his version of what is real. The tantrums are a combination of lies and make-believe, gross fabrications and statements that Trump very much believes are true. Central to his make-believe is that he is infallible, deserving of re-election, and that the system is rigged against him. Consensus reality says that Trump is fallible, he doesn’t deserve to be re-elected, and the system is not rigged against him; but, how do you debate this with a child? You don’t. To debate is to accept that Trump’s reality is worthy of debate. If Trump’s worldview is worthy of debate, then his reality worthy of consideration and, thus, adaptation.
Take Trump’s recent insistence that the results of November’s election need to be decided on election day, and, that, if they aren’t, we must re-do the election. The statements are in reaction to Trump’s poor polling, and, thus, defensive. The statements are also untrue, but not lies. They are make-believe for one simple reason: While Trump doesn’t know what he is talking about – he has no inkling election law or what is in the Constitution – he believes what he is saying is true because it feels true to him. His gut informs his make-believe.
To be fair, those ignorant about election law, knowing only what they experiences through the media, going from the gut, it is reasonable to expect immediate election results. I mean, what is the point of the 24-hour TV tallying on election day if we don’t know who won right now?
Common sense says that if the election breaks down and the results are questionable, we would re-do the election until we got the process right. In this case, Trump’s reality sounds reasonable; however, the reality that is the law – in this case, our consensus reality – says otherwise.
Article Two of the Constitution lays out how presidential elections are carried out. The Constitution is clear that Congress sets the day of the election. Clause 4 reads “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing [sic] the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” Clause 4 rebuts Trump’s claim that he can reschedule, postpone or cancel the election.
In 1934, Congress decided that “The Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November, in every even numbered year, is established as the day for the election, in each of the States and Territories of the United States, of Representatives and Delegates to the Congress commencing on the 3d day of January next thereafter” (U.S. Code § 7.). Until and unless Congress revokes and replaces U.S. Code § 7, this year election day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
Nothing in the Constitution or federal law says that election results must be posted on “the Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November, in every even numbered year.” While Constitution states that “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January,” January 20th is the expiration date for the reigning president, nothing more. If a presidential election is not certified by January 20, the Speaker of the House assumes the position until the results are certified, which can happen whenever. Reality is that there is no firm date for reporting the results. What we have is a window and an ideal.
By default, the window for choosing a president and certifying the election is from “Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November” to the “20th day of January.” Ideally, that window provides enough time for the popular vote to be tallied, for the Electoral College delegates to vote, for the Electoral College votes to be tallied, for the Electoral College to send the results to Congress, and for Congress to certify the election. This is the legal process for deciding who becomes president after the popular vote is done. The process can happen “quickly” or it can drag on as it did in the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which wasn’t decided until January 6, 2001.
While the Bush/Gore lag is rare for how long it dragged on, the delay is not uncommon. Many, if not most presidential elections see longish delays between the vote and the official posting of results. For more than half of this country’s history, delays were unavoidable simply because communication technology was no more advanced than overland mail delivery or the telegraph. Even today, the “instant” results we see are projections by news agencies, not the official tally, which usually isn’t finished until December.
As for a re-vote: The Constitution does not allow for do-overs for any reason whatsoever. Because there is no constitutional clause or law that provides for a re-vote, we get one shot every four years to elect a president. The vote that ends “Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November” is what we are stuck with, no matter what else happens. Cities can get hit by natural disasters on election day and the vote “it is what it is.” Terrorist can attack, Kim Jong Un can rain missiles on us, or far right extremists can attack polling places, what happens on election day is what it is. Cheating, ballot stuffing, fraud, or Russian interference can happen, it is what it is. The results stand. There is no provision in the Constitution or federal law that allows for a presidential election do-over. This is a flaw in the system.
Note that in my breakdown over what the law states in regards to election results and do-overs, I did not argue with Trump over his statements. I did not accept his make-believe assertion as worthy of debate. I looked at his statements and said “No. This is what the law says.” I asserted legal reality, which is our consensus reality, without considering Trump’s reality in any way whatsoever. Trump can rail against consensus reality and try to assert his own, but, once we refuse to play his tantrum game, he might as well be fighting gravity.
The key to beating Trump is to reject his reality, deflect his projections and bullshit, refuse to debate his make-believe and lies (or to even parse them for meaning or intention), and to drive forward with facts and preparation. Don’t worry about election day. Prepare for it and vote. Don’t worry about Trump demanding a new election or refusing to leave. Prepare for it, vote, and organize.
Even if Trump isn’t bluffing about his post-election intentions, he is projecting a make-believe scenario which he must work to bring into existence. When we engage in serial worry and rumination, Trump succeeds in pawning his work off on us, thus enlisting us in his cause. Our public worrying says, “Trump’s reality is valid.” Allow ourselves to be suckered into debate and we accept Trump’s make-believe worthy of real-world consideration.
To defeat Trump, his untruth, and his distorted sense of reality, we must respond to his tantrums with “I see that you are upset. You are not getting candy. Candy is not a meal. It is what it is.” Trump might kick and scream, he might throw cereal boxes and hit at people, he might piss himself and cry, but that is all he can do, because, by denying his reality, his make-believe and his lies, we have blocked his path of action.
We’ve spent more than three years indulging a spoiled child by letting him impose his reality on us. No more. For the next 70+ days, we need to act like responsible adults.