Maybe it all comes down to this: Donald Trump is afraid of being laughed at. Maybe the underlying motive for much/most/all of his most astonishing, reprehensible behavior is just that he’s terrified of being embarrassed, of being publicly humiliated. Of being laughed at.
Take yesterday’s appalling photo-op. Throughout much of the day a big chunk of the online world devoted itself to mocking and laughing at Trump for turning off the lights at the White House and hiding in a basement bunker because angry protesters were at his doorstep. For example:
Trump’s response? A short stupid speech followed by a long stupid walk for a photo-op. But that photo-op was made possible by his order to send uniformed goons to bully and beat and pepper spray peaceful protesters. It wasn’t just a photo-op; it was chest-thumping. It was a ‘show of strength’ by a coward entirely lacking in real strength. It was Trump saying, “Who’s hiding now, bitches? Who’s laughing now?”
He’d offered that same stop-the-laughing prescription to US governors earlier yesterday during his conference call. He said:
“It was incredible what happened in the state of Minnesota. They were a laughingstock, all over the world. They took over the police department. The police were running down the street, sirens blazing, the rest of them running, it was on camera. And then they wiped out, you probably have to build a new one. I’ve never seen anything like it and the whole world was laughing.”
The whole world, laughing. That’s the most humiliating thing possible. The fear of derisive laughter has been a constant theme in the Trumpverse. Back in 1987, when Trump first publicly considered running for president, he took out full page adverts in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe saying, ‘The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help.’
There’s reason to believe Trump actually decided to run for president after the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, in which he was the butt of jokes from both the MC Seth Meyers (“Donald Trump said recently he’s got a great relationship with ‘the blacks.’ Unless the Blacks are a family of white people, I bet he’s mistaken”) and, worse, President Obama (“[J]ust recently, in an episode of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ — at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. These are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night”).
During his presidential campaign Trump often railed about the US being laughed at. NATO was laughing at us, he said. China, laughing at us. OPEC, the European Union, Japan, the Taliban, Mexico, ISIS, Russia — all of them, laughing at us. All that laughter would stop, he claimed, once he was elected president.
It hasn’t, of course. The laughter has increased. At first the laughter was because Trump is a buffoon. In the diplomatic world, he was laughed at because he’s an uncultured lout who’d weaseled his way into power. In the realm of domestic politics he was laughed at because he’s a pompous jackass who lacks even the most basic understanding of governance. The laughter never stopped, but now it’s often tinged with anxiety.
That anxiety is justified. Yesterday’s scene could have come from some absurdist comedy routine. The most irreligious president ever, moments after calling himself “ally of all peaceful protesters,” had police forcibly remove peaceful protesters (including members of the clergy and the press) from a public space in order to pose awkwardly in front of a church, holding a Bible, which he’s almost certainly never read and doesn’t believe in. Afterwards, he literally had men with riot shields line up so he could walk through them like some conquering hero in a Roman triumph. There’s some dark comedy in that moment — or there would be, if it wasn’t real.
The fact is, we have valid reasons to be nervous. Because 1) Trump is afraid, and 2) he has power, and 3) he’s willing to abuse it, because 4) Republicans in Congress lack the integrity and patriotism to oppose Trump’s lunatic abuse of power, and 5) some military leaders are apparently willing to give illegal orders and 6) some military personnel are apparently willing to follow illegal orders (as evidenced by the use of military helos last night to intimidate and harass protesters).
It’s crazy that we have to start asking ourselves questions like: Will some governors actually follow Trump’s demand to activate National Guard units to ‘dominate’ the ‘battle space’ of American cities? Will Trump actually send US military troops to ‘impose order’ in cities in states that have refused to activate the National Guard? Will military leaders be willing to order those troops to fire on civilians? Will those troops actually follow such orders?
The answers to those questions scare the hell out of me.
This shit just isn’t funny anymore. It turns out, it never was funny. We just didn’t know.