I seriously doubt Comrade President Trump has anything like an actual philosophy of life. That would require thoughtful consideration and self-reflection, neither of which are in his toolbox. I do, though, think he has a guiding principle. Well, let’s make that two related guiding principles, which are as follows:
- take anything you can get away with
- if you can get away with it, it’s okay.
As guiding principles go (and c’mon, guiding principles should go pretty far), these have the advantage of being simple and flexible, largely because they’re not constrained by anything like morality, decency, and honor. They apply to almost any situation or circumstance, and they’re completely self-justifying. It can be summed up in two tiny sentences: Can I get away with this? Okay then. That’s it, right there.
Trump’s guiding principles are grounded in very basic zero-sum motivations: greed and power. One person’s gain is equivalent to another’s loss. Only one of us can have it. If you have it, then I can’t have it; if I have it, you can’t.
Doesn’t even matter what ‘it’ is. An apartment. The presidency. A magazine cover. The last piece of pie. The last two pieces of pie. What matters is only one of us can have it. It all comes down to greed and power. Greed means I want it (or just as likely, I may not actually want it, but I want you NOT to have it). Power means I can take it (or I can prevent you from taking it). It’s self-justifying because if I want it and I have the power to take it without much consequence, then I deserve it — and you don’t.
Trump is such a hollow, empty, soulless motherfucker that having ‘it’ isn’t quite enough. As far as that goes, you NOT having ‘it’ isn’t quite enough. Taking ‘it’ without any real consequence, that isn’t quite enough either. You being unable to prevent Trump from taking ‘it’ isn’t quite enough. It’s also necessary to make sure others SEE that Trump has ‘it’ and you don’t, that he took ‘it’ and you couldn’t stop him. Everybody has to see that Trump won.
Examples? Sure, I’ve got examples. Here’s a small example. Back in 2017, TIME magazine reported that at state dinners, Trump gets two scoops of ice cream with his dessert while everyone else at the table gets just one. If you wanted two scoops of ice cream, you’d have to ask. Subordinates ask. (I’m going to come back to this in a minute.)
A more meaningful example: In his most recent book about Trump, Bob Woodward quotes him as saying this:
“The people at the Post are upset about the Khashoggi killing. That is one of the most gruesome things. You yourself have said. I saved his ass. I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop.”
Woodward is a former Washington Post reporter. WaPo has not been kind to Trump. He wants Woodward — and everybody at WaPo — to know he protected the Saudi ruler who had a WaPo reporter tortured, murdered, and dismembered. Trump wins, you lose, nothing you can do about it. He was able to help a despicable ruler get away with an international crime, and he gets a second scoop of ice cream.
A moment ago I said subordinates ask, which implies superiors don’t. Superiors don’t have to ask. If they ask, they expect it to be taken as a command. When Trump said to the President of Ukraine, “I would like you to do us a favor,” he wasn’t really asking for a favor. He was expecting obedience. On Saturday, in his telephone call with the Georgia Secretary of State, Trump said, “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.” You can hear in his voice how galling it was that he was forced to ask for a break, when he should have been given one as a matter of course. You can be sure, if Georgia SoS Raffensperger had agreed to ‘give him a break’ Trump would make certain everybody knew he was the one in charge and Raffensperger merely complied.
John Adams, in reply to a letter from Thomas Jefferson (Tangent Alert: the letter was about the partition of Poland, of all things, and increasing turmoil in Europe — and really, if you’ve got a moment, Adams’ letter is worth reading, if only to see what real statesmen used to be like), wrote this:
Power always sincerely, conscientiously, de tres bon foi, believes itself Right. Power always thinks it has a great soul, and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God service, when it is violating all his laws.
Greed and power. Take everything you can get away with; if you can get away with it, it’s okay. I suspect Comrade Trump truly believes he has vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; but I’m also convinced he has panicky moments in which he knows himself to be a hollow, frightened, shell of a human being who is only valued by others because of his purported power and genuine greed.
I feel compassion for the panicked hollow Trump. I truly do. But that doesn’t prevent me from also wanting to see that wretched motherfucker taken away in handcuffs and tried for crimes against the American people. At a time when the nation whose care he’s been charged with is experiencing the worst public health crisis in modern history, this piddling, grasping, spiteful bastard is only interested in protecting himself.