Katy Waldman thinks Trump is not enjoying his time as president (“Donald Trump is not having fun,” Slate, 3/21/2017):
If your name is Donald Trump, the past few weeks have brought a crescendo of bummers. Your party’s vaunted health care plan appears dead on arrival, beloved by none and mocked by all. The “fake news” has continued to harp on Russia, emboldened by treacherous leakers and disrespectful TV comics. You dragged yourself to yet another meet-and-greet with a foreign leader whose professorial eloquence made you feel like a shlub. This time, it was Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who proceeded to shame you and your Muslim ban with a flowery ode to America’s history of welcoming refugees…
Then, the crowning indignity: As reports swirled about your record low approval ratings, you had to play nice with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman who dares to disagree with you on trade and immigration but not in a sexy, impertinent way.
It’s worth reading, if not for the giddy feeling this troll-job delivers to your cerebral cortex than at least for the decent recap of all that’s happened to Trump and what Trump’s done over the last few months. But I get suspicious when Waldman (or anyone else, really) reads into his body language as indicative of his general mood:
As Merkel leans toward him for a handshake… Trump angles his body in the other direction and refuses to meet her eyes. His shoulders hunch, his arms hang limply, he shifts uneasily from side to side…
His tantrum is equal parts fury, self-loathing, and a desire for love and approval… He is enraged, exposed, alone.
There have been a lot of stories like this, of Trump wandering around the White House in his robe in the early evening, unsure of what to do with himself. Reports of demoralized aides, paranoia about leaks, Melania Trump living in New York instead of Washington, Trump’s television and Twitter addiction, his disinterest in policy meetings, his expensive escapes to Mar-A-Lago every weekend, all meant to paint the portrait that Trump is in over his head (he is) and that he hates his job (which he might).
But if we’re also to believe that Trump is an unrepentant narcissist with delusions of grandeur—and nothing he’s said or done could lead any rational person to believe anything to the contrary—then trying to square his supposed miserableness with how he views himself isn’t so neat.
I don’t want dive too deep into psychoanalysis because it’s an exercise that has no value outside of making his opponents feel better. But I think any diagnosis like the one Waldman offers should be countered by playing Devil’s advocate if for nothing else than to restate that we never have and probably never will know or understand what Donald Trump as a person believes. He is not Steve Bannon or Mike Pence in the sense that we can glean a very real understanding of who they are as people based on their words and actions. Of course, we can conclude that Trump is narcissistic and petty and a misogynist and a racist—and on and on and on—but his inconsistency in anything remotely ideological, and his incessant, unrelenting lying makes it impossible to know whether he believes anything. My own best guess I briefly noted months ago—that Trump is a nihilist.
But because he’s a narcissist of the highest (or lowest?) order, he has to understand the things that are coming to him, at least the “good” things that are coming to him. He’s going to be in the history books forever. He’s going to have a library named after him. He’s going to have a best-selling, ghostwritten memoir. He’ll be interviewed as often as he pleases. He’ll have defenders and historical revisionists paint him as a misunderstood genius who came to Washington to “shake things up” who instead got stymied by his own party. His funeral will be attended by future (and probably past) presidents, and it will be aired on television internationally as right-wing pundits sing his praises. He has by virtue of being President of the United States cemented a still-to-be-determined legacy, but a legacy nonetheless, none of which would be certain had he remained a semi-successful real estate mogul and reality TV star. There’s little else an unrepentant narcissist could ask for.
So it’s more than possible that Trump isn’t enjoying himself at the moment, but unless the details of his relationship with Russia prove too explosive for him to escape, or unless he horribly botches a response to a crisis that even his staunchest defenders will have a hard time spinning, he’ll come out on the other end just fine. He’s too incapable of self-reflection to stay miserable for too long.