Self-inflicted Wounds

Alan Zendell, May 13, 2107

Donald Trump has said many times that being unpredictable makes him a stronger adversary when he negotiates deals. In Warcraft and Governance, I asserted that what he called unpredictability was part of a strategy of misdirection, diverting attention, and creating chaos among those who opposed him. It worked superbly during the 2016 election campaign, but I questioned whether it would serve him well when he had to govern.

As I look over the events of the past week, I wonder if I asked the right question. Was what we saw during the campaign Donald Trump brilliantly navigating his way to the presidency, or was he simply being true to his nature at a time when a large portion of the electorate was angry enough to buy it, while his opponent systematically self-destructed? Indications are that Trump resists all attempts to curb his instincts and continues to do, tweet, and say whatever he pleases. As public confidence in him unravels, his impulsiveness looks less like a brilliant strategy than an impending train wreck.

Consider the furor over his firing of James Comey. William Barr, who served as Attorney General under George H. W. Bush (41) wrote a pointed opinion piece in today’s Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/former-attorney-general-trump-made-the-right-call-on-comey/2017/05/12/0e858436-372d-11e7-b4ee-434b6d506b37_story.html?utm_term=.1253caca6283). Barr said that in announcing his findings that Hillary Clinton had not done anything that warranted prosecution, Comey had “arrogated the Attorney General’s authority to himself”. Barr further wrote that he knows “of no former senior Justice Department official — Democrat or Republican — who does not view Comey’s conduct in July to have been a grave usurpation of authority”; that is, he deserved to be fired. Inasmuch as none of the people attacking Comey’s firing dispute that, I’m inclined to agree.

If Comey deserved to be fired, why all the fuss? Why were there three different stories on consecutive days about how and when the firing occurred? A simple statement by the president that reiterated what most of the Justice community believed to be true should have received bi-partisan support. The problem is, Trump didn’t do that.

He began by complaining that the FBI was taking too long with its investigation of Russia’s tampering with our election, creating the clear impression that he thought Comey, as FBI Director, might be out to get him. But both Barr and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, in his testimony earlier this week, stated clearly that Comey’s role in the Russia investigation was virtually nil. It is being conducted by career agents who never put politics ahead of country. Personally, I believe that’s true.

Trump called the idea of collusion with Russia a fraud cooked up by the Democrats. He ranted about fake news and undercut his own staff who were trying to defend his position. Somehow, he concluded that it was all the fault the press corps, when even his principal spokespeople said publicly that they couldn’t keep up with the changing stories put out by the White House. Then he threatened to end daily press briefings, (a red flag if there ever was one,) because he’s such an active, dynamic leader, no one could be expected to keep up with him.

By far, the most bizarre event of a week in which, largely because of Trump’s own tweets, Comey’s firing was being compared to the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973, he committed an absolutely shocking misstep. After, for no apparent reason, thanking Comey in the letter in which he fired him, for informing him that he wasn’t the target of the FBI’s investigation, Trump then threatened Comey with the possibility that their conversations had been taped.

Recall that the pivotal events that ultimately led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as president all revolved around White House tapes. In the midst of an uproar over his motives being watched by the entire world, Trump managed to make it appear that he had pressured the FBI Director over an ongoing investigation (which many legal scholars believe is an impeachable offense) and raise the issue of taped conversations by the president, which never occurred to anyone until Trump tweeted about it. Why would he do either of those things, which could only intensify the storm growing around him?

It seems inexplicable, unless you look carefully at the behavior of someone suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (Narcissism, (https://wordpress.com/stats/day/americathebeautiful.blog). Is it possible that the explanation for Trump’s actions is that he suffers from a compulsion he can’t control? Could his need for admiration and adoration cause him to create conflicts that make him appear the victim of a conspiracy which only he can single-handedly overcome? Does any other explanation make more sense than that?

It’s being widely reported (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/05/12/white-house-staff-react-in-real-time-as-trump-tweets-jesus) that senior White House staff are at their wits’ end over Trump’s inconsistencies and temper tantrums. (Nixon was famous for them, too.) Many years of studying science has made me a believer in Occam’s Razor. If there’s a simple, obvious explanation staring you in the face, it’s usually the right one.

I wish it weren’t so. There’s far too much at stake for the country’s future to be in the hands of someone who behaves the way Donald Trump does.

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