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Monday, February 18, 2019

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Donald Trump continues to make history.

We know of no other president in American history who has started out his tenure by unfurling two preposterous bookend lies, the way Trump did during his first days in office.

He lied fantastically about the size of his inauguration crowd. And then, taking a sledgehammer to the premise of free and fair elections, he lied fantastically about millions of Americans having voted illegally on Election Day, supposedly costing him the popular vote victory.

Pressed for details, White House press secretary Sean Spicer could point to no real evidence to back up Trump’s whimsically dangerous insistence about ballot box fraud. Spicer also sputtered trying to justify the unjustifiable claim about historic viewership for the Republican’s swearing-in.

Both of those bold prevarications ignited media firestorms, and for good reason, as increasingly baffled journalists try to decode Trump’s daily crusade to gaslight them about simple facts and events. More and more, journalists are straining to make sense of Trump’s erratic ways; trying to figure out what his political motivation is for spreading such easily debunked falsehoods.

Trump is “addicted to controversy,” and suffers “acute sensitivity to criticism,” reasoned The Washington Post. He just can’t “shake his erratic campaign habits,” Politico suggested, while The New York times pointed to Trump’s “anxiety” as a reason he needs to tell tall White House tales.

Two key points: Trump has shown himself to be a relentless liar since he launched his political career in 2015. Anyone who thought he would discontinue that habit as president just hasn’t been paying attention.

Second, if journalists want to understand Trump’s unbalanced Oval Office behavior they need to focus on his character and his extremely troubling flaws. (They’re not merely “campaign habits,” as Politico called them.) Those character flaws will ultimately define his presidency because they’ve always fueled his erratic actions and weird fixations.

Yes, Trump’s a dishonest conspiracy theorist. But he’s also much more than that. He’s a remorseless liar and a grievously insecure man who seems to feed off spite and revenge.

And by the way, that description mirrors the one Tony Schwartz has given about the Republican billionaire. And Schwartz knows Trump well, having served as Trump’s ghostwriter on his 1987 breakthrough memoir, The Art of the Deal. (Trump is a “sociopath,” and “lying is second nature to him,” says Schwartz.)

It’s true that some in the press have begun to do a better job at clearly labeling Trump’s lies for what they are. What’s been largely missing, though, is the why: Why does the president of United States act in such an erratic and dangerous way? What’s been missing post-election are regular and detailed examinations of Trump’s character as an explanation for his unprecedented actions.

Understanding and recognizing the character blemishes at the center of Trump’s personality isn’t superfluous, armchair analysis. It’s the key to gaining a crucial window into who the president is, as well as into the country’s precarious future.

Instead, journalists keep searching for rational “explanations” to Trump’s presidential behavior, trying to make sense of his pattern of telling obvious lies. (Remember when we were told not to take Trump’s outlandish claims “literally“?) But pathological liars like Trump don’t discriminate between lying about big things and lying about small things or between obvious lies and subtle ones. (See here and here for 600-plus documented falsehoods he’s told.)

Also, the press simply isn’t used to this level of naked dishonesty coming from the Oval Office. (Trump’s inauguration crowd totaled 1.5 million??) And journalists haven’t yet properly adjusted. They’re still accustomed to dissecting political lies in the context of, “What’s the motivation behind the lie?” And, “What’s the political advantage of telling that lie?” But that linear approach doesn’t always apply to Trump. There’s no indication he plots out the falsehoods or even cares if he gets caught. Lying is who he is. He cannot not tell lies.

In other words, it’s not a political strategy, it’s a character defect. Especially for someone like Trump who appears to have no deep ideological moorings.

This isn’t the typical territory most political journalists tread when covering Beltway politics. But it now needs to be. Journalists need to familiarize themselves with what it means to have someone in the White House who is “obsessed with his popularity”; what it means to have a serial liar occupying the Oval Office. They need to understand how people like that think, how they function, and why they lash out.

More analysis like this would be helpful, from MTV’s Jamil Smith (emphasis added):

But the defects of his personality have become almost instantaneously institutionalized within the White House. Whatever his mental and emotional hangups are, they’re now our problem, too. His fragility makes us all weaker, and his petulant outbursts can now shift world events. Sadly, it’s clear from the first few days of the Trump administration that the trustworthiness of his office is not the president’s foremost priority. His feelings are.

We need more reporting in the vein of the Associated Press’ recent examination of the extraordinary insecurity that seems to be driving the early days of the Trump presidency. And the Times’ Maggie Haberman’s recent reporting that shed light on the intersection between Trump’s impulsive personality and his early, erratic actions in the White House.

It may seem unusual for journalists to dissect the president’s character flaws in search of clues regarding his political agenda. But it’s just another instance where the media need to rip up the old Beltway rule book and find a new way forward.

IMAGE: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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52 responses to “Deep Character Flaws Will Ultimately Define Trump’s Presidency”

  1. dbtheonly says:

    You really can’t have it both ways. Either Trump is a scheming liar or he’s got no control over his impulses. The very fact of being unable to control impulses eliminates the premeditation necessary for scheming.

    Assuming Trump can not control himself, and I certainly don’t have the Psych background to assert that, it would go a long way to explaining the chaos in his life, career, and his Administration.

    But if Trump can’t control himself, and he doesn’t recognize(?) reality(?) or know what is true(?) calling him a serial liar is inaccurate. He throws a verbal dart at the board. He doesn’t know or care whether it hits accurate or inaccurate.

    Either way we’re screwed.

    • Mama Bear says:

      Your last sentence could not be any more true if it came from a burning bush!

      • dbtheonly says:

        Thank you Mama, but I can’t claim that level of enlightenment.

        Aaron & I were just talking about how this impacts Trump, Kim, the DPRK and the risk of the use of nuclear bombs. It’s bad.

        And the trolls here cheering Trump along. Do they recognize the ramifications? Do they really have a plan to MAGA? Have they thought out the consequences?

        Just off the top of my head:

        The Chinese reaction seeing a US missile headed towards Beijing.
        The Russian reaction seeing a US missile headed for Vladivostok.
        The fallout of a nuclear strike drifting South. Right into South Korea.
        The fallout of a nuclear strike drifting North. Right into Russia. Or China. Or both.
        The impact on the South when the DPRK feels there is literally nothing left to lose.

        I’m not brilliant. But even I can see this. So why can’t Trump and the trolls?

        • dpaano says:

          Or the thought of a nuclear bomb coming towards the west coast from North Korea!!! That’s a very scary thought!

          • dbtheonly says:

            Yes, but a launch from the DPRK might be intercepted if headed here.

            But how long would it take to reach Seoul? How long Japan? And that just encourages Trump to shoot first.

            As I said before, I was laughing at the irrelevance of a book about climate change. There are so many more immediate threats.

          • Independent1 says:

            You may be able to sleep better if you read this article:

            Will North Korea admit defeat after more missile failures?

            The Musudan is an intermediate-range missile with a strike range of 2,500 to 4,000 kilometres (1,553 to 2,485 miles).

            The first reportedly broke up in flight 93 miles (150 kilometers)
            downrange, while the second may have flown as far as 248 miles (400 kilometers). That’s better than we’ve seen in any previous test but only about a tenth of the Musudan’s potential range.

            The failed tests are new, but we’ve known about the Musudan missile for some time. It showed up in North Korea over a decade ago, and it seems to be based on a 1960s-era Soviet
            design with some local modifications.

            It appears to be a mobile intermediate-range missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead as far as the critical U.S. base at Guam.

            http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/05/opinions/opinion-north-korea-musudan-missiles/index.html

          • dpaano says:

            Thanks, I feel much better now, but still worried he may get one that goes just a LITTLE farther towards California!

    • Dan S says:

      And to think a man truly mentally unfit to be President is sitting in the Oval Office with the US nuclear codes ????

      • dbtheonly says:

        Yes. Exactly.

        You’ve seen where they’ve moved the clock to nuclear destruction to 2 minutes to midnight? It hasn’t been that close to Armageddon since the height of the Cold War.

        And even at the height of the Cold War, Kruschev, Truman, Eisenhower, and Stalin all recognized reality and the overwhelming impact their actions would have.

        As Mama’s established, Trump doesn’t know or accept a reality different from his desires. He is appallingly thin-skinned. He is quick to seek retribution for perceived slights.

        This is not good.

      • dpaano says:

        I hope the officer holding the nuclear “football” can run really fast if Trump starts to come near him with his little fingers!!!

        • ivory69690@yahoo.com says:

          put a Nuke bomb in the white house air raid shelter yell air raid have the DUMPSTER be holding the code and the coward will be running faster then anyone else closing and locking the door with his family all on the other side of the door . and inside have a light up sign in the sealed air raid shelter . ( made very strong that nothing would get out of it ) and the light up sign will say Mr. President push the code switch NOW and you will save the country . then the rig comes in the code only will work for the bomb in the shelter that he is in . have cams in there so you can see the last look on the CLOWNS FA he go’s POFFFFF into a Nuke waste land . then that pic can be sold around the world for at least $100 bucks and every one in the world would surly want one :)~

        • Nativegrammy says:

          LOL, LOL, LMAO, NOW that’s funny! Can you imagine Trumplethinskin even “running” at all???!!! The man’s to old and fat and with his short attention span, he’d loose interest in about a minute!

    • I don’t think Trump is a schemer anymore. At some point early last year, thanks to over-exposure of Trump radiation, it dawned on me that he’s doing this so effortlessly, and with such frequency, that it must be a learned reflex action.

  2. yabbed says:

    Trump is a massive fat ugly guy of insufficiencies and insecurities. He knows he’s not attractive. He knows people laugh at his hair and his girth and his weird orangeness. He knows he lives a lie about his wealth. He knows no NYC socialites invite him to dinner. He knows no billionaires do anything but laugh at him and his nonsense. He knows he’s a fraud. What he doesn’t know is he is over his head and going down.

    • Mama Bear says:

      you are thinking about him in normal-person-thought, yabbed. You have to stop that. He does not know all that because he does not believe he has told any lies.

  3. FF says:

    It’s the telling of lies that are so easy to verify that worries me because it shows he has no concern and he seems to lie without impunity. He literally seems incapable of not lying, regardless of whether the issue is significant or not. For instance, his claim that the sun started shining the minute he began his inauguration address when, in fact, it began to drizzle. You could see the rain drops on his overcoat and see the attendees behind him put on their ponchos. This is a serious character flaw and should worry all of us that it’s part of the President’s character.

  4. FireBaron says:

    The last time we had a president with that much of a problem with the truth was Thomas Jefferson. Yeah, Nixon lied, but he knew what he was doing trying to cover up other crimes by lying about it. As for Clinton, the only lie he was ever proven to have told was claiming he “did not have sex with that woman”. And for that, he was impeached!

    Jefferson, on the other hand, had a whole machine dedicated to lying about his perceived “enemies”. This enemies list included Chief Justice John Marshall (one of his cousins) and former Attorney General John Randolph (another cousin). During the Washington and Adams administration, he had a whole apparatus going denouncing them and what they were doing, all to build favor for himself. In the 1800 elections, he lied to Aaron Burr in order to get Burr to swing New York’s votes to Jefferson to break the electoral college tie. After that, he fabricated evidence and paid someone else to lie about Burr and his attempted Texan Conquest during the trumped up treason trial. He lied to Sally Hemings about freeing the children he fathered on her.

    Now we have another person in the Oval Office who has a problem with the truth. Not only that, he continuously denies having said things even when shown videos of him saying those things. Yep, it’s gonna be fun until November, 2018 when people realize the only way to deal with him is to remove Ryan, McConnell and company from power.

    • Theodora30 says:

      I strongly disagree. Lee Atwater and Karl Rove were masters at lying about opponents. Atwater invented push polls. And don’t forget the Truthers who smeared John Kerry’s war heroism (which Karl had nothing to do with – wink, wink). It was Karl Rove who chastised liberals for living in the reality based universe and bragged about his side creating their own reality.

      • jmprint says:

        Exactly Karl Rove, and Norquist ran the show, the rest of the republicans have always been followers, there is no original thought there.

        • Theodora30 says:

          But a lot of willingness to participate in the lies to their loyal followers. Trump is anextreme result of this but not a complete aberration. If this is not recognized Republicans will not get the blame they so richly deserve and will have no incentive to finally come back to the reality based world. Their dishonesty has cost our democracy and its people dearly.

  5. 788eddie says:

    This is a sad state of affairs. Friends in Canada are telling me that they’re thinking of building a wall along their southern border. It’s an attempt to keep the “Trump infection” from spreading North.

  6. Mama Bear says:

    Please listen to me….stop calling Trump a liar. Stop thinking he is telling “falsehoods”. He is NOT. In his mind he is telling the truth. He could pass a lie-detector test if asked “have you been telling any lies?” We must stop applying “sane-person thought” to him because he is not sane. He believes every single thing he has said, even when he says the exact opposite the next day. Think about that for a few minutes and you will begin to comprehend how sick this man is. That is what we need to focus on and not the absurd things that come out of his deranged brain.

  7. 1Zoe55 says:

    The media was complicit in this idiot Trump gaining the presidency, never bothering to call out his lies during the campaign, giving him FREE access to television (sometimes with Trump just telephoning his responses), and, sadly, intimidated by Trump and his criminal cohorts. Trump gets no mercy or quarter and now people should continue criticizing his lies, his triple-chin photos, his small size so that he continues to explode in fury. No, Herr Fuhrer Trump, you are unpopular with many people and you will not change that. Sorry, pardner, your inauguration did not have the most numbers of attendees and viewers. For maybe the first time in your rich ass life, there are people you cannot bully nor threaten with job loss or shunning. Trump is dangerous and I pray that America survives without loss of lives and treasure.

    • dbtheonly says:

      Fox had/has a goal in promoting Trump.

      • Theodora30 says:

        It wan’t only Fox. The mainstream media allowed Trumps scams and lies to go unanswered until late in the campaign. It was only in the middle of last summer that that even bothered to look at his sham of a foundation. In contrast both the NY Times and the Washington Post inked deals with Breitbart’s Peter Schweitzer to use his “reporting” in his book “Clinton Cash” to trash the Clinton Foundation. Other journalists fact checked the charges and they had to be walked back.
        Cable TV allowed Trump’s rallies to be broadcast in their entirety with no fact checking. No other candidate was given that kind of free television time. The media still criticizes Hillary for not addressing jobs. Maybe if they had broadcast her campaign rallies in full instead of just the bits where she went after Trump they would have known that she repeatedly talked about her plans to increase jobs.

        • dpaano says:

          Agreed….she had much better ideas on how to put people back to work than Trump ever did! She advocated money for retraining unemployed individuals so that they could get jobs in the current market since their jobs were no longer viable. But, that got glossed over significantly by journalists, which was pretty darn sad!

      • Thoughtopsy says:

        Especially the quivering pile of word vomit, Hannity.

    • dpaano says:

      The funniest thing I’ve seen is a picture of Trump’s motorcade going down the boulevard before the inauguration…..there were more secret service men guarding the motorcade than there were people standing on the sidelines!!! You can’t change that or blame that on anyone!

  8. dpaano says:

    Not only does Trump suffer from acute narcissism, but he also suffers from ADHD, is extremely paranoid, and is a pathological liar, etc. The list is ongoing. As we’ve all said periodically, Trump is NOT qualified to run this country and it’s getting more and more apparent with each day! Journalists don’t have to look far to see the truth….just ask any psychiatrist or psychologist who has had a chance to listen to Trump or watch him speak! It’s pretty easily noted!

    • Independent1 says:

      Here’s an interesting article on how Trump is seen by his White House staff:

      The leaks coming out of the Trump White House cast the president as a clueless child

      All White Houses leak. Sometimes the leaks are big, sometimes small. But there are always people willing to talk to reporters about the “real” story or about why the chief executive made a mistake in regard to some decision he made.

      That said, I’ve never seen so much leaking so quickly — and with such disdain for the president — as I have in the first six days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/01/26/the-leaks-coming-out-the-trump-white-house-cast-the-boss-as-a-clueless-child/?utm_term=.2a22ad3f210a&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

      • dpaano says:

        One of the leaks stated that he spends most of his time watching cable TV and his cronies have to pull him away from the television to make him work!!! He’s not used to actually having to do something!

        • Independent1 says:

          Yes, and it also mentions that he actually spends most of his time reacting to what he sees on the news rather than what his advisors recommend that he work on. He’s a pure reactionary. Which is really troubling because it’s hard to predict how he’ll react to something that may tick him off. And that may simply be someone criticizing him, even a Republican.

          • dpaano says:

            The biggest problem is that he’s got Bannon as his Senior Advisor. Bannon’s main goal is to take down the government. He’s said it many times. With him whispering in Trump’s ear, and Trump being one of those that tends to listen to others and does things without thinking, I sincerely think we’re in major trouble! As a note, I no longer plan on using the name “Trump,” and I’m going to call him “45.” Otherwise, I’ll continue to gag whenever I mentioned his name!!! Just a suggestion for the rest of us who have the same problem!

        • ivory69690@yahoo.com says:

          would this work on DONNY DUMP and never come back ? A game warden stops a poacher walking along the beach and tells him he’s going to fine him for taking lobsters without a permit. The poacher tells the warden the two lobsters in his hands are his pets and he was just taking them for a walk. “Nonsense,” says the game warden. “It’s true, it’s not against the law to walk your pets along the beach, is it?” asks the man. “I send them into the surf for a swim and when I whistle they come back to me”. “I’ve got to see this; show me.” says the game warden. So the man tosses both lobsters into the ocean and the game warden says, “Okay, now let’s hear you whistle for your lobsters to swim back to you.” “Lobsters?” asks the poacher, “What lobsters?” what DUMPSTER he’s gone and we hope for good :)~ hope he would get eaten by a shark

  9. The list of flaws Trump chose to expose to the world by vigorously and vehemently clawing his way to the top is more than some random occurrence. The urge to expose himself fully is a psychological dysfunction and one that had to have been brewing over a lifetime, and which even casual observers are able to see, and casts further doubt on the feckless attitude of the GOP who are too timid and worried about their cushy jobs to do anything, or say anything, that might incur the wrath of the Emperor. (The “Bring me the head of willy the mailboy” fear syndrome, I suppose).

    What “normal” neurotic would go so far as to make a spectacle of himself/herself out in the open with such exuberance as Donald?

  10. Thoughtopsy says:

    I found this Quora answer very insightful in terms of what Trump is doing/thinking (if you can call it that). It seems very relevant to this article.
    https://www.quora.com/Has-Donald-Trump-been-caught-lying/answer/Andrew-Gumperz?srid=zS4X
    (repost from below)

  11. leonardo311 says:

    What does it say about us? 1. Over a billion people have called themselves Americans since our founding – only 45 have been called President . . . Such an exclusive club and we have allowed this current pathological liar to join?
    2. With the world as dangerous as it has been since the end of WWII, we elect the “match to the fuse”?
    With any luck the fecal tempest that brings down this administration, will not be the death of millions, but will at least be obvious enough so even the most diehard Tea Partiers will abandon Republicans in mass.

  12. ivory69690@yahoo.com says:

    would this work on DONNY DUMP and never come back ? A game warden stops a poacher walking along the beach and tells him he’s going to fine him for taking lobsters without a permit. The poacher tells the warden the two lobsters in his hands are his pets and he was just taking them for a walk. “Nonsense,” says the game warden. “It’s true, it’s not against the law to walk your pets along the beach, is it?” asks the man. “I send them into the surf for a swim and when I whistle they come back to me”. “I’ve got to see this; show me.” says the game warden. So the man tosses both lobsters into the ocean and the game warden says, “Okay, now let’s hear you whistle for your lobsters to swim back to you.” “Lobsters?” asks the poacher, “What lobsters?” what DUMPSTER he’s gone and we hope for good :)~

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