A pres­i­dent who can’t be shamed

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - GENE LYONS eu­gene­lyons2@ya­hoo.com

So Bob Wood­ward went out and found the “named source” Trump­ists were clam­or­ing for: Boss Trump him­self. Fol­low­ing a bit­ter dis­pute over an anony­mously sourced ar­ti­cle in The At­lantic that quoted their hero call­ing Amer­i­can war dead in a French ceme­tery “suck­ers” and “losers” for be­ing fool enough to serve their coun­try, noth­ing less would have con­vinced them.

What’s more, Wood­ward had Trump on tape, in his own voice, con­fid­ing to the vet­eran Washington jour­nal­ist that he un­der­stood ex­actly how in­fec­tious and deadly the COVID-19 virus was, and ex­plain­ing his pol­icy of ly­ing to the public lest he pro­voke a panic.

A stock mar­ket panic, the con­text made clear; he spoke of pro­tect­ing the cruise ship and air­line in­dus­tries. Hu­man life, not so much.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping had warned him all about the disease.

These talks hap­pened last Fe­bru­ary and March, as Trump kept hold­ing large in­door ral­lies, call­ing the rapidly spread­ing virus a “Demo­cratic hoax,” pre­dict­ing that it would van­ish with warm weather, and re­fus­ing to wear a face mask in public, paint­ing do­ing so as some­how un­manly and un­pa­tri­otic.

He’s al­ways wor­ried peo­ple will think he’s soft, this big ga­loot in his corset and el­e­va­tor shoes.

“I wanted to al­ways play it down,” Trump told Wood­ward on March 19. “I still like play­ing it down.”

Weeks later, he con­fided: “Bob, it’s so eas­ily trans­mis­si­ble, you wouldn’t even be­lieve it . ... I was in the White House a cou­ple of days ago, meet­ing with 10 peo­ple in the Oval Of­fice and a guy sneezed — in­no­cently. Not a hor­ri­ble — you know, just a sneeze. The en­tire room bailed out, OK? In­clud­ing me, by the way.”

I love the im­age of Trump wad­dling away. And yet he con­tin­ues to mock Joe Bi­den for wear­ing a mask. As do his de­luded sup­port­ers even to­day. Maybe es­pe­cially to­day.

Peo­ple who study these things say that ev­i­dence against a cult leader only strength­ens his fol­low­ers’ need to be­lieve. Fran­tic with delu­sion, peo­ple at Trump’s in­door pep ral­lies — “su­per-spreader events,” epi­demi­ol­o­gists call them — as­sure re­porters that they fear no evil, be­cause COVID-19 re­mains in their minds a “hoax.”

Close to 200,000 Amer­i­can dead, and count­ing; more than 20% of COVID-19 deaths world­wide oc­cur­ring in the United States, which has 4.3% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. That’s some hoax, ain’t it?

Maybe that’s why, as bomb­shell rev­e­la­tions go, Wood­ward’s book “Rage” has pro­voked a rel­a­tively mild re­sponse. In­deed, some of the most vit­ri­olic crit­i­cism has been di­rected against the au­thor. More than a few jour­nal­ists have ques­tioned Wood­ward’s keeping Trump’s ad­mis­sions to him­self for months when ex­pos­ing them could pre­sum­ably have saved lives. “A crime against hu­man­ity,” one hy­per­bolic critic called it.

Even Boss Trump joined in. “Bob Wood­ward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dan­ger­ous, why didn’t he im­me­di­ately re­port them in an ef­fort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obli­ga­tion to do so? No, be­cause he knew they were good and proper an­swers.”

I think Wood­ward had no such obli­ga­tion, and that what would have hap­pened months ago is pretty much what’s hap­pened now: very damn lit­tle. What for­mer Direc­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Dan Coats told Wood­ward, on the record, is no doubt right: Trump “doesn’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween the truth and a lie,” and sim­ply can­not be shamed.

In­deed, writ­ing in, yes, The At­lantic, for­mer George W. Bush speech­writer David Frum points out that “two days be­fore Trump’s head­line-grab­bing quote to Wood­ward, on March 17, Trump said vir­tu­ally the same thing at a tele­vised press con­fer­ence: ‘I felt it was a pan­demic long be­fore it was called a pan­demic.’”

He’s for­ever boast­ing that ex­perts are wowed by his su­pe­rior un­der­stand­ing. In truth, he doesn’t ac­tu­ally know any­thing as psy­cho­log­i­cally nor­mal peo­ple do. Re­al­ity ex­ists for him purely in re­la­tion to the needs of his dis­eased ego. Trump says what­ever he imag­ines will im­press his lis­ten­ers at the mo­ment: big him, lit­tle you.

The 19th-cen­tury term for ma­lig­nant nar­cis­sists was “moral im­be­ciles.”

He spoke to Wood­ward in the first place only be­cause he saw him as a fel­low celebrity, like Kim Jong Un. Do­ing so con­firmed his self­im­por­tance. He also fig­ured he could con him.

OK, so Wood­ward got fa­mous for tak­ing Richard Nixon down. To Trump, he was just an­other pi­geon. In­stead, the For­rest Gump of the Belt­way took him to the clean­ers. Dan Pfeif­fer, an ad­viser to Barack Obama, de­scribes it as “truly one of the most stupidly self-de­struc­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­ci­sions made by a politi­cian in mem­ory.”

That said, so what? Back in the day, a com­mit­tee of se­nior GOP sen­a­tors went to the White House to in­form Pres­i­dent Nixon that he’d lost his party’s sup­port and would have to re­sign. No such in­de­pen­dence or po­lit­i­cal courage is imag­in­able in to­day’s Re­pub­li­can Party.

If the job’s to be done, vot­ers will have to do it them­selves.



Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lis­tens at an event com­mem­o­rat­ing the repa­tri­a­tion of Na­tive Amer­i­can re­mains and ar­ti­facts from Fin­land on Thurs­day in the Oval Of­fice.

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