I know this isn’t news to a lot of people, but as a nation we need to talk about it: My fellow Americans, we have a crackpot as our president and commander in chief.
By that, I mean that Donald Trump’s grip on reality is tenuous. His mental state appears to be a hall of funhouse mirrors, each reflecting a highly distorted image, and he repeatedly demonstrates the emotional sophistication and neediness of a six-year-old. And maybe it’s just me, but I think it ought to worry us that we have made that person the single most powerful human being on the planet.
One of the more compelling glimpses into Trump’s addled mind came just this week, in the wake of the Republican failure to repeal and replace Obamacare. The situation was pretty straightforward: The GOP has 52 Republicans in the Senate; they needed 50 to pass the bill. But when three of those 52 senators came out strongly against the bill, well, I know you can do the math, but let’s write it down anyway:
52-3 = 49
and …. 49 < 50.
Understanding that basic arithmetic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell canceled the scheduled vote. He did so because the cause was hopeless, and because he knew that in a rollcall vote, a few additional GOP senators might have joined in voting against the highly unpopular bill. Fifty votes just were not attainable.
That’s reality. Now let’s explore how that reality looks in the funhouse hall of mirrors.
According to a story told six different times by President Trump on Wednesday, including once in a nationally televised speech in Indiana, both McConnell and your second-grade math teacher got it wrong. The Republicans did have enough votes to repeal Obamacare, but they were foiled because a GOP senator had been put in the hospital and wouldn’t have been able to cast his vote in favor. Only that cruel twist of fate, not Trump’s incompetence, had prevented Obamacare’s repeal.
That would be a great story, except for the fact that there is no GOP senator in a hospital. Yes, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi recently had a minor surgical procedure, but as he later made clear, it wasn’t nearly serious enough to put him in a hospital or force him miss the vote.
More importantly, if Cochran had been absent, Republicans would have had 48 votes instead of 49. And again, 49 < 50. The story simply didn’t add up.
So with that in mind, ask yourself two questions:
- If your neighbor or employee or child told you such a patently absurd lie, a story so unmoored to reality, what would you think? Could you continue to trust that person with anything important?
- Who exactly do you think Trump was trying to fool with such nonsense? Who was his target audience?
I would argue that his primary target, the audience that Trump desperately needs to deceive, is himself. His psyche is so fragile that he can’t handle the internal doubts caused by failure, so he instinctively invents a version of reality in which that failure either never occurred or can be blamed on outside forces. In that sense it’s not really a cover story, because once Trump says it, he comes to believe it and even to base subsequent decisions on that belief.
And in that fragile vessel, in that cracked pot, we have placed our nation’s future.