As many have noted, Donald Trump is not the least bit interested in public policy and he has no governing ideology whatsoever. What he has is a set of deep-seated psychological compulsions that he is desperate to satisfy with every statement he makes and every action he takes. After nearly three years of observation, I have distilled these traits down to a few simple rules necessary to understand why he says and does anything and everything.
1. He doesn’t care about the truth.
Trump’s relationship with the truth is not merely tenuous, it is non-existent. Not only does he not care whether anything he says is true or not, I am quite certain that the thought never even crosses his mind. When he says something, he is motivated by one question only: Does this serve my interests at this moment? If it does, he’ll say it, even if it is easily proven to be false. And if his interests change — and I include under “interests” an insatiable desire to be lauded by whatever audience he is appearing in front of — five minutes later, he will say the exact opposite. The question of whether either statement is true or false simply does not enter his mind and it probably never has.
But it’s even worse than that, because he often lies for no reason whatsoever. Everyone lies from time to time, of course, and politicians lie more often than most. But we generally do so for some strategic purpose, to protect ourselves from embarrassment or to get what we want. Trump’s dishonesty is on an entirely different level than that. He will lie about things that don’t serve his interests. He would rather travel 5000 miles to tell a lie than he would stand still and tell the truth.
2. His ego requires him to brag constantly.
One of the key elements of his personality is his endless insecurity. He tries to mask that insecurity with bluster and bravado and continually puffing himself up. Thus his frequent references to his allegedly high IQ, how he went to the best schools, how he “has the best words” (yes, he actually said that). He even repeatedly tells stories about his uncle, who was supposedly a professor at MIT, to get some reflected intellectual glory from him. His insecurity and fragile ego motivates him to constantly tell everyone how great he is and to take credit for things that had nothing to do with him.Which leads to…
3. No one could possibly know more than him about any subject.
He believes that he is virtually omniscient, that his knowledge on every subject is total and complete and he has nothing to learn from anyone else. He scoffs at the idea that anyone could be an “expert.” When asked who he consults on foreign policy matters, a subject on which he has no learning or experience, he said, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.” He famously declared during the campaign that he knew more about ISIS and how to stop it than the generals at the Pentagon.
4. He behaves like a classic blowhard and bully.
This again is a result of his overwhelming insecurity. Blowhards and bullies act the way they do not because they’re confident but because they’re not. They seek to cover up their insecurities by pushing others around, by bellowing belligerently about virtually everything, and by threatening others. This is why Trump goes after anyone who offers even the mildest criticism of him and often does so in the most outrageous of ways, like his vicious attacks on a Gold Star family, or his vile insult at John McCain that he prefers pilots who weren’t shot down. He’s said as much in interviews, that if you go after him he’s going to come back at you ten times worse. This is classic bullying behavior, but the White House is not an elementary school playground.
5. Nothing is ever his fault.
He continually causes problems for himself by spouting off on Twitter, saying things that shouldn’t be said and sparking brief scandals. Then he rages at his underlings, especially his communications staff, for not being able to easily get him out of the problem he caused. The obvious example was when he claimed that his inauguration had the biggest audience in history, which was demonstrably, blatantly false (but refer back to rule #1, his pathological dishonesty, and rule #2, his desperate need to puff himself up and declare everything he does the greatest, most beautiful, most unprecedented thing ever). Then he demanded that Sean Spicer go out and justify his lie, which made him look like a buffoon in front of the world (not that Spicer wasn’t perfectly capable of doing that on his own, but having to defend Trump’s constant lies made his job impossible).
6. Thinks his “gut instinct” is perfect and never wrong.
This is closely related to his belief in his own omniscience, but it combines with his near-total ignorance of public policy and his disdain for learning and expertise. “Experience taught me a few things,” he once said. “One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper.” He has said that he trusts his “gut instinct” on foreign policy. There is no room for thoughtfulness in Trumpworld, no room for studying and rationally considering the options. He is a prisoner to his own emotions, careening from one position to another like a pinball in a machine. When he gets angry, as he so often does, he is bound to do damn near anything. There is never a hint of a coherent strategy or a thoughtful approach to anything. This is a very bad trait for someone who commands the most powerful military the world has ever seen. It’s like giving a handgun to a chimpanzee on meth.
7. He never, ever admits to being wrong.
No matter how many false claims he makes — and the fact checkers have documented more than 2000 of them in the last couple years — he never admits to being wrong about anything. Case in point: Those “thousands” of Muslims he claims he saw celebrating on 9/11 in New Jersey. He says he watched it on TV, but no TV station showed any such footage. The police say it never happened. There isn’t a shred of evidence for it. But he has never backed down from it. Lather, rinse, repeat with hundreds of other false statements. This goes back to his insecurity. He thinks if you admit to being wrong, it’s a sign of weakness.
8. He thinks he’s bulletproof.
No matter what happens, he is always convinced that he can bullshit his way out of it. And you know what? I don’t really blame him. It’s always worked for him. He has continually lied and exaggerated to the media in New York about how rich he is, how big his penthouse apartment is, and a million other things. He’s not only gotten away with it, doing so is how he built this ridiculous myth that the Trump brand represents wealth, sophistication and class. He has never been held responsible for anything he’s done wrong in his entire life. Why would he not think he’s untouchable?
But it’s one thing to try that with Manhattan gossip columnists and quite another thing to try it with the White House press corps, or worse yet with a special counsel who is a relentless investigator and prosecutor. I think this is why he’s reaching such a fever pitch with Mueller, because he is beginning to realize that he can’t just bullshit his way out of this one. That may work with the sycophants who follow his Twitter feed, but it doesn’t work in a court of law.
So there you have it. Once you understand these elements of Trump’s personality, you will understand exactly why he does and says everything he does and says.