How dangerous to America and to the world is a president whose ego is so fragile that it must constantly be stroked with the affirmation and fawning admiration of others, who sees those who disagree as the enemy who must be publicly discredited as evil or fraudulent? Mindless affirmation is as vital as life itself to such an ego; it is the oxygen needed to survive.
And so the shaky self image craves escape from the discomfort of truth. It abruptly terminates the interview that dares to ask the important question in behalf of all Americans. It flees the inevitable sharp-edged criticism of jokes at the annual White House news correspondents’ dinner, preferring to retreat to the warming embrace of a campaign-like rally filled with adoring fans.
There our president gives voice to his tortured psyche. Here is how The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson describes President Trump’s remarks at his rally in Pennsylvania:
“Trump used his high office to pursue divisive grudges (Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer is a bad leader), to attack the media (composed of “incompetent, dishonest people”) and to savage congressional Democrats (“they don’t mind drugs pouring in”). Most of all, Trump used his bully pulpit quite literally, devoting about half his speech to the dehumanization of migrants and refugees as criminals, infiltrators and terrorists. Trump gained a kind of perverse energy from the rolling waves of hatred, culminating in the reading of racist song lyrics comparing his targets to vermin. It was a speech with all the logic, elevation and public purpose of a stink bomb.
The dangers of such utterances by a president are multiple and serious. His words and actions in his first 100 days have put world leaders on edge and is paralyzing his own nation with anxious wonder. What adolescent foolishness will come next? But here’s the real danger: When we wearily roll our eyes and shrug at his fevered actions and utterances, we enable them and tacitly accept them as normal. They are not.
As Gerson suggests, responsible politics must prepare the way for leaders who recognize that we all are equal in worth and dignity, sharing a common destiny. This can happen only if we refuse to normalize the language of hatred.