Friday, December 04, 2020


At The New Yorker, Susan Glasser writes:
On Wednesday ... the President of the United States chose to release, on social media, a forty-six-minute videotaped address from the White House. He called it possibly “the most important speech I’ve ever made.” The pandemic’s grim toll was never mentioned. What was? The “tremendous vote fraud and irregularities” in last month’s election, the results of which the President still refuses to accept. The “statistically impossible” victory of Joe Biden, and the idea that the Democrats had so “rigged” the election that “they already knew” the outcome in advance. It was all “corrupt,” “shocking,” “constitutionally absolutely incorrect,” and “so illegal.” ...

There are only two possible conclusions from listening to this folly: either the President actually believes what he is saying, in which case he is crazy, or he does not, in which case he is engaged in the most cynical attack on American democracy ever to come from the White House.
I don't think either of those conclusions is correct. I think Trump sincerely believes he can will his way to a victory -- or at least a victory in millions of Americans' eyes.

Trump literally doesn't believe in truth, at least not the way you and I do. He believes he has the ability to alter reality with his mind. He takes Norman Vincent Peale's Power of Positive Thinking far too seriously. (On the other hand, he's a lousy businessman who's lived like a billionaire his whole life, so maybe he does have at least some power to warp reality in his favor. He's successfully fooled a lot of people, from late-twentieth-century New York tabloid reporters to present-day Republican voters, a lot of the time.)

What Trump is saying about the vote is more or less what he says about the coronavirus. How often has he told us that we wouldn't have so many cases of COVID if we didn't do so much testing? Now he's saying that there wouldn't be a Biden victory if we just didn't count all those Democratic votes. In both cases, the message is the same. With COVID, in Trump's view, a lot of the cases aren't really cases. ("Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles, and we put it down as a test.") And now many of the votes aren't really votes.

Trump couldn't bear watching his precious economy slip into recession as the pandemic spread -- in an election year! -- so he spent 2020 in denial that there was a pandemic at all. And now he can't bear the shame of losing an election. His brutal father drilled into his head the notion that the worst thing anyone can be is a loser.

(And yes, I think he was in denial about the pandemic even as he was telling Bob Woodward how bad it was. If you believe you can change reality with your mind, you can use your inside knowledge of the awfulness of the pandemic to impress a reporter and then apply your mental superpowers to wish the awfulness away.)

I think Trump believes he did win, but the Democrats are just too good at cheating for him to prove it. Or maybe, given his sense that objective reality can be bent to his will, he doesn't have an opinion on what actually happened, because there is no fixed answer to the question of what actually happened; he still has -- or should have -- the power to make himself the winner. At the very least, if he can persuade enough people that he won, then he won't be a loser, even if Biden is ultimately sworn in.

Also, of course there's money to be made from selling the notion that he won -- we know Trump is raking in a lot of cash right now. But the fact that he's grifting doesn't mean he isn't also putting salve on a psychic wound. Having people give you money is a balm for the old ego, isn't it?

If Trump were anyone else, I'd agree that that he was engaging in a "cynical attack on American democracy." Most Republicans, unlike Trump, are psychologically normal, more or less, so they're certainly engaging in such an attack when they enable him. They know he lost. But Trump doesn't believe his loss is a fixed truth. And if he can at least alter the truth in millions of people's minds, his dead dad will stop berating him -- and he'll make a few bucks, too.

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