Donald Trump’s world is very small.
At first blush that statement makes no sense. After all, since taking office, the man has jetted off to 18 different countries, some of them twice.* And he’s made all those PR trips around our own sprawling land, the journeys early in his term seemingly taken simply for the purpose of stoking his ego and energy … or providing the comfort he sought as he realized the pool he’d jumped into wasn’t a pool at all but an ocean in a hurricane and the sailors he’d brought along didn’t know how to launch a lifeboat.
But I’m not talking about his physical world. The world I’m talking about, the small world, is the world of his mind. … I started to call it his mental world, but that connotes emotional illness or a cognitive disorder. No doubt there is some of that, but for my purposes it doesn’t quite fit. Then I thought I’d call it his intellectual world, but that puts the focus on intelligence, the ability to reason, to create mature solutions to knotty problems, and that’s not what I’m thinking of either.
What I’m concerned with is the ability to understand and place events as they happen within the framework of a larger context. In this regard, Trump is doubly handicapped. First, there’s the fact that, like a very young child, his only constant context is himself. Thus, he turns events which should be focused on others into self-aggrandizing commentary on himself. Most egregiously, for instance, there was his speech in front of the Memorial Wall at the CIA the day after his inauguration. With the stark wall honoring those who had sacrificed their lives behind him, Trump riffed into lies about the size of his inaugural crowd and attacks on the press for their honest and inconsiderate coverage of the event.
*Countries visited twice: Belgium, France, Italy
Countries visited once: Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Vatican City, Vietnam
Secondly, he lacks even the most rudimentary cultural context that would enable an educated adult to avoid the gauche errors that illuminate his limitations. Visiting the scorched remains in an area devastated by the recent California fires, Trump referred to the town erased as “Pleasure.” But I ask: How could he watch the coverage of the raging blaze and not be struck by the irony of it all? The irony of a town called Paradise, the word for heaven, being razed by an Inferno, the word for hell in Dante’s classic literary work The Divine Comedy. You don’t need to have read the ancient work to be familiar with—and struck by—this juxtaposition, and anyone aware of that context would never have gotten the name of Paradise wrong. (Okay, I know what you’re thinking. … Paradise/Pleasure. I’ll spare you the Freudian analysis here.)
Trump had the name of only one town to remember. He couldn’t be bothered to get even that right. That’s disrespect. That, bottom line, is what we saw in that moment—and unfortunately in many moments every day from this man so eager to impose rules of decorum on the people he sees as his tormenters in the press. The fact that in this case he wasn’t on a rant, his voice raspy, his face twisted in anger, doesn’t make this any less an expression of disrespect.
Trump went to Paradise to view overwhelming devastation. Had he been anyone but Trump, we would have expected expressions of empathy and encouragement and recognition of the reality of immobilizing grief. But from Trump? Never. Instead, we had rambling remarks on the importance of raking the forest floor.
Mark Green, a writer who profiled Trump two decades ago in the ‘90s, knew Trump before most of us were paying attention and may have said it best. Trump, he wrote, had achieved something remarkable: “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”
Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”