From The New Yorker (May 4, 2020)
It is not often that I reprint an article from elsewhere, but I think this Washington Post opinion piece by Jennifer Senior is such an intelligent, insightful, honest, and necessary addition to the public discourse about Donald Trump that I thought you would want to read, and share, it. I think you’ll also see how beautifully written it is — and how blistering.
Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats (emphasis mine). Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.
Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.
But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.
Let’s start with the basics. First: Narcissistic personalities like Trump harbor skyscraping delusions about their own capabilities. They exaggerate their accomplishments, focus obsessively on projecting power, and wish desperately to win.
What that means, during this pandemic: Trump says we’ve got plenty of tests available, when we don’t. He declares that Google is building a comprehensive drive-thru testing website, when it isn’t. He sends a Navy hospital ship to New York and it proves little more than an excuse for a campaign commercial, arriving and sitting almost empty in the Hudson. A New York hospital executive calls it a joke.
Second: The grandiosity of narcissistic personalities belies an extreme fragility, their egos as delicate as foam. They live in terror of being upstaged. They’re too thin skinned to be told they’re wrong.
What that means, during this pandemic: Narcissistic leaders never have, as Trump likes to say, the best people. They have galleries of sycophants. With the exceptions of Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, Trump has surrounded himself with a Z-team of dangerously inexperienced toadies and flunkies — the bargain-bin rejects from Filene’s Basement — at a time when we require the brightest and most imaginative minds in the country.
Faced with a historic public health crisis, Trump could have assembled a first-rate company of disaster preparedness experts. Instead he gave the job to his son-in-law, a man-child of breathtaking vapidity. Faced with a historic economic crisis, Trump could have assembled a team of Nobel-prize winning economists or previous treasury secretaries. Instead he talks to Larry Kudlow, a former CNBC host.
Meanwhile, Fauci and Birx measure every word they say like old-time apothecaries, hoping not to humiliate the narcissist — never humiliate a narcissist — while discreetly correcting his false hopes and falsehoods. They are desperately attempting to create a safe space for our president, when the president should be creating a safer nation for all of us.
Third: Narcissistic personalities love nothing more than engineering conflict and sowing division. It destabilizes everyone, keeps them in control.
What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is pitting state against state for precious resources, rather than coordinating a national response. (“It’s like being on eBay,” complained Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York last week.) His White House is a petty palace of competing power centers. He picks fights with Democratic officials and members of the press, when all the public craves is comfort.
Narcissistic personalities don’t do comfort. They cannot fathom the needs of other hearts.
Fourth: Narcissistic personalities are vindictive. On a clear day, you can see their grudges forever.
What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is playing favorites with governors who praise him and punishing those who fail to give him the respect he believes he deserves. “If they don’t treat you right, don’t call,” he told Vice President Mike Pence.
His grudge match with New York is now especially lethal. When asked on Friday whether New York will have enough ventilators, Trump bluntly answered “No,” and then blamed the state.
And most relevant, as far as history is concerned: Narcissistic personalities are weak.
What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is genuinely afraid to lead. He can’t bring himself to make robust use of the Defense Production Act, because the buck would stop with him. (To this day, he insists states should be acquiring their own ventilators.) When asked about delays in testing, he said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” During Friday’s news conference, he added the tests “we inherited were broken, were obsolete,” when this form of coronavirus didn’t even exist under his predecessor.
This sounds an awful lot like one of the three sentences that Homer Simpson swears will get you through life: “It was like that when I got here.”
Most people, even the most hotheaded and difficult ones, have enough space in their souls to set aside their anger in times of crisis. Think of Rudolph Giuliani during Sept. 11. Think of Andrew Cuomo now.
But every aspect of Trump’s crisis management has been annexed by his psychopathology. As Americans die, he boasts about his television ratings. As Americans die, he crows that he’s No. 1 on Facebook, which isn’t close to true.
But it is true that all eyes are on him. He’s got a captive audience, an attention-addict’s dream come to life. It’s just that he, like all narcissistic personalities, has no clue how disgracefully — how shamefully, how deplorably — he’ll be enshrined in memory.
I think this poem is gorgeous: it fills me with such peace and hope. I especially like that he has placed “others like myself” between “plants and animals” and “ships and buildings.” I also think the semicolon, the only one in the poem, is perfectly placed, and the title is perfect, too, sitting as it does atop the poem — and reappearing as its last line.
I saw this in my Twitter feed yesterday and watched it more times than I will admit because, well, I just needed to laugh and to feel outsized joyful emotions for another being. When I went to YouTube to get the URL, I noticed that there were 12,465,938 views since January 3, 2016, which included 366K “likes.” But there were 4.5K “dislikes,” and I’m trying to figure out why. I’m typically very sensitive to anything that has even a hint of animal cruelty, but I don’t see any here. Is it that those who gave a thumbs down thought he was being teased or exploited perhaps? Or did they just not like the sound of the dog expressing himself so passionately? Or were some simply being trolls who roam the internet looking for ever more ways to be a******s? If you have any ideas, please leave a comment.
from The New Yorker
Although it has been eight years since I started ruminationville, I have not maintained it actively since the corrupt, greedy, lying, self-serving, misogynistic, racist creep sleeping in the White House stole the election. In part my relative silence has been because of a growing belief that whatever I might have to say here would seem frivolous in light of the grave dangers that now confront us. I think, also, that I have been unable to proceed here with business as usual because I have changed over these past several years.
As I have watched myself careen daily between rage, grief, sadness, and fear — and as I have looked for ways to right myself — I have come to realize that what interested me most when I started this blog no longer interests me very much. More than wanting to become a better writer, I think I wanted to see if I could be disciplined enough to write regularly because I had been led to believe that I had no business calling myself a writer unless I wrote with determination and consistency. Now I see that I can call myself a writer even if I never write another word. Who’s to tell me otherwise?
And where previously I came to think that being a writer was my life path (and it certainly had seemed so), several years ago I found I had been placed on another path when I wasn’t looking. It began in 2016 when I was searching for a way to supplement my income since one cannot pay one’s bills and eat on an adjunct professor’s salary. I also was looking for a way to exit teaching because, after more than 20 years in the profession, I had lost my passion for it.
Having had some experience in the mental health field, I applied for a part-time job working with young adults who had experienced their first episode of psychosis. To my surprise, I was offered a full-time position. Unfortunately, after two years in this job I was let go because the program had been taken over by another, much larger organization that required someone in my role to have an undergraduate degree in psychology, social work, or a related field. Although at that point I had several advanced degrees, none satisfied the requirement, and I was left scrambling to find new work. Fortunately a supervisor went to bat for me, and I was hired to do a similar job for the same organization, though in a different program with different degree requirements for staff.
I realized then that, if I wanted to leave teaching and if in the future I wanted to be considered for better-paying, more professional mental health positions, I would need another graduate degree. Colleagues told me that a master’s in social work would be the most versatile degree, so I applied to an MSW program and was accepted. Believe me when I say that I was not eager to return to school, yet here I am with a year and a half of course work behind me and with my first of two required internships well underway.
When I finish my degree, I think I would be happy enough to remain in Northern Virginia, where I live: I have friends, work, and a spiritual community to which I have belonged for many years. I am confident, also, that I could get a better job with my new credentials. The only problem is that my daughter has returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she was born and where we lived while she was growing up. She was pining for her home, and now I am pining for her.
As a holiday gift, she sent me a baby peperomia plant. The directions said I should give it a name, and, although “Cheryl” popped immediately into my head, I found I could not remember it for the life of me. My daughter thought I might not be able to remember the name because it didn’t seem to really suit the plant, so I asked her to suggest another. Though fragile, “Sofia” appears to be thriving, and I have no trouble remembering what to call her. Daily I speak with her, touch her leaves gently, and open the blinds to let in the light. I feel great tenderness for her, in fact, and am becoming aware that she is as much a being as I am. When I let it, this realization breaks open my heart and allows a certain kind of love to enter. Perhaps it is this love that will help guide me in the decisions I soon will need to make.