Some days I wonder if American democracy can survive the 2020 presidential campaign. Other times, I pray that The Mooch is right: that facing defeat, Donald J. Trump will contrive an excuse not to run for a second term.
Trump's fragile ego, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci told Vanity Fair, couldn't survive losing. "He's got the self-worth in terms of his self-esteem of a small pigeon. It's a very small pigeon."
Could Scaramucci have been talking about the same President Trump who recently bragged about an internet conspiracy crank's claim that "Jewish people in Israel love him like he's the King of Israel ... (and) the second coming of God?"
"Wow!" tweeted the pigeon.
Later Trump whined that American Jews who vote for Democrats show "great disloyalty," an ancient anti-Semitic trope.
Next the president gestured to the heavens on the White House lawn, proclaiming himself "The Chosen One" to fight a trade war with China. If Barack Obama had done that, so many Republican heads would have exploded that scientists would still be measuring the background radiation-like fallout from one of Vladimir Putin's nuclear disasters.
Or as James Fallows put it in The Atlantic: "These are episodes of what would be called outright lunacy, if they occurred in any other setting."
Even Trump appeared to realize he'd gone too far. Naturally, he blamed the usual suspects. Reporters, he claimed, "knew I was kidding, being sarcastic, and just having fun. I was smiling as I looked up and around. The MANY reporters with me were smiling also ... And yet when I saw the reporting, CNN, MSNBC and other Fake News outlets covered it as serious news & me thinking of myself as the Messiah."
Actually, the coverage I saw emphasized uncertainty that he could possibly be serious. Needless to say, Trumpists swallowed his alibi like trained seals. "Love it!" posted one enraptured Facebook supporter. "Dude has balls of steel."
Nothing can dent the adamantine shield of their cultlike adoration.
Problem is, there's video. On it, Trump gave no sign he was teasing. No laugh, no wink, no smile. If anything, he appeared peevish and somewhat agitated. Reporters pretty clearly didn't know what to think.
So who are you going to believe, Trump or your lying eyes? Google it if you doubt me. Indeed, the president appears to have no sense of humor regarding himself. He only laughs at the expense of others.
All this could have been predicted -- indeed it was predicted by a group of psychiatrists and mental health professionals under the rubric of "A Duty to Warn," referencing their responsibility as "mandated reporters" whenever they encounter "an individual (who) is a danger to themselves and/or others."
You have free articles remaining.
Here's something psychotherapist Elizabeth Mika wrote in 2017 during Trump's first week in office:
"What we know about malignant narcissists is that they psychologically decompensate once they achieve the ultimate position of power. They worsen in every possible way: become more grandiose and paranoid, more aggressive and demanding, and progressively less in touch with reality ... We can expect his narcissistic rage to intensify in proportion to his increasing grandiosity and paranoia.
"His handlers will have to resort to increasingly more 'creative' ways to placate and subdue him -- and it will work, for a while, until it doesn't.
"There'll be blood, symbolic, if not literal, as he'll fire and destroy his previously 'trusted' associates, maybe even in rapid succession and without any rhyme or reason.
"His demands for adulation will also become more intense and bizarre, and we'll be witnessing idiotic and quite possibly dangerous displays of his 'superiority' ... It's not only that he will never get better, but it is certain that he will get worse."
Everybody who's ever dealt with a seriously disturbed individual knows the sense of constant dread about what mad folly might come next. Now the whole country's there. Trump's bizarre antics at the G7 meetings in France were like a fire alarm in the night.
"Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China ..."
"Hereby ordered," no less. Hear that, Apple and General Motors?
Psychiatrists don't call personality disorders like Trump's mental illnesses, because there are no known causes or treatments. Only diagnoses. People like him are one of nature's nasty little tricks, like smallpox and ticks.
And when they get into power, chaos follows. Every single time.
If Trump were an airline pilot, Fallows notes, he'd be grounded. If he captained a Navy destroyer, he'd lose his command. A corporate CEO who postured as the "King of Israel" would be removed by the board of directors. A surgeon who constantly insulted women and racial minorities couldn't practice in any hospital. And so on.
Problem is, what Fallows aptly calls America's "Vichy Republicans" hold veto power and are paralyzed for fear of their own credulous voters.
This story may not end well.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org