Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Looking for love in all the wrong places

All he has ever, ever wanted was to be loved. And if he can't scratch that itch one way, he'll scratch it another way.

I'm speaking, of course, about Donald Trump. The pathetically needy, immensely insecure Donald Trump, the man whose entire mission in life has been to compensate for the vacuum that apparently exists deep in his soul.

You know, the man who bragged that "I alone ..." could fix what ails us, and by fixing it end this "American carnage;" the man who thought that his election as the freaking president of the freaking United States would finally sate his thirst for adoration, but instead has discovered that being president is hard, that people actually expect you to do things, and if you don't do things they'll say mean stuff about you to the media and to pollsters.

What good is being president if people are mad at you all the time?

So that man -- the right wing's hero and savior, the man beloved by millions not for his wisdom or decency but for his eagerness to savage liberals and outrage the media -- that man is suddenly making goo-goo eyes at the Democrats and basking in the glow of positive media coverage. Because for now at least, that's where he gets his itch scratched.

Thursday morning, for example, Trump met at the White House with a group of fellow New Yorkers, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, long one of the more despised political figures among conservatives. We'll let U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-NY, describe what happened:

“He and Chuck — both of them would interrupt each other at times — and they’d go back and forth and Chuck would say something and smile and the president would look at him and smile. This went on for the whole — let’s say the meeting was around 40 minutes or so? It was almost like a love-in at times.”

Of course, if there's anyone in office today whom conservatives hate more than Schumer, it's Nancy Pelosi, Trump's other new partner. After cutting their deal Wednesday, an excited Donald called Nancy Thursday morning, and the two of them chatted and chatted about the great press coverage they were getting, and how really, they should do more of that kind of thing because everybody really loves it, that I can tell you.

Then Nancy mentioned to Donald how sweet it would be if he would tell those nice Dreamer kids that they won't be targeted for deportation.

No problem, said Donald. Anything for a pal.

A few minutes later:

But here's the best part.  Trump is cutting deals with the Democrats. He now says he wants to abolish debt-ceiling votes, a longtime Democratic priority, and that he would be happy to sign legislation re-establishing DACA protections for the Dreamers, a position that ought to outrage his anti-immigrant base.

Yet for the most part, that isn't happening. At this point, expressing outrage at Trump would require his supporters to admit that ... well, that they made a mistake, that maybe he really is the amoral, unprincipled applause-seeker that they were warned against. They're in too deep to do that. By now they've ignored so much, rationalized so much, and invested so much of their own self-esteem in defending him against the indefensible that the psychological price of admitting their error is much too high to pay.

They had already toppled the statues of Ronald Reagan and replaced them with gilted images of Trump. They had repudiated the legacies of men such as John McCain, Mitt Romney and anybody named Bush, and had ceased trying to pretend that theirs was a big-tent party committed to winning support of a diverse America. Like Cortez and his conquistadors, like Alexander the Great at the gates of Persia, they had burned their ships on the beach at Trump's command, leaving them no means to go back.

So we get beautiful things like this:

If His Exalted Greatness is now forced to consort with liberals and Democrats, it certainly can't be HIS fault. It has to be the fault of ... Paul Ryan! And Mitch McConnell!  Yeah, that's the ticket!! The Democrats weren't the real enemy anyway (we were NEVER at war with Eurasia!) The real enemy all along had been the RINOs in Congress and the GOP establishment!

It's all pretty weird, I admit, but personality cults can be like that. The leader's bottomless need to be loved must always be matched by the followers' bottomless need to love, so the central, never-changing premise is that the leader must never be wrong. If facts, understandings, relationships or history suggest weakness on the part of the leader, then those facts, understandings, relationships and history must be altered.

And when Trump inevitably changes back, when his need for love and validation forces him to lurch in yet another direction and Chuck and Nancy again become his hated enemies, as they surely will, his most devoted followers will still be there for him, still making excuses and creating scapegoats, right up to and beyond the point that it all just collapses.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.