by Arthur Panaro
Finton O’Toole’s reviews of Chris Christie’s Let Me Finish and Cliff Sims’s Team of Vipers in the March 21, 2019 The New York Review of Books. In this review I found one of the best clinical assessment of Donald Trump.
What follows here is an summation (italicized) of some of O’Toole’s most incisive insight into Trump’s convoluted personality.
O’Toole begins with Christie’s story of being fired by Trump. : In what O’Toole calls an act of gleeful sadism, Trump sent Steve Bannon to fire Chris Christie at the moment Christie was delivering his carefully crafted 30 volume transition plan for the impending Trump regime. Christie, head of the transition team of 140 people, had worked for six months. Christie says “All thirty binders were tossed in a Trump Tower dumpster, never to be seen again.” O’Toole comments: “Are they, one wonders, now rotting away gently somewhere in the wastelands of New Jersey, like the bodies of disposable characters in The Sopranos?”
O’Toole observes that Christie, with his belief that he and Trump were fast friends, is playing a naive ingenue and Trump trifled with him as the cynical lothario.
This was an “act of unalloyed personal malice, the emasculation of a Trump-lite wannabe by the real silverback. . .the trashing of the transition plan as a prelude to the trashing of government itself under Trump.”
John Adams may have imagined that America was being founded as a government of laws, not of men. “Trump’s ideal is a government not even of men, but of a man—his own unprecedented and astonishing self.”
Trump imagines monarchial powers—no managerial hierarchy. Cliff Sims, in Team of Vipers, says “The real org chart. . .was basically Trump in the middle and everyone he personally knew connected to him—like a hub and its spokes.” As Sims puts it, “Everything was personal to Trump—everything. . . The great leader has not peer.”
Trump runs a regime which allows for the great leader to rule by “impulsiveness, volatility, capriciousness, and where would Trump be without” these mind games? Trump celebrates his unpredictability.
“In true dictatorship, the leader owns all the predictability—while he know his orders will be carried out, [and] those subject to the orders have to live in a radically capricious world.” Trump is an “unpredictable celebrity business man” and “good friend” Christie is quoted: I could help to organize a government for Donald.”
O’Toole says that Trump credits himself with having superior instincts that qualify him “to intuit the truth about any subject on earth.” What could Christie really do for him? Trump even brags “I have a natural instinct for science.” It is the same for his powers of making deals. Trump is always right. People around Trump “provide the underlying analytics that confirm his intuition. . .[and build] the intellectual framework that [turns] Trump’s raw, gut instinct into actual policy positions. . .Instinct first, supporting evidence later.”
Its all about confirming “the instinct of the infallable leader. . . . Trump is genetically superior, and this superiority manifests in his intuitions.”
In the Access Hollywood tape “Trump’s true ‘instincts’ were fully audible—feral, misogynistic, and adulterous.” . . . “Trump’s uniqueness places him above ordinary morality.”
Here is an extended quote from O’Toole, one of the most astute psychoanalytic assessments of Trump I have seen.
“The gut is a tyrant. Intuition is both inherently unpredictable and, as a basis for public policy, inherently anti-democratic. It does not have to account for itself—any more than divine inspiration can be questioned by believers. It is not open to contradiction because it is entirely personal—the insight is unique to the president. Trump declared in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in 2016, having evoked an apocalyptic vision of a broken America, ‘I alone can fix it.’ This ‘I’ is all gut and no brain. Everything in government must flow from the instincts of the singular leader. Trump was being entirely consistent when he spoke of his admiration for the way North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un exerted authority: ‘He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.’ If, as he later claimed, this was a joke, it was nonetheless a highly revelatory jest.
“It does not matter that Trump’s oracular speech is hardly delphic. As Sims puts it, ‘Trump talked like other people breathed. It was like a form of exercise for him—an endless exertion of words, phrases, asides, and observations. Sometimes he’d start a sentence and figure out the point he wanted to make along the way.’ Yet this logorrhea is—for himself and his acolytes—the expression of infallible instincts. The spontaneous overflow of Trump’s momentary emotions is the sole source of America’s salvation. The job of his underlings is not—as Christie among others mistakenly thought—to hold them back or to organize them, but to channel them. Confirmation bias in this administration is not an epistemological failing. It is the primary principle of governance: first, confirm Trump’s biases.
“Since he alone can access his infallible gut, and since instincts are immune to consistency, Trump’s subordinates must accommodate themselves to his unpredictability.” p 14
Trump “replaces objective truth with subjective truth but insists that his followers recognize it nonetheless as objectively infallible.” p.14
“One great mark of power is that, to your followers, you are equally infallible when you proclaim opposite truths.” p. 14
“In International relations, predictability is founded on the principle that treaty obligations assumed under one regime will not be discarded by its successor. Trump has overturned this principle by withdrawing or threatening to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, UNESCO, the multilateral nuclear accord with Iran, NAFTA, the Universal Postal Agreement, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Korean–United States Free Trade Agreement, and the World Trade Organization. All international treaties are, to Trump, the equivalents of Christie’s doomed transition plan, threats to his monopoly on unpredictability. Sims records a conversation in the Oval Office in which the president boasted to him of having made the US even more unpredictable than North Korea: ‘Now they don’t know what to make of me…. They don’t have any idea. No one does. And that’s a good thing. That’s how it should be.’ ” p. 14
If, dear reader, after all this you find your mouth agape and you are staring into space, stunned, join the crowd. I have not done much study of our presidents. But from the little I know, I cannot imagine any of them being as “out there” as Trump. Yes, Andrew Jackson was another “out there” guy. More’s the pity. Whatever the case, in the here and now we are saddled with a most troublesome chief executive officer.