I believe that Donald Trump does want to win the election and become President of the United States of America.
That statement may sound obvious and therefore curious, but I begin with it because I have wondered why he is pursuing a course that will ensure his failure (barring a cataclysmic “October Surprise” that destroys Hillary Clinton’s candidacy). Everything he is doing seems calculated to prevent anyone but his hard-core ~40% level of supporters from considering him worthy of the Presidency. Every time his advisers and the Republican establishment clamor for him to do something to appeal to a broader range of voters, he doubles down on a stance that cheers his locked-in supporters and repels everyone else.
Donald J. Trump is far from a stupid man. Yes, he got a running headstart in business from his wealthy father, but he has done far more with that grubstake than most other heirs have done with theirs. He has been a real-estate visionary, has cobbled together some spectacular deals, has been alertly opportunistic, has used legitimate (if regrettable) tax codes to his enormous advantage, has become a TV star, and withal has made himself an extraordinarily wealthy and world-famous man.
Stupid people are incapable of doing all that. Forget for the moment that he has used some vehicles in ways that would shame others—his so-called “foundation” may be little more than a hybrid laundromat/ATM for slush funds—and give him due credit for achieving prominence and success that is the stuff of many people’s dreams.
So, why his self-destructive behavior now? Why, in the pursuit of his goal of being the most powerful person in the world as President of the United States, would he shun doing whatever it takes to win this campaign? Why would he not shift his strategy when it is so abundantly clear that (absent a lethal October Surprise) he is going down to defeat?
Any of us who compete in sports know full well the maxim: change a losing game. Here we are in football season where halftime is a prominent inflection point in so many games. I once listened to a college game which was 42-0 for the home team at halftime; the final score was 42-45 in favor of the visitors. Behind at halftime, coaches routinely seize the intermission to tell their players how to play differently in the second half to reverse whatever has enabled the other team to prevail to that point. They may have detected a weakness in the other team’s game that can be exploited. They may have detected a weakness in their own team’s performance that can be strengthened. Or both.
Donald J. Trump wants desperately to win. His inability to change his losing game will surely be the most enduring feature of his life and reputation. But it also reveals the saddest aspect of his life: his addiction to applause. How else can one explain why he spends all his time in the presence of raucous and adoring fans who cheer his every snarl and snuffle? How else can one explain why he refuses to learn and reflect even the most elementary truths about the complexities of government which might reassure the undecided that he is capable of leading this nation—truths that might expose him to critical challenges, truths that might possibly confound some in his base who yearn to believe his simplistic, wave-the-wand and/or drop-the-bomb promises? How else to explain his refusal to change a losing game? Surely he must know that failure to do so is costing him this election. He is too smart to be unaware of that.
That is precisely where addiction takes over. Any of us who have been manipulated by our own addictions know all too well how powerfully they overwhelm even the most vivid realization that our behavior is ruining us and destroying any hope of attaining our goals. My own addiction is to food, having gained, lost, and regained significant amounts of weight my entire life. When a delectable morsel is set before me, I will eat it. I will eat it knowing full well—being painfully aware in that very instant—that doing so will demolish my goal of weighing less tomorrow than I do today. I am not stupid. I am actually reasonably bright. But that counts for nothing. Addiction short-circuits intelligence and common sense. Addiction smothers life-saving synapses.
Donald J. Trump’s addiction to applause apparently will keep him prisoner to a lifelong course of getting his fix. It may have cost him the Presidency, but he will do whatever it takes to evoke and hear that applause until the day he dies. Seeing his name on more structures and facilities. Creating a media empire. Leading a third party. Trafficking with sycophants. Whatever.
While as a fellow addict I have genuine empathy for his crippling condition, I am of course grateful that it keeps him from doing what is necessary to install himself in the Oval Office where his genuinely dreadful and disgusting proclivities would make him a menace to our country and the rest of the world.
Beneficiaries of 12-Step programs around the globe recite the following prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Unless and until he is capable of serenity, courage, and wisdom, Donald J. Trump will bathe under a shower of applause from his fans but will suffer nothing but scorn from everyone else.