A Damaged Soul and a Disordered TRUMP

March 24, 2018

Donald Trump
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Donald Trump is not well. Over the weekend, he continued his weird obsession with a dead war hero. This time, his attacks on John McCain came two days after the anniversary of McCain’s release from a North Vietnamese prison camp. He tweeted this:

And this:

And retweeted this:

All this comes in the aftermath of Trump’s comments about McCain in 2015. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

These grotesque attacks once again force us to grapple with a perennial question of the Trump era: How much attention should we pay to his tweets; and what exactly do they reveal about America’s 45th president?

I’m sympathetic to those who worry that too many Americans spend too much time paying too much attention to what Trump tweets. The danger is that we allow Trump to succeed in keeping us in a state of constant agitation and moral consternation, in ways that are unhealthy and even play to Trump’s advantage, allowing him to control the nation’s conversation.


But that view, which might apply in some circumstances, shouldn’t apply in all circumstances. The real danger in so desensitizing ourselves to Trump’s tweets is that we normalize deviant behavior and begin to accept what is unacceptable.

A culture lives or dies based on its allegiance to unwritten rules of conduct and unstated norms, on the signals sent about what kind of conduct constitutes good character and honor and what kind of conduct constitutes dishonor and corruption. Like each of us, our leaders are all too human, flawed and imperfect. But that reality can’t make us indifferent or cynical when it comes to holding those in authority to reasonable moral standards. After all, cultures are shaped by the words and deeds that leaders, including political leaders, validate or invalidate.

“To his equals he was condescending; to his inferiors kind; and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender,” Henry Lee said in his eulogy of George Washington. “Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues.”

But the other reason we should pay attention to the tweets and other comments by the president is that they are shafts of light that illuminate not only his damaged soul, but his disordered personality.

It doesn’t take a person with an advanced degree in psychology to see Trump’s narcissism and lack of empathy, his vindictiveness and pathological lying, his impulsivity and callousness, his inability to be guided by norms, or his shamelessness and dehumanization of those who do not abide his wishes. His condition is getting worse, not better—and there are now fewer people in the administration able to contain the president and act as a check on his worst impulses.

This constellation of characteristics would be worrisome in a banker or a high-school teacher, in an aircraft machinist or a warehouse manager, in a gas-station attendant or a truck driver. To have them define the personality of an American president is downright alarming.

Whether the worst scenarios come to pass or not is right now unknowable. But what we do know is that the president is a person who seems to draw energy and purpose from maliciousness and transgressive acts, from creating enmity among people of different races, religions, and backgrounds, and from attacking the weak, the honorable, and even the dead.

Donald Trump is not well, and as long as he is president, our nation is not safe.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Peter Wehner is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He writes widely on political, cultural, religious, and national-security issues.

8 thoughts on “A Damaged Soul and a Disordered TRUMP

  1. I disagreed with John McCain a lot, but I never thought he was anything other than a patriot willing to lay down his life for his country. I have no idea why Donald Trump feels the need to tear down the reputation of a war hero, particularly after he has died. There is no bottom to this vile, loathsome, deranged and twisted man, who is simply a terrible, spineless war deserter beefing with a war hero seven months after his death.

    In a speech in Lima, Ohio, Trump complained that he “didn’t get a thank-you” for giving the go-ahead to McCain’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral. “I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted — which, as president, I had to approve,” Trump said. “I don’t care about this, I didn’t get thank-you, that’s okay.” “We sent him on the way,” he said, “but I wasn’t a fan of John McCain.”

    Of course Trump was lying that he gave McCain the funeral that he wanted, as neither Trump nor anyone in his administration was involved in the planning of the memorial for McCain. In fact, John McCain himself, before his death, made it clear that he wanted no involvement from Trump in any facet of his funeral, and didn’t even want him to attend. Trump was not invited.

    Trump’s lies prompted the Washington National Cathedral to respond. A spokesperson for the National Cathedral came out with a public statement to deny that Trump had to approve McCain’s funeral being there: “Washington National Cathedral was honored to host the funeral service for Senator John McCain. All funerals and memorial services at the Cathedral are organized by the family of the deceased. Only a state funeral for a former president involves consultation with government officials. No funeral at the Cathedral requires the approval of the president or any other government official.”

    So, there you have it. It’s really sad and pathetic that the NATIONAL CATHEDRAL has to put out a statement calling the president a liar. Naturally, people have a lot of feelings about the fact that a church is dunking on the president for lying.

    But hey, Gary Cohn, Trump’s former director of the National Economic Council, has told us that Trump is a “professional liar” and a “fucking asshole”!

  2. Din:

    It’s going to be very busy and interesting of how politics at play in Washington DC for next few weeks and months. William Barr has given the first part summary of Robert Muller report. Get your popcorn and soda, and lay back to find out the rest of the summaries. Let’s see how successful Barr will white-wash the Mueller report and how the Democrats will fight to release the full report to American public.

    According to Barr’s first part summary of Mueller report: “For each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leave unresolved what the special counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”

    It looks like the Mueller report does not conclude that Trump committed a crime, nor does it conclude that Trump did not do anything wrong. Mueller left the complicated legal questions on Trump unanswered, and left them to the AG to decide. It is not like what Trump claimed that the report has “exonerated” him.

    The authority given to Mueller probe the scope is very narrow. He has referred all significant criminal findings not related to Russia conspiracy to other appropriate legal entities. Mueller’s work is done but Trump’s legal woes are not. We don’t yet know what Mueller found. No matter what Mueller found, it won’t be the end of Trump’s legal woes — because he, his business, and his family are in jeopardy from many other investigations and lawsuits.

    The SDNY prosecutors are digging into the Trump Organization’s role in hush money payments and the Trump inaugural committee’s finances for potentially committing illegal acts such as fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and a host other crimes. Michael Cohen is continuing to provide SDNY information on the case, but he’s not the only Trump associate who is cooperating with investigators. The SDNY’s prosecutors also reached a non-prosecution agreement in December with American Media Inc. The Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, has also been cooperating with the SDNY.

    Congressional committees are probing everything from how Trump’s son-in-law and daughter got security clearances to Trump’s taxes. The House Judiciary Committee opened up a wide-ranging corruption probe into Trump in early March and sent document requests to 81 individuals, agencies and entities connected to Trump. The investigation is set to focus on whether Trump was involved in any campaign finance violations, obstructions of justice or abuses of power such as misuse of pardons. It will also further investigate possible criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia, as well as efforts to cover up any potential conspiracy.

    State investigators are looking into Trump’s foundation and business. The New York state attorney general investigation is looking into Trump’s dealings with Deutsche Bank, including his failed 2014 attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills football team. In early March, The New York Times reported that the attorney general’s office subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records related to the Bills deal, as well as other Trump Organization plans.

    There have been several high-profile lawsuits against Trump that could surface damaging new information. In particular, a defamation suit by a former Apprentice contestant could result in Trump’s deposition under oath about sexual assault accusations.

    So it’s worth looking at all the legal threats to Trump and organizations close to him that go beyond Mueller — the ones we know about, at least. This isn’t an exhaustive list — I’ve left out the investigations into his donors or his former aides’ lobbying associates. The list is long enough already.

    So, sit back and enjoy the show, bro. Like the Chinese say: 好戲還在後頭 (the best is yet to come).

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