In a recent comment thread, some of us speculated on Donald Trump’s inner demons. Burt questioned whether our president is now “all id,” with no integrated ego to counterbalance base instincts. Greginak suggested that
If there ever was a “rosebud”, which i doubt, [Trump] would have gladly forgotten it or despise it if he recalled it.
I got on my high horse and tsk-tsk’d that no one can see into anyone else’s soul. But I put in my own two cents as well, saying that Trump is “a Gollum or a Saruman, not a Sauron.”
As I tried to say in my comment, if what Burt and Greginak say is true, then it’s a very sad story. Those speculations, mine included, strike me as punching someone while they’re down.
That’s a strange thing to say, I know. Mr. Trump is the president of the United States. Pretty much by definition, any criticism or joke against him is “punching up.” And Burt and Greginak aren’t joking. I read their comments as political analysis. If someone is “all id” or is so far gone that there’s no “rosebud”–in that event, the case for impeachment is stronger and more convincing because the man is that much more dangerous. And as analysis, their comments ring true and worthy of consideration.
But it still feels to me like punching down. Mr. Trump is, at bottom, a human being. If Burt and Greginak (and I) are right, there’s little hope for Mr. Trump ever to find any happiness or contentment or whatever it is that people, at bottom, really want or need. Maybe, if we’re speaking Freudian, he can stave off “narcissistic injuries” for a little while. If we’re speaking Wellesian, he can build a Xanadu. But the castle looks like a lonely prison. Granted it’s a prison of his own making, but it’s a prison nonetheless.
You’re probably familiar with the cliche that to understand something is to excuse it. And at least for me, understanding does create the temptation to excuse. The temptation is all the more alluring because I’m not one of Trump’s victims. I mean, I’m a citizen of the U.S. and a resident of the world, and he and his presidency threaten much that I claim to hold dear. But I’m not a first order victim. I’m not yet directly affected by the evil he chooses. It’s easy for me to say that although I support impeachment or removal through some other legal means and although I’d probably support imprisonment, I want Trump to find peace.
We each of us have our own Rosebuds. If we’re lucky, we have more than one, and we haven’t yet learned to forget or despise all of them. Yet even the best among us might choose to reject joy in exchange for something toxic. I can nurse my anger and that chip on my shoulder and neglect everything else–even and especially if the anger is by all standards righteous and the chip is there for good reason.
I’m a poor vehicle for this message. If I had been less insistent on “empathizing with Trump supporters,” less eager to entertain whataboutism, or less equivocal in condemning Trump from day one, my message would be more credible. But I don’t see anyone else making my point, and the point needs to be made. He’s the enemy, but he’s as capable of suffering as any of us.
Photo credit: Andrew Dallos, photographer. Rachel Maddow, “Embattled governor Rod Blagojevich meets for an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.” Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.