Trump's negative partisanship isn't ready for the GOP convention
David von Drehle writes on Trump’s negativity, often revealed as the usual reactionary, anti-modern attitudes of conservatives. It coincides with the release of another film on Trump’s qualifications for office, #Unifit: The psychology of Donald Trump.
Political scientists speak of “negative partisanship.” It’s a category, not a value judgment. It describes voters whose choices are driven by what — and who — they’re against, not what or who they’re for. Negative partisanship sounds like this: I wish Trump wouldn’t tweet that stuff, but at least he’s not Hillary. It also sounds like this: I support anyone but Trump. It’s the politics of no, and it is the defining condition of American public life today.The master practitioner will be nominated by Republicans next week for a second term as president of the United States. Donald Trump is the most purely negative politician of our time — a category, not necessarily a value judgment. People are for him because of what he’s against: Mexican rapists, unfair trade deals, nasty women, fake news, American carnage.
By derailing the economy, the coronavirus pandemic spoiled Trump’s hopes of putting a positive spin on his reelection. It also exposed the flaw in negative polarization: It leaves a leader paralyzed in times of crisis that call for teamwork and trust. Effectively handling the pandemic would have taken an affirmative plan: Do A, B, C and D — and keep doing them until the virus is under control. Instead, for nearly six months, Trump has zigzagged between ignoring the disease and trying to find an enemy to blame for it. Democrats were hyping it, he charged. President Barack Obama did not prepare properly. Health-care workers, he hinted darkly, might be stealing face masks. Governors were infringing on liberty, he tweeted. The World Health Organization was botching matters. Scientists from the Swamp were thwarting promising cures. The media was exaggerating the whole thing.
Now, it’s convention time, and Trump seems to have settled on China as his prime coronavirus villain. Pay no attention to his earlier declaration that dictator Xi Jinping was “doing a very good job” fighting the disease. That will be forgotten as easily as his campaign donations and wedding invitation to Clinton once were. Nameless looters, disrespecters of statuary and defunders of police are sure to be mentioned frequently, too — and don’t forget socialists. Democratic nominee Joe Biden will be linked to them all, the Zelig of enemies: pawn of China, protector of the lawless, puppet of leftists.
There will always be elbows thrown in American politics. But Biden, who delivered an entire acceptance speech without a single mention of Trump’s name, seems to understand that you can’t out-elbow this president. There is a quiet party in the electorate, composed of voters who want someone to vote for, not against; someone to drive progress, not wedges; someone who understands the precious and endangered value of social cohesion and public trust, and will take personal responsibility for nurturing them.
— Variety (@Variety) August 22, 2020
Trump is the kind of screw-loose blowhard who has inspired all too many of us to play armchair psychiatrist. We’ve been putting him on the couch for the entire run of his presidency. So most, if not all, of the insights presented by the upcoming documentary “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump” (it drops on Aug. 28) will be familiar to any student of TISDS (Trump Is Seriously Deranged Syndrome).
Trump, as Dan Partland’s film explains, is a malignant narcissist. (Has there ever been a DSM diagnosis that sounded like more of a direct insult?) The film details the four qualities in Trump that define that syndrome:
- his paranoia (the feeling that any journalist who asks him a challenging question, or any staff member who doesn’t kiss his ring, is out to get him);
- his anti-social personality disorder (the constant lying, the lack of remorse about even the most destructive things he does);
- the sadism (the thousands of vicious attacks and insults in his tweets);
- and…well, his narcissism (do I need to detail that?).
In addition, the film analyzes his propensity to create and live in his own reality. It explores his absence of empathy — which, of course, is the defining quality of the sociopath. (They’re not insane; they just don’t care about you — or anyone else.) And it compares him to Hitler and Mussolini, and to the authoritarian leaders of our own time.
“#Unfit” never gets into what I’ve always thought of as the most mentally unsound aspect of the Trump personality, which is this: We all know how many lies he has told in office (and for years beforehand), since it’s well- documented. But apart from the sheer scurrilousness of his daily fraudulence, one has to wonder: What does telling that many lies, to the point that he may actually believe a lot of them, do to a person’s head? What reality is Donald Trump living in? If we knew the answer to that, they could title a new disorder after it, one he’d probably be proud to have his name on.