Like most people, I have spent the last 18 months or so trying to make sense of Donald Trump. The real questions are whether he is actually clever in some way — after all, he beat the system and became President — and what is the thing with Russia?
This week we learned some fundamental truths about Donald Trump.
1. Trump is not a genius
Whilst I had little doubt that he is a fool, there was a nagging doubt that maybe his clown act is a cover for something more wily and clever. I have written about why he thinks he’s a genius. It is our fault that he feels this way. He managed to become President, which is the top job. He is now fawned over by the whole world, regardless of how reluctantly. He said he’d come to London, and the Queen gave him tea, he got to fly military helicopters over central London. Wherever he goes, normal stops. That is our choice, and therefore our fault.
But on his tour of Europe, one single thing, buried under all the other things, answered the question about whether he’s actually clever. In amongst all the scandals and bluster, he announced he had given Theresa May advice on how to resolve Brexit. For those of you not in the UK, Brexit is proving to be the most complex political conundrum this country has faced in living memory. It probably can’t be solved. It is destabilising the government, the economy, and fracturing society. It is taxing the greatest minds we have, even if a lot of them are just getting frustrated as a result.
Theresa May was asked on the BBC what this pearl of wisdom from Trump had been? What was his advice, which he had humble-bragged about at their press conference? How do we solve Brexit? She smirked, making no effort to hide her disdain. ‘He said I should sue the EU, and walk away from the negotiation.’ (watch it here, it’s funny)
For a brief moment, Theresa May looked like a capable and sensible politician. That was it? That was his advice? This was properly stupid. There is no way to spin it, to add a political nuance that could give it weight. That was just really, really, embarrassingly dumb. It’s not just bad advice, it has no bearing on reality. It’s like telling someone who’s house is on fire to go and get a haircut.
That little moment, that unusual insight — unusual because we don’t normally get told what he says behind closed doors — showed that behind Trump’s bravado is nothing. He is just stupid. He clearly achieved what he did because he is useful to other people. Clever, cynical, manipulative people have spent his life surrounding him and using him to achieve their goals. In business people have profited from him. In television he was used to get ratings. And now in politics he has won the Republicans a government, so he is useful, and they manage him.
You can see this in the way he says things and then rolls them back. In the UK he offended Theresa May and undermined her Brexit strategy. Then he rolled back what he’d said, contradicting himself and changing his tune. You can hear when he is speaking as Donald, and then when he has been slapped down and is speaking as the American President. He did it again after Helsinki, with his bizarre back track about how when he said ‘Why would Russia’ hack the elections, he meant ‘Why wouldn’t they. This is clearly the work of exhausted spin doctors grappling for a vaguely plausible way of digging the Presidency out of another of Donald Trump’s holes.
2. His affair with Russia
All along, we have wondered, is there a pee pee tape? Does Russia have something on him? His meeting with Putin shed some light on this too. Firstly, see above. Now we’ve established that he really is just stupid, it’s easier to understand how he can believe that Putin is good, and Russia did nothing wrong. It’s all a bit complicated, and clearly he’s just too dumb to wrap his head around it all.
But also a lot of people miss the most important factor in the Russia thing. If Donald admits for a moment that Russia hacked his election, (and everything else you have to accept once you do that), he admits that he didn’t win the presidency. It was not all his genius, his skill, his greatness. To admit that he was somehow put in power by someone else would require Donald, a narcissistic fantasist, to shatter his delusion that he won this because he’s a genius. He will never do that.
I don’t think his inner self, his narcissistic ego, is capable of unravelling his own delusions. This is not about rational thought but about psychological insight. It’s like asking someone who believes they are Napoleon to accept a rational argument that shows that they are not.
Donald cannot agree that Russia did anything bad. It undermines his world-view in which he sits at the centre, and at the top of the human pyramid.
So is there a pee pee tape? We can confidently say that Russia has bailed out his business dealings for years. Probably without them he would have just gone bust and disappeared long ago. To ask why drifts back into speculation, but we can be fairly sure that Russia owns him commercially. There are probably loans they can pull, papers they can publish, stuff they know about his corrupt, gangster-like business practices. I don’t think it needs a pee pee tape. This is enough.
Again, it’s about his ego. He needs to believe he is a successful billionaire. Just as he could never admit to himself that he won the presidency because of Russian meddling, he can’t admit that he’s a rubbish businessman who was kept afloat by Russian gangster money.
Donald Trump is a fabrication, and he will never admit that to himself let alone to the rest of us. He lies so easily to everyone else because he lies to himself all the time.
Why Russia would do this, was it part of a big plan to make him president? Zoom out. The world is full of dodgy, right wing, influential people who are supported by Russian money. It’s an insurance policy; a strategy of buying influence, access, and the ability to cause trouble. In this case they just struck it lucky, and one of those people stumbled into the White House, with a bit of help.
I think that Donald does have a soft spot for Russia and Putin as a result. They have always shown him the respect and attention he believes he deserves. Remember that the easiest target for a KGB officer like Putin is a weak narcissist. Flatter them and they do what you want. And with Trump it has worked. They flattered him, projected an image of Trump to Trump that Trump wanted to see, and I think he just likes them as a result.
So, Trump is an idiot, probably too uninformed and imbecilic to understand the complex global reality around him. He is probably, in effect, owned by Russia but most likely due to his past business dealings with them. And on top of that he has a narcissist boy-crush on Vladimir Putin.
I feel better having found some clarity on all this after his tornado-tour of Europe. He managed to make possibly the worst British Prime Minister in recent history look statesman-like, he reminded us why we prefer monarchy over a presidency, he helped unify NATO and the EU against a new enemy, and ended any doubts we may have had about his abilities or his relationship with Putin.
The question now is simply whether the Republicans will continue to overlook this in order to stay in power, trashing their country for their personal agenda, or whether they will return to having some sort of self-respect, love for their country, and moral fibre.