When Dominance Is Your Only Tool

Donald Trump’s handlers don’t seem to be willing and/or capable of tamping down his verbal escalation of the situation with North Korea. Here’s his latest from this morning:

The Drudge Report captured the mood.

This is indicative of what many of us have been talking about for a long time now. Donald Trump has only one tool in his toolbox: dominance. As a reminder, here is what a few people have written about that:

Franklin Foer

Trump wants us to know all about his sex life. He doesn’t regard sex as a private activity. It’s something he broadcasts to demonstrate his dominance, of both women and men. In his view, treating women like meat is a necessary precondition for winning, and winning is all that matters in his world. By winning, Trump means asserting superiority. And since life is a zero-sum game, superiority can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.

Tony Schwartz (ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal)

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it…

He derives his sense of significance from conquests and accomplishments…Any addiction has a predictable pattern: The addict keeps chasing the high by upping the ante in an increasingly futile attempt to re-create the desired state. On the face of it, Trump has more opportunities now to feel significant and accomplished than almost any other human being on the planet. But that’s like saying a heroin addict has his problem licked once he has free and continuous access to the drug. Trump also now has a far bigger and more public stage on which to fail and to feel unworthy.

Gail Sheehy

[Trump’s] biographers have recorded his world view as saturated with a sense of danger and his need to project total toughness. As we know, his father trained him to be a “killer,” the only alternative to being a “loser.” He has never forgotten the primary lesson he learned from his father and at the military school to which he was sent to toughen him up still further. In Trump’s own words: “Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.”

There are times when a show of force is called for. Fred Kaplan outlined how the Clinton administration used the threat of hard power to bring North Korea to the negotiating table in 1994. The Obama administration refused to take military action off the table when it came to the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon. But both of those presidents maintained an outstretched hand for a peaceful solution via diplomacy.

What is dangerous about Trump is that an outstretched hand for diplomacy doesn’t seem to be a tool he has available in his toolbox. Those kinds of solutions are, by definition, based on negotiating a win/win and his world is defined by win/lose. The possibility of a hollowed-out State Department with Rex Tillerson at the helm doesn’t hold out much hope of a negotiated settlement of this situation either.

Far be it from me to predict how this all ends, but it could be the one time when the fact that Donald Trump is a delusional coward is a good thing. Like all bullies, the president has demonstrated that he loves to bluster, but doesn’t always follow through (think of all the people he has threatened to sue over the last year an a half). Trump is also very capable of creating a delusion in which North Korea submits to his dominance as a way to end this escalation. Like all of his delusions, it doesn’t have to bear any relationship to the truth.

The fact that we would have to look to this president’s history of being a delusional coward for a sense of hope is perhaps the clearest demonstration of why he is so thoroughly unfit to serve in this office.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.