Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

To the extent that we can distance ourselves from the daily indignities of the Trump persona, we have the opportunity to observe an unqualified display of dominance as the foundational principle in relationships, be they personal, political or global. That is essentially what Jeet Heer is talking about when he writes about the rise of the “New York douchbag” persona in the White House.

In most administrations, Scaramucci’s public badmouthing of his colleagues would be a major liability, likely a fireable offense. But Trump operates from a different set of rules—the same rules, it would seem, that Scaramucci operates from. Reading his rant to The New Yorker, it was hard not to recall the infamous Access Hollywood tape in which Trump boasts about sexually assaulting women: “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.” Indeed, Scaramucci is a sort of mini-Trump: brash, hyper-masculine, bro-loyal, sexually crass, and street smart, perhaps, but not actually smart…

The New York douchebag thrives throughout the tri-state area, particularly in New Jersey and the outer boroughs of the city proper. Usually white, he is belligerent, garrulous, ruthlessly competitive, and excessively confident in his persuasive abilities. He is also hypersensitive; the smallest perceived slight will trigger a full-scale defense of his pride. He demands to be respected at all times.

I was reminded of something Franklin Foer wrote about Trump over a year ago.

Donald Trump holds one core belief. It’s not limited government. He favored a state takeover of health care before he was against it. Nor is it economic populism. Despite many years of arguing the necessity of taxing the rich, he now wants to slice their rates to bits. Trump has claimed his nonlinear approach to policy is a virtue. Closing deals is what matters in the end, he says, not unbleached allegiance to conviction. But there’s one ideology that he does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny…

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.

Foer zeros in on the misogyny involved in how Trump treats women, and he is right to do so. But that is part of the overall package of dominance as an approach to every relationship. The big picture is the use of dominance as a way to win, which is all that matters and can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.

We’ve all been living in a culture that defines dominance as the only real form of power for a very long time. But it finds its purest distillation in men like Trump and Scaramucci. That is why we are in the midst of a lesson on its limits…if we are willing to observe and learn.

We’ve already witnessed many examples of how an approach based on unqualified dominance fails. I am reminded of the time when the House Freedom Caucus was threatening to not support Obamacare repeal. Mike Allen told the story of Steve Bannon’s failed approach.

When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon’s opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building: “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”…

Bannon’s point was: This is the Republican platform. You’re the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.

One of the members replied: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

Martin has repeatedly pointed to the failure of the Trump administration to work with Democrats and his knee-jerk reaction to try to bully them into submission.

If Trump wants these things done, and if he wants tax reform or an infrastructure bill, he’ll need to get down on his knees and beg the Democrats for forgiveness and help. But his first reaction is to threaten to sabotage the entire U.S. health care system.

You can predict how that will go for him.

We’ve now watched as the president has attempted to bully the press into submission as well as his own staff in the White House. Does anyone think that bringing in Scaramucci will work to tamp things down? Or will he face the same kind of backlash that we’ve seen from members of Congress?

Here is the problem for people whose only tool is dominance: when it fails to produce submission, it signals weakness, which produces a death spiral for its effectiveness. The more people observe Trump’s failures, the weaker he looks and the less he is able to project dominance. As that happens, the president goes back to the only tool he has and ups the ante. Enter Scaramucci. The reason Trump likes his generals and brought Kelly in as chief of staff is that the military is a culture ruled by hierarchy and dominance. So the president is doubling down as he feels threatened.

The stage has been set for this White House to demonstrate what happens when dominance is the only approach to power. Keep that in mind as we observe what happens next. Continuing to up the ante as a reaction to failure will inevitably lead to authoritarianism as democratic norms and principles—which require partnership—are abandoned. Beyond Trump’s unfitness for office, this will be a true test for whether Republicans continue to be toxic enemies or honest opponents. As Adam Gopnick predicted, this will be the only way forward to preserve our democracy.

What’s needed against Trump now is…not an ideologically narrow, politically focussed opposition but the widest possible coalition of people who genuinely value the tenets of democracy, meaning no more than the passionate desire to settle differences by debate and argument, rather than by power and cruelty and clan.

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