Donald Trump
Credit: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr

The following is not new. It’s from an essay written by Rebecca Solnit and published back on May 30th: The Loneliness of Donald Trump: On the Corrosive Privilege of the Most Mocked Man in the World. It’s an erudite piece filled with some pretty keen psychological insights. It’s also a revenge piece, written, I suspect, in an effort at self-therapy. If the Trump phenomenon is an unending insult that produces psychic and physical wounds, sometimes it’s healthy (or, at least it seems necessary) to punch back and be mean in return. The value of the piece doesn’t lie in the satisfaction of that impulse. You should read it not for your sanity but because between all the counterpunching, there are opportunities to learn things of value.

The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.

Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society. Inequality creates liars and delusion. The powerless need to dissemble—that’s how slaves, servants, and women got the reputation of being liars—and the powerful grow stupid on the lies they require from their subordinates and on the lack of need to know about others who are nobody, who don’t count, who’ve been silenced or trained to please. This is why I always pair privilege with obliviousness; obliviousness is privilege’s form of deprivation.

You can be a successful and powerful person and fall into this kind of trap quite easily, and it doesn’t require that you’re a raging narcissist. If legitimate competition or simple paranoia causes you to lead with caprice and fear, your subordinates will cease being honest with you. If you’re a child of privilege who has always been shielded from the natural consequences of your excesses, mistakes, and failures, you may not realize that your floor is not sturdy. Your opinion of your capabilities and the defensibility of your position may be dangerously inflated without you needing to have any kind of clinical psychological disorder. Even a child who rose to the top strictly on hard work and merit, like Bill Clinton, can run aground when given too much power and too much deference.

Our current president, however, suffers from than more than the deprivation of sycophancy. He actually requires it.

There is a difference between succumbing to the trappings of power and failing to listen to those who might give you needed reality checks and being the kind of person who is so insecure that they can’t endure any criticism at all.

Our president gives us the worst of all worlds. His behavior cannot be corrected. It is not possible for him to get better advice. His pathologies feed on themselves. Thus:

The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence. He must know somewhere below the surface he skates on that he has destroyed his image, and like Dorian Gray before him, will be devoured by his own corrosion in due time too. One way or another this will kill him, though he may drag down millions with him. One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.

Donald Trump wanted and got something he could not have. He can’t do this job and he knows it. He must now seek an exit, but he will want “safety nets and buffers.” He will seek padded walls and for someone to pick up the pieces. But there will be no one to do this for him, now.

In the recovery community, there’s a saying that the addict is like the eye of a hurricane. At the center, things seem calm and it is hard to understand why all this damage is being created all around them. The desire to drink or get high seems like such a small thing to satisfy, how could it cause all this carnage? If people didn’t complain about it so much, my addiction wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Well, addicts (for so long as they are in active addiction) are the most self-centered people in the universe. They are also the most cunning, manipulative and adept at creating padded walls for themselves. They will keep going until all avenues are blocked.

Narcissists are similar in every regard, and our president will have to have his way blocked soon by the people with the power to block him. In the meantime, we’re all living in his destructive vortex.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at