Stop Viewing Trump Through the Lens of ‘Normal’ Political Behavior

Friday morning, Donald Trump gave a speech in the Rose Garden about his decision to declare a national emergency and then took a few questions from reporters. I suspect that, due to conventional norms and respect for the office of the presidency, most major media outlets that participated in the questioning, and those who reported on the event afterwards, treated what the president said in the same way they have reacted to his predecessors. But that is a dangerous approach.

I watched the event in its entirety and the whole spectacle was deeply disturbing. For example, in the midst of talking about “drugs pouring across our border,” Trump went off on a tangent in which he described a conversation he had with President Xi Jinping about drug use in China. According to Trump, China doesn’t have a drug problem (which is a lie), because dealers are given the death penalty. He then went on to suggest that a drug dealer in this country gets asked “how about a fine?” Beyond the absurdity of those remarks, the president lost track of what he was talking about and went off on a ridiculous tangent. That happened over and over again during this event.

In this clip, I’d challenge anyone to find a coherent thought that makes any sense.

Finally, this is how a six year-old talks, not a president.

What normally happens when we witness a spectacle like this from the president is that we fact-check his lies and analyze his political strategy. Because Trump lies compulsively, he gets more of the former than his predecessors ever did. But to analyze his performance from the perspective of politics misses the point. For example, on Thursday Nate Silver wrote a column titled, “Trump Keeps Doubling Down On The Same Failed Strategy.”

President Trump will declare a national emergency and seek money to build a border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday, moments before the U.S. Senate passed a compromise spending bill that didn’t include wall funding.

If Trump follows through on the emergency declaration, he’ll be doing something that large majorities of Americans oppose — and he’ll be doing it at right as his job approval ratings had begun to rebound following the partial government shutdown in December and January…

…nothing here is rocket science. It’s Electoral Politics 101. Trump does unpopular stuff, and he becomes more unpopular. The erosion mostly comes from independents because Republicans are highly loyal to him and Democrats are already almost uniformly opposed.

But Trump will need those independents to win re-election.

Donald Trump will never make sense to those who view his actions through the lens of politics.

No critic of this president understands him better than Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal. This is the lens through which we must view Trump’s actions:

What we witnessed during this press conference was a president who is experiencing one defeat after another and will do anything to delude himself in order to avoid feeling humiliated and obliterated. He isn’t doubling down on a failed strategy because he has determined that it is a good politics. He’s doing what his ego tells him is necessary in order to survive.

The prevalence of erratic meandering and stream-of-consciousness verbiage we witnessed during this press conference are signs that the stress of maintaining that delusion are causing him to decompensate.

In medicine, decompensation is the functional deterioration of a structure or system that had been previously working with the help of allostatic compensation. Decompensation may occur due to fatigue, stress, illness, or old age. When a system is “compensated,” it is able to function despite stressors or defects. Decompensation describes an inability to compensate for these deficiencies.

I suspect that Republicans who have been up close and personal with the president over these last few days—like Mitch McConnell—know that better than the rest of us. He is likely exhibiting those signs in an even more pronounced way behind closed doors. That is what makes the Majority Leader’s actions even more duplicitous.

We’ve been on a dangerous course since Donald Trump was inaugurated as president. It is important for all of us to see what is happening and to name it. We won’t do that if we keep up the facade of assuming that what we are witnessing is anything close to “normal” political behavior.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.