Is It Possible to Overstate Trump’s Depravity?

There’s no excuse for normalizing the president’s behavior.

In the early days of Trump’s presidency, whenever he reacted in a way that wasn’t completely bonkers, a lot of people in the media would line up to suggest that he finally sounded presidential. After almost three months of failures and lies in response to the coronavirus crisis, we’re witnessing a similar reaction to Trump’s press briefing on Tuesday.

I have a tip for these folks: the reason Trump’s tone has changed is because he has gone from denial and lies about the coronavirus to setting everyone up for the moment when he congratulates himself for an outcome that includes up to 240,000 deaths. That has now become the goal this administration is shooting for.

It is infuriating to watch political reporters get sucked into the nonsense delivered by this president over and over again. But David Roberts recently described why that happens.

Ask someone who’s been in an abusive relationship with a malignant narcissist. One reason they’re able to maintain appearances/jobs/etc. is that they are relatively rare & unusual & the normal people around them simply can’t absorb that they are what they are…They try again and again, thinking there must be normal human intentions & emotions in there somewhere. It’s just remarkable how far someone w/out shame or conscience can get by exploiting this cognitive/emotional blindspot.

When Roberts writes about how we keep trying to see normal human intentions and emotions in someone who has never exhibited them before, it is because projection isn’t merely a matter of assuming that others are capable of our worst instincts. In general, we tend to project all of our responses onto others in an attempt to understand their actions. Since most of us aren’t malignant narcissists, it is difficult for us to grasp the levels of depravity exhibited by those who are. Normalizing Trump’s behavior is simply another form of projection.

Over the last three years I have consistently questioned whether I have gone overboard in assuming the worst about Donald Trump. But while it is never a good idea to lock oneself into any line of thinking, I doubt that it is possible to overstate this president’s depravity.

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Nancy LeTourneau

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