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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kagan: Trump’s ‘Personality Defect’ a Potential Threat to Peace

Robert Kagan’s latest Washington Post column, “There is something very wrong with Donald Trump” merits a slow, serious read, especially by Trump’s fellow Republicans. Kagan, a senior Brookings fellow and Clinton supporter, explains:

One wonders if Republican leaders have begun to realize that they may have hitched their fate and the fate of their party to a man with a disordered personality. We can leave it to the professionals to determine exactly what to call it. Suffice to say that Donald Trump’s response to the assorted speakers at the Democratic National Convention has not been rational.

Why denigrate the parents of a soldier who died serving his country in Iraq? And why keep it going for four days? Why assail the record of a decorated general who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan? Why make fun of the stature of a popular former mayor of New York? Surely Trump must know that at any convention, including his own, people get up and criticize the opposition party’s nominee. They get their shots in, just as your party got its shots in. And then you move on to the next phase of the campaign. You don’t take a crack at every single person who criticized you. And you especially don’t pick fights that you can’t possibly win, such as against a grieving Gold Star mother or a general. It’s simply not in your interest to do so.

The fact that Trump could not help himself, that he clearly did, as he said, want to “hit” everyone who spoke against him at the Democratic convention, suggests that there really is something wrong with the man. It is not just that he is incapable of empathy. It is not just that he feels he must respond to every criticism he receives by attacking and denigrating the critic, no matter how small or inconsequential the criticism. If you are a Republican, the real problem, and the thing that ought to keep you up nights as we head into the final 100 days of this campaign, is that the man cannot control himself. He cannot hold back even when it is manifestly in his interest to do so. What’s more, his psychological pathologies are ultimately self-destructive…

Kagan, of course, is not the lone ranger in suggesting that Trump may be more than a little unhinged, and in a dangerous way. See here, here and here for example. “He must attack everyone who opposes him, even after he has defeated them,” Kagan continues. “He must continue talking about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, even after Cruz has thrown in the towel. He must humiliate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, even after Christie has lain down before him.”

Kagan’s Fellow WaPo columnist Eugene Robinson has also observed Trump’s tantrum about the Democratic convention and commented that “he’s alarmingly thin-skinned. Referring to critics who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, Trump said Thursday that he wanted to “hit a number of those speakers so hard, their heads would spin.” And: “I was going to hit one guy in particular, a very little guy.” Trump made clear Friday on Twitter that he was talking about “ ‘Little’ Michael Bloomberg, who never had the guts to run for president.” (The bet here is that ‘Little Michael Bloomberg’ would likely flatten Trump in any such physical altercation).

Kagan doesn’t use the word. But millions of Trump-watchers must be thinking that this may be the first overtly sadistic presidential nominee of a major political party. Trump seems unmoved by criticism of his cruelty, or worse, maybe he likes it, since many sadists have a masochistic side. As Kagan adds, “he is unable to control his responses to criticism. He must double down every time, even if it means digging himself deeper and deeper into the hole.” Worse, adds Kagan,

And because it is a defect and not a tactic, it would continue to affect Trump’s behavior in the White House. It would determine how he dealt with other nations. It would determine how he dealt with critics at home. It would determine how he governed, how he executed the laws, how he instructed the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies under his command, how he dealt with the press, how he dealt with the opposition party and how he handled dissent within his own party. His personality defect would be the dominating factor in his presidency, just as it has been the dominating factor in his campaign. His ultimately self-destructive tendencies would play out on the biggest stage in the world, with consequences at home and abroad that one can barely begin to imagine. It would make him the closest thing the United States has ever had to a dictator, but a dictator with a dangerously unstable temperament that neither he nor anyone else can control.

Kagan believes that “his defects will destroy him before he reaches the White House. He will bring himself down, and he will bring the Republican Party and its leaders down with him.” It’s scant comfort, however, because an individual with such disturbing ‘character defects’ has risen as far atop one of the major political parties as has Trump, and that some horrific event, such as a terrorist attack, scandal or economic meltdown just might put him in charge as the leader of the world’s most powerful nation.

If Democrats needed a reason to reject complaisancy or overconfidence and get busy organizing a record GOTV effort, Kagan’s column is a good starter.

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