The bumpy-ride-fasten-your-seat-belts turbulence of the past five or so months has been brought to you free of charge by what I call the “reality principle”: this is what happens when a reality star meets, for the first time in his life at the ripe age of 70, a reality he cannot control.
Never before has America dealt with a leader who has been as cocooned as was Donald Trump in money and privilege, or rather of privilege purchased by money, a setting in which he could never be fired and there were very few people who couldn’t be bought. The son of a rich man who began at the top in the family business, he sought a second career as an entertainment celebrity, thus combining in one lifetime the two venues that best cultivate a fully self-centered mindset.
Some very rich people — and celebrity entertainers who are their own brands — don’t live among equals. They live among layers of lackeys who follow their orders and hang on their every word.
When Trump speaks of his business experience, he is speaking of small business which he owned and managed. His only political experience before Jan. 20, 2017, was running for office, and a political campaign is the ultimate absolute-monarch model. Campaigns are the ultimate ego-experience, wholly defined by the man at the center, clusters and clusters of minuscule satellites, who circle one vast spinning sun.
Trump rolled through the campaign — the consummate ego trip — and arrived in Washington with the mindset, as the French would put it, “L’etat c’est moi.”
But after Jan. 20, he suddenly found himself tied down and surrounded by people and forces who, to his amazement, have power and plans of their own.
L’etat may be moi, but now it is moi and the judges in all of the courts in the country. It’s moi and the 538 members of Congress; it’s moi and the hundreds of bureaus and agencies, with people in them with plans of their own.
Trump can fire a few, but they make him pay for it. Some of the people he beat in the primaries are back for six more years in the Senate, holding hearings about him, and he can’t rein them in.
To those of us who grew up having to prove our own worth to strangers and then live among them this sounds like adult life. But to Trump, who never had to confront these and other such ego-deflations, it’s a foreign experience, an imposition and outrage, against which he feels driven to vent his objections, in a series of colorful tweets.
“Trump and his advisers are in way over their heads,” said Doug Sosnik, a one-time Clinton adviser.
“Succeeding in politics … is different from making a go of it in a business centered on one person,” E.J. Dionne told us. Peggy Noonan put it a little bit differently: “Mr. Trump does not understand the norms, rules, and traditions of his job.”
In May, just after two shocks in two days halted business-as-usual, the Washington Post quoted a former state Republican chairman on the soaring anxiety levels within her profession: “We cannot sustain this level of chaos from the White House and expect it will be anything less than a tragic outcome on Election Day.”
As shock follows shock, it seems more and more likely that if the Trump regime does meet an irregular ending it is less likely to come from one specific offense than from a diffuse and bi-partisan sense of total exhaustion, that the process of government cannot proceed in its regular fashion while Donald J. Trump is its head.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”