Our Absentee President-Elect

Now that his cabinet is taking shape we have an inkling as to the sort of administration we are in for. One thing is clear from even the more cursory of looks: Trump executed one of the greatest bait-and-switches of all time.

Though mentioned quite causally by Trump, the notion that he would drain the swamp became the meme of the month–right up until it became obvious that, as The New Yorker’s David Remnick put it, what Trump was doing constituted “a reinvention of the swamp, a new, improved version of the swamp”.

That is hardly the only disappointment, the only switch after the baiting, but given the hopes of many who voted for him, they now have a bitter pill to swallow. And for those who entertained fainter hopes that he might indeed drain the swamp and/or be third-party enough as to constitute a not too intolerable president, it drove the nail deep in the coffin.

And the end of the day, none of this should surprise us: We have known for decades that Trump was a narcissist.  As his before-and-after stances on the riggedness of the electoral system amply summarize:

“It’s largely a rigged system.” — Trump, before election

“You’ve been hearing me say it’s a rigged system, but now I don’t say it any more, because I won. Now I don’t care.” — Trump, after election

Trump’s primary concern is Trump and Trump’s image. A raft of sites have documented examples of this, of his ancillary and deep-seated insecurity, and of how he may freely criticize and insult but when the tables are turned he calls these behaviors unfair and sad. Hand-in-hand with this is his willingness to say whatever seems to make him popular at the moment—regardless of how it might jive with what he has said before or how offensive it might be. (This includes draining the swamp, which he himself says he never much cared for until he saw how his fans reacted to it.)

So, it is anyone’s guess as to whether he has grabbed any women’s crotches or just thought it would make Billy Bush like him more, how serious he really was about The Wall, or any of the other things he said that kept his followers riled up and willing to vote for him. Call it textbook narcissism, pathological lying, or whatever, but this is beyond the normal soft promises of everyday politics and not a quality we want in a leader.

I suppose you could make an argument that having a pathological narcissist as a president is better than having an actual crotch grabbing, economically ruinous wall-building, quasi-fascist, but I am not so sure we have dodged that bullet.

Several times over the last year I said that Trump did not really want to be president. That he worked right up to the end to get elected would seem to belie it. That said, in a modified form I still think I was correct. It is not that he did not (or does not) want the office, he just wants to avoid the work of it. The details and actual politicking that go with it. The power (or at least certain aspects of it), sure. The frustrations and drudgery no.

He wants, in essence, to be an absentee leader. A grand tradition followed by many leaders from antiquity to now and ranging from China to Rome and beyond.

I am not sure how surprised we should be about this, but the GOP leadership, or at least those around Trump seem to be down with this. It has been suggested that a deal was cut where he would be allowed to maintain his conflicting interests in his businesses in return for letting Pence, Gingrich, and so on run the show. The result is the spectacular array of swampy nominees coming from Team Trump. Granted not all of them are toxic as others, and there are couple who might be considered decidedly unswampy. On the whole though, the assemblage makes a mockery of any claim to outsiderness Trump even a billionaire from New York could lay claim to.

Climate change deniers, poisoned leaders from the heart of the 2008 crisis, the most bigoted member of the Senate… these are exactly the nightmares many had about who Trump might appoint if you though his rhetoric genuine instead of just him shooting his mouth off looking to make his fans cheer at him.

The only difference is they are not his nominations, they are Gingrich’s and Breitbart’s. Sure, they may have come from Trump’s lips, but that was only the terminus of path that started at the mouths of the turds he has surrounded himself with and ran through a mind unable to hold more than one thought at once.

Now, do I think this absolves Trump in some way? No. If you run for office, you ought to be willing to do the job, not just spout off and then hand the job over to the most fiscally and socially conservative opportunists that managed to latch on to you because you have the attention span of a five-year-old.

If Trump was a better person or at least a less mentally lazy one, we might be in a not too terrible position. If you look at a lot of his campaign material it is quite laudable in its goals at least. Certainly, we would have had a better shot at some actual swamp draining.

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