Snowflake in Chief
Our so-called leader’s skin is just as thin as it is orange.
It is a well-known principle in all negotiations that the one who cares the most is in the weak position. The one who’s ready to walk away dictates the terms.
Mitch McConnell knows that principle. He prides himself on saying no to everything until he gets exactly what he wants. One might think, as Majority Leader of the US Senate, he would want to save Americans from death, starvation, homelessness, and other consequences of COVID-45. But he’ll turn his back on all of that if he can’t have it for the price he wants and with some bonuses thrown in to please his donor base.
A corollary to the who-cares-more principle is that rules are for losers. Fair play is a quaint anachronism, if no one has the power to enforce it.
Donald Trump takes full advantage of that corollary, ignoring not just manners and decorum but established precedent (e.g. releasing his tax returns), tradition (e.g. honoring our fallen heroes on Memorial Day), common decency (e.g. not putting children in cages), and constitutional mandates (e.g. refusing emoluments from foreign powers), but also any law he finds inconvenient (e.g. Hatch Act, campaign finance laws, congressional subpoenas).
To his supporters, such brazen flouting of the obligations of his office makes him strong. He’s doing what they wanted him to do: owning the libs. And he’s doing it the same way they would do it: by giving the finger to the things that only Washington insiders care about. Like dignity, decorum, decency, and — oh, yes — democracy.
The great big orange MAGA man is running his race NASCAR-style: If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.
Our weakness is that we do care. Not just about such niceties as the Constitution and the rule of law, but about the welfare of our neighbors and the possibility of a society in which poor, BIPOC, disabled, immigrant, and other-gendered people are just as safe and just as valued as rich white men.
What really makes us cucks and losers to the right wing, though, is that we care about civility. We know that manners matter, and although we will get riled up for a cause — to “make good trouble” as John Lewis said so eloquently — we remain committed to humanity, ours and everybody else’s, and we want that commitment to be obvious.
In other words, we care what other decent people think of us.
And in spite of all the (literally) bare-faced evidence we see in public places every day, we want to think most others share our love of decency.
That makes us easy targets for the trolls, not only on the interwebs but on the news and on the street. They love nothing more than to trigger us, to shock our tender sensibilities by crapping on the things we care about, like human rights or the environment.
They themselves cannot get triggered. They’re too tough.
Except for Donald Trump, who can and does get triggered all the time.
Poor Donnie has a weakness, see? His weakness is his image. Donnie needs to be admired. It’s really quite pathetic, when you think about it.
Donnie needs us to believe he’s fabulously rich, and that he earned his legendary wealth by matchless business acumen. He sued a writer (unsuccessfully) for reporting that his fortune was far less than what he claimed it was. He sued (also unsuccessfully) to try to keep the word from getting out that he had actually inherited — and lost — a massive fortune.
Donnie needs to prove his popularity, by lying about his inaugural crowd, by denying that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, by pointing to the ratings of his press conferences in the early days of the pandemic. He paid an associate (from his charity, of course) to spend $60,000 for his portrait at an auction, rather than risk his actual image going for a price reflective of his actual popularity.
Donnie needs to be affirmed, to hear that he’s the best, the brightest, and the most successful ever. He chooses underlings not for their competence but for their readiness to tell him what he wants to hear, and whenever any of them have annoying fits of honesty, he dumps them.
He whines on Twitter like a baby over how unfairly he is treated by the press, and every time his ignorance and/or incompetence produces yet another pratfall, he starts blaming everyone in sight instead of facing facts that hurt his feelings.
Why has no one noticed he’s a snowflake?
A leader needs a thick skin, a president a hide like a rhinoceros. It’s just the nature of the job. No matter what you do, you’re going to make a lot of people hate you, for a little while at least. Opposition leaders criticize you — it’s their job. You will have detractors who blame you for matters out of your control. You will make decisions, hundred of them; some of those decisions will be wrong. You will have to compromise sometimes, for politics — not business — is the true art of the deal.
And sometimes you will have to give the country bad news, maybe even tell them they will have to do some things they’d rather not. But you do it, because that’s what leaders do. Especially in hard times, leaders tell us what we need to know, even when the truth is hard to bear.
But Donald Trump has never been a leader. He’s not even good at playing one on television. So when the country faced a deadly threat, he didn’t think the way a president should think — of how to save his country — but only of how he could save his image.
Little Donnie’s first concern was that this kind of news would cause the Dow to tumble. The Dow had been (in his mind) proof of his great economic policies, and he couldn’t face the risk of tarnishing the only good thing that had happened on his watch.
So he did what little children do when they see disaster looming. He closed his eyes, he crossed his fingers, and he lied. He told the people who were trusting him that it would go away. He didn’t think about how many of them might get sick and die, but only how to make sure no one blamed him for their deaths.
The most ironic thing about the whole scenario is that he really wouldn’t have been blamed. In fact, the virus could have been his golden opportunity to beat the odds again and get the only thing he wanted — reelection. All he had to do was call in his few remaining competent advisors, such as Dr. Fauci, and follow their instructions. He would have been our leader, just as G.W. Bush became our leader for a while after 9/11.
All he had to do was tell the truth for once in his benighted presidency. Armed with facts, we would have mobilized, produced the necessary PPE, hunkered down to stop the spread of the disease, instituted contact tracing, and within a few unpleasant months been able to safely restart our paused economy. All he had to do was tell the truth, to show that when the chips were down, he really did deserve our trust.
Many of us still would have held him responsible for his continued efforts to dismantle our democracy, but for a lower-information segment of the voting population, the urge to rally-round-the-flag would have dimmed the memory of those betrayals long enough to swing their votes in his direction and perhaps preserve the Republican majority in the Senate.
That’s not what happened, though. Frankly, it’s beyond imagining that it ever could have happened. Donald Trump has proven by his actions that he is not capable of listening to competent advice, that he is not capable of exercising leadership, that he is not capable of speaking an uncomfortable truth, and that he is not capable of thinking past his childish need for constant adulation.
When the heat is on, he melts, as snowflakes do.