By now we all know that Donald Trump is thin-skinned, short tempered, gets his feelings hurt easily, is basically a child, is easily manipulated and is emotionally reactionary and socially inept. These traits are not news.
Working from four high-profile interviews Trump gave in late November, Slate magazine has compiled a wonderful list of some of these and others of Trump’s numerous character flaws in brilliant piece titled How To Manipulate Donald Trump: He’s An Emotional Weakling, and His Recent Interviews Give Us Models for Dealing With It.
According to Slate:
This week, in a volley of angry tweets, Donald Trump ridiculed the “badly defeated … Dems,” claimed he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” and said anyone who burned the American flag should lose his or her citizenship or spend a year in jail. Trump’s outbursts set off alarms. How could he believe such nonsense about voter fraud? Why would a man who had just been elected president gloat, threaten protesters, and insult half the country? What’s going on in his messed-up head?
To understand Trump, you have to set aside the scripted speeches he gave before his election and the canned videos he has released since. You also have to set aside the caricature of him as a Klan-loving, Nazi-sympathizing woman hater who will deport every immigrant he can find. Instead, look at the four interviews he has given since his election: to the Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, the New York Times, and a group of TV anchors and executives. In these exchanges, all of them conducted outside the behavior-warping context of the campaign, you’ll see how squishy he is. Trump did run a despicable campaign, and he’s a menace to the country and the world. But it’s not because he’s a strongman. It’s because he’s a weakling.
Here are Trump’s character traits in question:
- He’s all about reciprocal love
- His reflexes are vindictive
- His ego is fragile
- He craves approval
- He’s easily soothed by flattery
- He’s a softie
- His emotional softness makes him morally weak
- He substitutes popularity for standards of conduct
- He confuses controversy with mystery
- He’s obtuse to the pain he inflicts
- He feels the pain of his allies, not the pain of people different from him
The crown jewel of the Slate analysis is the fact that Trump is easily manipulated.
Having a fragile, approval-craving narcissist as president isn’t the end of the world. It just means that to get him to do the right thing, you have to pet him. In Trump’s post-election exchanges, we have several useful models. The first is Obama, who gave Trump a tongue bath in their 90-minute meeting on Nov. 10 and may have saved his signature legislative achievement in the process. Three days after that meeting, Trump told the Journal he was reconsidering his pledge to abolish Obama’s health insurance program: “Either Obamacare will be amended, or repealed and replaced.”
The second model is Times columnist Tom Friedman. In the group session at Times headquarters on Nov. 22, Friedman worked Trump like a horndog in a bar, trying to get him into bed on climate change. “You own some of the most beautiful links golf courses in the world,” Friedman told Trump. “I’d hate to see Royal Aberdeen underwater,” the columnist added. When Trump ragged on windmills, Friedman whispered sweet nothings: “General Electric has a big wind turbine factory in South Carolina.” Trump, eager for approval, told the Times staffers about his “many environmental awards” and bragged, “I’m actually an environmentalist.” By the end of the session, Friedman had Trump eating out of his hand.
The third model is a story Trump told about his threat to narrow the First Amendment. During the primaries, Trump had pledged to “open up our libel laws so when [journalists] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” But in his meeting with the Times, Trump said someone had later warned him, “It’s a great idea, softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.” “You’re right, I never thought about that,” Trump recalled telling this person. And that reflection led Trump to assure the Times that on the question of libel laws, “You’re going to be fine.”
The fourth model is Jim Mattis, the retired general who met with Trump on Nov. 19 to be considered for secretary of defense. Trump asked Mattis about waterboarding, which Trump supported. “I’ve never found it to be useful,” said Mattis, according to Trump’s account of their conversation. “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I do better with that than I do with torture,” the general told him. Trump told the Times that he was “very impressed by that answer,” especially because it came from “the toughest guy.” Waterboarding, Trump concluded, was “not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think.”
That’s how you move Trump. You don’t talk about ethics. You play the toughness card. You appeal to the art of the deal. You make him feel smart, powerful, and loved. You don’t forget how unmoored and volatile he is, but you set aside your fear and your anger. You thank God that you’re dealing with a narcissist, not a cold-blooded killer. And until you can get him safely out of the White House, you work with what you have. People in other countries have dealt with presidents like Trump for a long time. Can we handle it? Yes, we can.
Those of us dreading the next four years would do well to remember this article. It might be a helpful guide to dealing with his “leadership” and with his like-minded supporters.