Two Theories

Dave Karpf  discusses the latest viral analysis of Trump and adds his own theory.

Last night on Medium, Yonotan Zunger analyzed the first week of the Trump presidency and concluded that it looked like a “trial balloon for a coup.” To summarize, Trump is shutting out career civil servants, installing his personal consigliere, Steve Bannon, onto the National Security Council, and road-testing the ability of the legislative and judicial branches to actually reign in his power-grabs. It is a thorough and frightening analysis.

I want to offer an alternate interpretation though. I don’t think Donald Trump is implementing an intentional plan to rescind and replace American constitutional government. I think Donald Trump is a 70-year old man with narcissistic personality disorder, who has never had to work anywhere near this hard in his life. I think he’s barely sleeping at night, is overwhelmed by stress and negative stimuli that his brain chemistry does not handle well, and is obsessed with what people think of him. I think he’s desperately trying to recapture the glorious feelings of support that he enjoyed on the campaign trail.

My vote is for the crazy theory.

I think he’s going to be gone in three to six months. Either impeached by his own party or he’ll have a serious mental or physical breakdown. And then we’ll have President Pence for three and a half years.

Place your bets, people.

20 thoughts on “Two Theories

    1. Given what my spell-check does to me, I’ve developed a policy of no longer holding misspellings against anyone.

      It is extremely difficult to know what to think. My usual MO is to look to people who have been right before. So for example, if you are a pundit who supported the war on Iraq, you are not one of my go-tos. But right now things are moving so fast, it is hard to keep up with just the events, let alone interpretations of them.

      I have some confidence that things will eventually be righted. But will I be around to see it if that takes twenty or twenty-five years? Maybe not. I may die in a country radically different than the one of my first half-century plus.

      And as always, my main worry remains my son on the spectrum. I don’t think he will fare well in what could end up being the equivalent of a third world dictatorship.


      1. OMG, me too. I remember waking up in a cold sweat on Election Night worrying about having to send my spectrummy kid to war. The next few days I calmed down and forgot about it, but the fear is back.


    2. I’m certainly there with the narcissistic personality disorder theory. I don’t know how anyone would know how hard Trump has had to work–workout negotiations can be pretty exhausting. Plus I understand that he doesn’t work that hard in the White House now.

      I don’t see the basis for the coup description. Most of what Trump is doing is popular with a large segment of the population and with a majority of the Congressional Republicans. Read some conservative websites; they mostly aren’t complaining, although pretty much everyone agrees that the execution of the immigration Executive Order was poor. And the Senate appears likely to confirm every one of his cabinet appointees. It isn’t a coup when the President and Congress listen to their constituents and do something you don’t like.


  1. I think it’s both – Trump is easily manipulated and he’s the perfect vehicle for the Bannons and others of his ilk to use to carry out their plans. It’s a faster and much scarier version of what the Republicans have used for years as a strategy. First you cut spending. Then you discredit the programs whose funding you’ve cut by claiming that they aren’t providing adequate services. Meanwhile you promote privatization as some panacea (think prisons, schools, etc). Of course your supporters conveniently have for-profit businesses in those areas. And of course they can’t really deliver because the whole point of provision of services by government is that they are services that cannot be run at a profit – they have many different stakeholders and measures of success far beyond a profit. Much more complicated. Finally, massive tax cuts that of course are worth more for those in higher tax brackets.

    What I’ve found so scary is how easy it has been to take apart/ignore the checks & balances. And how much of it has depended upon personal acceptance of tradition and history (“this is the way we’ve always done it”). You have hard line evangelicals who think that war in the middle east will bring back their messiah and you have the Bannon types who have explicitly spoken of wanting to destroy public institutions and government. Burn it all to the ground. And the Republicans who are going along with it all because either they’re blind or their tax cut is worth throwing everything and everyone under the bus.

    This feels very different.


  2. Right now,outcomes depend on the rational elected Republicans (there must be some) and the courts. So, yes, it’s not a coup when you have democratically elected collaborators. It would become a coup if you ignore the rulings of judges

    Republicans seem to be engaged in silence, misdirection (making jokes, commenting on grammar, . . .), or collaboration (Ryan, Priebus, Cruz). There are obviously elected Republicans who sincerely support Trump (and some who must support the Muslim Ban order), but the others, they seem to still think that they can get what they want while crossing their fingers and hoping the country doesn’t fall apart in the meantime.

    Mitch McConnell is being quoted as offloading an opinion on the Muslim Ban to the courts (i.e. presumably hoping that the ACLU & the courts save the country from moral disaster).


    1. Since the debt limit crisis, it’s been pretty clear that a large portion of the Republican Party is crossing their fingers and hoping Democrats will make enough concessions to them (and to reality) to keep things functioning. They’re more afraid of Republican primary voters than they are of economic and political collapse.


  3. Brooks (yes, Brooks) has a column on the Republican’s Faustian bargain. Assuming Faustian bargains might be somewhat fantastical (i.e. they can simply agree with the devil, rather than bargaining with him). But, Brooks has a list of why the deal has too high a price: 1) Trump isn’t respecting republican values (anti trade, on pro-corporation, not pro-free market, globally isolationist); 2) incompetence; 3) “the aroma of bigotry”; 4) the administration is “harsh and never kind”. And, it’s only going to get worse.

    He talks of elected Republican’s Faustian bargain, but the call to reconsider applies to other Republicans, too. I know that a significant part of Trump’s base agrees with those values (and, thus, isn’t bargaining at all), but other Republicans have some difficult decisions to make.


      1. That much?

        This is an amazing thread from Gabriel Rosenberg:

        “We have the appearance of a kind of simple dichotomy: supporters of the EOs “hate refugees,” critics “care about refugees.” Some of this is true, but I think it misunderstands some portion of what’s going on, that the dichotomy is not so simple. Instead, some supporters of EOs are *indifferent* to the plight of refugees–many for racist, nationalist reasons–but *hate* EO’s critics. They want to see critics angry, sad, and outraged. They see Trump as instrument of punishment, less against refugees, but against the left. In their view, much of left is insulated from direct harm: trust-fund libs, professional activists, academics, government employees, etc. And this poses a special kind of problem: if you can’t punish them directly (at least not yet) what do you do? You look for targets who are (a) directly vulnerable and (b) whose abuse will outrage those you cannot (yet) attack.”
        “Trump offers something new. They don’t trust him. They don’t think he’s competent to govern. They think he’s a dishonest, corrupt boor. But the one thing they do *trust* about him is that he is a vindictive bastard who will punish anyone he thinks is his enemy.”

        And I kind of agree given how, for example, seemingly normal Republican types like y81 and dave act towards me. They can’t stand me. y81 equates me with every liberal English professor who ever gave him less than an A on a paper. Every time I’m unhappy, I get the feeling he is happy.

        On the flip side, I’ve seen some liberals who seem to be taking names and evening scores as well, and I don’t love it. I have no need to feel superior to anyone right now. I’m fucking scared for this country. I’d hug any Republican who voted for anything against Trump right now.


      2. Wendy, yikes! “..seemingly normal Republican types like y81 and dave act towards me. They can’t stand me…” ?? Um, actually I’m what is usually called a blue dog dem. My political heroes are in the range of Richard Lamm, Bob Kerrey, Joe Manchin. I do like Bill Weld a lot. As to ‘can’t stand’ – I tend to think a number of the political opinions you’ve expressed are foolish, and have been part of creating the climate which has so alienated working-class white people that it has enabled the current victors. It seems to me that you’ve shown disdain for those people, and that that’s not a way to win them away from the Trumpists. But that’s not a ‘can’t stand’ reaction, it’s an ‘I don’t think your tactics are optimal and I think your goals are extreme’ reaction.


      3. On Bob Kerry at least, I think you’re willfully deluding yourself. It’s not like he stopped existing after he left the Senate.


      4. “It seems to me that you’ve shown disdain for those people, and that that’s not a way to win them away from the Trumpists.”

        Exactly what Rosenberg is talking about. It’s about me and my “disdain,” not about politics. You’ve really just argued his point.


      5. You know, LBJ was a real asshole. If people back in the 60s focused on his being an asshole instead of on the things he got done, progress in civil rights would never have happened. It’s not like I just call people names and do the Nelson “ha-ha” or ring the Septa’s “Shame!” bell. I point out obvious facts and data and make arguments. Maybe I grew up in a tougher family, but that’s how we argued about politics.


  4. I think he’s probably crazy, but that there are maybe 50 or 100 people who can answer the question about the scenario. I also think there are about 10,000 people who, because of money or a position of power or a relationship to someone with one of those, have some power to affect what will happen next. Republicans are already overloaded with five million Democrats calling and writing them, and I predict they will just shut down, so the Indivisible strategies won’t work. Those who used to have town meetings will stop having them. All those postcards and letters, including several hundred that my friends and I wrote at a crowded 100 Actions meeting this weekend, are going in the trash.

    Here’s some info on Congressional offices being overloaded with calls:

    The way to get Bannon off the team is to keep running these “President Bannon” stories. I can’t imagine that goes over well with the president.


    1. Those who used to have town meetings will stop having them.

      Town meeting were how lots of these officials got the support that got them elected as part of a plan to brand the prior incumbents as out of touch. If the current Congress members can’t hold them because they can’t or won’t talk with concerned voters, that’s what you run against them on in 2018.


  5. The view from up here is that he’s a fragile, narcissistic type who’s been catered to by many around him as a useful blowhard. He believes his own press and as long as they can keep him sort of in that bubble, he’s happy. But so many of them around him have no frigging clue about how difficult and draining politics is – not just for each of them, fumbling time and again with their misunderstanding of so many basic aspects, but also for their dear leader. It’d be an amusing sideshow if it was a fiction but it’s a terrifying reality. (American abroad who is planning on not even visiting her country of birth any time in the near future given the reports of how CBP are treating citizens as well as the horrors visited upon non-citizens).


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