Christopher Hitchens used to say there isn’t a more unforgivable sin than being boring. (And, accordingly, no more miserable human experience than being bored.) However, in spending the final decade of his life engaged in high-spirited debates over such disparate subjects as the Iraq War and the (non-)existence of God, Hitchens conceded that to be passionately engaged on one side of a contentious issue requires making the same arguments over and over and over again. What could be more boring than that?
I mention this because we Americans are about to inaugurate as commander-in-chief a man against whom we have spoken and written so extensively over the last year-and-a-half that we seem to have already run out of new ideas and are now simply repeating ourselves (and each other), effectively boring ourselves to death.
And who could possibly blame us? When you get right down to it, how many different ways are there to call someone a selfish, narcissistic, vulgar charlatan who knows nothing about statecraft and cares even less? When that same man takes to Twitter to bitch about the latest celebrity who refused to kneel at his feet, what recourse do we have but to use the same belittling terms to characterize just how thin-skinned and small-minded such behavior makes this 70-year-old infant appear to the wider world?
This is not to say that we have President-elect Voldemort entirely figured out just yet. By his own admission, he places great stock in being unpredictable—to friends and enemies alike—which makes compiling a full psychological profile of him very nearly impossible. (How fitting that the verb “gaslight” has enjoyed a resurgence in the American vernacular as of late.)
However, what we do know for sure about our next president—none of which is promising—is enough to keep us invigorated well into the first hundred days of his administration—if not the first thousand—and we have no choice but to reassert them ad nauseam until we are given a reason to think otherwise. When it comes to opposing Trump, there is no choice but to be boring.
To be clear: I don’t mean that we should spend the dude’s entire presidency hurling childish insults at him the way he does at others—enjoyable as that might be.
What we need—particularly in these tense early moments—is to establish the truths about Agent Orange that are ingrained in his very DNA—and thus destined to remain the same—while separating out our collective impressions of him that, in the fullness of time, may well be proved false, exaggerated or unimportant. We cannot get bogged down in ancillary minutiae. As Joseph Ellis whimsically put it, “There’s something called the forest, and then there’s something called the trees.”
As far as I’m concerned, there is one fact about Donald Trump that overrides everything else: Insomuch as he values anything at all in this world, it is the furthered personal enrichment of Donald Trump, full stop. In the end, the 45th president cares about nothing but himself and calibrates his every action based on what he believes is in his own best interest, and nothing more.
This may seem like an obvious point—which, of course, it is—but if we take the next step and accept it as the singular insight that explains everything worth knowing about this strange person—the who, the what, the why and the how—we could save ourselves a great deal of puzzlement and needless psychoanalyzing down the road, and perhaps even be able to anticipate future events with more accuracy than if we merely assumed the worst at every turn.
It’s a question of motivation: How does a man who is capable of doing anything decide to do something in particular? Having licensed himself to violate every civic norm in the book, what are the ultimate ends that he intends to achieve with his newfound political power? And if he truly has no coherent plan—if this whole crusade really was just an idle ego trip that got out of hand—what inner forces are going to guide his decision-making once he actually sits in the Oval Office chair?
It’s not the white supremacy. Surely, if his poll numbers among African-Americans miraculously shot through the roof, he would embrace (read: exploit) that support before the sun came up the next morning.
Nor is it the authoritarian need to control all levers of power at all times. If the press swooned over him the way it has often swooned over President Obama, he would gladly defer to journalists’ right to do their jobs and would likely hold a press conference on an almost hourly basis. (He may well do the latter in any case.)
Nor, certainly, is it any particular fealty to conservatism, isolationism or any other halfway-coherent view of the world that he has occasionally dabbled in but plainly knows nor cares nothing about. Here, as with everything else, he has shown a profound, aggressive willingness to reverse any policy position on a moment’s notice—often, for good measure, denying such a change ever occurred—leading us to conclude that most, if not all, of his political views are affectations, as phony as they are ephemeral.
All of which might be tolerable were Trump to possess a scintilla of concern for the public good—if he could tailor his policies based on what would yield the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
But he doesn’t and he can’t. Practically since birth, he has occupied a position in society whereby status and wealth are the only things worth attaining. Like a slimier version of Henry Hill in GoodFellas, Trump exists in a milieu that views poverty as a failure of imagination and modesty as a form of psychosis. To him, there is nothing more contemptible than a morally upstanding citizen who doesn’t give a damn about money or fame. Just look at how many of those sorts of folks he has insulted in the course of his life.
There is no reconciling this obsession with personal enrichment with the interests of the nation at large. Hence my view that Trump’s rank greed and selfishness will be the “rosebud” to his presidency: They are the only constant in his 70 miserable years on Earth, and if you want to know what he’s going to do today, ask yourself what he stands to gain tomorrow.