While Trump’s election was a truly tragic development, it was not until his decision to kill Suleimani and provoke retaliation from — if not war with — Iran that we could see Trump’s psychological condition fully deployed and dangerous. The United States has a narcissist for president. The motivation for everything he does is fed by two pathologies, one more dominant and malignant than the other: He constantly needs to draw attention to himself and he constantly needs to exact revenge for slights, real or imagined. The first has been obvious for years; you don’t need to be a psychiatrist to detect it. But Trump has raised attention-seeking and self-aggrandizement to a level we have never seen in a president. The addiction to hearing his name constantly mentioned in the news — for him, the best part about being president — is a major motivator of everything he does and says. It’s what keeps him alive. Because I believe nothing he or anyone in the Trump administration says, I am free to conclude that the decision to kill Suleimani comes in a major way from the need for attention. It’s classic narcissism. The kill guarantees press coverage for days or weeks, with Trump imagining himself being depicted as the strong, decisive commander-in-chief willing to take action previous presidents had refused to take. Which gets to the other, more dangerous pathology — the desire for payback.
It’s clear to me that half of the country elected Trump, a merchant in petty vengeance, as payback for eight years of Obama. Trump wasn’t the only white male running for office; there were other choices. But nearly 63 million Americans picked him because they liked his willingness to get nasty and avenge slights — starting with the the biggest one of them all, the election of the first black president (who might have been Muslim, or who might not have been native-born). So many of Trump’s decisions as president have been about not only repealing Obama policies and initiatives, but actually erasing the Obama legacy. It appears to be an obsession. Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal is just one of dozens of examples. In fact, it’s clear that Trump’s whole approach to Iran has been about reversing Obama. Trump is not motivated by ideology or any considered conservative view. His opinions are certainly not informed by facts. The Trump presidency is all about emotions and toxic instincts let loose. Everything he does is about “owning the libs” or dismissing educated elites or rejecting science or countering the threat of racial and cultural diversity that, in his troubled mind, Obama’s election represented. Killing Suleimani? He did it because neither Obama nor Bush did it. That it might lead to war was not a consideration. When the neurons fire and there’s no impulse control, when there’s no one to stop the president from rash action — indeed, when the people around him merely feed his ego and his appetite for payback — we have what we have today. Those who voted for this guy liked his tell-it-like-it-is rhetoric, his willingness to mock others, his political incorrectness. It was obnoxious, disgusting and cruel, but, until now, it did not bring us to a real threat of war. In the Times, Michelle Goldberg calls Trump “a walking national emergency.” Yes. We’re at Code Red because nearly 63 million Americans put this psychological mess of a man in the White House.