Love him or hate him. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground with the current president of the United States. Americans are decisively split in their views of Donald Trump. Last week I offered my list of the reasons those who love Trump are unshakeable in their devotion to him. This week, I turn the tables and detail the things about the president that those who hate him find abominable.
As I said last week, in the now 15 months that Trump has been the president he has fully revealed who he is and what he represents to the American electorate. His favorable (versus unfavorable) poll numbers have been remarkably consistent throughout his presidency, rarely falling below 38 percent or above 42 percent. And his unfavorable percentages have been consistent in the range of 55 to 60 percent. People who hate Trump seem unalterably antagonistic to him and what he claims to stand for. The reasons for this antipathy are a mix of perceived character flaws and misguided or ill-considered domestic and foreign policies. They can be summarized in the following relatively short list.
1. Incompetence and Ignorance – Trump haters view him as the most unqualified man ever to serve as the nation’s president. No previous president had ever assumed office without any prior experience as either an elected official or a military officer. He is truly the nation’s first purely celebrity president. But Trump’s lack of experience only made him ignorant of what the job entailed when he assumed the office. In the time since he has been president, he has shown little interest in, or ability to, learn the requisites of presidential competence. He is reported to eschew the reading of any briefing memos and to grow quickly bored with verbal briefings. His tweets suggest that he gets most of his “ideas” from the “Fox and Friends” morning broadcasts when he is on his “Executive Time.” To hear him speak vacuously about things like health care (“no one knew” it was so complicated), the environment (climate change is a “hoax”), and Russian interference in the election (“there is no collusion”) would be comical if it weren’t indicative of his inability to study or even pay attention to what he is being told by his advisers.
2. Disrespect for the office – Flowing from his incompetence and ignorance is his complete lack of appreciation for the responsibilities that he has as the nation’s president. Trump haters see ample evidence that he just doesn’t take the job all that seriously, which isn’t an acceptable attitude even for the lowest paying position in most corporate offices or on most assembly lines and certainly isn’t acceptable in the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. Now well into his second year in office, Trump apparently doesn’t care about the many unfilled positions in his own State department and other federal agencies and isn’t concerned about the many ethical improprieties of his appointees (refusing even to acknowledge any of his own). His tweets are an embarrassment, especially when he resorts to name-calling and schoolyard bullying, and his disdain for the press is an affront to the very democratic principles implicit in the Constitution that he is sworn to honor and uphold.
3. Narcissism/Temperament – Trump may not be a clinically diagnosed narcissist, but he exhibits all the signs of having that psychological profile. No other president, indeed, few other politicians in any office, are as brazenly self-aggrandizing as Trump. In his mind, everything is about him, whether it be the size of the crowd attending his inaugural speech, the reason North and South Korea fielded a joint Olympics team, or the decision his Attorney General made in recusing himself from the Russia-election-tampering probe. And even if he isn’t a narcissist, Trump haters are convinced he lacks the requisite temperament for the office he holds. They point to how he reacts impulsively to personal critiques (accusing members of Congress of being “disloyal,” if not “traitors,” for failing to stand and applaud him during his State of the Union address) and indiscriminately to crises (bombing Syria immediately after a lethal gas attack without a long-term plan to combat the Assad regime, assuming he even has a view of that regime). Perhaps the most telling sign of concern about Trump’s temperament is reflected in the hope (reportedly held by the closest of his advisers) that Defense Secretary Mathis would refuse to carry out an impulsive Trump order to fire nuclear weapons at an adversary. When has any other president ever needed that kind of a check on his temperament?
4. Bigotry – No president since perhaps Andrew Johnson (Lincoln’s successor) has been as blatantly bigoted as Trump in the attitudes he has reflected while in office. Trump may not actually be a bigot (and much depends on one’s definition of the word, with intent being the greatest variable), but he has repeatedly acted like one in both his earlier career (recall that he kept the birtherism charge against Barack Obama alive for almost the entirety of Obama’s presidency), in his campaign (which he began, literally in announcing his candidacy, by calling most Mexicans criminals and rapists), and while in office (claiming that there were “very fine people” on both sides in the Charlottesville protests last year). And even if he isn’t a bigot, Trump doesn’t seem to care that he is so viewed, as he continues to send out dog whistles to white nationalists and other racist elements in the country. As president, he has yet to give a speech, let alone issue a statement, that condemns racism and bigotry. That fact alone, in an era when racial disharmony is a major domestic issue, speaks volumes about him.
5. Mendacity – Every politician lies in making promises or in quoting statistics or in claiming accomplishments, but Trump haters claim that no president has ever shown such complete disdain for truthfulness as Donald Trump. He lies as a matter of course, as if he doesn’t even understand the desirability of being truthful. Some of his lies are born of ignorance, but the ignorance in those instances is no excuse, as he knows (or should know) that he doesn’t know what he is talking about at that particular moment. But most of the lies appear to be deliberate falsehoods that he then accuses the press of misquoting or misunderstanding when they are reported. Trump’s advisors have reportedly been counseling him not to submit to sworn testimony before Special Counsel Robert Mueller, fearing a “perjury trap.” The use of the phrase says all you need to know about Trump’s penchant to lie. No one can be susceptible to a “perjury trap” unless they are inclined to dishonesty. For Trump honesty is more often an accident than a design; dishonesty is a way of life.
6. Plutocracy/Fascism – In a recent interview regarding her just-released study of fascism in the twentieth century, “Fascism: A Warning,” Madeleine Albright refers to Donald Trump as the “most anti-democratic leader” in American history. Trump ran for president on a populist platform (bring back jobs for Americans, drain the swamp of corruption in government, provide tax relief for the middle- and working classes), but he has governed as a plutocrat (tax cuts for the super-rich, deregulation to benefit the mega-corporations, and corruption-allowance for political (and family) cronies). His constant attacks on the media have allowed “fake news” to lose its meaning, and, without a vigilant press, an educated public is at risk of being led into a fascistic dictatorship. It happened in Germany and Italy in the 1930s, and it may be happening in the United States under Donald Trump. Trump may not have an understanding of the comparison. He may not even know the meaning of “plutocracy” (see #1, above), but he is a man who craves absolute power and whose ego cannot abide being challenged. Of all the reasons to hate the man, the potential loss of our democracy that those traits could compel is the most significant and worrisome.
The foregoing six reasons, contrasted with the twelve I listed last week, paint two significantly different pictures of the current U.S. president. Which one provides the accurate portrayal? The answer probably says a lot about the future of the country and the world.