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Donald Trump's big border wall shutdown isn't about immigration. It's all about his ego

Trump is running the government the same way he ran his businesses: Driving it into bankruptcy to boost his ego


Amanda Marcotte
January 3, 2019 6:30PM (UTC)

During the 2016 campaign, in an effort to dispel the myth of Donald Trump's business acumen, Trump critics (including Hillary Clinton) pointed out that he has actually been a massive business failure. Trump's M.O. was to build bloated monuments to his own ego, such as the Trump Taj Mahal and other Atlantic City casinos, which he would then mismanage into bankruptcy. This process was repeated at least six times, and probably would have happened more if Trump wasn't cut off by most lending institutions and then eventually rescued when Mark Burnett recruited him to host "The Apprentice."

Because we live in a dystopian sci-fi novel, the fictional successful businessman Trump played on "The Apprentice" distracted voters from his real-life business failures. Now we're paying the price. Trump is treating the federal government exactly as he treated his business: Bankrupting it in order to finance an enormous construction effort almost no one wants, and that serves no purpose but to glorify his ego.

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In the '90s, Trump's projects were supposedly luxurious casinos. Now it's a border wall. Either way, his vision is to erect a hulking eyesore that will lay waste to the community around it, while also serving as a constant reminder of his villainous existence. It's genuinely remarkable that, so far, he's refrained from proposing that the wall be decorated with his name in garish blinking lights.

White House efforts to frame the border wall as a necessary security measure have always been iffy, but collapsed completely on Wednesday. With great fanfare, Trump hosted a "border security" meeting in the White House situation room that was meant to imbue the wall with an air of seriousness. Instead, what happened was that Trump admitted he only wants to wall to boost his ego.

Reportedly, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked Trump three times why they couldn't continue to fund the government while negotiating over funding for border security. Finally Trump caved and said, "I would look foolish if I did that."

Foolish to whom? The pathetic but undeniable answer is that Trump is trying to impress the hairsprayed blondies at Fox News. The amount of euphemistically labeled "executive time" Trump spends daily watching Fox News — and tweeting out what he hears on it — has been expanding over the past couple of years. The narcissist-in-chief has grown dangerously addicted to the endless stream of fulsome praise coming from his favorite propaganda network.

By the same token, Trump lives in terror of the possibility that Fox News hosts will express their disapproval of him. So the network has been manipulating Trump as if he were a desperate junkie, using the threat of withdrawing his praise fix if he doesn't continue to push this shutdown in order to get $5 billion for his border wall.

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No wonder Trump also held a televised "Cabinet meeting" on Wednesday that, like similar events before it,  was not a meeting so much as a 90-minute session of presidential ego-stroking. Someone — it's  not clear who — paid real money to get a professionally made printout of an internet meme created to make Trump look like he's a leading character in "Game of Thrones," and placed the poster in the middle of the table. The rest of the "meeting" played like a scene George R.R. Martin wrote for laughs, with courtiers, er, Cabinet officials, gushing with phony praise of Trump and Trump delivering monologues about his own greatness and pitying himself for how misunderstood he is.

Trump's already ravenous need for praise and adulation is clearly growing more intense, and the proximate reason is obvious enough: Thursday is the day that the Democratic majority officially takes control of the House of Representatives. Trump has spent the past two years swaddled by Republicans and by Fox News, shielded from having to face questions, much less any real accountability, for his dizzying number of corrupt actions and likely crimes. Now the prospect of serious investigations — and even the word "impeachment" — is in the air.

Sure, special counsel Robert Mueller has been racking up guilty pleas and indictments of Trump co-conspirators, causing the easily rattled president to lash out frequently with lies and invective. But Mueller is tight-lipped and slow-moving, making much of what he's investigating -- and especially what he knows -- obscure to the public and likely to Trump.

With the Democrats holding partial power on Capitol Hill, the ever-fragile ego of the president will be under a far greater level of pressure. Odds are high that the White House will be deluged with subpoenas soon and the number of unflattering news stories will grow exponentially — even if it currently seems like it can't get any worse. Furthermore, Trump now has to work more closely with newly-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is uninterested in flattering his ego, an insult (in his eyes) made all the worse by her gender.

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This is how Trump is acting at the mere threat of Democrats in power: Shutting down the government to get his ego-boosting border wall, holding televised flattery sessions, obsessively watching Fox News and working himself into a lather. Once the gavel falls and investigations begin in earnest, his behavior will likely get worse, as his need to shore up his ego becomes even greater.

Meanwhile, Democrats are being cast in the role of the numerous bankers who had to hear Trump's pleas for more money after he bankrupted his businesses six times. He wants money for a major construction project, but has nothing to offer in return. As happened with the banks who cut him off after six bankruptcies, he's finding that "give me money because it makes me feel like a man" is not a compelling argument.

What's disturbing is that, as anyone who has followed Trump's history can tell you, if he can't get money through honest means he will resort to lying, cheating, committing crimes and possibly betraying his country for that sweet cash he needs to quiet the voices inside that remind him he's inadequate. Respectable investors abandoned Trump long ago and his business ventures were propped up by fraud and tax evasion.

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Faced with a Congress that's understandably reluctant to give him $5 billion to finance a dubious and unpopular project, Trump is turning to blackmail.

(The president's sense of what big things actually cost is way out of whack, which is no doubt why he was so bad at business. Trump's imaginary wall would actually cost at least four or five times the amount he has requested. And unlike with his Atlantic City construction projects, he can't just  stiff the contractors to save money.)

Democrats should not give in, obviously. It's not just the law enforcement maxim that paying ransoms encourages more kidnapping. Even a single brick laid of Trump's wall is an unacceptable blemish on this country. If he wants to keep building eyesores that exists for no other reason than to prop up his ego, Trump should go back to begging bankers or shady Russian investors for the cash. The taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for a pointless monument to racism and ego that will just end up costing us even more money when it finally gets torn down.

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Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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