Donald Trump's hunger for violence isn't just about politics — it's fuel for his bloated ego

Donald Trump loves it when his supporters get arrested, hurt or killed on his behalf. But they just keep doing it

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published August 31, 2020 1:02PM (EDT)

Donald Trump | Pickup trucks and cars full of flag-waving Donald Trump supporters as they snarl traffic and parade through downtown Portland, Oregon on August 29, 2020. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Pickup trucks and cars full of flag-waving Donald Trump supporters as they snarl traffic and parade through downtown Portland, Oregon on August 29, 2020. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

There are a seemingly infinite number of stories about how Donald Trump is the worst kind of person in every possible way, so readers can be forgiven if they missed or forgot this one: In 1991, Trump, ever the soulless troll, took his then-mistress, Marla Maples, to Aspen, Colorado, to spring her on his then-wife, Ivana Trump. Accounts of the specific details vary, but converge on one central fact: The two women had a very public fight while Trump looked on, apparently with pleasure. Trump's main memory of the event was to bask in the envy of another man who witnessed the fight, because every story Trump tells about himself (most of which, of course, aren't true) is about how everyone else wishes they could be as awesome as him. 

That story has always stuck with me because it was a shining example of one of the most predictable aspects of Trump's character: His ego comes first, always.

Trump is more than willing to harm people who care about him — his wife, his mistress, his supporters — if doing so feeds his endlessly hungry ego. Furthermore, he will actively do harm to his own self-interest, as in that instance, when he chose the ego boost of watching two women fight over him over material concerns, such as how much he might lose to Ivana in a divorce for engaging in such abusive behavior. 

I think about that Ivana vs. Marla fight a lot these days, as Trump is openly and unsubtly encouraging his followers to get injured, arrested or even killed on his behalf. Trump has been egging on caravans of right-wing goons to descend on cities where Black Lives Matter protests are occurring going on, in hopes they will start fights with protesters. 

This violence has not been working out terribly well for his supporters. A Trump-loving 17-year-old named Kyle Rittenhouse is facing multiple felony charges for allegedly shooting three people, killing two of them, during the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that followed the police shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake. 

A similar situation went down over the weekend in Portland, Oregon, where a caravan of Trump supporters, packed into more than 1,000 trucks, descended on the city in order to intimidate local protesters and provoke conflict. The result, unsurprisingly, was another fatal shooting, with the casualty this time being an apparent Trump supporter named Aaron Danielson

However much Tucker Carlson of Fox News and the right-wing trolls of social media want to turn Rittenhouse into a hero and Danielson into a martyr, the larger reality is that none of this was necessary. Danielson and the Kenosha protesters would still be alive, and Rittenhouse wouldn't be facing murder charges, if Trump's idiotic supporters would just stay at home and leave Black Lives Matter alone to protest in peace. 

Trump clearly doesn't feel bad or responsible that his own supporters are getting arrested or, in at least one case, killed in a misguided effort to show their loyalty. Instead, he's clearly relishing every minute, tweeting like a madman in his ecstasy that people are so eager to please him they will literally ruin their lives, or risk losing them. 

Common wisdom among the punditry is that Trump is goading his supporters (and the police) into more violence for political gain. There's some reason to think that's true, starting with the fact that Kellyanne Conway — wasn't she supposed to be leaving the Trump team? — has confirmed to the press that the Trump campaign believes he benefits from "chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence," because that allows Trump to push a "law and order" message. 

Certainly, both other Republicans and the folks at Fox News appear to believe that the more violence there is in the streets, the better it is for Trump. Carlson and Vice President Mike Pence have openly encouraged right-wing terrorism, clearly believing that they can blame the pandemonium on the left and hurt Joe Biden electorally.  

It's not impossible that this will work as a political strategy. Trump and his allies are betting that voters in swing districts will be too blinded by fear and racism to notice that the problem is not the Black Lives Matter protesters or the Biden campaign, but the president egging on right-wing acts of violence. Unfortunately, betting that white voters are racist has often paid off for politicians, and in recent years especially for Republicans. 

Still, there's some evidence now that provoking violence and trying to pin it on the Democrats could backfire for Trump. For one thing, significant polling data suggests that voters blame Trump for the violence, both because it's happening on his watch and also, importantly, because they can see how Trump is stirring the pot. 

So considered as a political strategy, stoking violence is a risky bet for Trump. As a boost to his ego, however, it's a huge win.

Forget having a couple of women duke it out over his affections at a ski resort. This is widespread violence and mayhem, all because of him. From Trump's egocentric perspective, it's a cornucopia: thousands of men who are willing to risk their freedom and their lives, all on his behalf. For the narcissist, watching people make sacrifices to him — potentially even the ultimate sacrifice — is like a drug. Like other addicts, Trump wants to up the dose, to see more and more lives ruined all for the purpose of serving him and his ego. 

What is truly wild about the story of Marla Maples and Ivana Trump fighting over Trump in Aspen is that the fact that either woman, or both of them, could have avoided all that if they had simply realized that Donald Trump isn't worth the effort. There's no reason to publicly humiliate yourself for a man who doesn't care about you. The smart money is to simply walk away. 

Now the same choice faces Trump's most ardent supporters. He has made it quite clear he doesn't care about them, except insofar as they can serve his ego. He's willing to pack them into public events, without masks even though he knows it's likely some will get sick and die from COVID-19. (Like his supposed friend Herman Cain, who may well have contracted the coronavirus at Trump's indoor rally in Tulsa.) He'll encourage them to pick fights with protesters, knowing that doing so risks injury, arrest or even death. He would feed them all into a meat grinder, if it served his ego to do so.

All that Donald Trump's superfans need to do in order to keep that from happening is to say no and walk away. But like Marla and Ivana in Aspen, many of them won't grasp that truth until it's too late — if they ever see it at all. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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