When it comes to Donald Trump, too many people in the mainstream media and elsewhere have tried to impose complexity onto simplicity. For many such observers there must always be some other explanation for Trump and his movement's anti-democratic behavior and overall evil. Therefore, we must ride the hamster wheel of shock and surprise at each new example of Trump's ignominious behavior.
Why does this happen? It comes from applying old frameworks for understanding politics and presidents onto a man and a movement that have shattered them. Moreover, to admit basic if unpleasant truths about Trump and his movement would be to force an act of critical self-reflection on a mainstream media ecosystem that has largely failed in its responsibilities to hold the powerful accountable during the Age of Trump.
We learned on Sunday that Donald Trump has apparently committed yet another "shocking" crime against democracy and the American people. According to audio recordings acquired by CNN and reported by the Washington Post, Trump spent an hour on the phone with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday, urging Raffensperger "to 'find' votes to overturn the election results," and attacking him "for refusing to falsely say that [Trump] won the election in Georgia."
"The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry. And there's nothing wrong with saying that, you know, um, that you've recalculated," Trump said in one part of the call. Raffensperger responded, "Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong."
In another part, Trump said, "So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state."
"You should want to have an accurate election. And you're a Republican," Trump said at one point. ...
The call represents the latest extraordinary effort by Trump to change the results of the race he lost following weeks of legal and political efforts by the President, his legal team and Republican allies to overturn the free and fair election.
No one should act so surprised: This is only Trump's most recent effort to steal a presidential election. In 2016, he made it clear that if lost the election to Hillary Clinton he would not accept the result. Repeated investigations have revealed that Trump and his inner circle eagerly attempted to collude with Russian agents to interfere with the election.
In 2020, Trump continued with the same threats, now amplified by his power as president. He was impeached almost a year ago because he attempted to extort the Ukrainian president into smearing Joe Biden during the 2020 election. A few weeks ago, Donald Trump hosted a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House where a military coup was reportedly discussed as a means of keeping him in power indefinitely. Trump continues to encourage his followers to engage in sedition and treason on his behalf in a last-ditch effort to overturn Joe Biden's election victory.
As Jason Stanley, a Yale professor and the author of "How Fascism Works," summarized on Twitter, "Trump is clearly not just a performative authoritarian. He's the real thing."
Trump, his Republican supporters and other members of the anti-democracy cabal members are correct about one thing regarding the 2020 presidential election: There was in fact voting fraud, but it was and is being committed by them.
Dr. Mary Trump, who is Donald Trump's niece and also a clinical psychologist, has publicly predicted Donald Trump's increasingly dangerous, aberrant and delusional behavior. Her bestselling book "Too Much and Never Enough" chronicles how her uncle came to be the man he is today, and the dire, almost existential threat that he represents to the United States and the world. In this new conversation with Salon, Mary Trump warns that Donald Trump will only become more dangerous as Inauguration Day approaches and he faces the last days of his presidency.
She also suggests that Donald Trump is experiencing a severe psychological crisis because of his deeply pathological fear of "losing," and discusses why he seems so indifferent to the death and suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and how he has a deep contempt for his own followers.
In conclusion, Mary Trump issues a warning: There is no limit to the havoc and destruction her uncle is willing to cause in these final weeks before he is forced from office.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
I had the honor of speaking with the late Dr. Jerrold Post some months ago, before he passed away. He described Donald Trump as being very dangerous and possessing what he termed "dark charisma." In your experience with your uncle, how has this dark charisma manifested itself? Is he that powerful?
I refer to it as "superficial charisma." But Dr. Post and I ultimately mean the same thing. If you are with Donald for more than three minutes, you understand that it is a scam. He is somebody who is superficially charming. There is no substance there.
However, here is the problem: Donald's the weakest person I've ever met in my life. But there are, as it turns out, people who are a great deal weaker than he is. He is a magnet for them. They also see that in their view he has been incredibly successful. He speaks to their grievances in a way I believe no one else ever has in this country. We saw that during his recent rally in Georgia. He said, "We're all victims here." All the thousands of us, including himself! Trump's a victim, too, despite having every privilege possible. He's a "victim." I've never met anybody who felt so sorry for himself, who so felt that he was owed something. But the truth of the matter is that his followers, such as the people at the recent Georgia rally, are his victims. That is what is so maddening.
Does Donald Trump the human being really exist? Or is he just a performer who is lost in the role? Are his followers responding to the human being or to the image and performance?
You're exactly right. Donald does not know who he is because he doesn't have an identity. Donald does not have a core. He is a completely false self. He is somebody — and to me this is a sign of serious psychopathy — who is exactly the same whether he is in front of a crowd of 50,000 people or in a room with his wife or his children, whether he's in a Cabinet meeting or hanging out on the golf course. He is the same person across every circumstance. That is deeply disturbing. Donald is entirely a construct. The question is, what happens when there's nobody watching anymore? He ceases to exist, essentially.
Insiders and others close to Trump have been warning that he is delusional and acting like some type of mad king since his loss to Joe Biden. Given your clinical expertise, what happens to a person like him after suffering such a great defeat? How dangerous will he become?
That is the danger, because he cannot process it. He is not decompensating. People have asked me that since the beginning: "Don't you see that he's deteriorated?" No, he's exactly the same person. I do not need to have seen him in 20 years. Donald is exactly the same person as he was when I was five, when I was 12, when I was writing his book for him, when I saw him in the White House in 2017. The only thing that's changed are the circumstances. Donald's under a level of scrutiny — not enough scrutiny, of course — but at least some scrutiny that he has never experienced before. He's under levels of stress he's never experienced. He's under levels of expectation he's never experienced. The distance between his competencies, such as they are, and what's required for the job are light years apart.
Nobody is going to be able to function at the same level under those changing circumstances. But Donald is the same. Now he is in a uniquely terrifying situation. This is a person who grew up with a father who considered losing the absolute worst thing a person can do. Of course, Donald's never won anything legitimately in his life. However, he's not an ethical person. Winning was more important than anything else, so therefore you did whatever you had to do to win. It didn't matter if it was legitimate or luck. It didn't matter if you lied, cheated, stole, used performance-enhancing drugs, whatever one needs to do to win. You won. That is all that matters.
Donald can't do that now. He is trapped in being a loser for all time. Daddy's money can't buy him out of a loss. My grandfather is not going to drive up to the White House with a briefcase full of electoral college votes. Hard as he might try, this election is not getting overturned because, although sadly it wasn't a landslide, it was a decisive win for Joe Biden. You cannot make up for a 7 million-vote discrepancy. It doesn't mean he's not going to keep trying, though. The more Donald has to acknowledge that he is not going to be able to get the win, the more dangerous he is going to get.
Thousands of people are dying every day now from the pandemic. What is Donald doing? He's giving rallies with people crammed in together, not wearing masks. It's almost like Donald is saying, "See. Fuck you. You rejected me. Fine, I'm going to kill all of you." What is weird is that he is killing his own supporters. It is almost a type of performative omnipotence.
What does Donald Trump really think about his followers?
Donald has nothing but contempt for them. Yet they are all he's got left.
Are there any limits on Donald Trump's behavior and what he is capable of doing during these last few weeks of his presidency?
There are none. What makes it even worse is that it did not have to be this way. But as long as the Republican leadership remains silent and does not call him out and acknowledge the legitimacy of Joe Biden's election win, the more options Donald has.
If the Republicans had come out right away and said, "OK, Biden won. It doesn't matter if Donald concedes or not," that's not to say that Donald would not have done whatever he could to smash everything on the way out. He still would potentially have been selling state secrets or just enriching himself and his family in whatever illicit ways he could figure out, or what have you.
But Donald would not have been destroying our democracy. He needs help to do that. And Donald is only going to get more desperate because it is not just that he lost — which is a narcissistic injury the likes of which I do not think anybody on the planet has ever suffered — it is also what he's staring down the barrel of, with the indictments, lawsuits, bankruptcies and other consequences.
Language is so important here. We have got to stop using the language of "democracy" to talk about Donald, because right now this is not a transition, it is a coup. Who cares if it is failing or incompetent? It is still a coup.
America needs to undergo a real reckoning with itself about the Age of Trump and how this disaster came to be. What would a reckoning and healing look like to you?
We cannot have a reckoning if the government refuses to hold people accountable. The idea that there may not be a truth and reconciliation committee or a crimes commission is unspeakable. How is that possible? There is no one in the United States government for whom that is more necessary than for Donald. It would be good if there was accountability at the federal level. We may have to settle for accountability at the state level.
What advice would you give the American people about these next few weeks so they are not surprised by what Donald Trump may do?
Be on your guard. Be vigilant. Do not take anything for granted. We barely won this battle. We are nowhere near the end of this war. Donald is capable of anything. Don't laugh it off. He's not just some incompetent clown, although he may be, but Donald is not just that. He is somebody who has an extraordinary amount of power. He has an extraordinary amount of latitude. Mock Donald at your peril.