By Gallagher & Schleicher
“I don’t want your loyalty, John, I want your devotion.” — “The Man in the High Castle,” season 4, episode 4
Donald Trump won’t finish his first term in office, or at least not a full second one, and it’s due to a fatal flaw in his character. You may be guessing narcissism, lack of empathy or — if a fan — perhaps his desire to put cutting a deal ahead of other priorities. Well, all of those are right. And wrong.
What we predict will be his downfall is this: When push comes to shove, he is unwilling (unable?) to demonstrate loyalty. Even when it would be in his interest to do so (think Michael Cohen), if he sees a friend headed for a fall, he invariably and reflexively steps out of the way, hands clasped behind his back. Do any of you doubt that — short of being blackmailed — he will cut Rudy Giuliani loose when Rudy most needs friends in high places? Will he “forget” to pardon Stone or Manafort or Flynn — again assuming no blackmail?
A narcissist sees others only in terms of helping himself. Add an absence of empathy and one can only sort people into two categories: those who are blindly loyal and those who are out to get you. Admiration, envy and business opportunities (and again, blackmail?) may bind Trump to someone for life — think Vladimir Putin — but run-of-the-mill loyalty just won’t cut it.
Ask Ukraine. Or NATO. Or John Kelly or John Bolton. If forcing folks to walk the plank were an Olympic sport, Trump would be a Gold Medal pirate. “What can you do for me today?” is truly the only long-term, strategic plan a leader such as Trump cares to implement. When it comes to denying knowing someone three times before the rooster crows, Trump can even out-repudiate old St. Peter. As confirmed by the example of Michael Cohen, those cut loose tend not to respond well.
Betrayal — real or perceived — imprints deeply on the human mind. Even if forgiven, never forgotten. Trump’s inability to extend loyalty impairs his ability to realize the harm he does himself when he cuts off former allies at early signs of trouble. Waiting in the wings as a result is Lev Parnas — one of Trump’s “I-don’t-know-those-gentlemen” comrades. For his part, Lev is sure to remember Trump quite well when it comes time to spill the beans when plea bargaining with the Southern District of New York prosecutors.
Don’t feel left out. You too have been and will be betrayed by the Donald. This week’s House Intelligence Committee report found the president had with the Ukraine matter put his personal political interests ahead of your national security. Just as surviving the Mueller Report emboldened him to do this, surviving impeachment surely will be read by him as permission to keep putting all things Trump at the top of his priority list and the citizens’ interests somewhere on Page Two. (Did we mention he rarely reads through to Page Two?)
“Deplorable” readers were enraged by our column asking “What if the devil ran for office” — though it never mentioned Trump by name. Further anger ensued when we responded by pondering ways in which Trump might be like God [i.e., the one sometimes unflatteringly portrayed in the Old Testament]. We suspect labeling Donald Trump as suffering from “Judas Syndrome” likewise would be received rather poorly by the president’s disciples.
So instead we’ll close by emphasizing all the ways Trump is not like Judas. Judas didn’t betray in exchange for 30 Trump Towers. And he did it with a kiss, not a 4 a.m. tweet. Judas felt guilty about what he had done. Judas concluded his heinous plot by taking his own life, not by shooting Uncle Sam in the back in the middle of Fifth Avenue. Poor Judas.
The amazing thing about believing no one — save perhaps Mike “Hopelessly Devoted” Pence — shows you enough loyalty is that eventually, and inevitably, it becomes true. Poor Donald.
David Gallagher is a transplanted Texan, living and working in London and tweeting at @TBoneGallagher. David Schleicher is an attorney splitting his time between Waco and D.C., blogging at www.ContranymTimes.com. This piece originally appeared in the Saturday, December 7, 2019 Waco Tribune-Herald, where the Davids are on the Board of Contributors.