Reviews — From the August 2016 issue

Don the Realtor

The rise of Trump

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Discussed in this essay:

Trump: The Art of the Deal, by Donald Trump with Tony Schwartz. Ballantine Books. 384 pages. $16.99.

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, by Donald Trump. Threshold Editions. 208 pages. $25.

Not many facets of the Trump apparition have so far gone unexamined, but I can think of a significant loose end. I mean his sanity: what is the prognosis for his mental health, given the challenges that lie ahead? We should bear in mind, at this point, that the phrase “Power corrupts” isn’t just a metaphor.

There have been one or two speculative attempts to get Donald to hold still on the couch. Both Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders have called him a “pathological liar,” but so have many less partial observers. They then go on to ask: Is his lying merely compulsive, or is he an outright mythomaniac, constitutionally unable to distinguish non-truth from truth — rather like those “horrible human beings,” journalists (or at least spiteful, low-echelon journalists), who, Trump claims, “have no concept of the difference between ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’ ”? PolitiFact has ascertained that Donald’s mendacity rate is just over 90 percent; so the man who is forever saying that he “tells it like it is” turns out to be nearly always telling it like it isn’t.

Donald Trump, 2001 © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images

Donald Trump, 2001 © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images

With greater resonance, and with more technical garnish (lists of symptoms and giveaways), Trump has been identified as a “pathological narcissist,” a victim, in fact, of narcissistic personality disorder (or N.P.D.). Certainly Trump’s self-approbation goes well beyond everyday egocentricity or solipsism. “My fingers,” he recently explained, “are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my anatomy.” He really does remind you of the original Narcissus, the frigid pretty boy of Greek myth who was mortally smitten by his own reflection. Narcissus is autoerotic; he is self-aroused.

Cynics will already be saying that these two “diseases” — chronic dishonesty and acute vaingloriousness — are simply par for the course. In recent years the G.O.P. has more or less adopted the quasi slogan “There is no downside to lying” (itself a clear and indeed “performative” tall tale: how can you debauch truth, and debauch language, without cost?). And such voices would also argue that a laughably bloated sense of self is a prerequisite, a sine qua non, for anyone aspiring to public office. Well, we’ll see. President Trump won’t get away with too much pathological lying in the Oval Office and the Situation Room. But we may be sure that his pathological narcissism, his poor old N.P.D., will become unrecognizably florid and fulminant once alloyed with what Maxim Gorky — referring to its effects on his friend Lenin — called “the filthy venom” of prepotence. Even Lenin confessed that it “makes one’s head spin.”

Our psychological exam cries out for hard evidence. Now, the written word is always hard evidence; and I have before me “two books by Donald Trump.” That phrase is offered advisedly, particularly the preposition “by.” But we can be confident that Trump had something to do with their compilation: it very quickly emerges that he is one of nature’s “reluctant” micromanagers, having discovered (oh, long, long ago) that every single decision will hugely benefit from his omnicompetence. “By” is tentative, and even the epithet “books” is open to question, because Trump always calls his books his “bestsellers.” Anyway, almost three decades separate The Art of the Deal (1987) and Crippled America (2015). I suppose a careful study of the intervening bestsellers — among them Surviving at the Top (1990), How to Get Rich (2004), Think Like a Billionaire (2004), The Best Golf Advice I Ever Received (2005), and Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life (2007) — might have softened the blow. As it is, I can report that in the past thirty years Trump, both cognitively and humanly, has undergone an atrocious decline.

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has published fourteen novels, most recently The Zone of Interest and Lionel Asbo: State of England.

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