Charles M. Blow: For Trump, everything is personal

President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi share a laugh together during a bilateral meeting at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

For Donald Trump, all is personal.

And in his view, he is not the executive of the company. He is the embodiment of the country. He runs the country the way he ran his business, as the curating and promotion of his personal brand.

The people who support him are customers — people to be sold a vision and a dream. The people who criticize or oppose him threaten the brand and must be dealt with.

For Trump, everything is image-based and rooted in the appearance of personal relationships. When the Danish prime minister rebuffed his overture about buying Greenland, calling the idea “absurd,” Trump threw a tantrum and canceled his visit to Denmark.

Trump discussed the episode at one of his press gaggles, calling the prime minister’s response “nasty’ and saying, “We can’t treat the United States of America the way they treated us under President Obama.” He went on to say: “She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to the United States of America. You don’t talk to the United States that way, at least under me.”

No, actually, she was talking to him.

America was not being dismissed or disrespected. This proposal, which sounded like a joke, was being laughed at. And this president hates being laughed at.

Everything in Trump’s view is about whether someone is nice or nasty to him. It’s not about the country at all. It’s not about historical precedent or value of continuity.

His dislike of his predecessors — Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and even Jimmy Carter — is personal, not rooted in policy. He has a particular obsession with Obama, and has set about to undo everything Obama had done.

It’s petty and small and beneath the presidency, much like Trump himself.

I believe that Trump has had a long-standing belief about how China should be dealt with, but I believe that the current trade war is as much a personal beef with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. Trump thought that he could play rough and that Xi would fold.

That was silly and shortsighted. The U.S. presidency is term-limited. China’s is not. The Chinese may experience pain from the trade war, but they can afford to wait Trump out.

The fact that Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, won’t attempt to manipulate the economy in ways Trump thinks would be favorable, but is instead operating as an independent thinker, Trump takes as a personal slight. Trump appointed him. Trump demands loyalty and blind obeisance.

When China announced another round of retaliatory tariffs this week, Trump had a Twitter meltdown, tweeting “... My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?” and sending the markets into a tailspin.

Trump hated North Korea’s Kim Jong Un before he loved him. Kim has played Trump like a fiddle. Kim has baited Trump into two summits, where Trump got nothing and Kim got a priceless public relations moment. Kim can just send Trump love letters and do what he wants and surrender nothing. In Trump’s paradigm of the personal, Kim likes him and is his friend.

Vladimir Putin is also exploiting Trump’s personal need to be liked — his weak man’s desire to be admired by strong men. Trump has a deep and mysterious affection for Putin. Yes, Putin helped to get him elected, but I’m not sure even that explains the way Trump genuflects for him.

Everyone around Trump knows his weakness: He is a bottomless pit of emotional need, someone who desperately wants friends but doesn’t have the emotional quotient to know how to make and keep them. So, they flatter him and inflate him.

They have all become major-league yes men and women.

None of this is good for the country. The presidency is not owned; it is occupied. It is bigger than any man or woman. Men have grown into it, but they have never subsumed it.

The presidency must have one eye on the past and one on the future. It must place national interest over personal interest. It has absolutely nothing to do with any one person’s feelings.

In George Washington’s farewell address of 1796, he said:

“The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”

Trump is trying to embody the country and to lead it astray in the way that Washington warned against. Trump is a slave to his emotions, and this impulse is doing great harm to the nation, both internally and on the world stage.

I’m not sure that damage is irreparable. Our democracy, though fragile in many ways, has proved remarkably durable in others. But there is no doubt that the damage Trump is doing is deep and will take time and effort to undo.

Trump’s personal problems will leave a national scar.

Charles Blow |The New York Times

Charles M. Blow is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.

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