It is a rare moment when one — or even two — of the great riddles of American history are solved conclusively in a few seconds, and in a way that the nation and the whole world can see. It was when the bipartisan January 6 Committee showed the unedited tape from the White House film room on Jan. 7, 2021, of an angry, tense and fumbling Donald Trump physically revolting at merely uttering the words, “The election is over.” Apparently suggested by his daughter Ivanka, these words would have left the impression that he knew he had lost the presidential election by 7 million votes — a landslide result that had been certified unanimously by the states.
The first of those two historical riddles is whether Trump was merely an arrogant but harmless sociopath or a more virulent psychopath, defined by Webster as “a person having an egocentric and antisocial personality marked by a lack of remorse for one’s actions, an absence of empathy for others, and often criminal tendencies.” The second riddle is to what extent the insane Jan. 6 mob at the Capitol — and the 25% of Americans who are totally devoted to Trump and “Stop the Steal,” including the Kool Aid-swilling Huckabees and every Arkansas Republican leader except Governor Hutchinson and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Steve Womack — all were really the second coming of pastor Jim Jones and his Jonestown disciples.
If you watched the hearings, and especially that Jan. 7 video, you know the solution to both riddles. The video confirmed a psychopath, and the benign public reaction to the former president’s insurrection identified a cult.
First, the tape. Sworn testimony by a score of Republican congressmen, family members and Trump associates — several of whom resigned or fled when they finally realized his psychotic condition — demonstrated conclusively that Trump not only caused the criminal attack on Congress, but that he actually expected and wanted a violent conclusion, including the murder of his vice president for refusing to capitulate and declare Trump the winner. Trump was not at all worried that harm might come to the slavish Mike Pence. While Pence’s desperate aides were texting and telephoning their final sentiments to family members as the noisy armed mob neared the holed-up vice president and his aides, a thrilled Trump was telling Mark Meadows, his glum chief of staff, that Pence “deserves it.” Is this anything but the behavior of a psychopath?
All the exhibits and sworn testimony at the televised hearings, from Trump cabinet members on down, proved what Trump never disputed: that he had summoned and controlled the armed mob that assembled outside the White House the morning of Jan. 6. They heard his attack on Pence, and they accepted his charge for them to be brave and to march with him to the U.S. Capitol to force his spineless vice president and Congress to keep him in power and save America.
What the evidence at the final hearing proved beyond any doubt was that Trump knew that the mob was armed, knew of the assault on police and others, knew of the threats to the lives of Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others — and that he didn’t care. He refused to call off his violent followers, and he refused to mobilize soldiers and federal agents to bring the mob under control and to protect the Capitol and members of Congress, including Missouri’s sappy Yale grad Josh Hawley, who were madly fleeing to sanctuaries. Pence and defense officials had to mobilize the armed forces and law enforcement when Trump would not. Trump finally texted the rioters to go home and cherish the day, but only after troops and agents arrived to restore order and he knew his gambit had been foiled.
The legal purpose of the Trump statement the next day, crafted by lawyers with the help of daughter Ivanka, was to try to absolve the president of criminal liability for the seditious attack. His White House legal team knew he had to do it, and so did his family members — and even his Fox News apologists. For the record, he had to denounce the violence and criminal assault on the nation’s Capitol and call for the punishment of those involved in the assault, but he physically recoiled while trying to get the words out. And he couldn’t utter the words indicating that he accepted his defeat, which his lawyers, family members and aides thought he had to do to show that he was not responsible for the crimes on Jan. 6. It was not that he merely didn’t want to say it. He couldn’t. And he never will, even to save himself from prison. That is the definition of a psychopath. The greatest man on earth cannot make a mistake, cannot be defeated, can never admit he lied, can never even say he was wrong. Trump once said he picked up that wisdom from his lawyer and patron saint, Roy Cohn, the psychopathic star of the Army-McCarthy hearings. (It has to be noted that when Cohn contracted AIDS and was dying, Trump, who had ritually talked to him by phone every day, cut off contact and never spoke to him again.)
A memorable part of the televised hearings was the mercifully brief and sympathetic glimpses of Ivanka Trump — a doe caught in the headlights — testifying under oath in response to a direct question about whether she thought her daddy had won the election. She knew he didn’t. An angry Trump said his little girl was just clueless.
One of the devastating disclosures of the last hearing was the evidence of two short telephone conversations between Trump and his old adviser, the conspiracist Steve Bannon, as the voting on Nov. 3 was about to begin. This was followed, a few minutes later, by Bannon’s videotaped ravings on his show that he had the inside dope on what was about to happen — that no matter how the voting went on election night, Trump was going to declare victory. The day after the devastating hearing that revealed Trump’s and Bannon’s scheming, a jury convicted Bannon of two criminal counts of contempt of Congress for defying a congressional subpoena to testify under oath about his activities around the election and the Jan. 6 riot, when he was no longer a government employee and therefore could not claim executive privilege about his conversations with Trump.
If you had actually followed this weird but fascinating duck, the 45th president, for the past 3 1/2 decades — his desperate clamoring for fame and boasts of sexual prowess to the New York tabloids, his false-on-the-face-of-it claims in celebrity magazines and financial journals of his academic success and business acumen — none of the revelations about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol would have surprised you in the least.
Let’s just consider the false election claims. Trump never won a popular vote election in his life — a bunch of Republican primaries in both 2016 and 2020, and of course the Electoral College in 2020, yes, but never the popular vote. He first ran for president in 2000, as a liberal abortion champion, for the nomination of the Reform Party of the United States — Ross Perot’s failed springboard. Trump defeated the petulant Pat Buchanan in the California Reform Party primary and crowed confidently that in the fall he would swamp the Republican (George W. Bush) and Democrat (Al Gore), before he realized just how stupid that was. He understood that he would finish a distant third, like any third-party candidate, and he knew that claiming election fraud would be laughable. He quit the race and blasted the Reform Party as a collection of misfits. Gore won the election but Republicans on the Supreme Court stopped a recount in Florida and directed the certification of Bush as the winner of Florida’s electors. Gore bowed and congratulated Bush.
Trump saw his chance after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. He brought all the nation’s virulent racists into his orbit by insisting that the Black man was not an American citizen or a Christian, but an African and a Muslim, and thus not the legitimate president of the United States. Getting ready for another shot at the presidency, Mike Huckabee saw the same opportunity to capture the white-supremacy vote, but faltered by admitting that he had been wrong in claiming that Obama was reared in Africa and wasn’t a real American. (Huckabee said that he hadn’t really lied and that the lie had just been a mere slip of the tongue — that he had meant to say that Obama was from Indonesia, not Kenya.) Unlike Huckabee, Trump has never admitted a mistake or failure, unless you count his statement that he was wrong to have placed his trust in Pence’s loyalty.
At his first contest for the Republican nomination in 2016, Trump performed like a consummate psychopath. He finished a distant second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the first-of-the-season Iowa caucuses (although well ahead of Huckabee, who had won the caucuses in 2008). Remember Trump’s tweet after his defeat? You can still read it: “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he illegally stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong any [sic] why he got more votes than anticipated. Bad!” He followed that with another tweet suggesting that Iowa should hold its caucuses again, that Cruz should be prosecuted for committing election fraud, and that he probably would sue Cruz or Iowa. Of course, he never did.
Trump then won the first actual primary of the Republican race, in New Hampshire — but when the polls showed him about to lose the state election to Hillary Clinton in November, he tweeted on election day that Democrats were sending caravans of buses filled with illegal immigrants from New York City into New Hampshire’s hamlets to cast illegal ballots for Clinton. New Hampshire Republicans said such fraud didn’t and couldn’t happen. Trump lost New Hampshire, but Republicans won the other major races in the state.
Enough about the election fakery. As for those other mental-health attributes — lack of empathy and remorse for the plight of others — the stories are too legion to record or even mention here, but a couple of categories should suffice. He has almost never shown sympathy for the dying, whether they be American soldiers who died or (like John McCain) were tortured in foreign wars, or the millions who perished from COVID-19 — including hundreds of thousands of Americans who died because Trump insisted that the virus was no problem and that vaccines and protections like masks were unneeded. (Then, of course, Trump himself got the disease and then said, well, it wouldn’t be bad if someone got a shot.) His defenders say it is a matter of showing strength and confidence instead of weakness — in contrast to the mewling of Joe Biden, whimpering about the death of his loved ones, or condemning the murder of an American writer at the hands of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Remember when Trump canceled a scheduled visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 for fear that his hair would get messed up by the rain? He confided to aides, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” On the same trip, Trump referred to more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives to the German army at Belleau Wood in 1918 as “suckers.” No one needs reminding that he got out of military service in Vietnam by having his daddy’s doctor write that he had bone spurs in one foot.
Then there are the serial failures of leadership, both domestic (the mind-boggling pandemic deaths, or the staggering $8 trillion he added to the national debt, or the net loss of 2.7 American jobs in his four years — the first negative jobs record since Herbert Hoover) or abroad (such as his disastrous efforts on behalf of Vladimir Putin to break up or weaken the North Atlantic alliance and the European Union). As for the fake diplomatic triumphs — inevitably followed by Trump’s claims of victory — everyone can recall his exchanges with the North Korean dictator. After threatening to blow each other’s country off the map, they exchanged “love letters” and swooned publicly for one another, until Trump finally realized that the little tyrant was not going to stop upgrading his nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles so that he could strike the American heartland. At this point, Trump declared victory and moved on.
The American Psychiatric Association might not include arrogance, deceit and ineptitude as symptoms of psychosis but might rather identify them as common human faults, so perhaps this line of reasoning should be taken with a grain of salt. My apologies.
As for the cult of Trump worship, which may be the largest since Hitler’s, it is hard to quantify — even in Arkansas, where tens of thousands will always vote Republican, or Democratic, no matter the candidate or circumstance. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who got the Republican nomination for governor almost by default once Trump endorsed her, provides a good gauge of the cult’s depth; the coming election will measure its breadth. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Trump’s most fanatical idolater, had to end her race after Trump gave Mike Huckabee’s daughter his embrace and supplied her with $14 million in cash from his rich supporters around the country. Instead, Rutledge had to use her own big war chest to nail down the most worthless political office in all the land, lieutenant governor of Arkansas, where her only function will be to sit in a chair a few weeks a year and recognize which member that the Senate rules allow to speak.
Huckabee Sanders’ whole campaign is a collection of dog whistles to conjure up Trump causes — white grievance against growing Black and immigrant power, college-educated liberals and their gender nonsense, whining women with their stupid health problems, cringing cowards who are afraid of real men carrying guns, and the evils of public-health and common-sense safety measures like vaccines and masks. Check her fancy fliers, which arrive in your mailbox every few days.
She won’t be answering any questions about what any of it means, but you are supposed to get the message. Just remember that all of it is what Donald Trump wants. It’s Kool-Aid, and it is very, very tasty.