Maureen Dowd: Heartless Trump mistakes cruelty for strength

Strongman reflex: US president’s vile tweets indicate his deteriorating psychological condition

US president Donald Trump has again attacked the news media during an event to honour military veterans in Washington on Saturday. Video: The White House


So, with this latest toad jumping from our president’s mouth, is Donald Trump acting like a sexist pig or simply a pig? I proffer, a pig. I have no doubt that he would attack a man’s appearance in the same breathtakingly below-the-belt way if he felt humiliated by that man and had the ammunition.

In his vile tweet about Mika Brzezinski, he called her crazy. He often tweets that women journalists – including me – are crazy. Yet in that same tweet about Mika, he called Joe Scarborough “psycho”. And he told the Russians in May that James Comey was “a nut job”.

Some, including Scarborough, think Trump goes after women harder. Certainly, it resonates more with women because of Trump’s history of sexist remarks, his taped boasting about assaulting women and his habit of rating women’s looks on a 1-10 scale. (He did once tell me, though, that he considered women “tougher” and that he related to them better.)

There is also the historical context: it is a more sensitive matter for women because, for centuries, they have relied on their looks for economic security, and they continue to be judged more on physical traits and clothing choices.

But as some women anchoring cable shows call for the women in the Trump administration to rise up in protest, I say: let’s not narrow it to sexism. It’s even more troubling than that. It’s cruelty on a Grand Guignol scale, both in Trump’s heartless tweets and in his mindless salesmanship of the Republicans’ heartless budget.

King of Mean

When Trump called the House healthcare Bill mean, he knows whereof he speaks. He’s the King of Mean. Pathetically, Trump mistakes cruelty for strength. The 71-year-old president’s pathological inability to let go of slights; his strongman reflex to be the aggressor and bite back like a cornered animal, without regard for societal norms; his lack of self-awareness about the power he commands and the proportionality of his responses; his grotesque hunger for flattery and taste for Tony Soprano tactics; his Pravda partnership with David Pecker, the head honcho at the National Enquirer, which has been giving Trump the Il Duce treatment while sliming his political opponents, the Morning Joe anchors and Megyn Kelly – these are all matters that should alarm men and women equally.

Trump has moved his shallow kiddie wading pool of gossip and ridicule from Trump Tower to the White House, where it is so outlandishly out of place that it often feels like we have a gossip-page reporter as our president.

Trump is isolated in the White House, out of his milieu, unable to shape the story, forced to interact with people he doesn’t own. Even the staffers folding his clothes aren’t on his payroll.

Before he got to DC, Trump was used to media that could be bought, sold and bartered with. He is not built for this hostile environment, and it shows in his deteriorating psychological state. Even though he’s in the safest space of all, he’s not in a safe space.

Trump has always been obsessed with looks – his own, men’s and women’s. One of his favourite phrases is: “Here’s the beauty of me.”

He walks through life as if he’s the judge in a 1980s swimsuit contest – even with his own wives and older daughter. “She’s got the best body,” was his typical refrain about Ivanka. I was at the New York Times in 1999 when Trump, talking to an editor, commented admiringly on a sexy, buff picture of Anna Wintour in a white wife-beater T-shirt on the cover of New York magazine. “She will never look this good again,” Trump bro-claimed to the male editor. (He was wrong.)

Mocking looks

Trump blasted his way up in the 2016 campaign by mocking his opponents’ looks – male and female. At a New Jersey fundraiser, Trump teased Chris Christie, “No more Oreos.” He made fun of Jeb for ditching glasses for contacts and Rick Perry when he put glasses on. He belittled Little Marco for sweating.

He famously and viciously mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski for his disability. And his aides think John Bolton lost his shot at secretary of state due to his yeti moustache.

“He is mean to men as well as women,” says Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio. “When he was planning to run for president in 2014, he required males and females in his organisation to get in shape, and back in the 1990s Donald would hand out tubes of Rogaine to male executives and say the worst thing in the world is for a male executive to go bald.”

Certainly, Trump is squeamish about bodily functions. He once bragged to Howard Stern that Melania seemed impervious to bathroom needs and he weirdly found it “disgusting” that Hillary took a bathroom break during a debate.

“Bodily fluids bother him,” D’Antonio says. The famous germaphobe once complained to me about the time a man came out of a New York restaurant bathroom with wet hands and shook his hand. Trump said he couldn’t eat after that.

I gave Trump the benefit of the doubt after his comment on Megyn Kelly about “blood coming out of her wherever” when he claimed he meant her nose. But later, a longtime Trump associate told me that Trump had practised that line before he said it on CNN and that it was meant to evoke an image of Kelly as hormonal.

Of course, since Trump and some of those close to him have such an elastic relationship with the truth, and since some staffers have been known to feed journalists false details just to mess with them, you can never be sure of anything that comes out of this White House. Except the cruelty.

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