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"Unfazed" Donald Trump is actually pretty terrifying

One of the best things I've read this week is this BuzzFeed profile of Donald Trump by McKay Coppins, who spent a day and a half in the company of the faux politician and professional provocateur in hopes of uncovering why exactly Trump continues to flirt with politics when fewer and fewer people are falling for his act.

Trump’s supposed political aspirations, in particular, inflict upon reporters made to cover them a special sort of journalistic indignity; it’s like hyping the “storm of the century” before a single flake has fallen.

I, of course, am part of the problem. I came to Manchester on the promise that I would be able to catch a ride on Trump’s private jet back to New York (where a real-life blizzard, it turns out, is descending on the city), for the purpose of pressing him on why he is so intent on continuing this charade. But what I found was a man startled by his suddenly fading relevance — and consumed by a desperate need to get it back.

I almost called the piece a "guilty pleasure," because I am already convinced that no one should be giving Donald Trump serious attention. But I don't feel guilty about having enjoyed it, or about recommending it to you, because although Coppins says that he is "part of the problem," he is really doing the world a service in illuminating the problem so well. It should be nearly impossible for anyone to finish reading Coppins's profile and still think Trump is someone to be taken seriously.

And yet, at the same time, Coppins has managed to draw a credible portrait of the human side of Donald Trump: needy, vain, desperately insecure, but also generous with his wealth and anxious to please. He's not just a con artist like, say, Glenn Beck; he seems to believe his own hype -- he seems to need to believe it. He's a living cartoon, like the miserable rich man in a children's story about how money doesn't bring happiness. His buffoonery is so over-the-top that it's hard to understand why anyone still plays along: he's a compulsive self-promoter (and by the same token a compulsive liar); he has no shame about his failure to follow through on any of the grandiose claims he has made (tracking down the "truth" behind Barack Obama's Hawaiian birth; demonstrating that his wealth is greater than the most generous estimates; winning or even competing in any political contest). And yet he seems unable to accept the consequences of his cartoonish behavior -- namely, being a punch line. As Coppins tells it, Trump lives in a Truman Show-style bubble surrounded by people who treat him like the universally admired, well-respected eminence grise he seems to want to be. It's a bubble he created and personally maintains, and yet he seems unable to see through the illusion. And although he insists on seeing all of his press, any negative commentary, any suggestion that perhaps the emperor might have no clothes, sends him into an angry fit. The profile is very funny, but also, in its way, tragic.

There's one detail I want to examine more closely here:

Later in our interview, he feels compelled to fire a warning shot. “If I am treated unfairly, I will go after that reporter,” he tells me. Trump, who doesn’t use email, has been known to print out articles about himself that he doesn’t like and scrawl handwritten hate notes across the top before mailing them to reporters.

 I don't understand why this charming fact isn't in the second paragraph of everything ever written about Donald Trump. Please take a look at what he sent to Juli Weiner, a blogger at Vanity Fair, when she wrote about his phony presidential campaign.

That is not just an overreaction, or an incredibly revealing display of insecurity, though it is those things. It's crazy. Not "Ha ha, doesn't he realize how bad his hair looks?" crazy -- more like "The police should probably be keeping a file on that guy" crazy. I would find it absolutely frightening to get mail like that from anyone. Just looking at it gives me the creeps.

There are many examples of this quirk of Trump's that I think deserve to be better known, while we're all thinking about how we should think about Donald Trump. In a very funny 2011 column, Gail Collins revealed that she had received similarly high-toned feedback from The Donald:

During one down period, I referred to him in print as a “financially embattled thousandaire” and he sent me a copy of the column with my picture circled and “The Face of a Dog!” written over it.

Trump replied to that column with an even funnier letter to the editor, which the New York Times had the good sense to publish without editing (I presume), a letter that, like most of Trump's attempts to save face, only validated and reinforced the negative characterization he was objecting to.

Actually, I have great respect for Ms. Collins in that she has survived so long with so little talent. Her storytelling ability and word usage (coming from me, who has written many best sellers), is not at a very high level.

He insisted that "birtherism" (a label he objected to) was a legitimate line of inquiry; he did not, however, deny that he had once personally written to Gail Collins to tell her she was as ugly as a dog. There are other examples -- Justin Elliott at Salon got his own hand-scrawled nastygram, and Graydon Carter has a long history of correspondence with Trump (see this Spy article, which Juli Weiner linked to in her Vanity Fair post). Here's one he sent to the maker of a documentary he didn't like ("P.S. You are a LOSER"). And in a less serial-killer-ish vein, he regularly lobs insults at people via Twitter -- this one is my favorite.

Those scribbled missives are pathetic, which makes them funny, but they're also bullying in a way that I find more disgusting than amusing. Trump may be deluded about how much power and influence (and writing talent) he has, but that doesn't excuse his trying to wield it to push around people who expose inconvenient truths or express unflattering opinions. Shouting at "celebrities" on his "reality" television show is one thing -- he gets paid to do that. Calling people names and vowing to sic his lawyers on them because they are insufficiently obeisant is not so cute. In fact, the combination of hair-trigger temper and very poor self-control makes it pretty alarming.

Now, true to form (and apparently unable to avoid even the most predictable self-sabotage), Trump is going after Coppins himself, via Twitter and through surrogates (including an aide he later fired, apparently because he felt said aide was responsible for the decision to give Coppins access). He has called Coppins a "slimebag" and a "sleazebag" and "true garbage with no credibility" (he also sort of called Coppins's wife ugly), and insists -- over and over again -- that BuzzFeed, the site that he agreed could profile him, is "third-rate" and "irrelevant" and "dumb."

But don't get the wrong idea: the first thing Trump did was send word, via a spokesperson, to the website TheWrap that -- while Coppins's reporting was of course utterly without merit -- "Mr. Trump is totally unfazed by this article." Well, obviously. But wouldn't you hate to see what he looks like when he's fazed?

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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I loved, loved, loved, the Spy Magazine running battle with Donald Trump!  I think it all started when he got wind they were doing an article on Ivana;  he sent some horribly threatening letter, which they printed, alongside an innocuous write up of Ivana.  And then it just took off from there- every issue seemed to have Donald Trump writing some threatening thing to Spy.

I still miss Spy.

I thought people read Commonweal because it doesn't run Buzzfeed/Gawker/HuffPo celebratory gossip? You're better than this...

Thanks for this, Mollie. I am glad that there are reporters with the ability to tell it as they see it, even (especially) if the emperor has no clothes on. It is easy to get sucked into propaganda, especially when those with celebrity and wealth want power. More often than not media manipulation creates personalities that have no resemblance at all to the real person, leaving voters at the mercy of those journalists who can see through the facade and are willing to write what they see.

Donald Trump? Is he still a thing?

So what's up with Fatty Arbuckle?

Our life span on this earth is limited. Ignore him. I had an acquaintance who was an executive at an agency and when word came back that people were talking about her, she said, "Good, gives me more power"!

The press has choices around who they wish to confer power upon by covering.

Don't be played Mollie!

Donald Trump has had two careers—one as a real-estate shark and casino magnate and one as a performance artist who plays a version of himself. Mollie may be right in suggesting that he's not entirely aware that the performance is a performance, but a lot of his audience must be, and they (we) are also partly to blame for the fact that this tired performance has been allowed to go on so long. Of course, lots of famous people play a version of themselves: Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan, Cornel West, Muhammad Ali all did, or do. But they have interesting selves to play. Trump's peformance is not only boorish but dependably boring. 

Of course, lots of famous people play a version of themselves: Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan, Cornel West, Muhammad Ali all did, or do.

Somewhere, Tavis Smiley is sitting in stunned silence. Finally, he whispers, "Just playing... a version of himself?"

He packs a duffel bag and heads off to a cheap motel. Entering the room, he removes a revolver from the bag and tosses it onto the grubby bedspread. He parts the curtains and finds himself staring at a brickwall across the alley.

He murmers to himself, "So this is where it all ends..."

Maybe the Donald can help Archbishop John Myers of Newark who is only spending $500,000 to renovate his $800,000 lavish retirement home on a choice 8 acres. Who does he intend sharing it with?

If the guy from Germany got suspended, Myers might be ducking. 

But surely the Donald could help. The first thing he would say to Myers is "Don't insult me by having a home that is under 20 million. Since I have cerified that you were born here I will help you out."

Donald, however, never purported to follow the homeless person of Nazareth. So Myers, we might say, trumps the  Donald in hubris. 

Matthew Boudway:

"Donald Trump has had two careers—one as a real-estate shark and casino magnate and one as a performance artist who plays a version of himself."

You are too kind.  I call him a fraud. (All but one of his vast number of books that he promotes as his is written with a collaborator.)

I remember during the 2012 election Trump and Gingrich, who criticized child labor laws as “stupid,” dreamed up an “Apprentice”-style plan with Donald Trump that would put 10 'apprenti' (Trump’s word) from New York City schools to work.

Two peas in the same pod.

The idea went nowhere.

You might say that there are two ways that we in the "audience respond" to Donald Trump. Some of us -- including all of the people I linked to here, and me -- know that he's a fraud and a boor and see no reason to pretend othewise, but can't help being fascinated by how he manages to keep up the act, and by how genuinely self-deceived he seems to be. So, Graydon Carter has continued to pay attention to Trump over the decades because it's amusing: poke him just a little and he explodes in impossible-to-parody rage. Coppins's piece is fascinating -- and definitely not boring, not to me at least -- because he attempts to seriously plumb the depths of Trump's delusions.

The second way of responding to Trump is as if he were what he pretends to be: a model of business success and financial acumen and a very serious political thinker.  It's not just the yes-men on his payroll and the execs at NBC who play that game. The GOP did it for most of the last election cycle (and not for the first time), and the press goes along, sending out reporters to cover Trump's antics as if they weren't just baloney. That's what turns Trump's prominence from sideshow to scandal, in my estimation. It's degrading to the reporters and their news orgs, as Coppins notes. And it's degrading to politics in general. (Bad enough we have to deal with Gingrich et al.; at least Gingrich held office once!) But what truly amazes me, and I guess nobody else, is that newspapers and Sunday-morning shows and Mitt Romney's campaign staff and so forth will keep on pretending that Trump is a Serious Important Man even when they know he has a long history of doing things like sending threatening hate mail to people who dare to poke fun at his image. What would it take for newspapers to stop dutifully reporting that Trump is "considering running for" governor, or whatever? How come that isn't enough?

This republic is threatened not so much by Muslim terrorists but by the increasing number of financialy sucessful sociopaths who create a new supply of imitators in every graduating class. .

Tavis Smiley stands out in the media because he's pure of heart, a holy man.[IMO] .I love him.

Steven Colbert referred to The Donald's toupee this week as "that thing on his head"  :-)  Poor Trump.  Can't get no respect.

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