"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?

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

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