Every consulting civil engineer has had the experience of sitting in a meeting with a developer and suddenly realizing, “This clown has started believing his own bullshit.” I imagine that happens to lawyers quite a bit, too, and to journalists. And the preacher-penitent feedback-loop has got to be a carnival in a class all its own.
But: One tends to assume that anybody disciplined enough to survive the rigors of a national campaign has a good grip on reality and public-fictions and keeps each in its proper sphere. I’ve long thought, in fact, that one of the few virtues of our tedious, protracted campaign season is that it tests the candidate’s ability to maintain a hawk-eyed grip on reality while promoting the agreeable, sentimental fictions that the American public demands.
But now that the First Fabulist and almost 2-dozen of the White House coterie have contracted Covid-19, it appears that expectation was too generous. The Donald definitely got to believing his own bullshit, and so did much of his staff.
And why not? The Constitutional system of check-and-balances utterly collapsed. Was there any cost to him as he eliminated Inspectors General, dismissed executives with decades of experience in favor of witless sycophants, engaged in overtly criminal behavior, brazenly lied, simply ignored the Constitution? No, there was no cost. In fact, Republican lawmakers rushed to protect him every step of the way, and then stood in line to kiss his ass.
Why wouldn’t he believe, as self-help books have taught ever since Napoleon Hill, that he could think and speak a new reality into existence?
Anybody who has read the Federalist Papers is aware that the Founders had a deeply unsentimental, downright pessimistic, view of human nature. The Constitutional system of checks and balances relies not on idealism, but upon a grim view of human nature. The Congress, the Judiciary, and the Executive will check each other not for the public good, but for private self-interest — to protect their prerogatives. That is, the Congress, for example, is supposed to check the Executive because the public which elects them is outraged by presumptions upon their liberty; fail to check the Executive, and the public will remove them.
That is what has broken down, and a significant part of the reason is that much of the Republican base — to whom Republican officeholders are accountable — admires Donald Trump, revels in his disdain for expertise, imagines themselves living a powerful and glamorous life while dismissing pointy-headed experts.
To a significant proportion of the American pubic, Donald Trump is a childish fantasy made flesh.
But reality always has the last word, and now reality is coming for The Donald. ‘Bout time, so far as I’m concerned.