Given Trump’s psychological profile, it was inevitable that when he felt the walls of reality close in on him—in 2020, it was the pandemic, the cratering economy, and his election defeat—he would detach himself even further from reality. It was predictable that the president would assert even more bizarre conspiracy theories. That he would become more enraged and embittered, more desperate and despondent, more consumed by his grievances. That he would go against past supplicants, like Attorney General Bill Barr and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, and become more aggressive toward his perceived enemies. That his wits would begin to turn, in the words of King Lear. That he would begin to lose his mind.
So he has. And, as a result, President Trump has become even more destabilizing and dangerous.
“I’ve been covering Donald Trump for a while,” Jonathan Swan of Axios tweeted. “I can’t recall hearing more intense concern from senior officials who are actually Trump people. The Sidney Powell/Michael Flynn ideas are finding an enthusiastic audience at the top.”
Even amid the chaos, it’s worth taking a step back to think about where we are: An American president, unwilling to concede his defeat by 7 million popular votes and 74 Electoral College votes, is still trying to steal the election. It has become his obsession.
In the process, Trump has in too many cases turned his party into an instrument of illiberalism and nihilism. Here are just a couple of data points to underscore that claim: 18 attorneys general and more than half the Republicans in the House supported a seditious abuse of the judicial process.
And it’s not only, or even mainly, elected officials. The Republican Party’s base has often followed Trump into the twilight zone, with a sizable majority of them affirming that Joe Biden won the election based on fraud and many of them turning against medical science in the face of a surging pandemic.
COVID-19 is now killing Americans at the rate of about one per minute, but the president is “just done with COVID,” a source identified as one of Trump’s closest advisers told The Washington Post. “I think he put it on a timetable and he’s done with COVID ... It just exceeded the amount of time he gave it.”
This is where Trump’s crippling psychological condition—his complete inability to face unpleasant facts, his toxic narcissism, and his utter lack of empathy—became lethal. Trump’s negligence turned what would have been a difficult winter into a dark one. If any of his predecessors—Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, to go back just 40 years—had been president during this pandemic, tens of thousands of American lives would almost surely have been saved.
“My concern was, in the worst part of the battle, the general was missing in action,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, one of the very few Republicans to speak truth in the Trump era.