Clearly things have gone off the rails when a presidential nominee needs an intervention. Apparently, “key Republicans close to Donald Trump’s orbit” think that the window for a general-election “pivot” is closing. NBC reported on Wednesday that Newt Gingrich, Reince Priebus, and Rudy Giuliani were plotting to stage an intervention for Trump. They would, I suppose, sit in a circle around the beleaguered candidate and confront him with the harsh realities of general-election politics while Trump breaks into a cold sweat and eyes the door.
Except, of course, that’s not what an intervention is for. And plunking the word “intervention” into this political drama is downright dangerous: It doesn’t take addiction seriously, and it doesn’t take Trump seriously, either.
Addicts are victims of a cruel disease in which their brains are literally incapable of making rational decisions. That’s part of the nasty paradox of addiction: The addicts cannot trust their own thoughts, which tell them that getting high takes primacy over all other self-interests—jobs, relationships, health. That is why people who love addicts have to intervene—to try to persuade addicts to supplant their own judgment with that of their loved ones, and get into treatment. It’s a tough ask and a delicate, tricky business that demands deep compassion for the addicts, who are lost in their own heads and whose judgment is severely compromised.
Then there’s Trump. He has started fights with Gold Star families, not known that Russia had already invaded Crimea, has a wife with possible visa issues while making illegal immigration a centerpiece of his campaign, persists in talking up a nonexistent videotape, and refuses to endorse the few people in Washington who are on his side—and that’s just in the last week. Trump is not physically compelled to do any of this. Trump is not bathing his brain in poison and fundamentally reshaping his mental architecture. Trump is simply being exactly who he is. Addicts deserve sympathy; Trump deserves outrage.
“That word [intervention] was used by Newt in a memo that got around,” Rudy Giuliani told Fox Business. “What a ridiculous word. An intervention is for a drug addict and it’s for someone who’s an alcoholic … Donald Trump doesn’t drink or smoke, by the way. We don’t have that problem.” Giuliani is right; applying the language of addiction to Trump obscures the problem. The hope of an intervention is that treatment can help restore a person to who they really are. Trump’s problem is that voters are seeing exactly who he really is.
What’s more, the goal of an intervention is to help its subject, the person who is mentally incapacitated. But Gingrich doesn’t want to help Trump. Sure, he wants to supplant his judgment for Trump’s—but not to help Trump. Gingrich and other advisers want to help Republicans. In their judgment, Trump needs to start saying the correct thing instead of the scandalous thing. That’s not an intervention; it’s a strategy meeting. If teetotaler Trump truly needed an intervention, the end result of that exercise would not be: Talk more about Hillary Clinton and less about the Khan family. It would be: You need help, counseling, and medication, or you’re going to lose everything dear to you. And, oh yeah, you’re definitely going to have to stop running for leader of the free world.
Thanks to cable channels devoted to human despair, the idea of “intervention” has seeped into the cultural consciousness—usually via a solid half-hour of ogling vulnerable and incapacitated addicts in their most lurid and desperate hours, then a 10-minute family meeting, and finally a mere frame of text as denouement. (Jane went into treatment has been sober for three months.) The takeaway is that the solution to bad behavior is an intervention. Ergo, Trump needs an intervention.
Of course, interventions are not solutions; they are inflection points, transitions. The solutions are the difficult hard-won battles based on science and personal reckoning that come afterwards. Trump isn’t facing that kind of internal war, and, as I’m sure Khizr Khan would agree, he certainly isn’t losing anything he finds meaningful, either.
Gingrich’s language demeans addicts’ life-and-death struggles. But it also misrepresents the nature of Trump’s challenge. Trump is Trump, and saying that an intervention, course correction, reset, pivot, or reboot will change him is a lie.