What Trump really cares about
His recent Twitter feuds are extremely revealing
"I'm going to be so presidential," Donald Trump said in April, "that you people will be so bored." Thank goodness we dodged that bullet. Somewhere along the way Trump realized that there is no greater sin for an entertainer than being boring, and if being presidential is boring, he wants no part of it. So among other things, Trump has made clear that the next four years are going to feature an endless series of feuds, played out mostly on Twitter, in which the most powerful person in the world squabbles with politicians, celebrities, and anyone else who happens to displease him.
Recent targets have included Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Meryl Streep, Saturday Night Live, and America's intelligence community. These arguments are always absurd, often amusing, and if you pay close enough attention, extremely revealing.
For example, earlier this week Trump got into a fight with outgoing CIA chief John Brennan, about whom he said, "Was this the leaker of Fake News?" referring to the opposition research dossier alleging that the Russian government had compromising information about Trump. Trump's suggestion was ridiculous, because the dossier is not a government document and it had been circulating around Washington for weeks; many people saw copies, not just the intelligence agencies. But that came in the wake of Trump saying when the news broke, "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
Brennan (who has served both Democratic and Republican presidents) was, to put it mildly, not pleased. "Tell the families of those 117 CIA officers who are forever memorialized on our wall of honor that their loved ones who gave their lives were akin to Nazis," he told The Wall Street Journal. "Tell the CIA officers who are serving in harm's way right now and their families who are worried about them that they are akin to Nazi Germany. I found that to be very repugnant, and I will forever stand up for the integrity and patriotism of my officers who have done much over the years to sacrifice for their fellow citizens."
As always, one's first reaction on seeing Trump lash out at someone is, "What the hell is he thinking?" The answer is: He's not thinking, he's feeling. Trump isn't a planner, he's a reactor, and nothing gets more of a reaction from him than criticism. But not all criticism — only certain kinds. And when you look at what gets a rise out of him, you can see what he really cares about.
Right now, what Donald Trump really cares about is looking like a winner. It's why he has spent the last two months since the election insisting that his election was such an enormous landslide (after all, how many presidents can say they won despite getting almost three million fewer votes than their opponent?). The true threat of the Russian dossier isn't the idea that he's Vladimir Putin's puppet; as he said in one of his debates with Hillary Clinton, "No puppet. No puppet. You're the puppet." I'll bet he isn't even bothered by the most salacious allegations in the Trump dossier. What really rankles him is the idea that without Putin's help, he couldn't have won. That's also why he lashed out at Lewis, who said that he doesn't consider Trump a "legitimate president."
Another politician, understanding what a revered figure Lewis is, would have brushed it off. But Trump simply could not allow that accusation to hang out there without a harsh response, which is exactly what he delivered.
Trump is also irked to no end by data showing him to be the most unpopular incoming president since polling began. In The Washington Post's polling, Barack Obama's approval just before he was inaugurated was 79 percent, George W. Bush was at 62 percent, Bill Clinton was at 68 percent, and George H.W.Bush was at 65 percent. Trump is at 40 percent. As soon as he saw that, he tweeted, "The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls. They are rigged just like before." Ah, the return of the "rigged" polls, when they show something other than stunning support for Trump (actually, the election polls were pretty accurate — they showed Clinton winning the popular vote by about 3 points, and she won by 2).
This is something that bears watching: You can call Trump a sexist or a vulgarian and it won't bother him all that much. But call him a loser? That his fragile ego cannot tolerate.
If you were a foreign leader, you'd probably be thinking about how to use that to your advantage. Putin certainly is; he's the one person Trump never says a negative word about. It all goes back to a quote where Putin supposedly called Trump "brilliant," which has never left Trump's mind. "If he says great things about me, I'm going to say great things about him. I've already said, he is really very much of a leader," Trump said, which when you think about it is a bizarre way to judge a foreign dictator — not to mention that the word Putin used to describe him actually translates better as "colorful" than "brilliant."
He's certainly colorful. But for the next four years, we'll have to check Trump's Twitter feed every day to find out whether there has been some threat to his ego that threatens the entire world. Whatever else you can say about it, it sure won't be boring.