The misery of Donald Trump

Are we having fun yet?

What's going on behind closed doors?
(Image credit: Olivier Douliery/CNP/AdMedia/Newscom)

You could see it in the president's face as he listened to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explain the strong bonds that tie our two countries together.

You could see it at Mar-a-Lago, during an impromptu appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe.

You can see it, actually, every time Trump appears in public. He seems exhausted — and miserable.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

You can hear it, too. When you're tired, you revert to stock phrases and canned responses. During the Trudeau press conference, Trump was asked four easy questions, and his answers grappled for coherence (even more than usual). On Syrian refugees potentially entering the United States, he strung together a bunch of phrases about immigration and ended with a signature (and weakly delivered) note of self-praise.

Trump seems utterly exhausted and just plain miserable. His staff is also surely miserable. Many do not like him. More importantly, they don't trust him. They don't trust Stephen Bannon to translate his core hunches into policy, with only a few exceptions. They compete for Trump's affections by throwing each other under whatever buses might be rolling by. They leak to their favorite reporters.

The president borrows his temperament from A Confederacy of Dunces' Ignatius J. Reilly. He craves spontaneity and stimulation, lives in a world of his own imagining, and is also beset by anxiety and germophobia.

But being the president means that he is not, in fact, in a world he can create. He can't tame his schedule, which is intense — purposefully so, because his staff wants to create the impression that he is working hard, and fast, to keep his promises. He can't decide who he talks to, and when, and gets reproached every time he seems to speak his mind.

There were no adoring crowds feeding his energy when he allegedly hung up on the prime minister of Australia, or when he had to listen to a lecture by German President Angela Merkel about the Geneva Convention. Certainly, the decision to cut ties with erstwhile National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was greeted not with cheers, but by pitchfork-wielding mobs of critics.

For a president who craves adulation and praise, the presidency has him drowning in misery.

This misery might matter less if the president and his staff shared a purpose that was ennobling. But that purpose — total disruption, the creation of the media as an enemy state — is inherently unstable. It's a poor man's gloss on a real governing philosophy.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.