The Naked Truth About Donald Trump
Unpleasant though it may be, I ask you to close your eyes and imagine Donald Trump with no clothes on. What do you see? The answer is obvious. You see a would-be emperor with no clothes. I’ve been thinking of that classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen lately, and how it bears such strong similarity with our current times.
In the story, the emperor was a vain man more concerned with flaunting his wealth and stature than in handling the affairs of state. Two conmen, appealing to the emperor’s vanity, come to him claiming to be weavers who can make a remarkable suit of clothes that cannot be seen by those of inferior intellect. The emperor is intrigued and hires them. They produce nothing, of course, but no one has the courage to admit that they see nothing. To do so would be to admit to being a fool and no one wants to be branded a fool—least of all the emperor. So they shut their mouths and the emperor is allowed to strut through the streets in his birthday suit. The people have all bought into the fake-news narrative and so no one says a word—no one, that is, except for an innocent child, who points out the obvious: the emperor has no clothes. The vain ruler is naked, stripped of dignity and decorum, baring his ordinariness to all.
Eighty-one million Americans knew this about Trump. What is so scary is that 74 million did not. Maybe they really did see clothes because there certainly is a strong sense that delusion—and the willingness to be deluded—is part and parcel of the psychological makeup of some not-insignificant portion of the Trump cult. Or maybe they were just too scared to admit they were stupid enough to continue to follow Trump after all the horrible things he perpetrated against America and the world in his four years as president.
I have to believe that the latter factor is what pertains to the vast majority of Republicans in Congress. They’re not stupid, but they are scared—perhaps more now than ever, because Trump crossed the line last week in exhorting and inciting the more unbalanced of his followers to attack the U.S. Capitol building. (That in itself is a sad commentary because it means that putting kids in cages, mocking a disabled person, and denying relief to Puerto Rico until proper respect had been paid to him did not cross a line.) In a classic case of cognitive dissonance, which describes the mental discomfort of holding inconsistent beliefs, some of Trump’s harshest critics among the GOP when he was running for office in 2016—Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio among them—became his most fervent and outspoken followers once he was elected. They clearly knew that candidate Trump was naked, but once he became President Trump, they lost the nerve to speak the truth.
What had they to fear? Pronouncing someone to be nude does not make one’s own clothes disappear. All it took was for the winds to shift after the Capitol attack for Graham to declare with intoxicated zeal that “enough is enough” and finally allow Joe Biden to be certified as our 46th president. I’ll never understand why the Senate didn’t vote to convict Trump in Impeachment I; why not lose the ticking time bomb in favor of the much more predictable Mike Pence? Did they think Pence wouldn’t have coattails? What kind of coattails did they think a naked Trump would provide?
There is little satisfaction in being the child too lacking in guile to avoid stating the obvious. I’ve worn out my keyboard complaining about Trump these past four years, and I’ve landed in Facebook jail once and Twitter jail twice for being just a little too honest. I’m glad he is finally leaving, though I fear what horrors he will manage to orchestrate in the last remaining days of his presidency and thereafter. Like Andersen’s emperor, he is way too vain to simply slink out of the spotlight. He needs an audience to which he can claim to be intelligent, an audience stupid enough to believe it is so. The question is whether he can cause too much trouble before the new clothes he gets is a prison uniform.