One of the number one rules for getting along with narcissists is that you never say anything that disrupts their seat at the center of universe. Their views predominate, their needs are paramount, and their moral judgment of everything in the world is based on whether it affects them positively or negatively, according to their view.
In other words, reality—or any sense that there’s an alternative truth to that of the narcissists’—is a malignant proposition that must be vanquished at once.
As pr*sident, Donald Trump’s narcissistic tendencies first expressed themselves from the White House briefing podium when Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued against all evidence that the attendance at Trump’s inauguration exceeded that at President Obama’s. It seems almost quaint now—partly because the clear pictorial evidence made it so laughable—but that was an inaugural glimpse of where we were headed, pardon the pun.
It’s no secret by now that Trump is out of his depth, unable to comprehend the vast federal bureaucracy he’s supposed to command, incapable of absorbing the knowledge necessary to inform critical decisions about commanding it, and frankly, uninterested in anything that isn’t directly related to whichever immediate concern has hijacked his limited attention span at any given hour of the day.
But now we are seeing how that psyche is choking off the entire White House from the world, not just so Trump can maintain control over the government, but so no inconvenient truths can infiltrate his fortress and encroach on his reality.
His spokespeople lost the presumption of truthfulness months ago. But now they’ve progressed from trafficking in lies and so-called “alternative facts” to simply being Donald Trump’s communications id. The press secretaries are no longer using the podium to project Trump’s perceptions as truths, they are now just wielding it as a bullhorn for his every petty grievance. In other words, they have moved from performing the political function of trying to convince others of his view (however flawed the reasoning) to being nothing more than an emotional outlet for the aggrieved man-child sitting in the Oval Office.
Perhaps the most pointed example of this came on Thursday after Trump fired off two grossly inappropriate tweets targeting Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to the air waives twice to defend the patently indefensible and it came as no surprise when she rolled out phrases like “fight fire with fire” and said Trump would “hit back” when attacked. But at the press conference that afternoon she also appeared baffled that more people weren’t siding with her boss. (In fact, not a single person other than Trump’s paid surrogates and family members—same thing, really—defended his creepy misogynistic tweets.)
“I think that the president is pushing back against people who attack him day after day after day. Where is the outrage on that?” Huckabee Sanders wondered on Thursday (video embedded below).
When NBC reporter Kristen Welker reminded her that Trump is the “president of the United States,” suggesting that perhaps an elevated level of decorum was in order, Huckabee Sanders shot back:
“The only person that I see a war on is this president and everybody that works for him.”
At some other location in the White House, you could almost hear Trump saying, “Yeah, where’s the outrage for me?! I’m the one under attack!”
It’s a preposterous argument to everyone outside that White House. But not to a narcissist. Huckabee Sanders is merely channeling Trump’s wounded ego and, for the life of him, he can’t understand why people don’t see it his way—because his way is the only way to see it.
This was not the only red flag that emerged this week between team Trump and the White House press corps. In trying to pin down where Trump stands on the GOP’s healthcare repeal bill, NPR’s Mara Liasson was forced to abandon questions about the bill’s merits or policy implications and instead offer more of a Trumpian mood-o-meter:
“He said the House bill was too ‘mean.’ Does he believe that the Senate bill is less mean, as mean, more mean? Like what does he think?”
This is a veteran White House political reporter here, trying to find some way to relate to a president who is supremely unrelatable, so she resorts to the framework of a 2-year-old to take Trump’s emotional temperature on the legislation.
And of course, reporter Brian Karem offered us all a cathartic moment at the brief Wednesday when he castigated Huckabee Sanders for the White House’s double standard on the truth.
After the Deputy Press Secretary cast White House officials as the victims of media bashings every time they make the “slightest mistake,” Karem reminded her that journalists actually suffer consequences—like being fired—for making mistakes.
“Any one of us are replaceable, and any one of us, if we don’t get it right, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel or not read us. You have been elected to serve for four years at least. There’s no option other than that.”
Clearly, no one has lost their job in Trump’s White House for lying from the podium. In fact, it’s a requirement of the job. Both Sean Spicer and Huckabee Sanders lie routinely but, if anything, Spicer has fallen out of favor precisely because he doesn’t channel his boss’s bruised and battered ego as well as Huckabee Sanders does. Whereas Spicer said Trump was being treated unfairly, she appears to actually believe it and in that sense, she’s a better messenger for Trump.
In many ways Huckabee Sanders’ station at the podium marks the shift from an effort to persuade people outside the White House to a more primal need for expression from within it. Trump feels misunderstood. And while this transition may seem inconsequential in the sense that Trump’s White House was useless before and continues to be useless now, my suspicion is that this retreat from any effort at cerebral engagement with the outside world represents a more insidious deterioration taking place inside the White House.
It puts a slightly different spin on something like the “Dear Leader” Cabinet meeting where nearly everyone but Defense Sec. Jim Mattis kissed Trump’s proverbial ring. Not that it was excusable in any way, but as much as some of them were just trying to ingratiate themselves with Trump, others might actually be trying to keep him from total decompensation. He’s that unstable.
We all knew Trump never understood that he had been elected to be a public servant—he would always use the office for his own gratification and enrichment. But the fact that his press shop has moved from trying to convince the world of Trump’s reality to simply throwing a public tantrum suggests that the pressures of the office truly are taking a toll on Trump.
Where’s the outrage?