On Saturday, writing for The Atlantic, conservative Naval War College professor Tom Nichols blasted Trump's utter inability to provide leadership in his coronavirus task force briefings.
"There has never been an American president as spiritually impoverished as Donald Trump," said Nichols. "And his spiritual poverty, like an overdrawn checking account that keeps imposing new penalties on a customer already in difficult straits, is draining the last reserves of decency among us at a time when we need it most."
"What I mean instead is that Trump is a spiritual black hole," continued Nichols. "He has no ability to transcend himself by so much as an emotional nanometer. Even narcissists, we are told by psychologists, have the occasional dark night of the soul. They can recognize how they are perceived by others, and they will at least pretend to seek forgiveness and show contrition as a way of gaining the affection they need. They are capable of infrequent moments of reflection, even if only to adjust strategies for survival."
"Trump’s spiritual poverty is beyond all this," said Nichols. "He represents the ultimate triumph of a materialist mindset. He has no ability to understand anything that is not an immediate tactile or visual experience, no sense of continuity with other human beings, and no imperatives more important than soothing the barrage of signals emanating from his constantly panicked and confused autonomic system."
"In his daily coronavirus briefings, Trump lumbers to the podium and pulls us into his world: detached from reality, unable to feel any emotions but anger and paranoia," said Nichols. "Each time we watch, Trump’s spiritual poverty increases our own, because for the duration of these performances, we are forced to live in the same agitated, immediate state that envelops him."
"Most leaders would at least have the sense not to relitigate every vendetta in their personal Burn Book at such moments," said Nichols. "That’s what rallies and sycophantic interviews with Fox News are for, after all. Indeed, polls now suggest that even the president’s base might be tiring of this exhibitionism. But that is irrelevant to Trump. With cable news constantly covering the pandemic, he seems to be going through withdrawal. He needs an outlet for his political glossolalia, or his constantly replenishing reservoir of grievance and insecurity will burst its seams."
"Even Trump’s staff — itself a collection of morally compromised enablers — cannot cajole him or train him to sound like a normal human being," added Nichols. "Trump begins every one of these disastrous briefings by hypnotically reading high-minded phrases to which he shows no connection. These texts are exercises in futility, but they at least show some sense of what a typical person with friends and a family might want to sound like during a national crisis. Once he finishes stumbling through these robotic recitations, he’s back to his grievances."
"Trump’s spiritual poverty is making all of us into worse people," concluded Nichols. "We are all living with him in the moment and neglecting the thing that makes us human beings instead of mindless fish swimming in circles. We must recover this in ourselves, and become more decent, more reflective, and more stoic—before Trump sends us into a hole from which we might never emerge."
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