Recent revelations should force Americans to consider an even darker reality, and gather insight into the malevolence of humanity that is typically accessible only in barbaric episodes of history and frightening stories of literature. The most powerful man in the federal government delights in the infliction of pain, misery and grief.
To understand Trump as a sadist, it is helpful to use Occam’s razor. The 14th-century Franciscan friar William of Ockham submitted that in order to solve problems, a theorist should begin by cutting away the hypotheses that contain unnecessary complications. The fewer assumptions against reason one makes, the likelier one will stumble upon the truth. (He didn’t actually invent this principle, but used it so often his name was attached to it.)
Bob Woodward’s recently released recordings and his new book have demolished Trump’s last remaining defense of ignorance or delusion regarding COVID-19. As Trump made clear to Woodward in numerous conversations over a period of months, he always understood that the virus was easily transmissible and, in his own words, “deadly stuff.”
Mike Lofgren, a longtime Republican congressional aide who worked as a staffer on both the House and Senate budget committees, recently wrote, “The stupidest leader imaginable randomly might have gotten something right; Trump’s one hundred-percent record of failure was carefully calculated to achieve a specific result: mass death and a ready-made scapegoat.”
Jared Kushner, according to a recent story in Vanity Fair, made the evil calculation early in the pandemic that it would only hurt Democratic states, and thereby cause more political harm to Democratic candidates for office than to Trump. It is now inarguable, as polls show Trump failing to gain on Joe Biden in the presidential race, with senior citizens moving toward the former vice president, that Trump has exacted no benefit from the ongoing failure to impose widespread testing and tracing measures, or to fully supply health care workers with personal protective equipment.
Sharpening Occam’s razor, it is important to note that Trump’s cruelty surpasses indifference. He is not only refusing to help — he is actively promoting the spread of the virus with his mockery of masks and packed indoor rallies.
Any biographer of Trump will explain that he is a hedonist. This is a man born into wealth and luxury who rarely, if ever, does anything that does not satisfy his ego, bring him pleasure or enhance his profits. As hundreds of thousands of Americans die, and the pandemic causes considerable damage to Trump’s re-election campaign, what hypothesis remains other than the horror that Trump derives gratification from presiding over widespread death and chaos?
Perhaps it is the single most satisfying stroke of his ego to realize that he has the ability to save people’s lives, but chooses not to do so. It is by now common to compare Trump to a cult leader. As Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, the Order of the Solar Temple and many other cults have demonstrated, the leaders of especially destructive cult movements eventually turn on their own people, ordering mass suicide as the ultimate exercise of power.
Before Trump’s recent indoor rally in Nevada, a television reporter asked whether he was concerned about the event increasing infections of COVID-19. The president laughed, explaining that he wasn’t worried because he’d be on a stage, standing “very far away” from his unmasked supporters. Trump voters are willing to risk their lives for the glorification of their leader, and that is thrilling — even fun — for him to watch.
Trump’s tendency to laugh at inappropriate moments is particularly chilling and revealing.
He has shown little or no concern for the Pacific Northwest, where the worst wildfires in the history of the country are destroying countless homes, incinerating ecosystems and wildlife, and have killed more than 30 people.
When Wade Crowfoot, head of California’s Natural Resources Agency, challenged Trump on his refusal to act on climate change during a meeting to discuss the fires, the president turned his head and began to laugh. He chuckled again when he told Crowfoot, in reference to irrefutable evidence that the planet is warming due to human activity, “The science doesn’t know.”
It’s all fun and games for Trump.
Americans can gain similar insight into Trump’s homicidal philosophy of political power by observing him defend Kyle Rittenhouse, a self-deputized right wing vigilante who shot three Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month, killing two of them. Trump also brazenly calls for extrajudicial assassinations from law enforcement, recently declaring in an interview that “There has to be retribution” when reacting to the news that federal forces had killed Michael Reinoehl, the left-wing activist accused of shooting a member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer in Portland, Oregon.
Edgar Allan Poe has a story about a man under the spell of the “imp of the perverse.” He kills only for the rush of doing something he knows he should not. Poe writes that when “we peer into the abyss, we grow sick and dizzy.” The normal human instinct is to turn away in retreat of danger and evil. There are those, however, who “unaccountably remain,” guided by a thought that “chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height.”
Donald Trump has descended into the abyss. He is attempting to take America with him. It is for us to decide whether we will follow.