Donald Trump has given us all reason to question his emotional stability. Some go so far as to question his sanity.
But sanity is a legal term, and as of yet there are no legal proceedings in which Trump might raise an insanity defense.
And sanity has to do with knowing right from wrong, which doesn’t seem to be Trump’s primary problem. Trump appears to have at least a rudimentary ability to understand the wrongfulness of his acts. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have to constantly lie about them, and cover them up.
Trump’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t know right from wrong.
It’s that he doesn’t care.
Which brings us to shamelessness. Because no matter what you thought you knew about Donald Trump, he is expanding and revising our understanding of the word.
Shame is generally understood to be a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. Shamelessness, of course, is the lack of shame. A person who is shameless is understood to be “insensible to disgrace.” Not necessarily unaware, but “insensible.”
Trump appears to have learned his particular brand of shamelessness from the world of professional wrestling, in which he was briefly a featured guest celebrity. Remember when the bad guy would bite, kick, gouge and crack his opponent’s head open with a “foreign object”—and then plead with the referee to disqualify the other guy for cheating? For Trump, calling out his adversaries for his own vices is his go-to political tactic.
Trump cried foul when former Mexican President Vicente Fox dropped an F-bomb on television: “This guy used a filthy disgusting word on television and he should be ashamed of himself and he should apologize, okay? . . . I won’t use foul language. I’m just not going to do it.”
This from the man who told supporters at campaign rallies that “you can tell them to go fuck themselves,” and “I can’t understand what he’s fucking saying.”
Trump was practically overcome by the vapors when four freshman congresswomen, all women of color and American citizens, uttered profane words in response to his telling them that they should “go back” to where they came from. Here was Trump:
When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said. So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!
This, from a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, publicly denounced the impeachment hearing as “bullshit,” derided “shithole countries,” and, as theWashington Post put it, “took swearing mainstream.”
Then there’s Trump’s puffed-up offense when Adam Schiff, rather than quoting the summary of Trump’s phone call with the President of Ukraine verbatim, used exaggeration and parody in an attempt to make a rhetorical point.
During a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff presented a dramatized version of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president. He began by making it clear that he was paraphrasing, not quoting: “Shorn of its rambling character and in not so many words, this is the essence of what the president communicates.” He went on to put words in Trump’s mouth, making explicit the mob-like overtones that were only implicit in the letter.
This was foolish and unbecoming and did a disservice to the congressional hearing. But the last person in the world with standing to complain about it was Donald Trump.
Not that this stopped him.
Trump bellowed wounded offense, suggesting that Schiff should be arrested for treason. He called Schiff’s parody a “FAKE & terrible statement,” claimed that Schiff had “pretended” to “read it aloud,” claimed that it “bore NO relationship to what I said,” and posed the rhetorical question, “Arrest for Treason?”
And then, a few days later, Trump made up quotes about Nancy Pelosi’s response to seeing the White House summary of Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine. Trump’s supposed quotes were neither exaggeration nor parody and he did not indicate in any way that he was paraphrasing from some definitive source. They were lies, pure and simple: Trump alleged, “When she saw it, she said, ‘This is not what the whistleblower said.’” Four days later, he said, “She was angry as hell when she got to read the transcript. Because she said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not what I was told.’”
Nancy Pelosi has said nothing of the sort. There is no indication, anywhere, from any source, that she said anything like what the president of the United States claimed that she said. These statements of his are either a fantasy or a lie. There is no other alternative.
Here is what Pelosi actually said on the subject in question: “The release of the notes of the call by the White House confirms that the president engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds, and our national security.”
So, when Schiff offers a parody not far from the truth, he should be arrested for treason. But when Trump makes up quotes that are the polar opposite of what Pelosi actually said, it’s an applause line. And he doesn’t care who knows it.
But the crown jewel of Trump’s shamelessness has to be his attacks on the Biden family.
Trump has been pushing phony corruption allegations against the Bidens that were manufactured out of nothing by Steve Bannon’s gang of conspiracy-mongering trolls. The gist of it is that Hunter Biden had a conflict of interest when he joined the board of a Ukrainian company while his father was vice president, and that Joe Biden used his office to thwart an investigation into that company.
In reality, the premise of this conspiracy theory is completely backwards. The Ukrainian prosecutor wasn’t investigating Hunter Biden or the company, and Joe Biden was carrying out the Obama administration’s policy to push Ukraine to fire the prosecutor because he wasn’t investigating corruption.
But leave the falsity of this story aside and instead focus on the hypocrisy of it. Trump’s three eldest children, Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric, are all up to their necks in business dealings in foreign countries with whom Trump is currently engaged in negotiations.
Hell—Trump scheduled next year’s G-7 summit at his resort in Doral and only called it off when nobody except the very fine people at the Federalist would defend the scheme.
Nobody doubts that Trump is fully aware of the hypocrisy of calling out the Bidens when his own family is doing far worse. He knows. He just doesn’t care.
He understands that his own corruption is already well-known and fully discounted by the electorate. Calling more attention to it is coals to Newcastle: It won’t cost him any votes that he hasn’t already lost. So if he can dirty up the candidate he fears most, and possibly even knock him out of the race, it’s all gravy.
Trump’s problem isn’t that he can’t distinguish right from wrong, although there’s some truth to that. It’s that he doesn’t care. He’s not playing on the field of right and wrong, just like he’s not playing on the field of truth and lies. He knows that his base will believe anything he says, so if he thinks it helps him, he says it. Period.
Right, wrong, truth, lies—none of it ever enters the picture.
I don’t know the medical or legal terms for this defect.
But I know shamelessness when I see it.