The Zero-Sum President
Trump's appeal seems to be his constant repetition of the litany of "winning." People like winning, and the term is sufficiently vague so that would-be supporters can apply their own understanding to it as they please. This sort of blank slate terminology is not unusual in politics, but Trump applies "winning" to virtually everything. We will be "winning" in foreign policy, in trade, in job creation, in essentially every aspect of American life. Of course, "winning" will be reserved for only "proper" Americans, who seem to be disproportionately white, Christian, and less educated. (Remember, Trump asserts: "I love the poorly educated.")
Still, Trump's appeal does cross out of this core demographic, and pundits have expressed a great deal of confusion as to why. Trump has tapped into anger and frustration that is very real. He has done so, because by emphasizing "winning," he has promoted the fallacy that everything in American policy, both foreign and domestic, is a zero-sum game. In other words, there are winners and there are losers, and you are either one or the other. His indictment is that the Obama Administration (and, frankly, anybody who is not Donald Trump) has made Americans "losers," and that he will reverse American fortunes and make us all "winners" again.
Of course, this is nonsense. The bipolar reductio ad absurdam of zero-sum thinking is appealing to the average American, because they can easily comprehend this paradigm of winning and losing. Either your football team wins the Superbowl, or they lose. Either you win the Powerball or you lose. There is no middle ground. There is no mutual "winning." But real life is not like that at all. There are degrees of wining and losing, and it is entirely possible for all or most to "win," even though some may "win more" than others. While mutual success should be the goal of American policies - both in the domestic sphere and in our relations with foreign countries - Trump prefers to feed this zero-sum oversimplification to the angry and the gullible. And they are devouring it with relish.
So much for Trump's recipe for electoral success, but how does such a wildly simplistic and inaccurate picture play out if Trump were actually elected president? As we have seen, his actions toward those who oppose him are rash and punitive. He is fickle in the extreme, switching from praise to ridicule almost overnight. He believes that those who disagree with him are "horrible" and "damaging to America," and he wants them silenced. As is emblematic of narcissists, he believes any disagreement is a personal attack, and he responds with a vendetta. He holds grudges, and he seems eager to make people suffer if they have had the temerity or misfortune to be in his way. This is not merely his political persona. His business practices provide a long history of such behavior.
So how does a Zero-Sum President govern? Consider that until Trump, regardless of the bitterness of political battles, our Presidents have considered themselves presidents of all Americans, whether they were supporters or not. Trump's record strongly suggests that he will see himself as the President of his supporters first and foremost, and will have an almost irresistible tendency to punish those who opposed him. This will, of course, translate immediately to political animosity toward all Democrats and the many Republicans who have spoken out against his obscenities, incitement to violence, and racist and misogynist remarks. If you believe that Congress is gridlocked now, it will be in a legislative coma under Trump.
More disturbingly, consider Trump's control of agencies like FEMA, and his stranglehold on disaster funding. Imagine a hurricane or earthquake or tornado outbreak in a state that did not vote for Trump. What do you think Trump's reaction will be when that state's governor requests a disaster declaration to free up federal disaster aid? I suspect they will all be "losers" then. Trump will seek to punish them, and he will try to hang this around the neck of the "offending" governor or the people themselves. They, in their foolishness, did not support Trump the Great, and now they should suffer accordingly.
In spite of all the vitriol spewed at him, President Obama has never refused to fund disaster requests - even from governors who have called him truly despicable things. As Cicero said, "Salus populi lex suprema esto" ("Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law."). Regardless of political disagreements or opposition to fundamental policies, this has remained the guiding principle of our presidency, and for our political representatives generally (with a few notorious exceptions). I know of no case in which George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, or any other modern President denied disaster aid as an act of political revenge. It is simply beneath the office of President to exacerbate the suffering of Americans in a desperate situation for political gain, and regardless of any policy disagreements, I am proud that we have had Presidents who have understood this fundamental obligation to the American people.
But Donald Trump is different. A narcissist cannot see a disagreement as anything other than a personal attack, a betrayal, requiring a disproportionate response. If he gains real political power, those who oppose him will be "carried out on a stretcher." There can be no disagreement and no resistance, even to policies that are so wrongheaded that they silence critics with sheer incredulity, reducing them to simply shaking their heads, mouths agape. And yet, the masses follow him, yearning for the illusory reward of "winning," whatever that means from their own myopic perspective.
The outlook for foreign policy is, unfortunately, far more grim. A man bent on disproportionately punishing those who resist his initiatives, regardless of how unworkable or inequitable, should absolutely not be Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States - full stop. We have been terrified for years of some amoral dictator of an authoritarian state getting hold of a nuclear weapon. It is the nightmare scenario that is so overwhelming that it has overruled reason in a series of truly terrible foreign policy decisions in recent decades. Now imagine for a moment turning over control of the entire US nuclear arsenal to a man with essentially the same personality traits and almost cartoonish world view that we attribute to petty despots we have opposed. How long will it be until President Trump uses nuclear weapons as an overt threat against Russia (once he discovers that Putin doesn't actually like him, but considers him an easily manipulated clown), or North Korea, or even Mexico when they tell him where he can stick his wall?
I find Donald Trump repugnant in a way that makes me wish for the return of literally any other president we have had in modern history - including those with whom I have vehemently disagreed and those I believe have damaged this country very badly indeed. Trump is an order of magnitude worse, because he will not see himself as the American President. He will see himself as the President of the Winners, who are defined as those who support him without question. He will lavish praise and political favors on these "winners," in a way fulfilling his prophecy. Conversely, he will see those who disagree with his policies as "losers" who are seeking to harm America. They are the enemy, and as such, they are to be punished, marginalized, harmed whenever possible. They should be made to leave, just as if they have had an outburst at a Trump campaign rally, and if possible, they should be punched in the face on the way out.
Following the election of Trump, there would be no "coming together" behind the new President. There would only be the first of an ongoing series of reprisals. There would only be more division. There would be Winners and Losers. There would no longer be Americans. And, ironically, as multiple wives have found, one cannot remain in the good graces of a consummate narcissist indefinitely. Eventually, either through simply being an individual, or as a result of narcissistic paranoia, everybody ultimately becomes an enemy. Everybody ultimately betrays the Great Man. Everybody ultimately becomes a "loser," for with a true Zero-Sum President, it matters only that he himself is "winning." Everyone and everything else is insignificant.