The fact that Trump is an egomaniac hardly constitutes news. Before becoming president his professional life was characterized by a succession of attention-seeking vanity projects. Through his career as a property developer, he oversaw the construction of a series of gaudy buildings, which stand as monuments to kitsch in locations as diverse as Panama, Uruguay, the Philippines, Turkey, and India. Via his appearance on the reality TV show The Apprentice, meanwhile, he established himself as a vulgar showman and self-important bully.
During the campaign trail, his self-absorption had the chance to further flourish as he basked in the adulation of cheering fans. With friendly audiences lapping up practically anything he said, he took to making ever more outlandish statements, such as his claim that he could shoot someone and still win the election. On the primary debate stage, he showed off the skill in belittling and humiliating others that he had honed on The Apprentice, as he reveled in issuing cruel and juvenile insults at his opponents. When Hillary Clinton became the Democratic Party candidate for the general election, the insults morphed into promises to, if elected, use his position of power to imprison her (and, presumably, other political opponents).
Even worse once elected
After he entered office, things only got worse. His constant boasting about his purported achievements in office have seemed to get more and more delusional as time passes. On the week beginning 19 August 2019, however, his megalomania truly reached its zenith. Speaking to reporters at a press conference on the 21st, while defending his actions relating to the trade war with China, he looked up to the sky and proclaimed, “I am the chosen one.”
It came as Trump faced one of the worst weeks of his presidency. He has been roundly criticised for remarks about how Jewish people who vote for Democratic candidates are somehow showing a lack of “loyalty.” His announcement that his administration is interested in purchasing Greenland from Denmark was met with international mockery.
Declining economy, underwhelming polls
Even more damaging has been news on the economic front. Shattering earlier forecasts showing a strong economy, new projections show that the US might soon be facing another devastating recession. Figures releasedover the weekend, meanwhile, showed that even manufacturing – that Trump promised he would revive if elected – has been declining during his presidency.
Most significantly of all, a series of polls – including one by the bastion of Trumpism, Fox News – show him faring poorly against each and every one of the leading contenders in the Democratic Party primary race. The polls show him losing support even amongst groups who have been previous stalwarts of his base, such as non-college educated whites.
On 21 August, Trump lashed out at reporters in frustration as they grilled him about the multiple bad reports. He attacked the credibility of NBC, The New York Times and CNN at various points throughout the tirade. The next day the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released a poll showing that 62 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance in office. Though Republicans are still far more likely to approve of Trump’s performance – with their approval ratings ranging between 70 and 80 percent, depending on the issue.
The narcissistic paradox
But make no mistake, the fact that he made the “chosen one” remark on the very week when his presidency faces such gloomy prospects is no coincidence. Because like all narcissists, Trump is profoundly full of himself yet simultaneously profoundly insecure. Within Trump’s dark psyche, lurking beneath the bravado is a nagging suspicion that people don’t see him the way he sees himself.
And so to counter this blackhole of anxiety, he needs to engage in self-aggrandisement as a mechanism to keep it constantly suppressed. The way that he responded to the news of the poll numbers was particularly revealing. At a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump repeated his now-familiar jibe that any negative coverage of him from the press must be “fake news.” Clearly, Trump has taken the art of self-delusion to new heights.
Encouraging polling data for Bernie Sanders
As if fortuitously, on the very same week The Hill reported that recently released polling data shows that Bernie Sanders “will be in the [Democratic Party primary] race for the long haul” and “stands a good chance of winning.” This is good news for progressives. Sanders is without question the best candidate to beat Trump in 2020. In fact, there is good reason to believe he would have beaten Trump in 2016. Polls taken after the election found that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are amongst the most despised political figures in the country. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, was found to be the most popular politician in the US, even according to one Fox News poll.
The reasons are obvious. Whereas Clinton represented the stale neoliberalism/imperialism-lite of Barack Obama, Sanders offered bold, radical proposals such as Medicare-for-all and firm promises to take on Wall Street and big corporations. Crucially, his political back catalogue was not sullied with shady dealings with the Clinton Foundation and ties to corporate interests, which could not be said of Clinton. Her ties to Wall Street and, above all, the (far from inaccurate) way the public associated her with insider Washington special interests, made her the worst possible candidate to stand against Trump.
Above all, Sanders’ ability to communicate with blue collar voters, his staunch opposition to so-called “free trade” agreements, and his commitment to social democratic reforms that will benefit the middle class and working families, will enable him to win back the rust belt states that Trump gained from Obama in 2016.
News that Sanders is still a leading contender for the Democratic nomination provides hope that a genuine progressive will face Trump next year and defeat both Trumpism and the neoliberal/imperialism-lite of the establishment Democrats.
A version of this article first appeared at The Interregnum.