His declaration yesterday that he would close the United States to all Muslim immigrants, including tourists and Muslim American citizens abroad trying to return home, confirmed both his fascistic tendencies and his undisguised bigotry, and made something else clear in the process: that he is simply a bad person.
As much as anything, this is the undercurrent that runs throughout the stories that have defined Trump since the beginning of his campaign: He mocked Vietnam POW John McCain for being captured during the war; he lobbed sexist jibes at Fox News host Megyn Kelly for daring to confront him about his history of misogyny; he mocked a disabled reporter, then falsely claimed he’d never met the man; he smeared immigrants as rapists; he’s Tweeted snide remarks about the wife of one of his competitors; when the crowd attacked a Black Lives Matter protestor at Trump campaign event last month, Trump sided with the crowd, saying he “should have been roughed up”; he insisted, contrary to all evidence, that thousands of Muslims celebrated the terror attack of 9/11 on camera; he lies constantly, flagrantly, and without shame.
The connecting tissue here is that, given practically any opportunity, Donald Trump will act in the most obnoxious and unpleasant way possible.
He is consistently ungracious and egotistical, and he is prone to insults and bullying when challenged. He is xenophobic and bigoted. He does not tell the truth when called on his insults. He has the maturity level of a middle-school bully, but with less sophistication about policy.
You can see that in the Trump campaign’s most visible product, his Twitter account, which is, rather famously, filled with insults: Those he does not like are tagged as losers, morons, bores, and low-energy people. Insults and petty slights are the lens through which he views the world. He is chronically, compulsively rude and uncivil with strangers and competitors alike. And by all appearances, he seems to enjoy it. His campaign is an expansion and extension of his Twitter feed.
That gleeful, unapolagetic incivility is at the root of what makes him a bad person, and also at the root his approach to politics and policy. Most of his proposals, to the limited extent that they can be understood as remotely serious, are insults in policy form.
In addition to last night’s ban on Muslim travel to the U.S., he has called for the forcible government closure of mosques. When asked recently, he said Muslims should be tracked via government database. He promised that as president he would simply deport 11 million immigrants in short order after taking office, an impossible maneuver intended mostly to demonstrate his disdain for immigrants. He does not merely want to deport people who came to United States illegally; he also wants to deport millions of their children. He has repeatedly voiced enthusiastic support for federal seizure of private property through eminent domain, and, as a real estate investor, taken advantage of it himself.
Each of these moves are designed to denigrate some individual or some group: Muslims, immigrants, the children of people he does not like, private property owners who do not agree with Donald Trump’s real estate. These are power plays that put one party down while elevating and empowering Trump, the man and the brand. He is not just an authoritarian; he is an authoritarian narcissist. (It’s no accident that his speeches almost always involve lengthy disquisitions into his poll numbers.)
Trump’s penchant for authoritarianism frequently blends with his total lack of interest in the operational details of his policies, as well as the fact that he simply appears to be wildly uninformed about the world.
In a campaign speech last night, for example, Trump not only repeated his declaration that Muslims should not be allowed into the country, he said that the United States might have close to down the Internet in some places in order to stop terrorism.
"We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what's happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some ways. Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.' These are foolish people."
Every bit of this is dumb. It starts dumb, and then gets dumber. It is like a mad lib designed to show how dumb Donald Trump is about tech companies, the Internet, federal power, freedom of speech, and the Constitution, all at once.
And it is dumb in a particular way that helps demonstrate what a bad person he is. It is not just that he says stupid things that demonstrate his ignorance. It is that, in his stupidity and ignorance, he only ever imagines doing awful, authoritarian things, the way a bad person would.
Being a bad person, however, is a big part of Trump’s considerable political appeal. When he read out his proposal to implement a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims from entering the country at an event last night, he received a sustained, standing ovation. The vapid, off-the-cuff, reality-TV fascism he is peddling works, at least for the moment, because he sells it with his persona.
That persona is what drives his fans, and also his campaign. And its centrality to his political success and policy agenda is what makes it so important to understand. The easy mistake to make is to think that Donald Trump is a bad person because he is a dull, fascist bully. The better way to understand Trump is the other way around: He is a dull, fascist bully because he is a bad person.