A few months ago, a friend of mine said something wise, in a conversation completely unrelated to the election: ‘If you cross a narcissist, you have to be prepared for them to do everything they possibly can to smear your reputation.”
I have had enough narcissistic tendencies myself to understand the temptation, the desire to give in to that kind of vengeful behavior. But I usually don’t, and there’s only one reason for that. It’s because I have learned what it feels like to be on the other side of it, and karma is something more than the first word of a clever phrase; it really is a bitch. I have had dealings with several flaming narcissists in recent years, and extracting myself from their sphere of influence was hard. Because part of me knew it was going to cost me, and part of me was a coward about facing those consequences. But in the end, I did it because I couldn’t stand being used any longer. I couldn’t stand feeling as if I needed a shower every time I left a meeting with them. And the rewards were tremendous. I missed them not a whit, and watching others suffer from their behavior made it that much sweeter.
Like so many of us, I’ve been struggling for the past few days to make sense of what happened on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. Every poll indicated that this election was going in the other direction.
So where did things go awry? I think back to the second debate, when Clinton did that little shoulder shimmy while Trump was making yet another inane comment. In Kate McKinnon’s spoof of that moment on Saturday Night Live, she said in response to fake Lester Holt’s question, ‘What do you think about that?”: “I think I’m going to be president.” I think many of us agreed with her. I think Hillary agreed with her.
And maybe that arrogance was part of what did her in. I was among many who spent the weeks after that debate mocking the hell out of Trump, speculating about what his life would look like after he lost, wondering what the effect would be on his businesses, his family, his life. I reveled in every article that tore him apart, and anticipated a crumbling of the Republican party. Like many, I wondered how they would possibly recover from this.
Other people went as far as to mock his supporters. I have many friends who are Republican, and even a few who supported Trump, and I’m not a big fan of alienation, so I avoided blanket comments about ‘them,’ but only in public. Privately, I was just as hard on them. And now I’m embarrassed about that. Because it’s clear that part of what threw this election right into the lap of Mr. Trump was the alienation so many people felt from those of us who were so sure we were going to win. Because of our relentless attacks, however deserved they may have been, we managed to turn Trump into a sympathetic figure. It hardly seems possible until you think about who he was appealing to.
I now wonder how people couldn’t vote for Trump after being treated as if they were stupid to question Hillary. I backed Hillary, but she never inspired me. I always felt as if she was playing a part. Her speeches said the right things, but there was never the kind of passion you heard from Bernie, or Elizabeth Warren, my choice for the first woman president. Hillary’s speeches felt like speeches. I almost never agree with Trump, but there’s no denying the fact that he is passionate about what he says. Even if it’s crass, offensive, and self-defeating. And it’s clear that there are a lot of people who would love to be able to express themselves this same way. That’s who voted for him. It’s not because he’s racist that they voted for him. It’s because he was free to voice his own opinions. They didn’t care that he’s a racist, misogynistic asshole. Which is frightening enough in itself. But how could he not eventually become a sympathetic figure to a group of people who are feeling left out in the cold right now? How could they not vote for someone who doesn’t sit at the same table with the cool kids? Like Hillary.
I think back to the tape of Obama roasting Trump at the Correspondent’s dinner a few years ago. According to the Frontline special about Trump and Clinton, Trump was thrilled to have been invited to this event. He was honored. And then Obama went off on him, especially in regard to Trump’s allegations that Obama wasn’t born in the US. The look on Trump’s face says it all. One of the people from his group of advisers said in that documentary that this was the moment he decided to run for president. He was humiliated; he wanted revenge. There it is. The narcissist has been crossed. It’s one of the few times in his eight years in office that Obama’s timing was off, in my view. He wouldn’t let up, and the longer he went, the more Trump steamed. It’s easy to imagine him going back to that moment even today, the day after he sat in the Oval Office and looked that same man in the eye. It must have been sweet for Trump, and painfully humbling for Obama.
As if there aren’t enough reasons to be worried, I fear where this is going to take us because of this aspect of Trump’s personality. He’s not a man who makes decisions based on principles. He makes them based on his own reaction to what happened to him. His attention span clearly goes no further than the last phone call, the last tweet, the last conversation. Ironically, it was Trump’s inability to look at the big picture that won the people over. He won on emotion.
It is so tempting to place the blame here on ‘them.’ Congress. Fox News. The Russians. Who else? The list could go on. There is no doubt they all contributed to this disaster. But to me it’s on all of us. We created this monstrosity and now we have to deal with his quiet and not so quiet quest for revenge for the next four years. Let’s just hope it’s not longer than that. But judging from the past year, we should never underestimate the power of this man’s desire to smear others. We could be in for a very long ride.