What is so frightening, and why I think we keep talking around the red herring of Trump’s putative insanity, is the possibility that it might not exist. I keep coming back to the slogan with which Lyndon Johnson brilliantly capitalized on Goldwater’s public humiliation: “In your guts, you know he’s nuts”. Do we, though? Before he became president, did anyone think Trump was nuts? I’m trying to remember what I thought of him before all of this and I can’t. Because alongside the terrifying possibility that a man with a serious uncontrolled mental disorder has the nuclear football, is the equally terrifying possibility that a perfectly sane but petty, stupid, tyrannical, and evil man has the nuclear football and might very well use it in a fit of pique. Not because he’s ill and “can’t help it”, but because he just doesn’t care enough not to. What if the evil of Trump isn’t madness at all, but something innate in humanity that no psychiatric diagnosis or psychoanalytic interpretation can remove?
This is the thing I can’t accept, the gaping hole that opens up beneath me when I try to think through how someone like this could wind up in power. It’s not just that Trump is awful, but that he’s a mirror to our own – my own – awfulness. This is unbearable to think of, so to get around it it’s tempting to think of Trump as some kind of anomaly, an aberration who doesn’t count as the normal stream of humanity, rather than a figure who appears over and over and over in human history – the stupid, nasty demagogue who wants nothing but power and attention and doesn’t care how they get it.”