I’ll be happy when Donald Trump realizes: No, he’s not exceptional.
It’s incredibly satisfying going through life believing you know more than everyone else. I used to believe this. Maybe not that I was the best, but certainly in the top ten percent. I call this thirty-itis. It’s an inflammation of the brain. In your thirties, your self-worth peaks. Your brain swells because, well, you know everything. I’m fifty-seven now, and I know almost nothing. Don’t believe me? Just ask my kids. I now believe I’m exceptionally average.
Donald Trump is seventy-four and he still knows everything. He can’t claim thirty-itis any more. I call his disorder narcissism.
Excessive interest in or admiration of oneself.
How do I know Trump knows everything? He tells me all the time.
“I know more about drones than anybody.”
“Nobody knows more about trade than me.”
“I understand social media. I understand the power of Twitter. I understand the power of Facebook maybe better than almost anybody.” (OK, I might give him this one.)
Trump sees the world through a prism fitted specifically to him. I used to think his bluster about being perfect was simply insecure back-patting—Trump just trying to make himself feel better when the media gangs up on him and when his policies don’t achieve a positive result. The easiest, most egregious example of this is his take on his pandemic response.
A late-July poll shows less than a third of all Americans approve of his strategy, but in briefing after briefing, Trump touts the beautiful job he’s doing. But now I realize I’m wrong. Trump isn’t trying to mislead the country; he’s truly misleading himself.
Earlier this week, Trump announced he might deliver his nomination speech from the Gettysburg Battlefield. At first blush, this looks like Trump propping himself up again. Two-thirds of the voters in Adams County, Pennsylvania (Gettysburg is the county seat) voted for Trump in 2016. Trump would face a mostly friendly crowd. Plus, given Gettysburg’s proximity to the White House (eighty-five miles away), he could be here by helicopter in less than an hour. This might be the closest location to DC where he’s sure to get applause.
But this isn’t the reason he wants to come here. Trump wants to deliver a speech in Gettysburg because he believes it’s his destiny.
President Lincoln visited Gettysburg in 1863 and delivered one of the most revered speeches in American history—the Gettysburg Address. Trump repeatedly compares himself to past presidents:
His obsession with being better than Obama plays out in the newspaper every week.
While signing the Great American Outdoors Act, Trump compared himself to Theodore Roosevelt, calling himself “the same or almost as good” as America’s greatest conservation president.
In a tweet: “Wow, highest Poll Numbers in the history of the Republican Party. That includes Honest Abe Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.”
Most recently, Trump and his staffers have suggested that his likeness deserves some real estate on Mt. Rushmore. He sees himself as equal to or better than Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. The thing Trump doesn’t understand is that greatness is for history to decide, not him, and not his followers.
Abraham Lincoln would never have suggested his face be carved into a mountain. He didn’t even think he was all that special. In a smile-tugging display of humility and irony, the Gettysburg Address includes the line “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…” Imagine Trump’s Gettysburg speech being recited by school children one-hundred-fifty years from now. “My inaugural crowd was twice the size of Obama’s, and my next one will be very, very big!”
One thing Trump gets right, like Lincoln, he’s presiding over a nation divided. I’m no history buff, so I don’t know the accuracy of this statement, but I can’t believe there have been many times when the United States’ population has been this polarized. Twice in July, armed militiamen walked the streets of Gettysburg expecting a fight. The first time with supposed vandals planning to remove the Confederate monuments that line the battlefield (there were no vandals). The second time in the midst of a Black Lives Matter solidarity rally. From my small-town point of view, a second civil war—this time a culture war—has already started.
It’s clear to me, and sixty-some percent of the population, that Trump is no Lincoln. He’s not a Washington, Jefferson or Roosevelt either. He’s not exceptional. He’s a deluded man with the ability to convince himself and many of his followers that he’s perfect in every way.
As a resident of Gettysburg, I’ve never really bought into the Hallowed Ground narrative of the battlefield. It’s a place where an ungodly amount of killing once took place, and I can’t worship it for that. But it’s still a beautiful park with an important history, and I can’t stand the thought of Trump defiling it by delivering a campaign speech here. I wish he’d stay the hell away.
The Gettysburg Address
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Previously Published on jeffcann.com