Franklin Delano Roosevelt liked to tell a story on himself, in which a man came every day to a newsboy’s corner to buy a copy of the New York Times. He’d hand the kid a nickel, grab a paper, glance at the front page, drop the paper back on the pile and walk away, shaking his head disconsolately. Finally the lad’s curiosity got the better of his business sense and one day he asked the man why he did what he did. “Because I’m looking for an obituary,” the man said. The boy replied, “But sir, the obituaries aren’t on the front page.” The man shot back, “The one I’m looking for will be.”
This story illustrates two points about Roosevelt, the first and most obvious being that he had the faculty to laugh at himself. The second was that he had that essential rare gift most great statesmen have, the capacity to step outside himself and view himself the way others do.
You see already where I’m going with this, so I apologize in advance for stating the obvious when I say that no politician lacks these twin talents to a greater extent than Donald Trump. It goes without saying that Donald Trump can never laugh at himself. That requires admitting weakness. Trump has only two emotional responses for weakness, mockery and scorn.
Trump is also the least self-reflective president in memory, possibly in history. This may, in part, explain his proclivity to refer to himself in the third person. He just can’t quite get a handle on this “I” personal pronoun thing that everyone’s always talking about. He doesn’t self-identify. He’s just “Trump,” even to himself. This may be a vestige of his lack of empathy. In a certain sense perhaps he can’t even empathize with himself.
I suppose you can be a traffic cop or a plumber or a scuba diver and get away with being like Trump, in the sense when one cannot really see themselves as others do, without causing too much trouble. As president of the United States it’s an unqualified disaster, of course.
Take Trump’s press conference with Theresa May on Tuesday, for example. When he was asked by a British journalist, “Do you agree with your ambassador that the entire economy needs to be on the table in a future trade deal, including the NHS?”, Trump replied, in part, “I think everything is on the table with a trade deal.”
The problem with this position from the standpoint of most of the British people and British politicians who actually want to get re-elected, is this statement suggests that Trump openly wants to infect Britain with America’s staggeringly cruel, exploitative and inefficient health care system, and destroy Britain’s justly popular National Health Service. British politicians watching were stunned by this statement, and Trump’s handlers swung into a state of emergency. Later, in an interview with Piers Morgan, Trump tried to walk the statement back a little. But the damage had been done, and, it is thought, Trump tipped his hand, and hence the hand of his handlers and paymasters.
The implications of Trump’s evil designs on the NHS could potentially be devastating for the pro-Brexit crowd, and in that sense, it may actually be a good thing for a change. It’s thought now even by the least brain dead of Brexiters that a no-deal Brexit – one in which Britain departs the European Union without any trade deal in place – will significantly weaken Britain and leave it open to predatory American trade deal practices. Needless to say this has people who were not worried before, quite worried now. Well done, Donald. You shot yourself in the foot. Again.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.