“I think there are two Donald Trumps,” said the Donald, after former rival candidate Ben Carson endorsed him for president. Carson claimed to have seen a new and different Trump beyond the one “on stage.” The second version, said Carson, was “very cerebral, sits there and considers things very carefully.”
We are now beginning to get glimpses of this second Trump. In the most recent Republican debate (March 10), an almost eerie calm descended, quite striking after the no-holds-barred mud wrestling displayed in previous outings. Partly this was the exhaustion of Trump’s rivals, especially poor Marco Rubio, who concluded he had gained little by jumping into the gutter and matching Trump insult for insult. But Trump restrained himself too. He was given plenty of opportunities to stir the pot and didn’t. His new demeanor suggested that pundits were wrong to dismiss him as little more than an unmodulated showman who wore his ego on his sleeve and worshiped the sound of his own voice.
To be sure, the Donald’s ego is outsized enough to weigh down any sleeve. “I’m a big thinker,” he maintained, responding to Carson’s compliments. “And I have my ideas and they’re strong, and typically they worked out.” At times, that ego can quite firmly control what appears to be an unconstrained id. Trump has a way of modulating his anger, ramping it up and pulling it back, condemning violence and then excusing it, alternating praise (“I love Ted, I really do”) with slander (“And as for Lying Ted… ”) There is indeed a kind of wild Mr. Hyde and dignified Dr. Jekyll that reflects the two Trumps, if you will. And the candidate can slip easily in and out of both personae.
Sometimes the switch seems well controlled, as at the calmer debate—not made in the heat of the political moment. But that control makes it all the more worrisome Bernie Sanders is “lying” that he has not encouraged his supporters to go protest at Trump’s rallies, Donald tweets. “Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!” One begins to imagine a “very cerebral” Trump considering tactics, musing whether to let loose his “disruptors” upon his rivals. Dr. Jekyll wished to believe he had nothing to do with Mr. Hyde, but the two were inescapably connected.
Perhaps Trump is entirely calculating in the manipulation of his fans. But the New York Times did a penetrating background piece on events driving the billionaire realtor to launch his political career. A major turning point, the article alleges, occurred at the 2013 White House Correspondents dinner, when President Obama, himself the butt of Trump’s repeated aspersions about an alleged African birth, turned round and mocked Trump at the dinner, who was in the audience. That same night that the president gave the order launching the SEAL raid against Osama bin Laden, which burnished the president’s reputation and prompted jubilant crowds to gather in front of the White House and chant “USA! USA!” America seemed to have been made great not by the man in the red cap but by the very rival who had put him down a day or two earlier.
To suppose now that Trump, with cold calculation, cerebrally incites crowds of Americans who feel scorned and left behind, underestimates how much he may have felt scorned himself. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde existed within the confines of a single body, reflecting aspects of a single personality. And when reporters pressed Trump on his supposed twin identities, he concluded, “I don’t think there are two Donald Trumps. I think there’s one Donald Trump.” A sage but frightening conclusion.
James West Davidson
Occasional thoughts on history, teaching, paddling and the outdoors