Trump’s Final Meltdown

The President of the United States is an existential threat to the Republic.

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

President Donald J. Trump’s mental health has been suspect since before he took office but he appears to be in full meltdown mode since losing his re-election bid. And there appears to be nothing we can do but wait it out.

Jonathan Swan for Axios (“Trump turns on everyone“):

President Trump, in his final days, is turning bitterly on virtually every person around him, griping about anyone who refuses to indulge conspiracy theories or hopeless bids to overturn the election, several top officials tell Axios.

The latest: Targets of his outrage include Vice President Pence, chief of staff Mark Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Secretary of State Pompeo and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Why it matters: Trump thinks everyone around him is weak, stupid or disloyal — and increasingly seeks comfort only in people who egg him on to overturn the election results. We cannot stress enough how unnerved Trump officials are by the conversations unfolding inside the White House.

Top officials are trying to stay away from the West Wing right now.

Trump is lashing out, and everyone is in the blast zone: At this point, if you’re not in the “use the Department of Homeland Security or the military to impound voting machines” camp, the president considers you weak and beneath contempt.

Trump is fed up with Cipollone, his counsel. Some supporters of Cipollone are worried that Trump is on the brink of removing him and replacing him with a fringe loyalist.

A source who spoke to Trump said the president was complaining about Pence and brought up a Lincoln Project ad that claims that Pence is “backing away” from Trump. This ad has clearly got inside Trump’s head, the source said.

Trump views Pence as not fighting hard enough for him — the same complaint he uses against virtually everybody who works for him and has been loyal to him.

Pence’s role on Jan. 6 has begun to loom large in Trump’s mind, according to people who’ve discussed the matter with him. Trump would view Pence performing his constitutional duty — and validating the election result — as the ultimate betrayal.

A new fixation: Trump has even been asking advisers whether they can get state legislatures to rescind their electoral votes. When he’s told no, he lashes out even more, said a source who discussed the matter with the president.

CNN‘s Barbara Starr (“Pentagon anxiety rises as officers wait for Trump’s next unpredictable move“):

It’s like a low murmur just below the surface. “We don’t know what he might do,” says one officer in the Pentagon. “We are in strange times,” says another officer. Some senior military officers are trying to steer clear of the White House for the next month, rather than be in the President Donald Trump’s orbit.

With just some 30 days to go before the US military watches its current commander in chief leave office, there is growing anxiety in the ranks about what Trump might do in these remaining days. Will the President order some unexpected military action, such as a strike on Iran, or will he somehow draw the military into his efforts to overthrow the election results?

It’s a troubling enough scenario that military leaders have taken the unusual step of publicly stating that they will not play a role in deciding an American election.

[…]

One officer said people are making “lists” of everything they can think of that the President might do. Several worry there could be a round of firings or forced resignations of more Pentagon officials, including top military officers.

Until a few days ago, these conversations might have been avoided. But last Friday night, by all accounts, the idea of using the military to change the election outcome reached directly into the Oval Office. Trump hosted a raucous meeting that included lawyer Sidney Powell, who has pushed conspiracy theories about the election, and her client, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, where the idea of declaring martial law to overturn the election came up.

Powell advocates the federal government seizing and inspecting voting machines. In a Newsmax video posted on social media a few days before the White House meeting, Flynn, once head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, with access to the greatest military secrets, raised the prospect of martial law, though he carefully said he doesn’t advocate it. But he also suggested the President could take “military capabilities” and “rerun” the election in swing states.

Former Republican speechwriter Peter Wehner bluntly declares that “Trump Is Losing His Mind.”

None of this should come as a surprise. Some of us said, even before he became president, that Donald Trump’s Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering him, was his psychology—his disordered personality, his emotional and mental instability, and his sociopathic tendencies. It was the main reason, though hardly the only reason, I refused to vote for him in 2016 or in 2020, despite having worked in the three previous Republican administrations. Nothing that Trump has done over the past four years has caused me to rethink my assessment, and a great deal has happened to confirm it.

Given Trump’s psychological profile, it was inevitable that when he felt the walls of reality close in on him—in 2020, it was the pandemic, the cratering economy, and his election defeat—he would detach himself even further from reality. It was predictable that the president would assert even more bizarre conspiracy theories. That he would become more enraged and embittered, more desperate and despondent, more consumed by his grievances. That he would go against past supplicants, like Attorney General Bill Barr and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, and become more aggressive toward his perceived enemies. That his wits would begin to turn, in the words of King Lear. That he would begin to lose his mind.

So he has. And, as a result, President Trump has become even more destabilizing and dangerous.

Of course, while the severity has increased, these tendencies were already dangerous.

COVID-19 is now killing Americans at the rate of about one per minute, but the president is “just done with COVID,” a source identified as one of Trump’s closest advisers told The Washington Post. “I think he put it on a timetable and he’s done with COVID … It just exceeded the amount of time he gave it.”

This is where Trump’s crippling psychological condition—his complete inability to face unpleasant facts, his toxic narcissism, and his utter lack of empathy—became lethal. Trump’s negligence turned what would have been a difficult winter into a dark one. If any of his predecessors—Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, to go back just 40 years—had been president during this pandemic, tens of thousands of American lives would almost surely have been saved.

“My concern was, in the worst part of the battle, the general was missing in action,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, one of the very few Republicans to speak truth in the Trump era.

That Trump is a narcissist with the temperament of a toddler is hardly news at this point. But the situation has long since reached crisis stage. That he came reasonably close to being re-elected despite this flaws, a global pandemic, and an economic collapse is scary. That other leaders in his party not only didn’t work harder to stop him but actually enabled his lunacy is shameful.

Wehner again:

[T]he Trump presidency will leave gaping wounds nearly everywhere, and ruination in some places. Truth as a concept has been battered from the highest office in the land on an almost hourly basis. The Republican Party has been radicalized, with countless Republican lawmakers and other prominent figures within the party having revealed themselves to be moral cowards, even, and in some ways especially, after Trump was defeated. During the Trump presidency, they were so afraid of getting crosswise with him and his supporters that they failed the Solzhenitsyn test: “The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! His rule: Let that come into the world, let it even reign supreme—only not through me.”

During the past four years, the right-wing ecosystem became more and more rabid. Many prominent evangelical supporters of the president are either obsequious, like Franklin Graham, or delusional, like Eric Metaxas, and they now peddle their delusions as being written by God. QAnon and the Proud Boys, Newsmax and One America News, Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson—all have been emboldened.

These worrisome trends began before Trump ran for office, and they won’t disappear after he leaves the presidency. Those who hope for a quick snapback will be disappointed.

Congressional Democrats have all but given calling out Trump’s actions, seeing it as a pointless exercise. Which means we have another 27 days of a madman in charge of not just the pardon power but the ability to order military action up to and including nuclear war.

We’ll survive it, I think. Even the sycophants seem to be signaling that there’s only so much they’ll put up with. Everyone from Pence to McConnell to Pat Robertson are telling Trump the jig is up. But that’s just making him angrier.

Regardless, one hopes four years of the President of the United States being an existential threat to our Republic serves as a wake-up call. No one person should have that much unchecked power. A bipartisan effort to restore checks and balances is imperative. Sadly, I have little hope it will materialize.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    Regardless, one hopes four years of the President of the United States being an existential threat to our Republic serves as a wake-up call.

    Narrator: It will not.

    ReplyReply
    22
  2. drj says:

    Congressional Democrats have all but given calling out Trump’s actions, seeing it as a pointless exercise. Which means we have another 27 days of a madman in charge of not just the pardon power but the ability to order military action up to and including nuclear war.

    I am genuinely curious as to the thought process behind these two sentences.

    ReplyReply
    5
  3. Kathy says:

    I don’t think is’t the final meltdown as much as the latest one.

    ReplyReply
    12
  4. KM says:

    We’ll survive it, I think. Even the sycophants seem to be signaling that there’s only so much they’ll put up with. Everyone from Pence to McConnell to Pat Robertson are telling Trump the jig is up. But that’s just making him angrier.

    Now that the leopard’s eating their faces, they’re calling animal control and are considering tranqing the rampaging beast. He’s going to be a major threat to them first from now on, you see. It will be their party he’s damaging, their prospects he’s ruining – sure the rest of us will get 3rd burns from all the fires Trump’s gonna set but it’s *their* stuff he’s setting on fire.

    Future runs for power for him, his spawn or his QAnon nuts? Taking up the spot of some other GOP hopeful and they’re pissed. Screaming about how it should $2K instead of $600 after some serious negotiations and dealbreakers from the GOP? Whoops, Dems love it and now Mitch has to justify why he won’t come through. MAGAts pushing their insane theories and beliefs everywhere, regardless of being told no? Now they are hated for stating basic facts or doing their job – hell, they’re turning on the police now for blocking “protests” and not helping “marital law”! FOX had to issues soft-peddled retract due to lawsuits and Gorka actively had to shush the MyPillow Guy because he wouldn’t stop with the wild claims.

    You cannot keep feeding the crazies and get pissy they keep coming back. You cannot expect cancer to only attack the organ of your choice and not spread its damage across the whole body.
    You cannot tell “the forgotten” it’s their time to shine oops go back into the corner we don’t need you anymore kthanxbye. The whirlwind cometh, conservatives for you have sown it consistently….. and y’all live in Tornado Alley.

    ReplyReply
    17
  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    There are 1,440 minutes in a day. We are currently suffering deaths more or less at the rate of 3,000 per day. That works out to one death every 30 seconds or less.

    @drj: Only DEMs have agency. Nothing/the worst is expected of GOPs, but DEMs are supposed to fix everything. James knows better than this, but it is such a common framing of politics in this country I think it has seeped into his subconscious.

    ReplyReply
    10
  6. James Joyner says:

    @drj: @OzarkHillbilly: Perhaps I should have phrased it “Even Congressional Democrats …”? I’ve written dozens of posts about the fecklessness of Congressional Republicans and called their actions “shameful” in the previous paragraph. I’m just saying that even the Dems aren’t bothering to call him out at this point.

    ReplyReply
    6
  7. Lounsbury says:

    @KM: The defamation lawsuits have some chance, it would seem (if well-backed [see Gawker]) on disciplining and putting a wee fear of God in re absolute falsehoods in the minds of the neo-nazi media-entertainment complex in the USA.

    @James Joyner: It is hard to blame them mate.

    ReplyReply
    4
  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    There’s no point in calling Trump out. He’s a psychopath in a panic. Back a feral tomcat into a corner, that’s our current president. What does commentary do to that? We can only watch, appalled.

    Character is everything and an ending like this was nearly inevitable from the moment he was elected. Eventually he was going to lose and when he did he’d be a loser and he’s too weak to handle that. Added to his ego panic, there is of course his criminality and his business failures. The future Trump fears is drastic loss of status, financial ruin and prison.

    He’s right to be afraid. Fear in this case makes perfect sense. But he’s so terribly weak as a man that he can’t help but make things worse. He’s attacking Pence at a point where only Pence can save him from spending the rest of his life fighting criminal charges that could land him in prison. His only way out is Pence, but Trump’s paranoia and panic has him cutting that one lifeline.

    One thing is sure. Step aside James Buchanan. Take a back seat Andrew Johnson. Sit down Tricky Dick Nixon. The position of Worst President Ever belongs to Donald J. Trump.

    ReplyReply
    15
  9. mattbernius says:

    We’ll survive it, I think. Even the sycophants seem to be signaling that there’s only so much they’ll put up with. Everyone from Pence to McConnell to Pat Robertson are telling Trump the jig is up. But that’s just making him angrier.

    Well, I for one am super stoked that today is Bill Barr’s last day*. Nothing could possible go wrong with nothing to lose and a more permissive person in the AG spot. Nope, nothing at all.

    * – Yes, that IS something that I would never expect to have written. But if we’ve learned anything from Trump’s time, it’s that successors are almost always unilaterally worse than the people they replaced.

    ReplyReply
    5
  10. SC_Birdflyte says:

    May I suggest that one of the first orders of business when the new Congress organizes itself is a constitutional amendment to repeal the 25th Amendment? If there ever was a time for invoking the 25th, it’s now. But there’s no chance of that. Just get that dead letter off the books.

    ReplyReply
    3
  11. inhumans99 says:

    I am not Bill so I am not demanding an answer but this post of your James is odd…are you concerned that the military would mutiny against any order by Trump to go to war with Iran (or some other similar request?

    I too have wondered if the military would be fine mutineering for a few weeks until Biden was at the helm of the ship, because as it is they have taken the very unusual step of publicly declaring that they will not help Trump with his Coup fantasy. Trump is still the military’s Commander In Chief so for the military/Pentagon to very publicly declare there is a line they will not cross is extremely unusual in and of itself.

    ReplyReply
    2
  12. James Joyner says:

    @inhumans99: I think they would weigh whether they thought the order was legal and rational and use every legal means at their disposal to refuse if they judged it unlawful. The War Powers Act arguably doesn’t allow unilateral action absent imminent threat.

    ReplyReply
    1
  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    I have been expecting an intra-Republican Party war since Trump got nominated. People like Sen. McConnell have been doing a very good job of avoiding it for the last 4 years, but I don’t think they will be able to avoid it much longer. Or maybe it has already broken out.

    I think that’s because, actually, every single Republican official charged with some duty with regard to the electoral process has carried out that duty faithfully. Of course, Trump can’t stand that. They are supposed to cheat for him. I mean, they are supposed to STOP the cheating for him. (By the way, it seems likely that he’s convinced himself of the widespread cheating. That this enables his grift is just kinda how these things work.)

    I offer no prediction on how it will play out, who will win, or what it will mean about the electoral landscape 2 or 4 years from now. It could be very damaging. Or not.

    As long as you hold the Office of the President, there’s lots of reasons to play along. But that has ended.

    ReplyReply
    2
  14. Scott F. says:

    President Donald J. Trump’s mental health has been suspect since before he took office but he appears to be in full meltdown mode since losing his re-election bid. And there appears to be nothing we can do but wait it out.

    There is something that COULD be done. The Republican leadership could grow spines and use committee assignments or sanctions to compel the members of their caucus to stop cold all the fact-free “corrupted” election talk. The GOP could unequivocally call out as seditious not only Trump but every taxpayer paid administrative appointee that is participating in POTUS’ coup speculations. The Republican Party could publicly disavow the crazies of their base even though a principled stand would lose them their power in the absence of any moderation in their policies. If Trump’s mental health is incapacitating, the 25th Amendment is available to Pence and his GOP cabinet. The Republicans COULD do all these things. They WON’T, but they COULD.

    It’s true that the rest of us can’t do anything but wait this out and hope for the better case scenarios. But a day shouldn’t go by without the press and any opposition with a forum laying out this dangerous situation and blaming the Republicans wholly for the place the country is in. Normalization of this is doing irreparable harm to the body politic.

    ReplyReply
    8
  15. Gustopher says:

    Regardless, one hopes four years of the President of the United States being an existential threat to our Republic serves as a wake-up call. […] Sadly, I have little hope it will materialize.

    Nice separation of “I” from “one”.

    Buck up, James, it could be worse.

    We know it could be worse because every day Trump demonstrates that yes, things can be worse than yesterday. Proof by mathematical induction.

    ReplyReply
    2
  16. inhumans99 says:

    James, thank you so much for replying to my post.

    Also, McConnell needs to invoke the 25th right now. Democrats, Libertarians, the Green Party, the GOP, hell…everyone and their mothers needs to be screaming at McConnell to remove Trump from office.

    I just saw this at another site I frequent (anything not in quotes is from my adding to this post):

    “I’m hearing rumors out of the White House that there was another very contentious “meeting” between Trump and staffers/advisers. Jared Kushner has allegedly floated a new scheme. The new strategy would be for Trump to sign an Executive Order that would declare an extension of 2020 since so many people did not get to experience things they normally would, such as graduations, proms, senior year, etc. The EO would actually extend 2020 through 2021. The gain for Trump is that extending 2020 would extend his time in office and require a “redo” of the election in November.”

    This is beyond insane, so much so we have to come up with a new term to describe what Trump is trying to pull off…”extend 2020″??? That is just nuts and our President needs to have a hearing to determine if he is mentally fit to defend himself in a court of law.

    For what it is worth, I get it that usually when things are extended we are talking about the IRS extending the deadline file taxes, or extending the deadline in which votes sent in by mail can be counted, etc., but this is obviously not what Kushner (assuming this rumor has an ounce of truth to it) is suggesting.

    Has our Government gone collectively insane while I was sleeping?

    Someone needs to get people to back away from the insanity. Also, Trump is making it too easy for Pelosi to rankle McConnell as she says sure Mr. President, I will vote on your proposal to send everyone $2,000 checks.

    ReplyReply
  17. Teve says:

    @inhumans99: do you have any reason to believe that the extended 2020 concept is anything more than just one nut babbling on a website?

    ReplyReply
    4
  18. inhumans99 says:

    Teve, I would love it if what I posted was just that…something that makes me look like a person who needs to take off the tinfoil hat. That way I could apologize for posting such an alarmist post and take the hopefully gentle ribbing that comes my way for believing a lone nut on the internet.

    That is most likely the case, someone babbling away on the internet but you have to admit that the political situation in the U.S. is so fluid and odd at the moment that anything is possible.

    Go back six months and if someone put the extend 2020 scheme on the web at that time as a means for Trump to stay in power if he loses the election and I would just chuckle and laugh and say take off the tinfoil hat dude, but fast forward to now and the news that Trump has spent the past few days huddled with traitors and conspiracy embracing loons (who are attorneys of all people and should be much more rational individuals than the average Joe) talking out what-if I could declare this or that scenarios to stay in power and I am not sure what to tell you.

    We live in interesting times.

    ReplyReply
    2
  19. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find that Trump has many more meltdowns in him going forward.

    ReplyReply
    1
  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: James, this was your statement:

    Congressional Democrats have all but given calling out Trump’s actions, seeing it as a pointless exercise. Which means we have another 27 days of a madman in charge of not just the pardon power but the ability to order military action up to and including nuclear war.

    That was the whole paragraph, it stood by itself. And then you followed it with

    We’ll survive it, I think.

    It sure sounds like you think DEMs can prevent the coming meltdown. What would you have them do? Impeach him?

    ReplyReply
    3
  21. James Joyner says:

    @inhumans99: The 25th is essentially a dead letter in situations like this. There’s just no way a Vice President and the cabinet will initiate it. McConnell could give them political cover but he had no power. All he could do is support impeachment.

    ReplyReply
    1
  22. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Aside from drawing political attention there’s no much that they can do, as noted in the intro to the post. They could threaten impeachment again but they’ve already fired that shot.

    ReplyReply
  23. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.:

    There is something that COULD be done. The Republican leadership could grow spines and use committee assignments or sanctions … The Republicans COULD do all these things. They WON’T, but they COULD.

    There’s more Party leadership COULD do, but WON’T. We talk here about how little control parties have over candidates. But they could exercise more power.

    McConnell’s Senate Leadership PAC dumped over 350 million dollars into senate races this year. Almost all of it spent on attacking Dems. They could use the threat of withholding that money, or even sponsoring primary challenges. I’m sure Moscow Mitch will do so if R Senators waver over allowing the country to burn down to make Biden look bad. But will he spend a nickel or any political capital to preserve democracy? Quite the opposite.

    ReplyReply
    5
  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: Maybe Barr’s replacement will be worse as in more incompetent rather than as in more depraved. Lazier would be okay, too.

    ReplyReply
    3
  25. I don’t see any compelling evidence Trump is losing his mind. The behavior described is typical Trump behavior, and as usual, it’s got the suckers forking over huge sums of cash. He’s bitching at other people to “do something!” When he does something, something that places himself or his money in serious risk, then he will have “lost it”. As long as he’s only trying to get other people to put their necks on a block he’s at Trump-normal.

    ReplyReply
    7
  26. flat earth luddite says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m just saying that even the Dems aren’t bothering to call him out at this point.

    Why bother when nobody’s paying attention? I mean, seriously, you could catch him, as the saying goes, with a live boy AND a dead girl, and the reaction would be .

    ReplyReply
    2
  27. Kathy says:

    @inhumans99:

    There’s almost a precedent for such an idiotic, hare-brained scheme.

    In 1752, Britain and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar at long last. To that affect, 11 days were removed, I think in September.

    Of course, that was part of a near-global reform, and Britain took centuries to adopt it (Russia didn’t until 1918!) Since then there has been little apetite for further calendar reforms*. And in a globalized world (redundancy aside), if a country changed its calendar in any way, it would create chaos in international trade and relations.

    I believe Trump would try it, or at least float the idea. But it won’t happen.

    *Fact is the current calendar is good enough for most purposes, and it tracks well with the seasons. Absent a rapid change of the world’s rotation, there won’t be a need to change the calendar for many thousands of years.

    ReplyReply
  28. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @inhumans99: How about someone just extend a foot up Trumps arse. Thats infinitely more Feasible, Achievable, and Repeatable.

    ReplyReply
  29. The Q says:

    Trump deserves at least a few props from Dems. He single handedly performed the trifecta some would have deemed impossible 4 years ago. He destroyed the Bush family dynasty, the Clinton dynasty and now the holy grail – the GOP itself.

    Bravo Mr. Trump. Now, if the neolibs don’t blow it, 2022 could be a true blue wave.

    ReplyReply
  30. Jen says:

    2022 could be a true blue wave.

    Midterm elections almost always result in a loss in seats for the party that holds the White House. There would have to be extraordinary circumstances (positive ones) for even holding the seats Dems currently have.

    ReplyReply
    1
  31. Matt says:

    @Jen: You can try to bring facts up but I’m sure Q will blame the usual suspects when a blue wave doesn’t appear…

    ReplyReply

Speak Your Mind

*