The New Yorker writer who profiled Donald Trump in the 90 s delves into the Republicans mentality, and explains why he thinks hes destined to drop out
The first time I interview Mark Singer its the Tuesday after the Republican national convention, which culminated with a Donald Trump speech Singer accurately describes as scripted lunacy. Things feel pretty bleak. Trumps candidacy, says Singer, is the most cynical and genuinely sad thing thats ever happened in my life in this country, and Ive lived through assassinations and terrible wars, but that it has led to this its a mixture of every awful emotion. If we elect this human its the end of a lot of things, I simply dont know how that happens. With a whimper perhaps I hope not a bang.
Born in 1950, Singer has been a writer for the New Yorker since 1974( There was no reason to leave, he tells me as we sit outside a caf near his home on Manhattans Upper East Side ). In 1996, his then editor Tina Brown commissioned him to write a profile of Trump with the words Hes wholly full of shit, youll love him! After months get a full submersion into Trumps world, one highlight being a ludicrous session between Trump and Aleksandr Lebed, in which Trump proudly depicted the Russian general and Kremlin fixer a shoe hed been given by Shaquille ONeal Singer wrote a 10,000 -word profile that nailed the narcissism, superficiality and cynicism with which the world is now so alarmingly familiar. It concluded that Trump had aspired to and attained the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.
Naturally, Trump didnt appreciate Singers efforts, assaulting him in his book Trump: the Art of the Comeback, in a letter to the New York Times( he was not born with great writing ability ), and finally in an irate missive that read: Mark, you are a total loser! And your book( and pennings) sucks!
These last two sentences are proudly published on the back of Singers new book Trump and Me, which revisits his profile in the light of Trumps presidential campaign. Given Singer probing wit and Trumps essential ridiculousness, it is very funny, though the implications of a Trump presidency seem increasingly less amusing in the light of the hatred he has unleashed. I am afraid. Everybody I know is afraid, Singer says. If Hillary Clinton wins, listening to the sigh of relief only on this island, we might have a carbon dioxide overload crisis. Youll ensure these trees shooting up.
Singer says that Trump is the most unapologetic there has to be a word stronger than hypocrite, there is does. He is despairing that some voters stoked by the email scandal and the WikiLeaks revelations about her attempts to undermine Bernie Sanders think Hillary Clinton is more dishonest than Trump. This, he says, is what really induces you wishes to blow your brains out. It makes you want to go back and find patient zero and think, when was the moment where we stopped being willing to fund public education in this country, that it became so egregious that we no longer could have people who understood the constitution, the controls and balances? Trump says: I love the ill-educated. You bet he does.
Singer blameds Fox News and the web for what seems to be a growing disregard for the truth, but also acknowledges that widening inequality, leaving a large swathe of Americans essentially abandoned by the two main parties, has helped account for Trumps rise along with the haters, racists and xenophobes excited by this promises to keep Mexicans and Muslims out of America.
Nevertheless, he cant bring himself to picture Trump actually being elected. Imagine November 9, 2016. You wake up and there it is in the newspaper, Donald Trump has been elected president. Hes not going to institute martial law yet, hes not going to abridge the first amendment just yet, hes not going to seal the borders he cant do anything until January 20. This is likely to be the beginning of a series of anni horobili that weve never seen.
Singer cites a recent obituary of a friends aunt, which concluded: Died of complications of congestive heart failure and the 2016 general elections. Like her, he says, I think that youre go to a lot of people whove been hanging on, letting run. I believe that. And a lot of them are going to be envied.
Trump in his quintessence
Just a week subsequently, however, things seem most varied. Trump is plunging in the polls, largely thanks to his typically impetuous and politically suicidal decision to assault Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of US army captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in the Iraq war. You have sacrificed nothing, Khan said of Trump in his speech at the DNC, a line devastating because it is so self-evidently true, and one to which Trump was stupid enough to respond, telling ABC: I think Ive made a lot of sacrifices.
That almost made me embarrassed for humanity, says Singer when I call him a few days after Trumps car-crash performance. I dont genuinely lump myself in the same humanity that maybe he belongs to.
Singer says the Khan episode demonstrated Donald Trump in his quintessence. Even the rightwing political commentator Bill OReilly, he says, whos a bomb thrower, told Trump on his Fox show that you dont attack a gold-star mom. Trump is saying: Well yeah, but and then he says, as plain as day, I didnt attack her. And right after he says that he says: I was viciously assaulted. This demonstrates as plainly as anything that hes a person who lies reflexively.
Now Trump seems to be flailing. Hes shocked, Singer says. Hes in a tailspin because his ego is constructed in a way that does not brook any kind of disagreement. He has his own party telling him, Dude, shut the fuck up. Do not go there. These are people like Rudy Guilianiand Newt Gingrich, this is not Nancy Pelosi, OK? He hears them, he goes out and the next day does it again.
This reckless behaviour has had many commentators wondering whether Trump is suffering from a mental illness. Last week, Singer participated in an extraordinary discussion on MSNBCs The Last Word With Lawrence ODonnell with Dr George Simon, a psychologist described on his website as the leading expert on manipulators and other disturbed characters. To be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder, you need to exhibit five of around a dozen symptoms on a checklist, such as Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and absence empathy. However, the entire list seemed to apply to Trump.
His mental illness is now the conversation, Singer says. There are tricky ethical issues around such a long-distance diagnosis not least, he says, the fact that comparing them to Trump may further stigmatize sufferers. Its extremely unjust to people who have various mental disease.
Singer says that even mental disease cant wholly account for Trumps behaviour. You cant believe that this is somebody capable of this degree of obtuseness, obliviousness, total absence of self-awareness and brutality. This combining. Since you and I spoke the other day, that has blown open and hes genuinely done. So now the headlines are, whats the party going to do? Theyve got to do something. Theyre virtually confessing the election now, two weeks after their convention! Singer even made a bet last Monday with Jane Mayer, a New Yorker colleague, that Trump would be gone in two weeks. The wheels are starting to come off so dramatically and you can feel it.
Given his plunge popularity, Singer says its no surprise that Trump is now claiming that the election is likely to be rigged. Its in the book, he points out. The thing that hes dreaded most in his life is being labeled a loser. So he has to have an explanation for that.
In the shorter term, Singer says, Trumps next big challenge will be the debates or more specially, how he can avoid them. As Trump has demonstrated many times, for instance recently claiming that Russia would not invade Ukraine, when Russian soldiers occupied Crimea over two years ago, when it comes to events beyond Americas perimeters he is profoundly ignorant. Precisely right, Singer says. By selection and temperament both. And this is a person who boasts: I know more about Isis than the generals. This party has this quote on record when they nominated him. Guess who I dont have a whole lot of sympathy for? Its game over. Dedicated the warp speed at which the news has moved this year however, Singer rows back: That is the kind of stuff that is so dangerous to say I should bite my tongue.
Trump, says Singer, is the most transparent legislator there has ever been: Hes merely out for himself, in every way, in every gesture. One of the reasons for publishing his book, he says, was in abhorrence at the style journalists indulged Trumps race for the presidency because it was good for ratings and traffic. This notion of false equivalency is not something that journalists have figured out, but it wasnt even that with Trump, it was just the celebrity and[ him] using up all the oxygen. But I knew that Trump had no intention of winning, it was obvious and here we are.
As for many Americans, the Trump candidacy has been a draining experience for Singer. No one can turn away, Singer least of all. I simply sat here and I was watching MSNBC last night until 11 oclock and I realized, I am now an addict. Im entirely a junkie and I genuinely need to have an intervention of my own, Im afraid.
That sets him off on another Trumpian train of thought those in the Republican party who think they can perform some kind of intervention. This idea of doing an intervention with Trump is hilarious to me. These might be the last optimists in America. You cant treat people like Trump, he says. Theyre incurable.
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