I have been trying to understand the behavior of Trump for two years to no avail, until now. But then I read his thoughtless and careless — and it must be said — appalling dismissal of former First Lady Barbara Bush, a member of his own party, the wife of one president and the mother of another president, and only recently deceased. The awareness came to me, suddenly and unbidden: This is a man without honor and without the capacity to feel honor for any other human being.
He is not the first world leader of this ilk, but I wager he is the first American president to possess such an absolutism of self, Nixon included. He is certainly the only one to believe he is always, always right, and the only one who has consistently and persistently denigrated and slammed other people publicly on a daily basis.
What is wrong with him? Because something is.
His behavior has another name: HUBRIS. By definition this means excessive pride and arrogance coupled with a lack of humility. But I would expand this into another order of meaning that occurred often in Greek tragedy: “an excess of ambition, pride, etc., ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin.”
Shakespeare used the Greek definition of hubris in his plays, most notably in King Lear and Macbeth. Both title characters believed in their own omnipotence.
What does it mean to live without a sense of honor, without conscience, abandoning moral principles and choosing instead to yield to the least admirable traits of castigating and bullying and mocking other human beings, even those who are dead? What sort of person needs to do this, behave this way?
And why do people, some people, agree with Trump and fail to call him on his transgressions? Because that is what they are, transgressions against the common good. Most likely because they share his outlook. There can be no other answer. We are a tribal people still, and seek to be alike within our tribe, even if that group insists upon the dangerous and ill-conceived and greedy need for absolute power over others.
This country began with the Puritans, a bigoted and entitled tribe if there ever was one. We have spent the last five hundred years trying to get beyond that legacy, but we chose to push against the idealism embedded in finding a New World and instead chose to enslave the African people and nearly exterminate the Native Americans we found here from the face of the earth. Such behavior could only exist in people who chose to live without honor to themselves and to God. Such behavior came out of an absolutism of entitlement worthy of monarchies in medieval Europe and beyond.
And just how far have we come if we have a president — and his familiars in his party and supporters — who blatantly expresses himself without honor, seemingly without conscience, as if he were Henry VIII and held the Divine Right of Kings?
Not very far at all. We are still mired in our subconscious tendency toward entitlement. It won’t end unless we choose a different way — not later, in 2020, but now. But the voice of protest against Trump is dim, fearful, and in the end, so far, inconclusive.