This election is going to be analyzed for decades to come for what it says about Donald Trump, the Republican party, and the large numbers of people who support him. There have already been numerous attempts to understand what the hell is happening. Much of this speculation right now is in the media but later we will see more academic studies, trying to tease out such things as the root causes of the Trump phenomenon, whether this is something transient or a long-lasting trend, who really are the people who responded to Trump’s message, and whether they were drawn to him because of economic concerns and a sense that the system was rigged against ordinary people or by more ugly xenophobic and racist feelings.
In the case of Trump the person, there will be attempts to understand why he decided to run in the first place, whether he really thought he could get this far let alone win, and what motivates his behavior. David Corn says that there is plenty of evidence that Trump is driven by the desire to exact revenge on his enemies. Trump has said repeatedly that it is main part of his business strategy. But anyone who engages in it to the extent that Trump does cannot be doing it in a totally cynical fashion. He must find it deeply satisfying emotionally as well.
Corn gives example after example of Trump’s obsession with revenge.
In speeches and public talks, Trump has repeatedly expressed his fondness for retribution. In 2011, he addressed the National Achievers Congress in Sydney, Australia, to explain how he had achieved his success. He noted there were a couple of lessons not taught in business school that successful people must know. At the top of the list was this piece of advice: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”
For decades, Trump has been an advocate of revenge. And now his revenge fantasies are running wild on a grand stage. Clinton assails him? He will pronounce her a criminal (and in league with a global conspiracy involving international bankers) and throw her into the slammer. Iranian sailors make rude gestures at US vessels? He will shoot them “out of the water.” His favorite form of revenge is escalation—upping the ante, screwing ’em more than they screwed you. And he clearly has been taking his own advice during this presidential race. These days, Trump is lashing out at his antagonists and the media. At this point—with Trump falling in the polls—it does not seems like a strategy for success. But given how revenge seems to be embedded in his DNA, Trump may not be able to help himself. Revenge as an ubertactic might work for him in business, but constantly behaving vengefully is hardly a positive attribute for a presidential candidate or a commander in chief.
Businessman Richard Branson lends support to Corn’s suggestion that Trump is consumed by the desire to get revenge on his perceived enemies.
Some years ago, Mr Trump invited me to lunch for a one-to-one meeting at his apartment in Manhattan. We had not met before and I accepted. Even before the starters arrived he began telling me about how he had asked a number of people for help after his latest bankruptcy and how five of them were unwilling to help. He told me he was going to spend the rest of his life destroying these five people.
He didn’t speak about anything else and I found it very bizarre. I told him I didn’t think it was the best way of spending his life. I said it was going to eat him up, and do more damage to him than them. There must be more constructive ways to spend the rest of your life. (Hopefully my advice didn’t lead to him running for President!)
I left the lunch feeling disturbed and saddened by what I’d heard. There are a lot of frightening things about this election; not least that policy has been pushed so far down the agenda. What concerns me most, based upon my personal experiences with Donald Trump, is his vindictive streak, which could be so dangerous if he got into the White House. For somebody who is running to be the leader of the free world to be so wrapped up in himself, rather than concerned with global issues, is very worrying.
Later, I remember contrasting the lunch with a one-to-one lunch I shared with Hillary Clinton. Here we talked about education reform, the war on drugs, women’s rights, conflicts around the globe and the death penalty. She was a good listener as well as an eloquent speaker. As she understands well, the President of the United States needs to understand and be engaged with wider world issues, rather than be consumed by petty personal quarrels.
There has been speculation that the reason for Trump choosing to run for president was because he smarted at being skewered by president Obama and Seth Meyers at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, though he denies it. Recall that at the time, Trump was leading the birther movement and was thus was a prime target for ridicule by Obama. What better way to get revenge than to become president and then ridicule all those who laughed at you?
Where will this all end? As Corn says, “One can only imagine how Trump’s profound desire for vengeance will play out, should he find himself a big loser on Election Day.”