Sunday, September 17, 2017
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Sunday, August 6, 2017
It isn't very often that the public gets to see a man's soul die inside his body. To see his dignity immolated. His manhood ripped from his bones.
And to have it captured all in one picture. Oh, the picture.
Late last November, President-elect Donald Trump and former Republican nominee Mitt Romney settled into a four-course dinner at New York's Jean-Georges restaurant, dining on frog legs and diver scallops. Over the previous year, Romney had been bitterly critical of Trump, calling him "con man" and "a fraud" – yet upon winning, Trump dangled the possibility of naming Romney to the position of Secretary of State, leading to what would soon become Romney's Last Supper.
In a chilling photograph of the dinner, Romney has turned to the camera with the look of a man that would much prefer to be dining with the Grim Reaper. As Trump glowers at the camera with a mischievous grin, Romney's eyes yearn for a foregone era when he stood in resistance to the vulgarian-in-chief; a time before he was made to kiss the ring in exchange for serving his country as secretary of state. The only thing missing from the photo is a Sarah McLachlan song playing in the background and a phone number to call to stop the abuse.
Two weeks later, Trump picked oil executive Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state, ending Romney's parade of public humiliation. But Trump got exactly what he wanted — after the dinner, Romney told reporters that Trump "continues with a message of inclusion and bringing people together," and that his "vision is something which obviously connected with the American people in a very powerful way.” Romney became another well-coiffed head for Trump's trophy case.
It wasn't the first time Trump stripped a conquered foe naked and paraded him in the public square, Game of Thrones-style. (And just like the citizens of Westeros, the #MAGA crowd evidently has plenty of time to take off work to spit and yell "shame" at Trump's vanquished opponents.)
Who can forget Trump holding an enormous umbrella and yet still forcing sycophantic Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to walk in the pouring rain? Or Trump mocking Christie to his face as he forced Christie to stand behind him on stage like a hostage?
One can even forgive the American public being "Little Marco'ed," "Lyin' Ted'ed" and "Crooked Hillary'ed" to exhaustion during the election. This is something entirely new — Trump clearly is a sadist who enjoys humiliating his opponents after he has already won.
Simply ask the third participant in the November dinner, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. After months of harming his own reputation defending Trump's indefensible actions, Priebus was not only pushed out, but done so in the most embarrassing way possible. As if to emphasize Priebus' "weakness," Trump brought in tough guy flesh-and-bone absurdity Anthony Scaramucci to show Priebus the door. Then "The Mooch" was dumped himself days later in his own whirlpool of humiliation.
Or ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump shreds on a daily basis because the president doesn't have the stomach to fire him. Or former FBI director James Comey, whose decision to decline Trump's request for a "loyalty pledge" led to a firing surgically engineered to ruin Comey's name.
These are not the actions of a well-adjusted person. Trump clearly has a maudlin fetish for cruelty – given his pattern of humiliating both friend and foe, the president's brain is occupied with little else than Electoral College results and revenge fantasies. Trump is basically a 71-year old kid cackling in delight as he melts ants under his magnifying glass. Only these ants are attorneys general, senators, FBI directors and governors.
Naturally, Trump's supporters think toying with peoples' dignity is a show of strength – but it is the exact opposite. He's a weak leader who wastes what little political capital he has settling personal scores. With apologies to Winston Churchill, Trump remains an immodest man with much to be modest about.
And it's just a matter of time before he's under Vladimir Putin's magnifying glass.
Christian Schneider is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors and a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where this piece was first published. Follow him on Twitter @Schneider_CM