The pressures of the presidency have pushed Trump to the edge, but is he crazy enough to be removed from office?
By Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone Magazine | October 5, 2017
Evening, August 22nd, 2017, a convention center in Phoenix. It’s Donald Trump’s true coming-out party as an insane person. It looks like the same old Trump up there on the stage: same boxy blue suit, same obligatory flag pin and tangerine combover, same too-long reddish power tie swinging below his belt line like a locker-room abomination. Earlier this year there were efforts to make Trump stop wearing his suit jackets open – designer Joseph Abboud said buttoning up was a “very visible way of showing he knows how serious the job is” – but Donald Trump doesn’t take advice, not even the gently benign kind.
Illustration by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
That makeover was undone just as quickly as it was done, leaving the Donald with the same old tie-on-bulging-duodenum look from the campaign. He even sounds the same now, kicking off the event with a go-to favorite: “What a crowd!” he shouts. (A week from now, he will shout, “What a crowd, what a turnout!” from atop a truck in Corpus Christi, Texas, on the occasion of a deadly hurricane.) But the embattled president who takes the stage tonight is a different man from the barnstorming revolutionary who ripped through the American political process a year ago. That Donald Trump enjoyed himself, to an obscene degree. Watching Trump lean over a podium on the road to the presidency was like watching a stud boar hump a hole in the wall.
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He said monstrous things and lied with stunning disinhibition, and when the civilized world recoiled in horror, he seemed to take sadistic pleasure in every minute – win or lose, the run was pure glory for him, a Sherman’s March of taboo politics and testosterone fury that would leave a mark on America forever.
There was one more thing. Candidate Trump may have been crazy, but it was craziness that on some level was working. Even at his lowest and most irrational moments – like his lunatic assault on the family of fallen soldier Humayun Khan, in which he raved to the grieving Gold Star parents about how it was he, Trump, who had “made a lot of sacrifices” – you could argue, if you squinted really hard, that it was strategy, a kick to the base.
Or even if he wasn’t doing these things on purpose, he must have been able to feel their impact, as the revolutionary force of his campaign demolished the 160-year-old Republican Party and barreled toward the gates of Barack Obama’s White House.
Now, it’s different. Now, he just seems crazy. And it’s his own administration that is crumbling, not any system.
After a disastrous and terrifying August, which among other things saw him defend the “very fine people” among neo-Nazi protesters in a Charlottesville, Virginia, march, it’s Trump’s mental state – not his alleged Russia ties, nor his failure to staff the government or pass any major legislation – that has become the central problem of his presidency.
Is this man losing his mind? And if so, what can be done about it? We’ve had some real zeros in the White House before, but we’ve never had a chief executive who barked at the moon or saw ghosts – at least, not one who was so public about it.
In Phoenix, which is technically a campaign event, the idea seems to be to surround the chief with an enthusiastic audience to boost his spirits after the fiasco of Charlottesville. Put him on the stump in the heart of MAGA country, let him feel that boar-with-a-boner high again.
It doesn’t work. The crowd is big and boisterous enough, maybe 10,000 Sheriff Joe-lovin’, Mexico-hatin’ ‘Muricans, but Trump looks miserable. He’s not the insurgent rebel anymore but a Caesar surrounded by knives. He’s got a special prosecutor crawling up his backside, and there are numerous prominent politicians, including at least two in his own party, who are questioning his sanity in public amid growing whispers of constitutional mutiny. Moreover, after shrugging off a thousand other scandals, Trump seems paralyzed by the Nazi thing. He can’t let it go. Say one nice thing about Nazis, and it’s like people can’t get over it. Unfair!
He plunges into a 77-minute rant on this subject, listing each offending news outlet by name. In a nicely Freudian twist, he starts with The New York Times, which incidentally is the same paper that nearly a century ago identified “Fred Trump of 175-24 Devonshire Road” – the president’s late father – as a detainee from a 1927 Ku Klux Klan rally in Queens. Back then, “native-born American Protestants” were railing against “Roman Catholic police” – essentially the dirty-immigrant Irish, last century’s Mexicans. Not much changes in this country. Maybe the father of the 2072 Republican nominee is here tonight in a MAGA hat.
Trump gestures to the crowd as he speaks to supporters at Phoenix Convention Center during Rally on August 22, 2017 | Photograph by Ralph Freso/Getty Images
That old family shame might be why the president, who’s always denied Fred Trump was a Klansman (“Never happened”), is having such a hard time with Charlottesville and race. He rails against the “Times, which is, like, so bad,” moves on to the “Washington Post, which I call a lobbying tool for Amazon” and winds up with “CNN, which is so bad and pathetic, and their ratings are going down.”
CNN’s ratings aren’t down. The network’s second-quarter prime-time viewers just cracked a 1 million average, its most-watched second quarter ever, largely due to the blimp wreck of the Trump presidency. It’s the one incontrovertible achievement of this administration. The network tweets as much shortly after Trump says the line. The Phoenix audience doesn’t care. “CNN sucks!” they chant. “CNN sucks!”
I was late to the event and actually standing outside the pres