Saturday, April 18, 2020

Musings on Megalomania, States Rights and the Future of American Democracy

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Who really won the CIvil War?  If it was a contest between states rights and the rights of the people to control American politics, then states must have won.  The coronavirus pandemic and the last election affirmed that the Constitution gives the states and not a popular majority of voters the last word in American politics.

How so?  The Constitution gives the states an advantage over the popular vote in both the electoral college and the senate.  Whichever party elects the President and controls the senate controls the future of American democracy, and that won’t change unless the Constitution is rewritten--and that’s not going to happen.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought together an informal coalition of the governors of ten consistently blue states, three on the west coast and seven on the east coast.  They include close to a majority of the U.S. population, but are only 20% of the states. The remaining forty states are either red or swing states. That tells us a lot about the future of American democracy.

It’s ironic that a president who was elected with less than a majority of the popular vote, thanks to the electoral college, would claim absolute authority over the states to decide how and when to reopen for business.  Only a megalomaniac who is ignorant of the Constitution would make such a spurious claim, but it’s typical of President Trump.

He’s the same president who claimed the coronavirus was a Democratic hoax on February 28, then two weeks later considered it an existential threat to the U.S. and granted himself emergency powers to combat it.  And after a rare bipartisan effort passed emergency pandemic relief, Trump insisted on putting his name on all relief checks. A political Santa Claus. 

Trump’s former Secretary of State described him as being mentally unfit to hold the office of President,and Trump responded that he was a very stable genius.  Is Trump a megalomaniac? Webster defines megalomania as a mental disorder characterized by delusions of grandeur, wealth or power, and a passion for, or for doing, big things.  If it looks like a duck….   

It’s a great irony that most of Trump’s supporters are white Christians, since Trump’s megalomania is the antithesis of the virtues of humility taught by Jesus: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)

Trump equates humility with weakness, but true humility is stronger than arrogance and enables leaders to follow the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors—even those we would rather avoid—as we love ourselves. Humility is a virtue that can reconcile us and redeem our politics from the corruption of worldly power and pride.

Since his election, Trump has corrupted the Executive Branch of government and transformed the Republican Party into his own instrument of absolute power.  Trump exemplifies Lord Acton’s aphorism that Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Overweening power produces arrogance based on a sense of superiority over all others, while humility—the antithesis of pride—is based on the belief that we are all equal in the sight of God.  

Trump’s supporters have said they support him for standing up for what is right.  If they consider his megalomania and self-centered politics to be right, they ignore the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus that are summarized in the greatest commandment that extols loving others as we love ourselves.  Megalomaniacs like Trump can only love themselves.

         Donald Trump has demonstrated symptoms of megalomania for many years, yet his white Christians supporters consider him their political messiah.  Their support of Trump’s narcissism, nativism and vulgarity, mocking disabled people and demeaning women, Muslims and immigrants, reveals how the arrogance of power has eroded political morality in the U.S.

It will always be a mystery that a megalomaniac like Trump was elected president of the U.S..  He’s unfit for the office and should never have been elected. Will the electoral college allow history to repeat itself this November?  The Founding Fathers had good reason to protect state’s rights with the electoral college, but they obviously didn’t foresee this result.


Chris Cilliza of CNN noted that The Wall Street Journal editorial board, a notoriously conservative group, got it right “...when the WSJ published a piece headlined "Trump's Wasted Briefings" that criticized President Donald Trump for his performance at the daily coronavirus task force press briefings. Here's the key bit:
‘But sometime in the last three weeks Mr. Trump seems to have concluded that the briefings could be a showcase for him. Perhaps they substitute in his mind for the campaign rallies he can no longer hold because of the risks. Perhaps he resented the media adulation that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been receiving for his daily show. Whatever the reason, the briefings are now all about the President.’
That absolutely nails what's gone wrong with these daily briefings. What began -- roughly a month ago -- as a useful way to inform a public desperate for facts and information in the face of the surging pandemic has turned into the Trump Show. Or, in the words of Trump himself in a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine: "The show is Trump, and it is sold-out performances everywhere."
Everything you need to know to understand Trump and how he views his life (and the presidency) is contained in that one quote. The world is one big reality show to Trump. He is the executive producer, the maestro in charge of filling each day with the most watchable material. And that most watchable material is produced -- in virtually every situation -- by him.”  See 

Robert Costa and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post have noted that Trump casts himself as pandemic patron, personalizing the government’s spread of cash and supplies.  “President Trump often speaks of federal payments coming to many Americans as an act of his own benevolence, calling the bipartisan stimulus legislation “a Trump administration initiative” and reportedly musing about printing his thick-and-jagged signature on the government checks. [Treasury Secretary Mnuchin later acknowledged that Trump’s name would be on the millions of checks sent out by the Department of the Treasury]  
The president has sought to portray himself as singularly in charge — except for when things go wrong. In those instances, he has labored to blame others and avoid accountability.  Day after day, in his self-constructed role of wartime president, the task Trump seems to relish most is spreading cash and supplies across a beleaguered and anxious nation. ‘Honestly, people should respect, because nobody has ever seen anything like what we’ve done,” Trump said this week, a point he has been making regularly.’ ...Trump has cast himself in the role of generous monarch who is saying, ‘I have given you this, dear subjects’ — and it’s a remarkably selfish and self-referential performance,” historian Jon Meacham said. ‘It’s our money, for goodness sake,’ he added, referring to taxpayers. ‘It’s not his money.’  Trump makes no secret of his preoccupation with how the moment plays for him politically. ‘Every poll says I’m going to win because, you know, you say he’s gotten good marks, but I’ve gotten great marks on what we’ve done with respect to this,’ the president said last week on Fox News Channel, comparing himself to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D).
By providing daily updates on the resources his administration has doled out, Trump has tried to leave the impression that he is in control of the pandemic.  “We’ve set every record you can set,” Trump claimed on March 29. “The federal government has done something that nobody’s done anything like this, other than perhaps wartime. And that’s what we’re in: We’re in a war. My administration has mobilized our entire nation to vanquish the virus.”
“Donald Trump has spent his life marketing himself and products associated with himself, so it’s not surprising that he would approach this the same way,” said David Axelrod, who served as a senior White House adviser under President Barack Obama.  Axelrod added, “Even the press briefings, the gist of his remarks every night is, here is what I am doing for you, and everybody is happy and nobody’s ever seen anything like it. He can’t help himself. He is a frenetic self-promoter.”
Timothy O’Brien, author of the biography “TrumpNation,” which chronicles Trump’s life in business, said Trump then was “a performance artist,” fixating on the cosmetics and atmospherics of a deal more than the details. “He personalizes every moment he is in right now because that’s how he has always rolled for 73 of his 73 years, which is to say he’s the master of his domain, what’s on the playing field are his toys, and people who don’t comport with his goals are off base,” said O’Brien, a vocal Trump critic who advised former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign and is a senior columnist at Bloomberg Opinion.  But when things go awry, such as the drain on medical supplies in New York and other hot spots, Trump has been swift in shirking responsibility or claiming ignorance.” See

At a news briefing on April 13, Trump asserted that “...he has total authority to reopen the economy, not the states.”  When asked what authority he has to reopen the country, he didn’t hesitate to answer: I have the ultimate authority,” the president responded, cutting off the reporter who was speaking.  Trump later told reporters, “When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total and that’/s the way it’s got to’s total. The governors know that.” Trump said the local leaders “can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.” 
Robert Chesney, a law professor at The University of Texas at Austin said, “This isn’t ancient Rome where there’s a special law that says in the event of an emergency all the regular rules are thrown out the window and one person, whom they called the dictator, gets to make the rules for the duration of the emergency.  We don’t have a system like that.” Not only does the power Trump asserted have no basis in reality, experts said, but it’s also completely antithetical to the Constitution, the concept of federalism and the separation of powers--whether during a time of emergency or not.” Vice President Pence was the only authority to back Trump, saying, “Make no mistake about it, in the long history of this country, the authority of the president during national emergencies is unquestionably plenary.”   See 

A number of Constitutional authorities refuted Trump’s claim of ultimate authority the day after he made it, forcing Trump to walk back his assertion of ultimate power.  He has since said that governors will make the decisions on when to open their states for business. Hopefully, Pence also got the word.   

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