In trying to understand Donald Trump, says Andrew Sullivan on Substack, I often think back to his very first day in office. At his inauguration in 2017, the crowds were large, but understandably not as huge as the masses who had turned up to see the first black president swear his oath in 2009. “This was not in dispute by any sane person.” Anyone could compare photos; the National Park Service confirmed it. Yet Trump “insisted his crowds were larger”. He persuaded his spokesman to go out and reiterate the lie again and again. It’s likely he still believes this obvious falsehood, with “absolute certainty and mindless passion”.
Trump’s “pathological narcissism” is so intense that it renders him “effectively insane”. He is “beyond truth and lies”: his ego is everything; there is nothing outside it. That’s why the latest indictment, which relies on proving his “knowing mendacity”, will be so hard to make stick. The journalist Michael Wolff, “who has observed Trump close-up”, says everyone who spoke to the president after his 2020 defeat was “at least a little shaken by his absolute certainty that the election really was stolen from him”. But it ought to be irrelevant whether he believed it or not. What matters is that he acted on his belief in a bid to overturn an election result, “ending the American experiment in self-government”. Unless he is successfully prosecuted, we risk entering “late-stage democratic collapse”, where tribalism overwhelms reason, debate is gone, and all that matters is “who can win power by any means”.