Good vs. Evil — November 2019-style

This post previously began:

At the risk of a simplistic formulation:

I realized the risk was a stupid one, in these troubled times when good and evil take their cast from political “ideology”.   So to clarify what I am setting out — good, in the abstract, is what we’d wish on ourselves and our loved ones,  if extended to everybody, would make life better, increase contentment, peace and understanding; evil, in the abstract, things done with knowledge that people are being seriously harmed, but the thing done benefits you, so what the hell?  We’ve always had war, what’s one more?)

Our fundamental moral choice as humans is to act toward others in a way that helps or hurts.   In most situations the outcome of this choice is clear, though there are complicated situations when it’s not always easy to know if our actions will result in harm or benefit.    People who routinely act based solely on what’s best for their own narrow self-interest tend to hurt others more than help them.  It’s the way justice and fairness works out in a competitive world of limited resources.  Doing good requires a high regard for others, evil uses the much lower standard of what’s better for me right now and fuck everybody else.  Sometimes this attitude of “winning” is called being “transactional”– everything is a business deal where the only consideration is being the greatest artist of the greatest deal.

On Saturday the New York Times ran an article entitled Trump Stymies California Climate Efforts Even As State Burns.   The article summarizes Trump’s long, ongoing, transactional denial of Climate Change, noting that he “directed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back nearly every federal policy designed to curb the heat-trapping fossil-fuel pollution that is the chief cause of global warming.”  [1]    As climate change-exacerbated wildfires burn, Mr. Trump continues to double down in an attempt to force the big blue state to back down from more stringent fuel emissions standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down the rapidly worsening climate catastrophe.   The only “good” that comes from denying what we are all seeing, that alarming trend that scientists have documented for years, is that reduced regulation on pollution increases profits for some already very wealthy toxic polluters.

Trump spokesman, Judd Deere, is quoted as saying California leaders “support destructive liberal policies” and the state “should focus on its own affairs rather than trying to regulate 49 other states with its big-government policies.”   Trump, for his part, seeks “to eliminate California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set standards on planet-warming tailpipe pollution that are stricter than those set by the federal government”.   

The Trump administration has also threatened to withhold highway funding, opened an antitrust investigation into California’s deal with the carmakers [who’d agreed to the more stringent emissions standard] and filed suit to block part of a state initiative to limit greenhouse gases from power plants.

Wildfires rage in increasingly hot, dry California while Trump pursues political goals for himself and his powerful backers, in this case the fossil-fuel industry and the major American automakers.    He doesn’t read the NY Times, but if he did this line might have hit home: 

“Hotter temperatures means drier vegetation, making it more likely to burn.” 

On the other hand, he no doubt reasons, fossil-fuel is a dynamite product and there’s nothing wrong with selling what the people need and want —  including big, powerful SUVs — and, that repeatedly and forcefully bitch slapping liberal California, a gigantic and powerful state that clearly is against him, is simply good politics.   I have to once again state the obvious, Trump does not “reason” in the usual way people come to reasoned conclusions — he thinks and acts the only way he knows how — by reflex.

I had a close friend for many years who was stuck in the Repetition Compulsion, painfully fighting the same fight over and over.   He had no choice, he simply had to endlessly reenact the same primal battle, with everybody he met.   It no doubt started in early childhood when, the youngest of three boys, he used to hide his candy from his older brothers and vigilantly wolf down his food at restaurants so his brothers couldn’t poach his fries.   It may seem simplistic to say, but he simply could not act any differently — not as a child, not as a teenager when I met him, not as an adult.   

He always felt he was being short-changed and would wheedle, whine and cajole his way to the better end of every deal he ever made– with the predictable result that he also eventually wore out and alienated everybody he triumphed over.  Whenever the inevitable alienation happened he always felt that he was the victim of a totally unfair “putz”.   When he ran a small business, he underpaid and exploited everyone who worked for him.  There was a lawsuit for years of unpaid overtime brought against his business right after he died.   There was no joy in any of this regular winning he did, it was simply the way it had to be for him, for no doubt painful reasons he couldn’t bear to examine.

I think of the president very much the same way.   It’s not that he wants to lie all the time — it’s pretty clear he can’t help it.   There is some demon driving him to tell lies intended to make others admire him, cheer for him, like him, love him.    We might call this the mark of an empty soul, to live entirely for the falsely-stoked admiration of others, but why be judgmental?   It’s clear he doesn’t choose to lie in the strict sense, lying is a tic he can’t control [2].   It’s the same with his reflexive need to constantly “double down.”   He doesn’t know another way to react in the zero-sum game that is the high-stakes life of a glorious winner among pathetic losers.   The thought of being seen as a “loser” is a “winner” like Mr. Trump’s ultimate nightmare.

Trump is often referred to as a narcissist.   He does tend to make everything about himself, sometimes inappropriately.   He needs praise desperately.   He expressed dismay the other day that the heroic, “talented” K-9 that chased down al-Baghdadi (to “die like a dog”) was getting more credit for the death of the notorious terrorist than he was.   He told voters in Kentucky, the night before the gubernatorial election, to think of how he, Trump, would look if a Democrat took the governor’s mansion– what a bad reflection that would be on Trump.    His business pursuits while president are another example — no reason to divest himself of anything for a mere appearance, the presidency is already costing him billions, he says, the effort to selflessly make America great again while trying to simultaneously maintain and strengthen his super-profitable worldwide brand — very, very hard!

There is a strong case to be made that Trump is a Malignant Narcissist.  This is the clinical diagnosis for someone whose narcissism causes him to be destructive to others in the eternal pursuit of elusive self-love (or whatever it is that drives this type).   Malignant Narcissism is also as close to a clinical definition of evil as we will find in the psychological literature.  Somebody (probably not wearing a MAGA hat or a Read The Transcript! t-shirt)  has filled out a scorecard for Mr. Trump, based on the clinical criteria for this horrific disorder (note, I’ve located and swapped in the same checklist, without the check boxes checked, in the name of fairness to Mr. T — you can mentally tick the boxes you thing apply):

Malignant Narcissism.jpg

Diagnostic criteria are famously open to interpretation, so even though many of these check marks might seem justifiable in the case of Donald Trump, based on what we can observe of his personality and behavior, even though we are not trained professional psychiatrists who have personally examined the president, are we?   There is no magic formula to accurately pigeon-hole the quirks of every person who seems to be acting under the sway of some psychological disorder.   You might be more comfortable comparing the president’s behavior with the checklist on this chart, which is perhaps a little less damning:


However you slice it, if you put the president’s words and actions on the table and sort them into two piles —  Probably Good and Probably Evil —  you know which pile most of his tweets, verbal attacks, insults, accusations, exaggerations, threats, lawsuits, lies, political appointments and policies would go onto.   

UNLESS, of course (and this is HUGE): you stipulate that all this black and white dividing and knee-jerk condemning of the president’s words and actions is part of a ruthless, calculated, well-orchestrated, sinister, dark money fueled conspiracy of  powerful Never-Trumpers, haters, losers, jealous, powerless, sick, dangerous politically correct Justice Warrior cucks with a vicious ax to irrationally grind against the greatest American history has ever produced.  HOW ABOUT THAT?!   WORDS TELL THE WHOLE FUCKING STORY, DON’T THEY?    READ MY SHIRT!!!


[1] In fairness to the president, he claims that Climate Change is an anti-American Chinese hoax and that ‘heat-trapping fossil-fuel pollution’ has nothing to do with anything, it’s a vicious anti-freedom Communist talking point promoted by the failing NYTimes fake news service by sick, dangerous people who irrationally hate Trump for winning, completely on his own, in 2016 (in the largest presidential landslide in American history). 

[2] Hence, any proceeding in which he is sworn to tell the truth is, inevitably,  a “perjury trap”– he has no control of his need to lie.

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