“You don't know until you test it, but I think, I really believe I'd run in there, even if I didn't have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that too.”
You heard it right, America. These are the brave words from our president, the same man who weaseled out of military service five times, claiming his feet weren’t up to the task. Yes, his feet. The same feet he was going to use at seventy-one-years-old to run toward danger had he been (coulda, woulda) outside Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School during the time of February 14’s mass shooting.
With these self-delusional words Donald Trump enters the rarefied circle of self-delusional leaders, most recently occupied by a despot The Don himself calls Little Rocket Man — Kim Jong Un.
Korea’s supreme leader (Kim Jong Un’s blowhard title, not mine) frequently boasts about his own prowess, and some of his stories are so absurd they’re laughable, like the myth he shot eleven hole-in-ones during the first round of golf he ever played. Trump, who once criticized Obama’s time on the links yet has already spent more time golfing than any president in office, doesn’t know much about history, but I’ll bet he knows this “historic” golf story.
Kim Jong Un’s feat is an implausible joke, but when the man telling the joke is the leader of a nation with potential nuclear capabilities, the laugh track has devastating subtext. If there’s even a trace of belief in Kim Jong Un’s mind that he golfed like a mythological god, there’s a good chance his god-like self-image is a solidified (and very dangerous) part of his psyche. Bottom line: It’s easier for an immortal to push the button than a mortal because the stakes are far lower. That’s a real fear predicated on a fake story.
Donald Trump has not yet mythologized himself as a sportsman — even he has enough humility to keep stories of his physical superiority vague like the vague doctor’s report after his pre-election physical exam. Trump, a skilled marketer if nothing else, recognizes that sometimes it’s better to have others do the advertising for you, highlighted by these words from his arm-twisted personal physician, "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."
I know you dislike Barack Obama, Mr. Trump, but I’ll just use the preceding president as an example to refute your doctor’s words. Compared to Obama, you are not healthy. Compared to Obama, you are not in shape. I can state this unequivocally. President Obama would beat you in a race, in a game of hoops, and, since you’re now boasting about how fearless you are, in a boxing ring, where the toughest, bravest men ply their athletic trade, sometimes with fatal consequences.
Where Trump gets his bloated self-confidence is for the experts on narcissistic psychoses to explore. But I can say this. I’ve covered boxing for a long time. On the sidelines of this sport that’s more than sport, resides a certain kind of man, always a fan (never a fighter) who latches on to professional fighters. This fan, groupie, whatever you want to call him, often changes the way he acts around fighters, believing in the most self-delusional way that by virtue of hanging out in a dressing room or watching a fight from a ringside seat, he’s a genuinely tough guy. He’s not. In so many ways, that self-delusional fraud is Donald Trump — the kind of guy who hangs around tough guys too much, who admires tough guys too much, and who has come to believe he’s a tough guy himself.
Donald Trump has surrounded himself with body guards for a long time. He’s surrounded himself with prize fighters too, most famously with Mike Tyson — for the record, Iron Mike fought at a Trump-owned casino four times. Today President Trump is surrounded by secret service and military people, men who have served, men who have run into danger, not run (with bad feet) away from it.
So what typically happens to non-tough guys who hang around with the real deals? They start talking tough.
Donald Trump, who has criticized the bravest of the brave like John McCain, who criticizes the best of the brave like those who serve in our justice department, and who today branded a whole swath of Broward County law-enforcement officials as “disgraceful” and “disgusting,” is a tough talker. And like a kid who has seen too many super-hero movies, President Trump today inferred that he could have figured out a way, once in that high school and with his bare hands, to stop a shooter with an automatic weapon.
The truth is that Donald Trump would have run far and fast as soon as he heard the first shot. I believe this because when he was called to serve, which required non-split-second action (which means he had plenty of time to control his fear), Donald Trump decided to avoid danger by going straight to the doctor’s office with the paltriest excuse.
President Trump is now in faster-than-a-silver-bullet, self-mythologizing mode, creating a cartoon of himself. He’s talking the talk. And when enough people listen, or at least don’t refute, talkers start believing their own bulls***. Kim Jong Un wouldn’t correct you if you congratulated him on his eleven hole-in-ones. Donald Trump wouldn’t correct you if you told him about his coulda, woulda prowess.
I can’t help thinking about that most famous boxing line from "On the Waterfront" when Marlon Brando, playing washed-up fighter Terry Malloy, tells his gangster brother, “I coulda been a contender.”
Perhaps fictional Terry Malloy actually coulda — he was a prize fighter, after all, not someone who just hung out with tough guys, but someone who bravely walked those three steps into the ring, a squared circle where truths about real character are revealed.
As for Donald Trump? No, he could never have been a contender, certainly not in the ring, certainly not in a school where another coward, one with an automatic weapon, stalked the halls. President Trump’s words about what he coulda, woulda done are painfully and pitifully absurd.
Adam Berlin is the author of "Both Members of the Club" (winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize), "The Number of Missing,” "Belmondo Style" (winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award), and “Headlock." He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-edits "J Journal: New Writing on Justice" (AdamBerlin.com). For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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