Insisting that you are the best is part of being the worst

SHARE Insisting that you are the best is part of being the worst

You would think being president would be enough for Donald Trump, columnist Neil Steinberg writes. | Getty Images

Buckle up. You’re about to read the best column ever written, penned by the greatest columnist Chicago has ever known.

Kidding. Let’s talk about grandiosity.

Even if I thought the opening sentence were true — which, for the record, I most profoundly do not — I’d have enough self-awareness not to say it. Everyone hates a braggart and wants to bring him down, even when he is correct.

Especially when he’s correct.

When he isn’t, when his claims are just oblivious flummery, it just seems sad and deranged. Think of the stereotypical insane asylum. Who does the cliched inmate believe himself to be? Napoleon, right? Delusions of grandeur.

I do not want to join the platoon of armchair psychiatrists speculating about the mental health of the president of the United States. I am not qualified to diagnose what may be wrong with him. And I recognize that a significant, if dwindling, chunk of the country thinks that the only thing wrong with the president is the vast deep state conspiracy allied against him. A mindset we can examine another day.


Consider what the man says.

“Look at the way I have been treated lately, especially by the media,” Donald Trump told the graduating class at the United States Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday. “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Really? Because there are a lot of politicians, and history is a long time. Even focusing just on presidents — four have been assassinated, which is very unfair indeed. Abraham Lincoln was lampooned as an ape and an imbecile by Southern newspapers. Franklin Roosevelt was tarred as a communist by the Chicago Tribune, running headlines such as “MOSCOW ORDERS REDS IN U.S. TO BACK ROOSEVELT”  and passing along unsubstantiated rumors that his bust was on display at the Lenin Museum.  Gerald Ford. Ford, actually an athlete who played college football, was repeatedly mocked as a klutz on Saturday Night Live.

Everything is superlative to Trump.

“My IQ is one of the highest!” he boasted.

“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” he crowed.

I could give a dozen more examples.

And here’s the irony. He actually is the best at something. Donald Trump really is the president of the United States. You’d think that would be grandeur aplenty for him. It humbles most men. But it isn’t. Not even the day he was inaugurated, he instantly engaged in a petty tiff with the Park District because his crowd wasn’t as big as Barack Obama’s. The photos offered incontrovertible proof. But Trump, being grandiose, had to argue, in defiance of the facts. Would you have done that? Would anybody? Besides Trump, that is.

When Trump supporters write in, they often claim that I “hate” Trump. Perhaps because hate is what jolts them out of bed in the morning and explains much of their view of the world. But truly, sincerely I don’t hate Trump at all. I feel sorry for him. And of course I feel sorry for us, for the country, for having to deal with him. Sorry that being president obviously doesn’t make him happy, and he manifests his unhappiness with these desperate fumbles, these grasps at a glory that eludes him, every single day. Character is destiny. Richard Nixon, too, was insecure, and in trying to rig an election he was certain to win anyway, doomed his presidency. Donald Trump is suffering the same fate, before our eyes.

Americans can learn from his example. We all have egos, and most of us have a tendency toward grandiosity. We pretend to be better, richer, smarter, prettier than we really are. There’s nothing wrong with that in small doses. It’s called being human. But grandiosity is a character flaw to be fought. Humility used to be a cherished American value. But then so did competence. And expertise. Maybe someday those values will rise again. The sad spectacle of our current president’s insatiable hunger for unearned acclaim will no doubt hasten that day.

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