Perhaps Donald Trump’s most salient psychological characteristic is his tendency to complain loudly and publicly if he does not get his way: that is, his tendency to be a crybaby. So why, then, is he so popular with his supporters? Weren’t they the ones who hated the culture of offense, the sensitiveness that was forcing them to use “he” for transsexual men, to avoid touching women who didn’t want to be touched, and to refrain from saying “n****r” in polite company? Why would they back a man who has an emotional meltdown and demands a safe space when a group of actors nicely asks his vice president not to kill them?
But their hatred of complaint is only a hatred of others complaints. These are aggrieved people: They are aggrieved by your grievances, by your refusal to agree with them. The problem was, their grievance at being disagreed with did not have a spokesperson. There was no loud, whiney voice they could rally behind, no one to cry at the injustices they have suffered when they were told to extend basic courtesies to women wearing headscarves, men who pray while facing East, and those who preferred that you call them “Sheila,” instead of “Bob.”
And now they have their complainer, a man who takes offense at all the things they take offense at. That is: he hates it when he is called out. And he lets you know, by whining. So of course, his whining doesn’t bother them, it speaks for and to them.
And it’s not just whining: it’s a particular brand of juvenile whining, crybabism. Trump employs grade-school terms in his complaints. He said that the NY Times had a “nasty tone” when they talked about him. He said they were “not nice.” And most notably, he has repeatedly said that people were “unfair.” Often, he writes this as a single-world sentence: “Unfair!” Journalists were unfair. The recount is “unfair.” People who booed him were “unfair.” Protesters are being “unfair.” As a child I was told, when I would complain about something being unfair, that life isn’t fair. But if you’ve spent your whole life never having a boss, answering to no one, and getting whatever you want with no disagreement because you are rich and pay for the company of those around you, then even minor disagreement will seem “unfair,” because people disagreeing with you violates the rules you’ve always played by.
The other important aspect of crybabyism is that the complaints are always about himself. Trump never complains on behalf of an idea, an ideal of justice, or for others who have been oppressed. When heavily pressured, he offered a wan denunciation of those engaging in racist harassment in his name, but he never complained about what they did, and seemed surprised that he was expected to speak up. Why should he address these racist acts? They’re not directed at him? Thus, in response, and only when pressured, he offered the wan, “If it — if it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.'”.
This is crybabyism: a constant sense that the world is unfair to you, and that the only grievances that count are your grievances. It’s what allows Trump to think that being parodied on a comedy show is so much more important than a series of racist attacks, or the threat of global warming, or the thousands of people in desperate need of aid as they try to escape a warzone. Of course, Trump and the crybabyists can care about larger issues, but only insofar as these are their issues. Trump may speak out against ‘political correctness,’ but only because he sees himself as a victim of it, in that he has been called out for being racist and a sexual harasser. Were he to wake up tomorrow as a woman, no doubt he would have a different attitude about harassment and rape, because then those would be his concerns.
In a sense, crybabyism is a form of what Nietzsche called “ressentiment,” or resentment. But it’s not simply Nietzschean resentment: that was the reaction of the oppressed to their oppression, a psychological trick for dealing with the inability to strike back at those who harmed them. Trump’s resentment is the product of not understanding that he is the oppressor. It comes not from his being oppressed, but from his infantile sense that not constantly being agreed with, not always getting his way, is a form of oppression.
Of course, in essence, crybabyism is not a political philosophy or even truly an ideology, but rather a vice or personal failing. But when that vice is attached to the most powerful person in the world, it transforms itself into a form of politics: whatever is important to the leader personally is now the most important thing in the world.
And that’s frightening.