There is one man who just might be able to save the world from Donald Trump: we need to run Al Franken for President.
A few months back, psychiatrist Bandy Lee invited me to the launch of the second edition of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump at the National Press Club. I flew up to D.C. the day before the afternoon event, and stayed up too late. I got up the next morning, badly in need of a decent cup of coffee, and I blearily threw on some clothes and trudged down to Bread Furst (highly recommended when you’re in the Beltway).
On the way, I was thinking about this blog. Each post takes a lot of time, as does monitoring it and promoting it, and I need to start focusing on my next book. Should I discontinue the blog? Should I cut back on it?
As I was stumbling down the sidewalk, I remembered that I had laid out several blog posts in order to write this one on Al Franken. I was thinking about that as I walked up to Bread Furst. Then as I reached for the door, it suddenly opened from the other side. I found myself face to face with…
The Doorway Encounter
So I did what any intelligent person would do. I squinted at him through my drowsy haze, and said, “Uhhhhh… ”
To be honest, my first reaction was, “This isn’t Al Franken, it’s somebody else, I’m just not awake yet.” The problem is, Franken doesn’t exactly have a generic face: the salt & pepper shag, the eyebrows, the big scholarly glasses. He was also looking at me with his trademark grin, although in this case, with a decidedly bemused aspect to it.
Finally I managed to mutter, “I need to email you something, I’ll send it to your assistant.” I apologized for disturbing his morning, and went in.
A few moments later he had to come back in for something , and as he walked past he patted me on the back. I almost spewed my coffee: a kindly pat on the back was how my Lebanese grandmother responded to people who were a few knives short of a chandelier.
Al Franken for President
Anyway, here’s what I wanted to talk with him about. I think we should run Al Franken for President.
As a Republican.
Hear me out. Granted, this would be seen as a humorous publicity stunt, but it would have a deadly serious objective, one that could literally affect the course of history. I think Franken may be the one person who can separate Donald Trump from his supporters.
Trump is a weak man, and his Achilles’ heel is that his supporters don’t yet see his weakness. For most educated and thoughtful people, his dishonesty, disrespectfulness, and his constant evasion of personal accountability are his weaknesses, and so the media harps on those. But none of it fazes his supporters, they only care that he “owns the libtards”. When Trump insults someone and doubles down rather than apologizes, his supporters eat that up. When he lies and cheats, and doubles and triples down and still gets away with it, they love it even more.
That’s because the hardcore Trump supporter is an authoritarian personality, who always seeks a strongman to protect him. Trump’s supporters feel threatened by a changing world, particularly when they feel it erodes what little power and prestige they have. And so what they want is not integrity and negotiation skills, but the opposite. They want someone who will get in the face of their perceived enemies, and tell it like it is.
This is why every time progressives and the media attack Trump, but fail to bring him down, the authoritarian personalities in the MAGA hats are not dissuaded, they are reassured, even overjoyed. Trump is tougher than their enemies, and he is on their side. They are following someone who can protect them.
And so Trump’s greatest weakness, ironically, would be a demonstration of his weakness. Instead of constantly saying Trump is a boor, Trump’s critics should show how weak he is. At that point, his supporters will begin to waver.
Donald Trump, Narcissist
Evidence of Trump’s weakness is not hard to find. But it occurred to me that the key to showing his supporters that he is weak may lie in Trump’s narcissism.
In the research for my last book, I spent many hours poring over the various diagnostic criteria for narcissism, and reviewing papers and case histories. In all of the clinical descriptions that I read, I thought that a key characteristic of narcissism had been omitted, which is that the full narcissist is completely unable to laugh at himself. In fact, I suspect that this deficit could be the central problem; the inability to laugh at one’s self is also the inability to criticize one’s self, and to learn from past mistakes.
This is certainly true for Donald Trump: his aides and political allies despair from his inability to learn from his past mistakes. It also represents an inability to see one’s self as a member of an egalitarian, collegial community.
A lack of self-humor reinforces the narcissist’s central need, to be above everyone else. And the authoritarian personality wants exactly that, a strongman who is above everyone else.
Which is why Trump’s narcissism is key. The man is completely unable to laugh at himself. Consider that there are many pundits who believe that Trump decided to run for President after the 2011 White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner, at which Barack Obama and Seth Myers made wild fun of Trump. In the shadowy clips of Trump sitting through the laughter, he is clearly uncomfortable.
Then recall that when Marco Rubio got people laughing at Trump, Trump was rattled. Rubio’s efforts, however, were clumsy and repetitive, and his effectiveness quickly evaporated.
Finally, there was the annual Al Smith Dinner, which traditionally invites the Presidential candidates to make fun of themselves, as well as their opponents. Trump made no biting jokes about himself; instead, he made fun of his wife, and encouraged people to laugh at her.
Which is part of his weakness. Just as Trump allowed braver men to serve in his stead in Viet Nam, here he sent someone else to take his wounds for him. When they came to tell Claudius he was the Emperor of Rome, they found him hiding behind the curtains. When Trump was named President of the United States, we found him hiding behind his wife.
And behind a lot of other people, many of whom are headed for jail.
Of course, it doesn’t work both ways. As Trump demonstrates, the narcissist easily ridicules others and laughs at them. But when others laugh at him, it throws him off of his game. He becomes angry, and has a hard time focusing.
As I noted, Trump’s supporters stay with him because he appears to be powerful, and in control; they want someone who can protect and lead them. But if Trump starts to stumble and misspeak, he will begin to look weak, and his supporters will start to desert him.
That’s where the idea of Al Franken for President comes in. For a couple of years I have been wondering what would happen if a professional comedian, one with an insider’s knowledge of politics and stumping, took on Trump on the campaign trail? I can only think of one person who fits the description.
Al Franken, Republican
Franken, of course, is a Democrat, but I propose that he switch parties, for several reasons. First, if Franken runs as a Democrat, he would not have the opportunity to square off against Trump unless he became the Democratic nominee, which is a long shot. As a GOP hopeful, however, he can go out on the road for months and roast Trump, get people laughing at him, and leave the Donald wounded, perhaps mortally, going into the final election.
Along the way, Franken can also lampoon the far-right, along with the failure of vision among conservatives: face it, this is no longer Eisenhower’s GOP. Over the last 70 years, Republicans have offered few new ideas, while monomaniacally wheedling about taxes and big government, and throwing in a hefty dose of intolerance with it.
So they have accomplished little. By accentuating their failures, Franken will drive many moderate Republicans to vote for another candidate for the Republican nomination. If Trump still prevails and makes it to the election, many of those moderates will either abstain, or vote Democrat.
Giggle-bombing the GOP would be much more than political entertainment. Liberals should also be worried about the current intellectual vacancy in the Republican Party. More important than either party is the American paradigm, which values the intellectual debate and the political dance far above the day-to-day decisions.
More than most, Franken understands the importance of disputation and debate. So the current crisis in conservatism weakens the country. But it also weakens liberals, as well: with no wily opponent nor agile dancing partner, the Democratic Party is also becoming feeble, and offers few innovative ideas.
Of course, there is the problem of Franken’s past indiscretions. To his credit, he honorably fell on his sword when these emerged. But that’s the brilliance of running in the GOP: Trump, Roy Moore, Brett Kavanaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and a host of other conservatives have made it clear that the ‘Party of Family Values’ couldn’t give a hoot about family values.
The way I see it, Franken will fit right in.
On the other hand, the relative mildness of Franken’s errors might not be offensive enough, and might possibly disqualify him as a GOP candidate. He will doubtless want to check the most recent RNC rules.
Republicans, of course, won’t show up to hear Franken speak. But that’s irrelevant, because the media will be all over it. My thought is, Franken could travel the country speaking in private venues, with all proceeds going toward local women’s crisis centers, women’s and children’s shelters, and similar services. In this way Franken can more than rehabilitate his reputation. Campaign donations would be collected in the usual way, particularly through Internet donations. The money from liberals— and from fans of fine satire— should come pouring in.
The ultimate goal, of course, would be to get Franken onto the debate stage with Trump. Because that’s where the fireworks would become simply spectacular. And if enough red state Democrats were to switch to the Republican Party, it’s possible Franken could even become the Republican nominee.
Assuming he is not elected President, after the election Franken will have positioned himself for any number of attractive options. In particular, with his unique perspective on politics and humor, he could play a critical role in grooming a new generation of political humorists. Face it, in the current era of political strife, we need more people like H.L. Mencken, Will Rogers, and Molly Ivins.
And even Mark Twain.
The Very Real Danger
There is one important caveat here: by running Al Franken for President, Trump may respond by bringing the world to the cusp of disaster, or perhaps even past the cusp. Recall Caracalla’s vengeance on the ancient Alexandrians when they ridiculed him. It would be typical of the narcissist to start a war, even a nuclear war, to silence his critics. Democrats, moderate Republicans, the Deep White State, and ordinary citizens will need to be vigilant.
The dangers of narcissism in history, politics, and the modern world are explained in my award winning book, Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation.
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