Eventually people tell us who they are. Some politicians and performers obscure it with dramatic techniques, so we have to listen more closely. Not so with Donald Trump. With every movement and sound that he makes, Trump tells us the truth and reveals himself. He explained this to me in the five meetings we had during my excavation of his life story. Consider two answers Trump offered to questions that arose in those sessions:
In response to a question about his sincerity Trump said:
"I think I'm so honest that it gets me in trouble. I'm a very smart person. I could give an answer that's perfect and everything's fine and nobody would care about it, nobody would write about it, or I could give an honest answer, which becomes a big story."
When asked about his temperament he said:
"I don't think people change very much. You may slow down, but honestly? I've known many people for many years, and they've never changed. I don't think people change. I'm a very big believer in the fact that when you are a certain way, pretty much that's the way you are. When environmental situations change, conditions change, wealth changes both up and down, health changes -- but I think basically a personality is set from very early, very close to the time of birth. If I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I don't think I'm that different. No, really!"
The most recent controversy prompted by Trump's honesty and his first-grader temperament revolves around the contorted gestures and strange tone of voice he employed as he criticized reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a disability. Keenly concerned with his own appearance -- consider the construction of his own hair -- Trump is such a careful performer that every movement he makes must be considered intentional. In this case he used a crude, mocking, schoolyard imitation of disability to deflect attention from his presumably "honest" assertion that he saw "thousands and thousands" of Muslim Americans in New Jersey celebrating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 like tailgaters at a football game.
Trump could not have seen thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey, either in person or on TV, because the celebration never happened. However this fact does not dissuade Trump, because he was honest, according to his own standards, when he made his original statement.
And the gestures he made as he spoke of Serge Kovaleski? Here the first grader comes to the fore, asking us to deny what we've seen and heard. The same little boy spoke to us after Trump's sexist insults of Fox News host Megyn Kelly and candidate Carly Fiorina. In both cases he insisted he was being misunderstood. In other controversies Trump has simply denied saying things that have been faithfully recorded and dwell in the public record. He is like the kid whom we see smashing our window with his baseball and then denies what he did as he asks for its return.
Equipped with billions of dollars and gifted in demagoguery, Trump has ridden his honesty and temperament to the lead in the race to be the GOP's candidate for president. At his campaign rallies he plays a dangerous game of egging-on his supporters as they confront dissenters, sometimes with physical violence. Respect for differences, of the sort one might learn in, say elementary school, is not an important consideration in these moments, but then, as Trump once told me, "for the most part, you can't respect people because most people aren't worthy of respect."
In the White House, a president Trump would be free to pursue all the policies a first grader might desire and in the style of a bully boy. He could follow through on his desire to violate the civil rights of Muslim Americans, deny the reality of climate change, and order the world's most powerful military to "bomb the shit out of" terrorists in the Middle East. If this comes to pass, no one should be surprised. He's been telling us who he is all along.