"A tale of sound and fury, told by an idiot, signifying nothing."
The indelible phrase is from Macbeth, Shakespeare's drama of a regicide whose bloody ambition and untethered soul tears apart his country. But it perfectly captures Donald Trump's campaign for president -- a howling hurricane of destruction whose core is as empty as the man.
For Trump, analogies to populists like Huey Long simply do not suffice. Such demagogues had a vision of the future, however distorted, which was grounded in more than the random or ephemeral. Nor does a comparison to Ted Cruz hold up. Cruz's obvious lies and deceptions have a consistent thread -- tactical positioning -- which makes him cognizable, even predictable, in the context of our politics.
Not so Trump. The unique danger he poses is his weightlessness. His sturm and drang emanates from the combustible combination of stupefying ignorance with a flippancy so vast that whatever he tells us, however inflammatory, has the half-life of a fruit fly. This profound detachment from the reality of the office he seeks -- indeed, from other human beings -- reduces his campaign to a psychodrama driven by the fleeting spotlight of the moment. One searches in vain for consistency or meaning.
There is none. Instead, Trump fills his own emptiness with a sound and fury meant to gratify his needs in the here and now.
His rallies are incitements to anger and division, barren of ideas and bereft of policy. He castigates the press and protesters -- often minorities -- then excuses acts of violence spurred by his provocations. He recites the names of young people killed by Mexican "illegals" and analogizes Muslims to snakes. He tells a story of General Black Jack Pershing executing Philippine rebels -- Muslims again -- with bullets dipped in pigs' blood. He casts himself as the victim of an ever-shifting conspiracy in which all those who are "unfair' to "Trump" seek to rob his followers of a voice. He warns of riots in Cleveland if he is denied the nomination. He has no interest in consequence beyond the howls of his audience.
For Trump, others exist only as an extension of himself. Thus his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski serves not as a tactician, but as Trump's thuggish doppelgänger. The result is unprecedented in the annals of our campaigns. Routinely, Lewandowski has threatened rivals and yelled obscenities at members of the press. Even more remarkably, he was caught on videotape collaring a protester and, days later, grabbing a female reporter by the arm to wrench her away from his master.
The latter incident showed the two men to be twinned by the lies, bullying and slander which are endemic to Trump's character. The ultimate decision not to prosecute Lewandowski is in no way redemptive of his conduct -- or Trump's. Denying the incontrovertible evidence of the tape, Lewandowski called the reporter "totally delusional," while Trump mocked her for complaining. When police charged Lewandowski with battery, noting the bruises on the woman's arm, Trump asked reporters, "How do you know those bruises weren't there before?"
Startling in any normal candidate, Trump's behavior reflects the hollowness within. For Trump, truth is evanescent, reality ever-changing, the humanity of others of no concern. Nor does it surprise that he treated a woman with such contempt, for within Trump's void lurks a misogyny which borders on unhinged.
Indeed, Trump seems to have no inner mechanism to control it. Instead of trying to mime a would-be president, Trump marked his electoral victories by renewing what Fox aptly called his "sick obsession" with Megan Kelly -- in Trump's distorted view, a "bimbo" whose pointed question about his chronic disparagement of women, he implied last summer, emanated from menstruation. Remarkably, Trump never grasps that each new slur emblazons his misogyny on the public consciousness, suggesting a pathology which grows like kudzu.
Hence Trump's drive-by mauling of Heidi Cruz, about whom he threatened to "spill the beans" -- a supposed reprisal for an ad featuring a semi-nude Melania aired by a SuperPAC unrelated to Cruz. Undeterred by fact, Trump then compared the two women on the level he prefers, tweeting an unflattering photograph of Heidi next to one of his supermodel wife. In a candidate for president, one can but marvel at a compulsion so powerful that it obliterates all dignity or grace.
But the most comprehensive portrait of Trump's unwholesome nooks and crannies comes from Franklin Foer. Writing in Slate, Foer catalogs in detail the candidate's contempt for women.
No surprise that sexual boasting has been Trump's calling card since high school -- a phase which seems never to have ended. But its flagrancy in adulthood bursts the bounds. Piqued at some on-air mockery by Tucker Carlson, Trump left Carlson a voicemail proclaiming that he -- Trump -- got more sex. On another occasion he called into a talk show to inform a guest, "I've been successful with your girlfriend, I'll tell you that." This is not, it is fair to say, reflective of a presidential mettle.
But Trump's favorite indulgence is verbal cruelty to women themselves. When he judged contestants in his Miss Universe pageant unattractive, he ordered them to go stand with their fellow "discards", reducing some to tears. He sent Gail Collins a copy of on unfavorable column with her picture labeled, "The Face of a Dog." He demeans women with labels like "fat ass" and "slob" so routinely that the accumulation numbs.
As for the rest, I will spare you an ex-wife's account of sexual mistreatment -- you can read the article yourself. Suffice it to say it is no surprise from a man who once told New York magazine, "Women, you have to treat them like shit."
This is the echo of sexual fury in the empty soul of a man who should never be president.
Whatever dwells in this wormhole distorts not just his sense of women, but of the larger world. His contract for campaign volunteers bars them from criticizing Trump, his family, his businesses, his products, or his campaign -- for life. His balance sheet overstates his self-proclaimed "massive wealth" to a degree which smacks of fraud. Oblivious to the First Amendment, he proposes revising libel laws to facilitate lawsuits against those who criticize him. His chief advisor, he assures us, is Donald Trump.
And so the tale of sound and fury which is his campaign is, indeed, told by an idiot -- the definition of which includes "ignoramus." For only an idiot would be insensate to the boundless ignorance he so casually displays.
His moral void is matched by void of substance. His inner voice on foreign policy is the babbling of a fool. Every question is a surprise to him, something he has never thought about; every answer is meaningless, the transitory improvisation of an empty mind. The impact of his words is of no concern to him -- if need be, he can simply change them. For Trump, tomorrow is not merely another day, but terra incognita.
The only constant is his indifference to anything a president should know. That the world is a dangerous place seems never to have occurred to him. He vows to rid us of an "obsolete" NATO, upending the balance of power with Russia. He prefers a nuclear South Korea and Japan to the expense of helping defend them, reversing a half-century of U.S. foreign policy in the face of North Korea's burgeoning nuclear program.
He muses about using nuclear weapons against ISIS or in a European ground war. He advocates waterboarding and harsher forms of torture. He rejects all Muslim immigration, no matter how victimized refugees may be, portraying America to the world as racist, xenophobic, and mindlessly inimical to all Muslims. And, in doing all this, he becomes a dangerous propaganda tool for jihadists of every stripe.
He insults our most powerful European ally, Germany, asserting -- falsely -- that it has not stood up to Vladimir Putin. He insists that German society is "being destroyed" by "tremendous crime" -- implicitly targeting the Muslims who are his universal scapegoat. He complains that the Iranian nuclear deal is causing American businesses to lose out to Europe on trade deals with Iran -- wholly unaware that it is the Republican Congress, not the terms of the deal, which imposes sanctions on such trade.
But the mouse droppings of his mind accumulate apace. To make Mexico pay for his vaunted wall, he proposes cutting off all wire transfers from the United States to Mexicans, no matter how small -- prompting President Obama to remark "good luck with that." He threatens China with a trade war which would dislocate the world economy. The grasp of geopolitics required from a president is alien to Trump. Nicholas Burns, an undersecretary of state under George W. Bush, puts the matter succinctly: "He doesn't understand diplomacy is not the zero-sum world of commercial real estate, hotels and golf courses."
Heedless, Trump careens on, breaking diplomatic china as he goes. He touts the virtues of "unpredictability" in American foreign policy, an insight no doubt derived from listening to his own contradictory ramblings. His so-called team of advisors is composed of nonentities, several of whom he has never met. Little wonder that his prescriptions for our most dangerous foreign policy challenges change from moment to moment, like the stories of a child who keeps getting caught in lies. But not to worry: Trump promises to compel respect for America based on "the aura of personality" -- his own.
That Trump substitutes himself for substance epitomizes his vacuity. For Trump, policy, like truth, is perishable and contingent, derived from nothing and meant to disappear. The Economist Intelligence Unit, whose mission is to think about such things, warns that as president Trump would seriously damage global growth -- in part because his idiocy would stimulate global terrorism.
But his matching idiocy on domestic issues dispels the fantasy that there is any area where Trump knows what he is saying, or even remembers what he said the day before.
According to health care experts, his "plan" for replacing Obamacare is writ in vapor. But it is his pronouncements on the economy which completely displace reality as we know it.
Remarkably, he pledges to pay off our $19 trillion national debt "over a period of eight years." A leading budgetary think-tank, the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, took a pencil to this nonsense. The results provoke amazement. For Trump's proposal to become reality, he would either have to shrink the federal budget by two thirds, or raise our annual growth rate -- now projected at 2 percent -- to 46 percent. If one rules out cutting Social Security -- which Trump does -- he would need to slash the rest of the budget by 93 percent. Selling every asset the government possesses would not cover a fraction of his goal.
But his plan is even more hallucinatory than that. Remarkably, the tax cut he proposes would double the national debt, making the impossible twice as hard. Yet he promises to balance the budget, protect entitlements, and preserve essential services.
How? By cutting "waste and fraud and abuse," and abolishing the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. If you are struggling to construct a coherent picture from the puzzle pieces of Trump's thinking, so has every expert who has tried, only to discover that the task resembles reconstructing the theory of relativity from the detritus of a madman's brain.
Yet Trump topped all this by talking down the economy in a distinctly un-presidential way, predicting a "massive recession" caused by an enormous stock bubble. Fortunately, he tells us, there is one solution -- electing him as president.
Before you jump at this opportunity, a small word of caution. In 2011, Trump predicted that Obamacare would cause unemployment to spurt above 9 percent. And in 2012, he forecast that Obama's reelection would cause oil and gas prices to go "through the roof like never before." One can get better advice from the crazy uncle who buries gold in his backyard.
Here we should pause to stare into the abyss which is Donald Trump, for its full dimensions are difficult to grasp.
He is a unique figure in the history of America's major parties: not merely a demagogue, but one so completely unmoored that his world is a kaleidoscope of incoherence. There is no one home, and nothing in his head. He is Chance Gardner from Jerzy Kozinski's "Being There," save that his inanity is not concealed by delphic ambiguities, but by banal bluster about magically making us great again. Never before have so many Americans considered electing a man so transcendently empty, so deeply disturbed, so utterly divorced from the gravity of the job he pursues, so completely determined to risk his country for his own solipsistic ends.
This idiot's tale, indeed, signifies nothing -- no substance, no future, no hope. Nothing but another terrifying void -- the black hole in our politics from which he emerged to seek the attention he so desperately needs in order to fill, at whatever cost, the vacuum within.