As Donald Trump prepares to assume power, it’s time to recall Robert Louis Stevenson's terrifying tale of another infamous split personality, “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Doctor Jekyll was a 19th Century London physician who, despite his surface respectability, sensed dark, evil impulses surging within. Hoping to liberate himself from that torment, the doctor concocts a potion that temporarily transforms him into a grossly deformed monster, Mr. Hyde. Hyde then roams London’s tenebrous streets, spreading terror, free of any constraining conscience. When things get out of hand, a sip of the potion transforms the dreadful fiend back to his former reputable persona, Doctor Jekyll.
Which brings us back to President-elect Donald Trump—also a man of two starkly divergent characters.
There are different views on what that fraught psychological state portends. Fearing the worst, many liberal, minority, and civil right organisations are already girding for an epic battle. Others, however, among them Republicans who just a few weeks ago claimed to be horrified by candidate Trump, have, since his victory, been doing their damndest to play down and danger.
Many would like to believe that the vicious, unhinged side of Donald Trump on full display during the campaign--the chilling vituperations, blatant lies, racial insults, violent personal attacks, the alt-right gauleiters he recruited to achieve final victory, all that was simply an act, a skilled showman’s tactic, to get himself elected.
Now that the messy, unpleasant phase is over, Trump will revert to his true persona----his rational, coherent. Doctor Jekyll self. In addition, close family members and advisors will keep the neurotic, brutish side of Trump at bay.
That’s what the optimists say, as much to reassure themselves as the rest of us.
It would be a relief if they were right, but I subscribe to a much more pessimistic view--which brings me back to Stevenson's dark, psychological thriller.
Loose in London’s shadowy streets, unchecked by any sense of morality, Hyde carries out increasingly brutal acts of violence. Meanwhile, an appalled Dr. Jekyll also finds he is losing control of the transformation process: he is now turning into the monstrous Mr. Hyde involuntarily, without even taking the potion.
And Mr. Trump?
The President-elect’s starkly split character is reflected in the two radically different figures he chose as top advisors. Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican Party, a conservative pol, with strong links to his party’s establishment. will be Trump’s chief of staff. But given equal billing as Trump’s chief strategist and senior counsellor, is Steve Bannon, the rabidly right wing head of Breibart News, clarion for the racist, nativist alt-right, with a history of trashing minorities and traditional politicians.
Though Priebus, and other relative moderates still to be appointed, will ride herd on Trump, at the same time Steve Bannon and his extremist gang will always be ready to ignite the deranged, paranoid side of the next president, whenever it suits their purpose.
The upshot many fear is that Trump’s Mr. Hyde will never be brought under control. The President-elect’s neurotic, dysfunctional other will thrive in the Oval Office. It could very conceivably plunge America into a hellish abyss from which the U.S., its institutions, and traditions may take decades to emerge; if they ever do.
That’s a worse case scenario, to be sure. But there is no reason to think that the essential Donald Trump has undergone—or will undergo—a dramatic personality change.
Time after time, by his own, impulsive words and actions during the campaign Trump proved himself to be a brutish, bullying, hopelessly narcissistic, pathological liar.
That visage was not a mask donned to fire up the crowds and get votes. That was—and is—an integral component of Donald Trump. You don’t blandly create and then discard such an incredibly fraught personality. Indeed, according to the author who ghostwrote Trump’s “The Art of the Deal,” Trump has always been like that.
That’s Trump’s Mr. Hyde, away from the carefully scripted Teleprompter. That’s the persona alone at night with his alarmingly warped view of the world, and his Twitter account with the remarkably frank handle: “ @real Donald Trump.”
One facet of the President-elect may may really not have seriously believed many of his most incendiary campaign vows. That non-ideological, pragmatic persona might be convinced to change or drop key promises, depending on whom he last speaks with.
But, when it comes to the most important issue of all---dealing with real or perceived criticism--attacks against him or those closely connected with him--that’s an entirely different matter.
Trump has always instinctively and viciously lashed back, no holds barred. No matter who the perceived critic; no matter how much such petty rages tarnish his image. And that’s not going to change. Take his reaction to the thousands of protestors who spontaneously took to the streets in the aftermath of his victory.
Though Trump had bowed to pressure from top advisors to abstain from using his Tweeter account, once the campaign was over he could no longer contain his obsessive paranoia.
“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”
But then someone from Trump’s camp subdued the President-elect. The result was a new very unconvincing Tweet. “Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!”
You just knew that was not the real Donald Trump. Then, in the midst of choosing his top appointees, the essential Donald emerged again.
It came after Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended the Broadway megahit, “Hamilton.” Pence was first booed when he entered the theatre; then at the end of the play was the object of a prepared statement read by a cast member from the stage, respectfully requesting that the new Trump government “uphold our American values” and “work on behalf of all of us.”
Unable to restrain his Pavlovian self, Trump again took to Twitter, lashing out at the cast for having “harassed” ....”our wonderful future VP Mike Pence.”
“This should not happen!” He railed, and followed with another furious Tweet that ended with the imperious command: “Apologize!”
His erratic feuding with the media continued when he summoned a group of top TV reporters to the Trump Tower, then submitted them to a humiliating tongue-lashing for the multiple ways in which they’d ganged up and lied about the President-elect.
That’s just for starters. Once he is actually president, Trump’s relations with the mainstream media are certain to plummet even further.
Though the non-ideological side of Trump may indeed be ready to compromise on major issues, many of his key staff, like Steve Bannon, are not going to let Trump off the hook, nor are the other right-wing firebrands who cheered on Trump’s most outrageous campaign pledges.
No sooner, for instance, did Trump reveal to the New York Times editors that he was not planning to prosecute Hillary Clinton, then Breitbart News—headed by Bannon, immediately headlined “Broken Promise.”
Trump is going to have to be constantly tossing red meat to the alt-right in return for their support.
There is little doubt that once he actually begins enacting the new laws and decrees; once it is also clear that outrageous personal and business scandals are going to be a hallmark of his administration; then the protests will grow and spread. The scathing investigative reports and editorials will become ever more probing and critical.
Who then will be able to control that dark inner-self, the seething paranoid in the Oval Office, whose instinctive reaction to challenge and criticism is fierce, brutal reprisal. The candidate who encouraged the crowds to beat up hecklers, and offered to pay the legal bills of anyone charged with such assault, will now have the whole panoply of the U.S. government at his disposal.
The man who saw endless conspiracies, who advocated torture or worse, who lauded Guantanamo, who threatened to put his opponent in prison; now, as President of the United States, will head a mammoth “security” establishment that already gathers data on millions of Americans. He will also shape the Supreme Court, control both Houses of Congress, and head the largest military machine the world has ever known.
Once it is also clear that many of his most drastic campaign promises are not going to be carried out because they are just not feasible, and that he is also unable to create hundreds of thousands of new manufacturing jobs—because the work is being done increasingly by robots, not by humans--then the white males who were his core supporters may also become bitterly disillusioned.
Trump will almost certainly blame his failures on the opposition, condemning his most outspoken opponents as traitors, enemies of the state. Congress and the Attorney General might launch investigations of George Soros, the American Civil Liberties Union, and The New York Times. The FBI could also begin a full-bore inquiry into The Clinton Foundation. Though Trump has said he has no further interest in prosecuting Hillary, he might easily change his mind if she and her husband take leading roles in the mounting protests.
Trump’s Mr. Hyde would now be in full control, fired up by Steve Bannon and the alt-right. Opposition rallies would be banned. The press would be cowed by hugely expensive law suits, pressure on advertisers, appeals to national security, and old-fashioned violence. There would be massive arrests and “disappearances,” reports of a new secret police responsible directly to the White House, rumours of new “black prisons.
Having drawn up a list of those people who had criticised Trump during the campaign, the Washington Post might announce that several of them, including five women who had claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Trump, had had serious accidents or sudden financial problems over the past few months. Word might also leak out that 13 FBI agents who refused to water board domestic detainees, were arrested themselves, accused of being part of the opposition’s treasonous plots.
If all this seems somewhat outlandish, absurd, the Dystopian ravings of an inane blogger, think back to June, 2015 when the two personas of Donald Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower, to announce to the flock of bemused reporters that—though registering only 1% in the polls--Trump was going to run for President of the United States.