Many observers of U.S. politics believe that American voters search for traits in the next president they find lacking in the current model. If that’s true, we haven’t yet figured how to handle the problem of presidents’ runaway egos.
Partly it’s a function of modern campaigning: successful candidates speak every week for nearly two years—sometimes several times a day—with stump addresses consisting of two main elements: (a) how great they are; (b) how terrible their opponents are. If a friend acted like this, you’d do an intervention. But we applaud such behavior in our politicians. By the time they move into the White House, it’s not a pretty picture.
Bill Clinton’s sense of self-worth was so elevated that he testified under oath that when an unpaid intern serviced him in the Oval Office, she was having sex but he wasn’t. George W. Bush—in a convention speech, no less—imitated his own simian-like strut on stage while quipping that in Texas this was called “walking.” Barack Obama is so enamored of his own image that he takes selfies at funerals and retroactively inserts himself to White House website bios of previous presidents.
Yet when it comes to sheer ego, the latest entry into the 2016 presidential field makes our last three chief executives look like camera-shy Buddhist monks who’ve taken vows of silence. Donald J. Trump, in his Tuesday presidential announcement and subsequent interviews, embarked on an orgy of preening, boasting, and narcissism nearly impossible to parody.