Why Trump so often says the quiet part out loud

President Trump is therefore a unique, or at least very unusual, specimen of homo politicus. He shows no sign of being aware of any interest that he should serve other than his own. Doing the right thing, for him, is simply doing whatever he thinks will benefit him the most. As Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry said in a conversation secretly recorded by her niece, Mary L. Trump, “He has no principles. … Donald is out for Donald, period.” The president’s picture should appear in the dictionary under the word “solipsism”; he is the Platonic ideal of the type.

Former national security adviser John Bolton wrote in his memoir: “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations.” As if to prove Bolton’s point, Trump last week said: “We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. That’s for the evangelicals. You know, it’s amazing with that: The evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people.”

Of course, Trump didn’t actually move the capital of Israel, but he did move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That was a decision with serious repercussions for U.S. policy. But Trump just confessed that he did not make this move — arguably justified — on policy grounds. He did it, just as his critics suspected, to win evangelical Christian votes. He’s apparently only sorry it doesn’t seem to have won him many Jewish votes.

The same self-centered impulse was evident last week when Trump was asked about QAnon. This is an insane conspiracy theory holding that Trump’s opponents are Satan-worshiping pedophiles. The FBI has warned that QAnon adherents may become a domestic terrorist threat. A normal politician would “dismiss it out of hand”; that’s what Vice President Pence said about QAnon on Friday. Not Trump. Asked about QAnon, he said: “I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. I heard these are people that love our country.” It would never occur to Trump to denounce any of his fans, no matter how nutty or dangerous, as long as they like him.

The flip side is that it doesn’t matter how much good someone does; if that person happens to disrespect Trump, that’s the only thing that matters to him. The late John McCain was one of our greatest war heroes, but, because he disagreed with Trump on some issues, the president continues to trash him. “McCain was a lousy candidate with lots of bad policy,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. Likewise, the late representative John Lewis was one of our greatest civil rights heroes, but when asked about his legacy, the only thing that Trump noted is that “he chose not to come to my inauguration.”

If there are limits to what Trump will do in service to his own ego, we have not discovered them. He will, as the Senate Intelligence Committee just confirmed, eagerly accept election help from Russia. He will try to blackmail Ukraine into helping him politically. He will urge a boycott of Goodyear — a company that employees 63,000 Americans — because a slide show counseled its employees not to sport “MAGA attire” at work. He will subject millions of Americans to delayed mail deliveries — resulting in dead chicks and missing checks — to prevent anti-Trump voters from casting ballots by mail. He will even push — according to the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security — for the federal government to stop giving emergency aid to help California battle wildfires because that state did not support him.

What makes Trump truly extraordinary is not just that he acts so unethically. It is that he is so open about it, because he can’t conceive there would be anything wrong with anything he does to help himself.

Thus he admitted that he is starving the Postal Service of funds because “that means they can’t have universal mail-in voting.” He will keep insisting until the day he dies that his phone call with Ukraine’s president was “perfect” because what’s wrong with using military aid to promote his own campaign? And of course he calls accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russia a “hoax” — he clearly doesn’t see anything scandalous about inviting foreign election interference on his behalf. He so often says the quiet part out loud, because he doesn’t know that what he’s saying is wrong.

That makes him a uniquely dangerous president: a man with no principles — save the imperative of self-promotion — but with the awesome power of the federal government at his command.

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