Donald Trump lives in a world in which everything is, or must be, about him. As a June 2016 article in The Atlantic observed, “It is almost impossible to talk about Donald Trump without using the word narcissism…. George Simon, a clinical psychologist who conducts seminars on manipulative behavior, says Trump is ‘so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example’ of narcissism. ‘Otherwise I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.’”
Like other narcissists, Trump constantly monitors how people feel about him. He assumes that no actions can be impartial, disinterested or motivated by devotion to duty. New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman notes that “Trump learned early to personalize every conflict and see political relationships as transactional.”
Thus it was not surprising when, last week, he went on a rant about Jack Smith, the special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to supervise the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump. In an appearance on conservative talk radio’s The Mark Levin Show, Trump accused Smith of being motivated by hatred and called on him to resign.
“The prosecutor should resign, he’s got a conflict,” Trump said. “He is a terrorist. He is a Trump hater. His best friends are Weissmann (Andrew Weissmann, who worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry) and all of these characters, Lisa Monaco at the Justice Department, one of the top officials. This is a disgraceful situation. He should resign!”
Speaking of himself in the third person, the former President went on the say that Smith’s wife also “hates Trump, probably even beyond him. And his wife has a sister who openly hates like a level that you can’t even believe.”
The Independent reports that Trump also posted on Truth Social, his social media platform that Smith is a “Trump Hating THUG whose wife is a serial and open Trump Hater, whose friends & other family members are even worse.”
And, in the run up to Merrick Garland’s appointment of Robert Hur to investigate President Biden’s handling of classified documents, Trump upped the ante. He again took to Truth Social to demand evenhandedness on the field of hatred.
“Merrick Garland,” Trump wrote, “has to immediately end Special Counsel investigation into anything related to me because I did everything right, and appoint a Special Counsel to investigate Joe Biden who hates Biden as much as Jack Smith hates me.”
As Trump sees things, when people oppose him or policies that he espouses, they can only be motivated by hatred, and, in response, he stirs up hatred against them.
For example, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said: “I think Islam hates us. There’s something there that — there’s a tremendous hatred there. There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There’s an unbelievable hatred of us.”
In 2019, Trump defended his racist attacks on four members of the so-called Squad in the US House of Representatives by alleging that “These are people that hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.”
A year later, after a contentious interview with Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes, Trump described the interview as a “vicious attempted takeout” and accused the CBS television network of “bias, hatred and rudeness.”
These attacks, as the journalist Bill Press explains, are “one of the oldest and cheapest shots in politics: If you disagree with someone, it’s only because you hate them.”
“We hear it all the time,” Press continued, “from members of both parties. When I opposed George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, I was accused of being a ‘Bush hater.’ When millions of Democrats supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, they were derided as ‘Clinton haters.’ Mr. Trump himself still insists that the FBI investigation into his ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign was triggered by ‘Trump haters.’”
Press aptly characterizes these allegations as “Nonsense.”
Trump’s wild, unsubstantiated claims about Jack Smith were another example of the cheap shots and nonsense Press describes. They were meant to discredit the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation and to convince Trump’s followers that corruption and venality are everywhere.
After all, prosecutors, who have enormous discretion and whose exercise of power can be ruinous for those they investigate, are supposed to be moved by facts and law, not personal animus.
As former Attorney General Robert Jackson once said, “The most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted.”
It is when, Jackson continued, the “prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious to or in the way of the prosecutor himself.”
But there is nothing to suggest that the investigation of Trump has, or will, run afoul of Jackson’s warning. It is not, despite the former President’s protestations to the contrary, personal.
Yet what Bill Press says about his own feelings toward the former President might just apply to those who are investigating him. “I don’t hate Mr. Trump,” Press says, before listing things that Trump did that Press hated.
We can hate the sin without hating the sinner. But that distinction is entirely lost on the former President.
Hatred, whether directed to the sin or the sinner, is not easy to define. But recent scholarship suggests that it has a close connection to disgust.
And disgust, law professor William Miller notes, is a valuable “moral and social sentiment.” It marks out, Miller says, “moral matters for which we can have no compromise” and plays an indispensable role in our evaluative life.
For the prosecutors in Trump’s case, the task now is to ignore his taunts. They keep their heads down and go about the business of gathering evidence necessary to figure out if the former President should be charged with crimes, including, among other things, inciting insurrection designed to overthrow this country’s constitutional democracy.
If they conclude that he did so, his conduct is worthy of condemnation, disgust, and, yes, even hatred.