Throughout the coronavirus crisis, critics of Donald Trump have repeatedly referenced his profound and outrageous narcissism. It was partly this pathology that led Trump to downplay the threat and resist widespread testing for weeks. An honest acknowledgement of the mounting problem and a rising number of positive tests would inconvenience his reelection prospects. For a narcissist, the most immediate personal need is the most important one. So Trump viewed the burgeoning crisis as a threat to him, not the nation, and he took the steps he usually does in so many circumstances: He denied the threat, claimed he knew better than the experts, and relied on bluster and BS. He did all that instead of adopting early measures that could have slowed the transmission of the virus.
But beyond the narcissism, two other fundamental elements of Trump’s character are likely shaping his response: his obsession with revenge and his sense of fatalism. And both are exceedingly dangerous for the American public.
Trump has long acknowledged his love affair with revenge. Before Trump ran for president, he often gave speeches sharing the supposed secrets to his success. At the top of that list was his devotion to retribution. In 2011, he told the National Achievers Congress in Sydney, Australia, that there were several lessons not taught in business school that successful people must know. And one of those lessons was this: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe that.”
In a 2012 speech, he offered another version of this:
In a 2007 speech, he noted his first rule of business: “It’s called ‘Get Even.’ Get even. This isn’t your typical business speech. Get even. What this is is a real business speech. You know in all fairness to Wharton, I love ’em, but they teach you some stuff that’s a lot of bullshit. When you’re in business, you get even with people that screw you. And you screw them 15 times harder.”One of the things you should do in terms of success: If somebody hits you, you’ve got to hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You’ve got to get even. Get even. And the reason, the reason you do, is so important…The reason you do, you have to do it, because if they do that to you, you have to leave a telltale sign that they just can’t take advantage of you. It’s not so much for the person, which does make you feel good, to be honest with you, I’ve done it many times. But other people watch and you know they say, “Well, let’s leave Trump alone,” or “Let’s leave this one,” or “Doris, let’s leave her alone. They fight too hard.” I say it, and it’s so important. You have to, you have to hit back. You have to hit back.
Revenge. It’s often on Trump’s mind. He appears to be constantly fixated on smiting his enemies, real or imagined. In an undated video, he once declared, “I really believe in trashing your enemies.” And he has proudly tweeted about his embrace of revenge, quoting Alfred Hitchcock on the subject (“Revenge is sweet and not fattening”) and declaring, “‘Always get even. When you are in business, you need to get even with people who screw you.’ – Think Big.”