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Renée Graham

Donald Trump’s dangerous need for adoration


By now, everyone knows the story about how Donald Trump, the clown king of the “birthers” in 2011, was so scorched by President Obama’s targeted jokes at that year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he decided to run for president. It was his “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little country, too” moment.

After watching clips of President Trump’s recent “rally,” or whatever that was in Florida, I’ve started to wonder if another 2011 event wasn’t an even greater motivation for the future 45th president of the United States — the funeral of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.

What most saw was a meticulously choreographed outpouring for a tiny tyrant who brutalized his beleaguered nation for more than 25 years. More than grief, this was mourning as an Olympic event, both competitive and judged, with each North Korean trying to out-wail the next. If he watched this garish, phony display, Trump, an ardent viewer of the news despite his professed hatred of the media, instead saw a nation’s unbridled love for its leader.


Never mind that those deemed insufficiently hysterical in Pyongyang were reportedly subject to punishment. Trump would have seen only the adulation he has craved for his entire cushy life. Kim sowed fear and called it love — and Trump is capable of doing the same thing.

Trump loves money, and from birth has always had plenty of it. But for him, money has always seemed more a marker of power and prestige. He likes the implications of calling himself a billionaire, even if he may not be one — without Trump’s tax returns, how can we be sure?

What Trump really craves is adoration. That’s why he’s still smarting over losing the popular vote and keeps exaggerating his Electoral College win. And it’s why, during a Tuesday visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Trump, while talking about South Carolina, just had to mention that he likes the state “where I won by double, double, double digits.” Always, he must reaffirm that he won, and winning, to Trump, means he is loved.


Except, in the wee tweeting hours of the morning, the president knows that isn’t the case.

He has historically high disapproval ratings. “Not My President” protesters are showing no letup. Meanwhile, the press is all up in his business and businesses, which is, much to his chagrin, their business. So expect Trump to keep hightailing it to Florida — always on the taxpayer’s dime — to throw himself a party. He needs to be among those who don’t roll their eyes when he claims his messy administration is running “so smoothly,” and is never happier than when he’s smiling out at a sea of MAGA caps and T-shirts bearing his face or name. A man who neither drinks nor smokes, Trump is dangerously addicted to the unconditional love of strangers. He doesn’t want constituents; he wants toadies.

When I see Trump, I’m reminded of Commodus in “Gladiator,” the craven young man who tells his father, shortly before murdering him for political gain, “I would butcher the whole world if you would only love me.” I can hear those words in Trump’s coarse voice. Tetchy and fragile, he will listen only to those who agree with and admire him. Playing to Trump’s insecurities is likely how Russian president Vladimir Putin, who admires only himself, hacked into our election, and into the man who is now the American president.

Anyone who disagrees with Trump is dissed, dismissed, or discredited. His supporters, who have already invested too much emotionally to turn away, prop him up and ignore that he will also run their lives into the ground. To Trump, there are two sides — those to be coddled and those to be crushed. This isn’t a presidency. It’s a sycophancy, demanded by a man who would rather be loved and admired than capable and effective. Like the dictators he aspires to emulate, Trump is a man so thirsty for adoration that he will stop at nothing to achieve it.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham