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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Hubris” of Trump

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Donald Trump & Theresa May © Alexandros Michailidis

July 16, 2018 00:29 EDT

Like his personal wealth, Trump’s tragic flaw — hubris — is something he inherited, not something he invented.

Just before his first presidential visit to the United Kingdom, in an interview with The Sun newspaper, Donald Trump pulled no punches commenting on Theresa May’s Brexit position. “I would have done it much differently,” he said. “I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me.”

Many observers have noticed what they call the US president’s hubris in international affairs. Recently, University of Denver Professor Martin Rhodes described Trump’s habit of “making a hubristic assault on the multilateral system.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:


Donald Trump’s personal version of “the art of the diplomatic deal”

Contextual note

MSN reports that Trump “also suggested Boris Johnson … would make a good prime minister,” which some might take as a direct attempt to interfere with British electoral politics. This kind of influence from a foreign power usually takes place in back rooms of embassies, behind the scenes, in order to assure “plausible deniability.” Trump’s hubris — now part of his personal brand — allows him to do it in the open, knowing he can get away with anything, including shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

The British reacted with an appropriate measure of publicly expressed shock but not awe, as the people took the initiative of launching a Trump baby balloon to float above the rooftops in a display of Pythonesque humour (yes, with a “u”). As the people danced around the improvised Maypole in July, Prime Minister May herself kept a stiff upper lip.

According to The Daily Mail, “Downing Street stayed silent but junior foreign minister Alan Duncan brushed off the row, saying Trump was a ‘controversialist, that’s his style’. Labour spokeswoman Emily Thornberry, who had read her Oscar Wilde and knew the importance of being ernest, called Trump ‘extraordinarily rude.’”

Concerning Trump’s claim to know the correct path to Brexit, The Guardian defined the nature of Trump’s hubris, which the former reality TV host applies to every problem — from walls on the border to the denuclearization of what’s left of George W. Bush’s axis of evil (Iran and North Korea): “His ego and belief in his own deal-making skills are such that he apparently thought he alone could fix it.” 

Historical note

As William Greider pointed out in a recent article in The Nation, Trump didn’t invent the hubris that has become the hallmark of his foreign policy. It has been a feature of US foreign policy at least since World War II, if not Teddy Roosevelt, as General Smedley Butler observed long ago. Trump is simply the first president to celebrate it as the logo of the brand and to believe that others will see American hubris as a manifest virtue rather than a tragic flaw. His predecessors did everything in their massive power to hide it from view.

Greider places the blame for the economic woes — growing inequality, the job crisis, the impoverishment of the middle class — that made Trump’s election possible on a phenomenon that he certainly did not create and, in theory, opposes: globalization. Greider says this new global economic culture “was fashioned in Washington by the best minds in corporate strategy (the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other influential policy peddlers).”

He then asks (and answers) the question that was left in the background until Trump’s policies brought it to the fore: “Why did representative democracy fail to respond to this crisis in the globalized economy? I think I know the answer: It was American hubris.”

Greider has a point. Trump isn’t the villain in the melodrama who has transformed the normal conditions of society into something corrupt and chaotic, impugning the virtue of the innocents, like Iago in Othello. No, he’s closer to Richard III, who tells the audience exactly what he’s up to (“I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days”) and then expects his peers and the people to accept him for his boldness as well as his “style” as a “conversationalist.”

Both Iago and Richard III were, however — in contrast to Trump — powerful reasoners, constructing and executing their plots like chess grandmasters, even if they let themselves be mated in the end (after inflicting serious damage all around). Those tragic villains knew how to seduce. Trump thinks he knows, but only his own electoral base allows itself to be duped. He follows emotion, not reason, projecting what The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour calls, “Trump’s oily and obnoxious personality.”

The one thing he does have in common with those villains is his capacity to inflict serious damage all around, as the entire world has begun to discover, but with no institutional resistance — no Venetian state, no Richmond (Henry VII) — to stop him as Act V continues to unfold.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Alexandros Michailidis /

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