Donald Trump is not insane.
I know, I know. That might be terribly hard to prove, particularly since Trump says something crazy about every five minutes. And yes, we’re just about assured that if Trump could somehow be elected president, he’d start a nuclear war with China over a tweet from the Chinese premier declaring that Peking University’s economic department is better than that of Trump’s alma mater, Wharton. But nope, Trump’s not insane. He’s just mediocre. And he’s scared to death that we’ll realize it.
All successful people, particularly those in the public eye, have a sneaking suspicion that they’re really just frauds, and that when the public takes a closer look and stops praising their "genius," then they’ll be found out. For most high achievers, that bit of insecurity is a motivator, the drive that allows them not to settle for the mundane and to keep the bar high for everything they do. But that’s not the same for mediocre people like Trump, the ones who lack the tools to reach that higher bar. So, in lieu of reaching high, they go low.
To understand Trump, you’ve gotta understand that as a white man with wealth, he’s lived in an America that’s different from that of most Americans, including other white Americans. His privilege, including skin color, wealth and access, allows him to live a comfortable life of mediocrity.
Don’t be impressed by the money in his account or the buildings with his name on them. Make no mistake: Trump’s a walking and talking "gentleman’s C" unpreparedness. A mediocre world where you get into top colleges because SAT scores are for the poor schmucks who actually read books, but not for the sons of New York developers. If most wealthy kids think their success is because they hit a triple when, in actuality, they started on third base, then Trump thinks he hit a grand slam without even having to take his home run trot.
Donald Trump lives in a world where six bankruptcies don’t mean a Rent-a-Center credit score and the accompanying shame of having your mom co-sign your application for electricity for your studio apartment, but are instead a talking point of pride as you recount how you were somehow able to make millions, even as your suppliers got stiffed.
All of that is cool if you’re just a private citizen more interested in being the host of a top-rated show, but when you expose yourself to public scrutiny, like running for president, your mediocrity slip is gonna start showing from under your boastful dress. And so, even in the deep, dark recesses of their consciences, people like Trump begin wondering whether or not if they’ve gotten in over their head and, most importantly, is there an escape route?
Mediocre people like Trump are narcissists, and they’re most happy when their narcissism is unfettered and unchallenged. So if Trump decides to get into the New York headlines by declaring that the Central Park Five should be given the death penalty for a crime we later find out they didn’t commit, it’s just Donald being Donald. Forty years of Donald being Donald is a hard habit to break for Trump, and his ego is inextricably attached to the seductive light of fame and attention.
But at the same time, Trump knows that his outward charisma is as hollow as a Mexican piñata. He knows that in order to survive, as the spotlight grows hotter and hotter, melting the facade of the "Billionaire Who Is Smarter Than Everyone Else Because He’s a Billionaire," he has to keep dancing to keep everyone distracted. To keep everyone looking at the shiny metal object he throws out to the public, his fans, the media, the sane, so that our gaze will move from him: Mexicans are rapists! Muslims need to be banned! McCain is not a hero! Cruz’s father killed Kennedy! Latino judge can’t judge him! Keep dancing, keep dancing!
Keep them distracted! Stick and move, stick and move! Hillary is crooked. Insult a Gold Star Mother. More! More! Use straw men to deflect responsibility (“Well, that’s what people are saying … ”) as you’ve always deflected responsibility for your actions. Like when you stiffed those desperate folks at Trump University.
And when that doesn’t work, when everyone gets hip to your diversion game, the mediocre like Trump don’t take a step back and recalibrate. Or, like everyone else, including the ordinary, make an honest attempt to learn what they don’t know, change direction and then gain a new start by showing that they’re at least trying. That’s not what the mediocre like Trump do, especially when there’s another tried-and-true shortcut available. What the Trumps of the world do is turn into pathological liars.
Lying is much easier than working to understand the truth, mainly because many people believe that lies are simply different truths. And when you lie consistently, even over the easiest things to be honest about (Melania wrote her speech. I don’t have a relationship with Putin), then you can create a new universe where people think you’re a pathological liar, and therefore, why should people expect you to tell the truth?
All of this is self-sabotage. Trump doesn’t want to be president, any more than he wants to sit down and read a book. As with most mediocre people, knowledge is his kryptonite, and Trump is lucky enough to be able to buy and sell people to tell him what he wants to hear, so he can be free to say whatever is in his brain. And his brain is telling Trump, “We’ve gotta get out of this situation as fast as we can. Maybe I should shoot someone and see if people stop following me.”
But you know what? America isn’t going to let Trump quit. In a world where we laud the "low information" voter, and we have a substantial demographic of white working-class who don’t see Trump’s diversions or lies as a detriment but, rather, as a talisman for a better life, we’re just going to have to endure Trump’s mediocrity for another 100 days.
Black folks, Latino homies, Asian compadres, gay and lesbian pahtnahs, and even white women, know the Donald Trumps of the world. We’ve worked with them and worked under them. And yeah, they may not have a lot of money in their bank account, but they walk the earth as if every step they take, every decision they make, is based on an intrinsic superiority of birthright. We know them.
Donald Trump just happened to become their new leader. It’s important that he doesn’t get a chance to take his mediocre talents to the Oval Office.
Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.