The Awesome Sister looked gorgeous on her wedding day. Most brides do, but she started with a lot of advantages and didn’t scrimp on the embellishments. Everyone greeting her after the ceremony effused about how beautiful she was.
And then Aunt Venom stepped up. With a triumphant smile, she pointed to something on The Awesome Sister’s face. We were confused. What did she see?
She was pointing to a tiny blemish, invisible unless you looked for it.
This is why I feel I know Donald Trump. Like him, I was born into a family of New York City borough dwellers. The similarity ends there, but it’s enough, I think, to gain useful insight into his character.
The New York City of Aunt Venom’s day bristled with hostility. Overcrowding, poverty, and ethnic tension (including between whites) produced a culture of not-so-quiet desperation. To hold your own, you had to be tough.
If you read my first post, you know my grand unified theory of human behavior is that all of us are vulnerable, and that much, perhaps all, of what we do is intended to protect ourselves against each other and the random, indifferent universe. One way to protect ourselves against each other is to hit first: to undermine the dignity, safety, and stability of others before they do it to us. At the very least it puts others on the defensive. And some craven souls (lookin’ at you, Republican Party!) may even knuckle under.
As self-protective strategies go, this one scores either a selfish or a stupid on the Cipolla scale, because it’s impossible to love people like that unless you’re their child or parent. But it was a common enough type in the outer boroughs. Aunt Venom was one of several people in my family whose relentless eye for weakness put us on constant guard.
And from the sobriquet The Awesome Sister and I hung on her, you can tell we didn’t like that. Who wants to be around someone sure to point out the mote in your eye — or on your nose — when the board in (or on) her own is huge enough for children to recognize? The only reason we spent any time with her was because we had to.
One more similarity. When she herself was put on the defensive, Aunt Venom was just like Trump: out came the self-pity. She had the worst life ever. Everything and everyone was so unfair. Most of the misery in her life was self-created, but she never understood it that way, just as the billionaire who baselessly accused Barack Obama of not being an American citizen regards himself as the most persecuted president ever because he’s under investigation for receiving Russian assistance during his campaign — assistance he openly solicited.
Much as she had in common with Trump, however, I’m not being fair to Aunt Venom. Toward the end of her life — she died younger than Trump is now — she mellowed and grew more comfortable sharing her vulnerabilities. She and I had several cordial chats before her passing.
Plus I don’t recall her ever being a liar.
I don’t see Trump redeeming himself as she did. Were he just a family member, I’d never call, I’d never write. But he’s in charge of the federal government. Avoidance, while possible, isn’t wise. To resist him most effectively, I think we need to know him for what he is: not a genius businessman, not a master of distraction, not a reality TV monster, but a kid from Queens who never grew beyond his primitive roots and survives moment to moment by keeping everyone around him anxious.