“ISOLATED?” read the subject line.
“Friend,” Donald Trump wrote recently to supporters in a fundraising email. “The fake news keeps saying, ‘President Trump is isolated.’ … They say I’m isolated by lobbyists, corporations, grandstanding politicians, and Hollywood. GOOD! I don’t want them,” he fumed, employing italics for emphasis.
Sent on August 28, two days after Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston, Trump’s defiant appeal acknowledged the mounting perception that nearly eight months into his first term—and in the aftermath of his racially divisive response to the violence in Charlottesville—he’s never been politically more lonely. He’s at odds with Congress—including leaders and members of his own party—and his deal-making with Democrats is angering some of his most ardent conservative supporters. He’s been abandoned and censured by art leaders, business leaders and world leaders. His Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is bleeding bookings. And he’s losing favored aides due to the actions of his own chief of staff, General John Kelly, who restricts access to the president with the diligence of a border guard. Last week, the New York Times described Trump as a “solitary cowboy,” reminding readers he once called himself “the Lone Ranger.”
His critics might see his growing isolation as a product of his political inexperience—an aversion to the norms of the legislative process, a penchant for topsy-turvy management. But as unprecedented as this might be in the annals of the West Wing, it’s merely a continuation of a lifelong pattern of behavior for Trump. Take away the Pennsylvania Avenue address, the never-ending list of domestic and international crises, and the couldn’t-be-higher geopolitical stakes—and this looks very much like … Trump throughout his entire existence. Isolated is how he’s always operated.
The middle son of a stony, workaholic father with whom he had an “almost businesslike” relationship, Trump is a double divorcee, a boss with a professed distaste for having partners or shareholders, a television-tethered, hamburger-eating homebody and a germaphobe who has described shaking hands as “terrible,” “barbaric” and “one of the curses of American society.” He’s been a loner most of his life. At New York Military Academy, everybody knew him but few of his fellow cadets knew him well. In college, he made no friends he kept. After he moved to Manhattan, he lived in a sealed-off triplex penthouse, relied on a small, family-first cadre of loyalists and mainly made more enemies than allies (the mayor was a “moron,” elite “so-called social scene” types were “extremely unattractive people,” and on and on). At his casinos in Atlantic City, he was adamant about not mingling with the gambling masses. Now, in Washington, he’s a two-scoops cable-watcher inside the White House when he’s not weekending at his clutch of protective, name-branded bubbles. Trump, forever, has collected an array of acquaintances, fellow celebrities and photo-op props, while friendships mostly have been interchangeable, temporary and transactional.
“He was and is a lonely man,” Jack O’Donnell, a former Trump casino executive, told me.
“One of the loneliest people I’ve ever met,” biographer Tim O’Brien said in an interview. “He lacks the emotional and sort of psychological architecture a person needs to build deep relationships with other people.”
It’s been this way always, because he’s always been foundationally, virulently untrusting. “There’s a wall Donald has that he never lets people penetrate,” a former associate told me. Trump has a dark, dour view of humanity. He considers the world “ruthless,” “brutal” and “cruel.” Through this zero-sum, dog-eat-dog lens, friends aren’t friends—there’s no such thing. “They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you,” he wrote in his 2007 book, Think Big. “… they want your job, they want your house, they want your money, they want your wife …” Why he’s like this is the subject of vigorous discussion among psychology experts. The deep-seated influence of his formidable father? The wound of the alcohol-fueled death of his more mild-mannered older brother? Simple genetics? Trump is not self-reflective—“I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see,” he told a biographer several years back—but he can be self-aware. And on this front, he’s been quite clear, and remarkably consistent.
“My business is so all-encompassing I don’t really get the pleasure of being with friends that much, frankly,” he said to one interviewer in 1980.
“Most of my friendships are business-related because those are the only people I meet,” he said to another 36 years later. “I think I have a lot of friends, and some of the friends I haven’t spoken to in many years. … I mean, I think I have a lot of friends, but they’re not friends like perhaps other people have friends, where they’re together all the time …”
Exceptions exist, of course, and Roger Stone is one of them. The inimitable, provocative political operative has known Trump, and has been friends with Trump, since 1979, when Stone was working on Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign and Roy Cohn introduced him to Trump. “It’s fun to be his friend,” Stone told me. Few people have known Trump longer than Stone, or know him better.
“By definition,” Stone said, “I think anyone who has the job is going to be lonely. … Lincoln wrote extensively about the loneliness of the job.”
But Trump, well before he was elected to inhabit the Oval Office, was “psychologically lonely and isolated, emotionally lonely and isolated,” I suggested to Stone. He’s a person who certainly can be socially gregarious and charming—many people say that, because many people have experienced it—but he ultimately prefers to be on his own, I offered. Now that he’s president, it seems these “self-isolating” tendencies have been exacerbated. I wondered if Stone agreed.
“I think,” Stone said, …read more
Read more here: The Loneliest President