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Donald Trump fears he won't be idolized. Democrats fear he might get normalized. Thus, everything always will be about him.

That goes even for great national tragedy.

I hate to think, and hesitate to invoke, what would happen if another 9/11 occurred during the Trump presidency.

The nation didn't think much on Sept. 10, 2001, of George W. Bush. But it rallied behind and rooted for him. We were briefly one people under frightful attack, and he was the leader we had.

That was a healthier time.

On an occasion when every other modern president would have consoled the nation--be it Bush in the rubble of 9/11 or Ronald Reagan after the Challenger explosion or Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing or an eye-moistened Barack Obama after Sandy Hook--Trump instead raged aboard Air Force One en route from Dayton to El Paso about his unadoring media portrayal.

Democrats were getting more media attention for criticizing him than he was getting for visiting mass-shooting victims and receiving the adoration of at least some of the people he was meeting.

Democrats were criticizing him on a day they probably shouldn't--or normally wouldn't, if he was a normal president. It's because they believe the nation is increasingly on their side on the vital point that Trump is personally unfit. They believe suburban independent women will lean their way as long as Trump appears the incorrigible child he is.

I mean, my heavens, Trump retweeted on Saturday a raw conspiracy theory implicating the Clintons in Jeffrey Epstein's death.

You needn't be a Clinton defender to prefer a time when presidents were decent, or at least tactically circumspect, or generally sane.

So Democrats dare not give Trump even a day's hall-pass to take his best shot at human empathy, a capacity he seems to lack.

Maybe they should have left him alone for those visits last week to Dayton and El Paso. They didn't because they thought El Paso, at least, was inspired by his irresponsibly divisive behavior and rhetoric.

They couldn't let him get away with playing a healer.

If Trump becomes normalized, voters in the center in swing states will gravitate toward him because the Democratic presidential field is badly flawed. Democrats understand that. They recognize that Trump seeks at once to incite for the right wing and then normalize for the swing voters--to start the fire and then fight the fire. They are determined not to let him execute the straddle.

It's not a pretty politics.

Trump is so thoroughly megalomaniacal that Democrats, at once, can criticize him for bad behavior and incite him to more of it.

The Democratic criticism and media play on it caused this president to explode on Twitter and to his staff. He was irate that the way he was getting presented on the television screen--on The Truman Show in which he lives--wasn't about the warm and admiring way people in the Dayton hospital had treated him.

So a White House aide put aside dignity and tweeted that people were loving their great president.

The message was not that the president was loving them.

The White House put out a photo of Melania cradling the infant orphaned when his parents shielded him from the racist Walmart shooter in El Paso. And there stood the president beside her, grinning and giving a thumbs-up sign.

For ... what, exactly?

A baby's parents were dead, and the president was indicating something victorious ... that the imagery might make him look heroically empathetic, perhaps?

It's no longer a matter of which comes first--Trump's bad behavior or Democrats' incessant harping. By now it's all jumbled together in a permanent vortex and thoroughly dysfunctional American culture.

Democrats typically shouldn't beat up a guy as he flies as president to sites of American tragedy. But a typical president wouldn't tweet like that, and incite like that, and self-obsess like that, and exploit like that, and further divide like that.

But there is now this odd circumstance: Trump's megalomaniacal fealty to his own idolatry is not necessarily a negative thing in all circumstances.

It appears possible that Trump--by watching television and sensing the heroism opportunities in the national mood for stronger background checks, and upon political advice that it's a worthy calculation to risk offending the NRA and his base a little to please suburban independent women a lot--will embrace an incremental advancement in background checks.

The likeliest bill would add gun shows and Internet sales.

That may be the magic place where everything being about Trump does some good.

Democrats would celebrate the policy and worry about the president normalizing and picking up suburban independents.

But they could surely trust that, in a few hours, Trump would be acting the fool again.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 08/13/2019

Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: Even now, it's about him

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