Donald Trump isn't crazy

Story highlights

  • Michael Bloomberg and Mark Cuban have questioned the sanity of Donald Trump
  • Michael D'Antonio: Trump sees world as a constant struggle for victory, lacks a moral compass

Michael D'Antonio is the author of the new book, "The Truth About Trump." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)New York Times columnist David Brooks says the Republican candidate for president appears to have "multiple personality disorders." Michael Bloomberg prefers to imply that he is not "sane." And on Sunday the billionaire Mark Cuban called Donald Trump "bats**t crazy."

Michael D'Antonio
Though hardly a term of art when it comes to mental health, Cuban's comment reflects widespread concern about the stability of the Republican nominee for president. Trump has inspired such speculation throughout his campaign for president, which he began with a stream-of-consciousness rant about undocumented immigrants, calling many rapists and drug dealers and murderers. He proceeded then to lurch from one extreme performance to another, declining the opportunity to make himself "presidential" and setting off alarms across the political spectrum.
    But as 16 Republican primary opponents failed to stop Trump's momentum, the idea that he is crazy seemed to miss the mark. The word "crazy" conjures up a person who is so plagued by delusions, or perhaps hallucinations, that he makes no sense at all.
    Consider his success, both before and during his pursuit of the presidency, and it's hard to argue that Trump suffers from such a profoundly distorted view of reality.
    In fact he has long demonstrated a keen awareness of how our society worships celebrity and rewards those who can attract the limelight and hold its focus. Since the 1970s, Trump has won the game of attention-seeking. Ambitious, self-centered and seemingly amoral, Trump made himself into one of the most famous people in the world, a billionaire many times over, and now, one of two major party candidates for president of the United States.

    Key to success

    Trump pinpointed the moment when he realized the key to success. The year was 1964 and the 18-year-old accompanied his father to the ceremony opening of New York's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. He noticed that the man most responsible for this stupendous piece of engineering, Othmar Ammann, was present but ignored by the politicians and others who spoke. He concluded that Ammann was too weak to seize the credit he deserved and vowed he would never "be made anybody's sucker."
    Little in Trump's background outweighed the set of values that guided him forward from that day on the bridge. In the example of his father, Fred, he saw a man who worked seven days a week to accumulate wealth through real estate deals and political connections.
    At the military school he attended before college nothing mattered more than competition and winning, and as Trump dominated his peers he rose in the ranks. The foundation of his religious education came from the celebrity preacher Norman Vincent Peale, author of the hugely popular book "The Power of Positive Thinking." Peale taught that God rewarded strivers with wealth and that high status was proof of a man or woman's spiritual superiority.
    By the time he built his famous tower on Fifth Avenue, Trump had settled on a view consistent with the tragic reality envisioned by the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who warned that mankind could descend into a "war of all against all" in which fear would reign as individuals competed for limited resources.
    "Man is the most vicious of all animals," Trump told People magazine in 1981, "and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat." An immediate and ominous example of what awaited losers in these battles came in the same year with the death of his older brother Fred, a heavy drinker.
    Although addiction has many causes, in Donald's view Fred was a victim of competition, according to "Donald Trump: The Candidate." He said, "Our family environment, the competitiveness, was a negative for Fred." However he also seemed to blame his brother for letting others take advantage of his good nature. He was, in other words, a sucker. "Freddy just wasn't a killer," Trump said, and he didn't defend himself, which was "a fatal mistake." It taught him "to keep my guard up, 100 percent."
    Trump has, throughout his life, expressed the belief that winning is what matters and losing is a fate to be avoided at all costs. Whether cutting in front of Girl Scouts at a Columbus Day parade (something he did as a military school cadet) or trying to intimidate homeowners to get their property (as he did when building a golf course in Scotland), Trump has always used whatever means necessary to get what he wants, without recognizing that going all-in isn't always necessary and may, sometimes, hurt him. This is because his view of humanity is extremely dark. As he told me, in an interview, "For the most part, you can't respect people because most people aren't worthy of respect."

    Crazy like a wolf?

    If Trump is crazy, then he's crazy like a fox ... or perhaps a wolf. Trump is more wolf than fox. Foxes live in small family groups or on their own. Wolves are generally considered to be more social and hierarchical. Alpha wolves use displays of strength to dominate and command in an environment of considerable stress and struggle. Trump, who marks his territory -- buildings, products, aircraft, etc. -- with his name in giant letters, is a dominant male who demands absolute loyalty and considers success the proof of superiority.
    For him, like the alpha wolf, any show of weakness, such as an apology or a public admission of a mistake, could signal his fall and the loss of everything that matters to him.
    Visit Trump in his den at Trump Tower and you see an alpha male at work. Trump aides and executives are unerringly deferential around him but aggressive when they do battle on his behalf. After Ted Cruz denied his man an endorsement at the GOP convention, Trump's counsel Michael Cohen called the senator a "whining baby" who should be expelled from the party.
    When a father whose son was killed in Iraq criticized the candidate's anti-Muslim statements, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone said that Khizr Khan is a "Muslim Brotherhood agent" intent on helping Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, though he later dropped that claim. One of Richard Nixon's dirty tricksters in 1972, Stone has tutored Trump in politics since at least 1987. Long known for extreme rhetoric and tactics, Stone is no more crazy than Trump. His career even included a stint as partner in a firm with current Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
    In the days since Khan criticized Trump in a speech at the Democratic National Convention, he and his wife, Ghazala, have garnered increasing support from other parents of soldiers killed in action and many Republicans who have been bothered by Trump's responses to their criticisms.
    In his immediate answer to Khan's speech, Trump offered his usual alpha wolf aggression. He suggested that Ghazala Khan had not spoken at the convention because she was silenced on the basis of her Muslim faith. She explained that she was too grief stricken to say anything. In response to Khizr Khan's statement that "you have sacrificed nothing and no one," and when asked if he had made sacrifices, Trump pointed, ineffectively, to the jobs he had created as a businessman.
    Caught up in the back-and-forth, Trump didn't take the hints being offered by his fellow Republicans who urged him to change the subject and stop talking about the Khans. Having risen to political success via Twitter, he went there on Monday morning to complain, "Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same - Nice!" Minutes later Trump tried a to change the subject, a tactic that has worked in the past, tweeting, "This story is not about Mr. Khan, who is all over the place doing interviews, but rather RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM and the U.S. Get smart!"
    At the moment Trump took to Twitter, Khan was appearing on CNN's "New Day," where he called for an end to the argument, saying, "We don't want to continue. That is not our style. We are a decent, dignified family of this country, very appreciative of the blessing we have enjoyed. ... This is not our path." Indeed, Khan follows the other construct suggested by Hobbes, pursuing life in a moral community.

    Secret to fighting Trump?

    Although he may not have sought the fight with Trump, Khan has proven to be one of the most effective critics of the man who steamrollered his GOP rivals and emerged from his party's convention with a momentary lead in some polls. Trump's usual methods, so effective when used against lifelong politicians, failed to dispatch a man who criticized him, not on political grounds but on the basis of values and morality.
    In his DNC speech, Khan didn't descend to Trump's level by calling him crazy, nor did he challenge him as a businessman. To do so would have been to engage his opponent on his own ground. Instead Khan questioned whether Trump had ever read the foundational document of American democracy, the Constitution, and offered to lend him his copy, which he took out of his pocket and held in the air.
    On Sunday Khan went a step further, saying that Trump has a "black soul," lacked a "moral compass" and does not have the "empathy" required to lead. He also said he hoped that Trump's family would "teach him some empathy."
    When he appealed to Trump's family to teach him some empathy, Khan demonstrated that he could recognize his antagonist's humanity and as he did so, he revealed Trump's real deficiency. The man isn't irrational, or insane, but he is trapped in his own drive to prevail by dominating others.
    Before Khizr Khan, no one had shown Donald Trump that there were competing values, such as morality and empathy, that could be deployed against his will to power. Trump was not shamed by massive business bankruptcies, the sex scandal that ended his first marriage or by the uproar that resulted when he demeaned Megyn Kelly after one of the Republican debates. This is why Trump said, in the middle of the primary campaign, that he could "shoot someone on Fifth Avenue" and not lose votes. But Khan has succeeded where others failed because he is not a wolf but an example of what Robert Wright called, "The Moral Animal," in a 1994 book.
    Khan has flushed Trump from the place where he feels comfortable and into the open, and at least for now, he doesn't know how to win the fight.