For Trump, character is destiny

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  • Michael D'Antonio: Trump never cultivated qualities associated with good character
  • Instead he came to inhabit the fictional role that he invented, D'Antonio says

Michael D'Antonio is the author of the book "Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success" (St. Martin's Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Character is destiny. It is also revealed in everything we do.

Michael D'Antonio
Before he campaigned to be President of the United States, Donald Trump revealed character traits to the public for more than 40 years. In that time, he established he was a braggart who was disloyal even to the women he loved, who was dismissive of facts and who seemed unaffected by the pain he inflicted as he bullied the vulnerable and repeatedly walked away from his debts. His victims included his own children, who were subject to his tabloid sex scandals, and even a horse that went lame when Trump insisted it run when it had a fever.
With this past as prologue, it is easy to believe the press reports alleging Trump leaked highly sensitive classified information to Russian officials and Trump's tweeted attempts to justify doing so. Trump has none of the internal qualities that would have led him to be more discreet, and it would be perfectly in character for him to wield information in this way, just to demonstrate he is in the know.
    Instead of cultivating the personal qualities we associate with good character -- integrity, honesty, compassion and so on -- he came to inhabit the fictional role that he has invented. "The show is `Trump' and it is sold-out performances everywhere," he said in 1990. "I've had fun doing it and will continue to have fun, and I think most people enjoy it."
    With the two most recent self-inflicted crises -- the firing of the FBI director and the reported leak of classified information -- Trump has remained true to the character traits he has long displayed and to the fictional character he has performed daily for his entire life.
    Except that the character "Trump" wasn't prepared to take office and there wasn't time to rewrite the script.
    Left on stage, in the spotlight, with no new material, Trump has been forced to improvise. Never an authentic leader with a sense of responsibility and respect for others, he has only his imagination to fall back on. In his mind, presidents sign papers, accept applause for the act and hand out pens to assembled dignitaries. Presidents fly around on Air Force One. They golf, and they grant interviews. Yes, these aspects of the job are only the stagecraft, but they are the parts Trump is prepared to perform. The rest eludes him, and thus we have the most chaotic presidency in memory. We have a chief executive who can't assemble an administration, get legislation through Congress or the steadiness we expect from the leader of the free world.
    The President's hollow character is the result of his lifelong effort to present himself as a paragon of success. Blessed by the massive fortune his father established, citizen Trump created a demimonde in which he was as rich and famous and powerful as he said he was. He made ridiculous claims, both socially and to the press, about everything from his net worth to his sex appeal. He protected his version of reality in a fortress of press clippings filled with fawning employees who were his dependents. Whenever a neutral authority such as Forbes magazine pierced his bubble, he howled with complaint.
    By the time he decided to seek the presidency, Trump had spent the better part of his life devoted to the manufacture of his persona as a consummately successful American man. Trump came to walk, talk and even think like the guy who said, "You're fired!" on his TV show "The Apprentice."

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    Trump's presidential campaign was a road show version of the act he presented for decades in New York. Standing room-only crowds proved to Trump and the world that his persona was as compelling as he believed. He gave the people what they wanted and to the surprise of many (Trump included, I believe) the Electoral College made him President.
    Like a bad stage play on the verge of closing early, Trump's failing presidency confirms that character is destiny for the individual. If it is also destiny for nations, we can only hope that somewhere in Washington powerful men and women possess the traits required to lead us.