The inexhaustible egos of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Trump has said often climate change isn't real
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Story highlights

  • Michael D'Antonio: The world -- and his own aides -- played court to Donald Trump as he pronounced his decision on the Paris climate change accord
  • Meanwhile former rival Hillary Clinton made a new set of excuses for her defeat, writes D'Antonio

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)It wasn't enough for Donald Trump to thumb his nose at humanity and the planet we occupy. His fragile ego, which can't be strengthened even by the power of the presidency, demanded that he turn his decision on the Paris climate treaty into something like a beauty pageant, with suspense built into his process and a court of lesser-beauties enlisted to praise him.

The run-up to Trump's decision to abandon the Paris treaty included consultations with world leaders, including Pope Francis, and pleadings from chief executive officers representing many of the world's leading companies. Exxon's CEO wrote a personal letter. More than a dozen others, from Hilton, Unilever, Monsanto and the like also weighed in. While men and women of goodwill sided with future generations, Trump took to social media to declare, "I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!"
When the decision day came, Trump required that Vice President Pence introduce him with the kind of abject but unspecific praise generally reserved for the honoree at a pancake breakfast. Ignoring his faith and family, Pence declared that serving Trump is "the greatest privilege of my life" and then announced, "Thanks to President Donald Trump, America is back."
    After pausing for applause, as directed in his script, Pence called attention to his "admiration" for the scandal-plagued Trump and the "gratitude" he feels "for his leadership."
    Anyone with a shred of humility would have turned red upon hearing Pence's words. Trump beamed with approval and immediately stood to praise himself. He said his recent foreign trip was "very, very successful, believe me" and, of course, his legislative work is going "very, very well."
    In the heart of the speech Trump distorted the facts of the Paris agreement and indulged in the kind of us-against-the-world rhetoric that suggests the address was written by his Dark Lord adviser -- and chief cheerleader, Stephen Bannon. When he finished, Trump called on the Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who also couldn't praise the boss enough.
    In 13 paragraphs Pruitt used the words "you" and "your" more than 20 times. A good example: "Please know that I am thankful for your fortitude -- courage -- and steadfastness as you serve and lead our country."
    Servile as Pruitt's display may have been, it wasn't as cringeworthy as the President's speech. In between his claims to success Trump referenced himself more than 30 times.
    Why does the President need to hear so much praise? Perhaps it's because things aren't going so well. Upon his return from a foreign trip where he received, at best, mixed reviews, CNN's Gloria Borger reported Trump was increasingly isolated, angry and depressed. She reported that a Trump friend said "He now lives within himself, which is a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be. I see him emotionally withdrawing. He's gained weight. He doesn't have anybody whom he trusts."
    Anyone who doubts that Trump was down should consider that this week the President's aides, who typically praise their boss like he's a Golden Retriever, amped-up the happy talk to an extraordinary level. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump's trip "was a historic turning point that people will be talking about for years to come," and that he had "united the civilized world in the fight against terrorism and extremism." This came after spokeswoman Hope Hicks issued a high school yearbook-style statement of praise that could be mistaken for parody. Here's just a sample:
    "President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people...he has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor ... "
    Appalling as Trump's egomania may be, he's not alone in this quality. As Trump was putting himself above the planet, Hillary Clinton was deflecting responsibility for her electoral loss, complaining about her party's deficiencies and other factors that she believes denied her the presidency. Like the proverbial bull, Trump saw red and went back to Twitter to say, "Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody but herself, refuses to say she was a terrible candidate. Hits Facebook & even Dems & DNC."
    Six months after the election, Trump's evocation of his "Crooked Hillary" refrain, which was execrable when he used it on the stump reminded us his worst qualities and surely widened the gap between the President that a sizable majority of those who voted last November chose someone else. The phrase, like so much of Trump's campaign, is beneath the American people.
    A little less bad, but nevertheless still a sign of a dignity deficit, Clinton's complaints revive the criticisms that have dogged her for years. Too often Clinton has voiced a kind of pettiness -- calling Trump supporters "deplorables" for example -- that casts doubts on her claim to a higher calling.
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    It is distressing that neither Trump nor Clinton is ready to speak and act with the grace and humility generally required when a contest is over. Perhaps they are struggling because the outcome of the election was unsatisfying to both of them. Clinton won the most votes, but lost the office. Trump gained the office but lost the popular vote.
    It may be asking too much of people who are late in life -- he's 70, she's 69 -- for them to change at this stage, but this behavior only makes us yearn for something better.
    In related news, Joe Biden, age 74, is showing signs that his political career isn't over. Referring to Hillary Clinton, he told a conference in Las Vegas: "I never thought she was a great candidate. I thought I was a great candidate." So naturally he recently announced the creation of a political action committee and refused to foreclose the possibility that he might run for president in 2020.