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How Does He Do it? Acknowledging Trump’s Underappreciated Resilience

There’s no shortage of people who have strong visceral feelings of hatred, disgust, and contempt for Donald Trump. In fact, I recently came across a post that read: “I’m tired of seeing his face, hearing his voice. I hate everything about him. I just wish he’d go away. You know who I mean.” That last sentence, “you know who I mean,” is telling. When was the last time the identity of a statement’s unnamed person was so obvious?

The backlash against Trump, though, is multifaceted. Within the large set of Americans who believe that he must never be president again, not all conclude that he’s evil and/or a threat to democracy. Some, like the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, are troubled that a second Trump term would be one of revenge against his detractors, Cabinet positions filled based on the singular qualification of blind loyalty, and shoot-from-the-hip policies that will erode our foreign alliances.

All of those folks are so bent on their displeasure with Trump that they fail to see a uniquely special gift he possesses, which is a tremendous advantage for the leader of the free world to have: unparalleled resilience.

Late in the 1984 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan’s age suddenly became a factor when he seemed, well, a bit Biden-like in his first debate against Walter Mondale. But in the second debate, Reagan came out swinging: asked whether his age would prevent him from being an effective president, Reagan quipped: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Reagan won the day, and the election, with that retort. Everyone laughed, even Mondale. But the question, asked by Henry Trewhitt of the Baltimore Sun, was a good one. Trewhitt referred to President Kennedy’s multiple sleepless nights during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and asked Reagan if there was any doubt in his mind that he’d have the stamina to do the same under similar conditions. Trump has that specific gift too, the ability to function at a high level with little or no sleep. But the larger takeaway from examples like the Cuban Missile Crisis is resilience, and Trump has that in droves.

How does he do it? However one feels about Trump, he or she has to marvel at how he’s able to endure nonstop battering from all fronts. Two impeachments, countless lawsuits, phony scandals, looming threats of criminal prosecution, governmental efforts to bankrupt him, constant malicious abuse in the press, and damning testimony by former members of his circle. The last president to face anything close to that level of nonstop public excoriation was Richard Nixon, and he didn’t handle it nearly as well. During the last days of Watergate, Nixon reportedly drank excessively and roamed the White House hallways in the middle of the night, talking aloud to numerous presidential portraits. He couldn’t sleep; he was a complete mess. And Nixon was no powder puff. He grew up literally dirt poor and made it to the White House with no one’s help.

Nixon’s final days in office revealed his human side; that deep down, he was a person with feelings. In contrast, does that make Trump a callous being, incapable of human emotion? That argument doesn’t hold water, because there’s ample evidence that Trump is miffed by the slightest of offenses. As I wrote in late 2016, Trump’s the type of person who, on his way to the inauguration, would engage a critical wino shouting anti-Trump epithets from a gutter in which he’s laying.

The only other logical explanation is that Trump has unbelievable resolve. Professional boxers are measured not necessarily by how well they can throw a punch, but by how well they can take one. In the mid-1980s, many thought that Mike Tyson was the greatest heavyweight of all time, better than even Muhammad Ali. Nowadays, not nearly as many people believe that, because in the ensuing years, despite Tyson’s ferocious offense, we also learned that his chin can be questionable at times. Ali, on the other hand, had an iron chin. And so does Trump.

Compared to Trump, all modern-day presidents have been mollycoddled. Sure, the political right seethed at Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s popularity, and the left was incensed that George W. Bush was in the White House, but none of it rose to this level. No president since Lincoln has taken such a beating and didn’t even flinch. Many presidents’ chins were never tested, at least not by their own fellow countrymen.

We can all imagine that if we’re faced with a hardship, at least we’d want to be able to find comfort in the bosom of our family and friends. But imagine that if on top of that hardship they all turn against us, and we’re left with no one but ourselves. Imagine the incredible strength it would take to persevere under such circumstances. Trump’s faced constant criticism not only from the Democrats, as would be expected, but also from his fellow Republicans, from the media, academia, Hollywood, and Wall Street. Can we say that about any other president? And yet, here he is, ready for more.

Another of Trump’s attributes is his ability to continuously look forward. He says that obsessing over regrets or lamenting about losing one’s youth is unhealthy. It’s refreshing and inspiring to see a 77-year-old who’s not thinking “oh, if only I was 30 again,” but looks to tomorrow with the youthful, hopeful exuberance of a young man.

Those who warn us about the ludicrous notion that Trump’s narcissism will propel him to end democracy instead ought to admire his remarkable intestinal fortitude.

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