Put a cone on it.
David Roth,  August 22

The President of Blank Sucking Nullity

From a-hole to b-hole, Trump explained

Put a cone on it.
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My father is convinced that his dog is embarrassed. He doesn’t mean the rudimentary way that dogs ever show embarrassment, which from my observation amounts to taking several willful strides away from a mess they’ve made and then looking back disdainfully, as if wondering what sort of ingrate would do that right there by the parking meter where everyone could see it. My dad understands his dog’s shame as a more fraught and sorrowful thing, which is why he has taken to removing his dog’s protective cone before taking her outside. He thinks that she (the dog) thinks the other dogs are laughing at her.

At the risk of belaboring things, dogs are animals that introduce themselves to their peers by assertively investigating those peers’ b-holes; their brains are the size of nectarines and in many cases not significantly more brain-like. They are just about the best creatures on this earth, but if you or my father believe that dogs are embarrassed by the protective cones that veterinarians place on them, then you or my father are overthinking it.

Dogs are animals that introduce themselves by assertively investigating their peers’ b-holes. You have gathered that this is about Donald Trump.

The dogs are inarguably inconvenienced by these cones, which is their purpose: the cones are prescribed by veterinarians because saying things like “I’ll need you to try avoid licking these stitches for a week” or “I’m going to ask you to stop gnawing on that bacterial infection on your ass” is not going to work. The dogs do not like this, and they also may not like engaging with their peer-dogs while wearing a goofy blunderbuss that keeps them from their habitual introductory b-hole assessments and self-administered kamikaze junk ablutions. But at some point there’s no real sense in guessing. You have probably gathered that this is about Donald Trump.


On August 12, Trump and the world witnessed armed white supremacists in the streets and an attempted mass murder by an ISIS-preferred method. Over the course of three working days, he figured out a way to get firmly and even defiantly on the wrong side of it all. In a pair of transparently strained attempts at being Presidential, Trump struggled to muster a condemnation of literal fascism on the literal march; he identified the presence of “very fine people” on both the fascist and anti-fascist sides of what is honestly not a working binary, and he reserved the phrase “truly bad people” for the news media, which had been so unfair, so unfair, in their response. By Tuesday, the issue was once again the media’s selective and slanted and dishonest treatment of him. By Thursday morning, Trump was tweeting mournfully about the tragedy of Confederate monuments being removed from public parks. He finally sounded like himself again.

Among the segment of the population that’s put off by things like a president refusing to forcefully condemn Nazi rioters, this has raised some uncomfortable questions about Trump’s beliefs. Does he really share any or many of the beliefs with the racists and nationalists and racist-nationalists who made his campaign their cause, or is this a political calculation against criticizing a small but important part of his base? Was his decision to defend statues of famous slave masters a reflection of his perspective on history, or maybe a darkly strategic reading of the national political mood? Did he not know that what he said was historically incoherent and obviously wrong? It’s right to wonder, but we should be past asking these questions about this man at this point. The most significant thing to know about Donald Trump’s politics or process, his beliefs or his calculations, is that he is an asshole; the only salient factor in any decision he makes is that he absolutely does not care about the interests of the parties involved except as they reflect upon him. Start with this, and you already know a lot. Start with this, and you already know that there are no real answers to any of these questions.

It is not quite fair to say that Donald Trump lacks core beliefs, but to the extent that we can take apart these beliefs they amount to Give Donald Trump Your Money and Donald Trump Should Really Be on Television More. The only comprehensible throughline to his politics is that everything Trump says is something he’s said previously, with additional very’s and more-and-more’s appended over time; his worldview amounts to the sum of the dumb shit he saw on the cover of the New York Post in 1985, subjected to a few decades of rancid compounding interest and deteriorating mental aptitude. He watches a lot of cable news, but he struggles to follow even stories that have been custom built for people like him—old, uninformed, amorphously if deeply aggrieved.

There’s a reason for this. Trump doesn’t know anything or really believe anything about any topic beyond himself, because he has no interest in any topic beyond himself; his evident cognitive decline and hyperactive laziness and towering monomania ensure that he will never again learn a new thing in his life. He has no friends and no real allies; his inner circle is divided between ostensibly scandalized cynics and theatrically shameless ones, all of whom hold him in low regard and see him as a potential means to their individuated ends. There is no help on the way; his outer orbit is a rotation of replacement-level rage-grandpas and defective, perpetually clammy operators.

Trump now “executes” by way of the The Junior Soprano Method. When he senses that his staff is trying to get him to do one thing, Trump defiantly does the opposite; otherwise he bathes in the commodified reactionary grievance of partisan media, looking for stories about himself. It takes days for his oafish and overmatched handlers to coax him into even a coded and qualified criticism of neo-Nazis, and an instant for him to willfully undo it. Of course he brings more vigor to the latter than the former; he doesn’t really understand why he had to do the first thing, but he innately and deeply understands why he did the second. The first is invariably about someone else—some woman, there was a car accident, like during or maybe after that thing—and therefore, as an asshole, he does not and cannot really care about it. The second is about him and therefore, as an asshole, he really, really does.

To understand Trump is also to understand his appeal as an aspirational brand to the worst people in the United States. What his intransigent admirers like most about him—the thing they aspire to, in their online cosplay sessions and their desperately thirsty performances for a media they loathe and to which they are so helplessly addicted—is his freedom to be unconcerned with anything but himself. This is not because he is rich or brave or astute; it’s because he is an asshole, and so authentically unconcerned. The howling and unreflective void at his core will keep him lonely and stupid until the moment a sufficient number of his vital organs finally resign in disgrace, but it liberates him to devote every bit of his being to his pursuit of himself. Actual hate and actual love, as other people feel them, are too complicated to fit into this world. In their place, for Trump and for the people who see in him a way of being that they are too busy or burdened or humane to pursue, are the versions that exist in a lower orbit, around the self. Instead of hate, there is simple resentment—abject and valueless and recursively self-pitying; instead of love, there is the blank sucking nullity of vanity and appetite.

This is what an asshole is, and lord knows Trump is not the only one in his business, or our culture, who insistently bends every incident or issue back towards his sour and jealous self. Some of the people who do this even care at some level about the broader world, but because they are assholes believe that the solution to that world’s problems lies in paying more attention to one particular asshole and his or her ideas. Trump is not one of those people. The rest of the world is an abstraction to him, a market to exploit; there is no other person in it who is real to him. They’re all supplicants or subjects, fans or haters, but their humanity is transparently not part of the equation. What other people might want, or indeed the fact that they could want at all, is crowded out of the picture by the corroded and corrosive bulk of his horrible self.

There is no room for other people in the world that Trump has made for himself, and this is fundamental to the anxiety of watching him impose his claustrophobic and airless interior world on our own. Is Trump a racist? Yes, because that’s a default setting for stupid people; also, he transparently has no regard for other people at all. Does Trump care about the cheap-looking statue of Stonewall Jackson that some forgotten Dixiecrat placed in a shithole park somewhere he will never visit? Not really, but he so resents the fact that other people expect him to care that he develops a passionate contrary opinion out of spite. Does he even know about . . . Let me stop you there. The answer is no.

Every lie, every evasion, every massive and blithely issued shock to the conscience Trump authors will only ever be about him.

The answer is always no, and it will always be no because he does not care. Every lie, every evasion, every massive and blithely issued shock to the conscience Trump authors will only ever be about him. He will never be embarrassed by any of these things, because he cannot understand anyone’s response to them except as it relates to him. Slavery? That’s another thing that his very dishonest enemies want to blame him for. Racism? He’s been accused of it, and honestly it’s so ridiculous, so ridiculous. History? He’s in the business of making it, baby. Violence? Not his fault. People protesting? He doesn’t know them.

This is the horror at the hole of every asshole, and it is why Trump will never get better as a president or a person: it will always and only be about him. History matters only insofar as it brought him to this moment; the roaring and endless present in which he lives matters because it is where he is now; the future is the place in which he will do it all again. Trump’s world ends with him, and a discourse or a politics that is locked into scrutinizing or obsessively #resisting or otherwise chasing him will invariably end up as arid and abstracted and curdled as he is. More to the point, it’s a dead end. The shame an animal feels is secret to us.

David Roth is a writer from New Jersey who lives in New York. He is on Twitter at @david_j_roth.

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