INDIANAPOLIS — Donald Trump’s head must be a strange place to live these days.
Walls seem to collapse all around him.
The files of his close friend, personal attorney and fixer now are in the possession of the FBI. Special counsel Robert Mueller apparently is ready to report on four avenues of obstruction of justice. The president also appears to be headed to litigation with two women — a porn star and a former Playboy Playmate — who claim he had sex with them and then bullied or misled them into non-disclosure agreements. The courts seem inclined to allow suits by other women who contend he sexually assaulted them to proceed. And a new book by former FBI Director James Comey — whom Trump fired — promises fresh humiliations and new threats for the president.
The larger world also is in disarray.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has opted to retire, leaving public service with all the courage and dignity of a rodent fleeing a burning house. The markets dance like yo-yos while the president flirts with a trade war with China. Trump vows, then disavows, then vows again to fire missiles at Syria. And North Korea continues to bedevil the United States and the world.
Everywhere this president turns, chaos greets him — most of it of his own making.
While we all try to tiptoe through this tragic funhouse mirror world President Trump has fashioned, I find myself pondering the nature of the man at the center of the upheaval.
What possessed him to run for president?
The fact that he worked so hard to silence women and other figures from his past proves he knew he had baggage, episodes in his life that would not reflect well on him.
But he chose to run anyway.
All human beings are flawed creatures. Some, despite their flaws, choose to devote themselves to a greater cause, either as an act of service or as a means of redemption.
But that’s not Trump.
What would his greater cause be?
Making America Great Again?
By building a wall — one he seems to forget about until he gets into trouble and needs to rally his base again? Passing a tax cut that rewards the Wall Street buccaneers about which his most devoted supporters railed and against whom he campaigned? Starting a trade war with China that will punish the parts of America that voted for him with the most fervor?
No, it wasn’t devotion to a cause that prompted him to do this.
It was innocence.
Not innocence in the moral sense, but rather in terms of arrested development.
This president looks at the world in a binary way. He sees only those who are with him and those who are against him – and those who are with him must be with him all the way, on every question.
He is quick to threaten consequences for those he sees as “against” him, but he is apparently incapable of imposing any discipline on himself.
One sign of maturity — of moving from childhood to adulthood — is the ability to accept responsibility. We learn to say: "I must give thought to what I say and do because my actions have consequences. If I don’t think about what I say and do, I can do harm to others — and to myself."
At the heart of this maturity is an awareness that we are not the world. We are merely a part of the world.
That realization never seems to have dawned on Donald Trump.
He saw the White House in childish terms, as a prize he deserved, rather than as a duty to which he should bend himself.
Part of the reason adolescence can be such an awkward stage of life is that its lessons are hard, even thorny. It can be difficult to grasp that the larger world exists on its own terms, not simply as an extension of one’s desires.
Because he does not see the world as anything but a vehicle for his appetites, President Trump cannot accept responsibility for the chaos he has unleashed or the damage his actions have done to others and himself.
Innocence to the nature of life prompted him to run for an office for which he was entirely unqualified.
His innocence now threatens him.
His innocence threatens us all.
— John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.