There are people for whom the world ends at their fingertips. There are a lot of fancy words for this condition, but most people would simply call its sufferers “nuts.”
It’s when these narcissists put their mitts onto the world they can neither feel nor understand that they become dangerous.
Take, for example, our President Donald Trump, who really believes the complexities of international diplomacy all come down to one-on-one interactions between himself and some similarly powerful leader.
Here’s how he described his then-upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin: “He’s a competitor,” Trump said of Putin. “Is he an enemy? Mmm, no, he’s not my enemy. Is he a friend? No, I don’t know him well enough.”
The point of summits to Trump is to get to know his “competitors” better, so he can, as the New York Times put it, “establish a rapport.
“’I could say: ‘Would you do me a favor? Would you get out of Syria,’” Trump said in an interview with Fox News last month. “‘Would you do me a favor? Would you get out of Ukraine?’”
And would you send me some tubs of that Russian mushroom in cream sauce thing? Do me a favor.
Give me, and the rest of America, a break! We don’t need new friends, but friendly relations.
The insularity of the ego-contained produces not just dangerous innocence but more dangerous ignorance.
Here’s Donald Trump on Europe, a place he’s seen over the past decade only from his limo window, and in the UK from his helicopter, because ground transport would expose him to too much protester-hostility. “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago. I know it’s politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I’ll say it and I’ll say it loud. And I think they better watch themselves because you are changing culture.”
At the heart of this racist explosion is a fact: Donald Trump never visited what he calls “certain areas” 10 or 15 years ago, and he hasn’t been near them since. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
In the UK, where he directed these remarks, and elsewhere in Europe and the United States, city after city, abandoned by its native inhabitants, have been revived, have been saved by immigrants. As a result of ill will or constrained personal experience, Trump may actually be unaware of this.
But, again, the word for people who know nothing but think they know everything is “nuts.”
Oh, but when these nuts get powerful or even just famous, they spill what they don’t know across public conversation, and change cultures more than a couple of million immigrants.
Madeleine Schwartz is a reporter and editor based in Berlin. She has written for The London Review of Books, Harper’s, The Nation, Elle and The New York Review of Books, where she also worked as an editor for several years. Madeleine’s reporting has been supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation and the Fulbright Foundation. She is currently a fellow at the Robert Bosch Stiftung.