Donald Trump has been called a "buffoon." That's a mistake. "Buffoon" implies foolish, stupid. But Donald Trump possesses a kind of genius: He's a genius at getting attention for himself.
One might say that the quest for attention -- more than "making deals" -- has been the driving force in Trump's life. And for decades, he has succeeded in getting considerable public attention. But it is only in recent months that he's demonstrated how extraordinary is his ability to seize -- and hold -- the spotlight.
America can hardly talk about anyone or anything else.
By entering the political arena, he's had to compete with other accomplished attention-getters. But Trump has commanded more attention, probably, than all the others combined.
For that matter, has anyone in American history been more the center of attention than Donald Trump has been since his campaign announcement last summer? During these months, Trump has been putting on a show for America and America just can't get enough of this Trump show.
(Trump succeeds in putting us who are appalled by him, who regard him as dangerous, in a bind. We feel obliged to talk about the threat that he poses. But in so doing, we also play into his hands.)
Trump's quest for attention has a particular flavor. Not only is there an "It's all about me" narcissistic element, common to most attention-seekers. But what Trump wants everyone to see in him is his sheer power and greatness.
Trump is the man who puts his name on everything within his reach. He uses his name to create monuments to himself. This huge building -- the Trump Tower -- is me. These great airplanes, with "Trump" in big letters on their sides, are me.
In his posture of bigger-than-human, Trump has something in common with the likes of Ferdinand Marcos, the former dictator of the Philippines, who had an enormous stone mountain carved into an image of his own head, and with Saddam Hussein, whose much bigger-than-life statue stood as a commanding presence in Baghdad.
Trump has always looked for ways of getting millions of people watching him play a role of domination. The whole structure of his reality show, "The Apprentice," was geared toward the climactic moment when Trump would tell some poor soul, "You're fired."
Not just dominating, but using dominance to cut "losers" down.
ATTACKING THE "OTHER"
The essence of "drama," it has long been said, is "conflict." And nothing seizes attention more dramatically than a fight.
It was with a statement tantamount to a declaration of war against undocumented immigrants that Trump captured national attention at the very beginning of his campaign, labeling the Mexicans among us as criminals and rapists.