INDIANAPOLIS — The other day, Hillary Clinton said President Donald Trump was so obsessed with her that she was “living in his head, rent-free.”
She meant it as a joke.
The rest of us have Donald Trump living in our heads, hogging every inch of living space, dominating the dinner-table conversation, demanding our attention every single waking second.
Given the massive upper-crust tax cut and accompanying national debt burden he and his allies rammed through, he’s not exactly staying with us rent-free.
But he’s there, all the time, in our faces, like a deprived child who feels abandoned.
And it prompts a fundamental but hard question: What is it this man needs?
Because we clearly will know no peace until he finds or gets it.
The New York Times and other news organizations have done superb jobs of exploring the rickety houses of cards and toothpicks that are the Trump business and finances.
We now have confirmation that his self-crafted and self-advanced narrative of being a business savant — a deal-maker without peer — is nothing more than a package of lies. The Times has reported, in convincing detail, that during the 1980s and early 1990s, the years that were supposed to be Trump’s greatest period of business success — that he lost more money than just about any other taxpayer in America.
This reporting raises questions about where the president got the money he needed to stay afloat and has increased the intensity of skeptics’ demands that he release all his tax returns and financial information, as every other president since Richard Nixon has done.
Important as this reporting is, it isn’t surprising to anyone who hasn’t fallen under Trump’s spell.
Nor does it answer the most important question about this president.
Donald Trump is not the first hustler I have seen or encountered in this life.
The good ones, though, always know when they’ve scored, when it’s time to skedaddle before the marks catch on.
But there is a self-destructive streak in Trump that seems determined to seize defeat from the jaws of victory, to dance ever closer to the flames even after he seems to have walked successfully through the fire.
The constitutional crisis he’s on the edge of precipitating with Congress is but the latest example of this near-suicidal tendency.
When Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued his report into Russia’s attempts to sway the 2016 election, the president could have calmed the waters. He could have spoken to the threat to the nation. He could have eaten some humble pie, said he learned things from the report and pledged to be more vigilant going forward.
If he had done that, he would have made the work of his critics and opponents much more difficult. It’s hard to attack a man who is apologizing and extending a hand of peace without looking like a jerk.
But Trump didn’t do that.
Instead he threw down the gauntlet. He claimed the report represented total exoneration for him, which it clearly didn’t. He tried to use it to back the people he sees as opponents — everyone who doesn’t agree with him all the time — into a corner.
The problem with backing people into a corner is that doing so gives them two choices.
One is to surrender.
The other is to come roaring back at your throat.
The second option is what has happened now.
The president says he doesn’t want to be impeached. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, doesn’t seem to want to impeach him for all sorts of reasons, but his confrontational posture of refusing to answer all questions may not leave her or her colleagues with any other option but impeaching him to get the information they require.
Similarly, America’s unevenly distributed but robust economic successes represent Trump’s strongest argument for re-election, but he imperils that by escalating an already costly and self-defeating trade war with China.
Some part of the man must need to court disaster for reasons that have not yet been determined or divulged.
This tendency to tiptoe along the cliff’s edge might be of concern only to Donald Trump, his family and his psychiatrist, but for one thing.
He’s living in our White House and, thanks to his constant demands for attention, in our heads.
All the time.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.