Seriously? Is President-elect Donald Trump so thin-skinned that even criticism from Meryl Streep triggers a nasty, over-the-top response? What kind of crybaby have Americans elected as their leader?
“One of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood,” Trump absurdly called the most acclaimed actress of our time, demonstrating he is no more prepared to become critic in chief than commander in chief.
Are there more important things to think and write about than Trump’s latest Twitter tantrum? Yes and no. Trump threatens to snatch health insurance coverage from millions, enact huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, reverse progress against climate change, destabilize the Western alliance, pick fights with China while cuddling up to Russia — the big-issues list is long and frightening. But I believe it would be foolish not to examine the personality and the psychological makeup of the man who will soon be in the White House.
My view, then, is that we cannot ignore his vitriolic tweet storms. No, we should not let them distract us from other news about the incoming administration. But the Twitter rants offer a glimpse into Trump’s psyche, and it’s not pretty.
For anyone who missed the whole thing, Streep received a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes on Sunday night. She began her acceptance speech by apologizing for having lost her voice. But while she could only speak softly, her words took a two-by-four to Trump’s fragile ego.
“There was one performance this year that stunned me,” she said. “It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.”
Streep was incorrect in only one fact: The incident to which she referred actually took place at a rally in November 2015, when candidate Trump mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a medical condition that limits the motion of his arms. While denouncing Kovaleski, whom I have known for years, Trump gestured similarly to the way the reporter does.
“This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful,” Streep said, “it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.”
Streep was hardly the first critic to attack Trump for that “performance,” and she won’t be the last. But Trump must have stewed about it all night, because he rose to tweet his response at 6:27 a.m., calling her “over-rated” and “a Hillary flunky who lost big.”
I don’t have to defend Streep or Kovaleski — both can take care of themselves. But Trump’s knee-jerk reaction is worthy of comment because it is so typical. The man who is about to become president is enveloped by a shell of self-regard that at first seems armor-like but turns out to be delicate and brittle.
He couldn’t endure Alec Baldwin’s impression of him on “Saturday Night Live,” calling it “not funny” and saying it “just can’t get any worse.” He reacted to an unflattering piece in Vanity Fair by claiming that the magazine is “way down, big trouble, dead!” and that its editor has “no talent.” He taunted his replacement on “Celebrity Apprentice,” former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for having low Nielsen numbers “by comparison to the ratings machine, DJT” — and noted that Schwarzenegger was not a supporter of his campaign.
Conversely, he shows nothing but high regard for anyone who says anything nice about him. Thus he calls Russian President Vladimir Putin “very smart” and quotes him approvingly, despite the fact that intelligence officials say Russia actively meddled in our electoral process.
I don’t believe Trump’s tweets are part of some sophisticated strategy to draw attention away from other events and topics. To me, this looks like simple action and reaction. When someone criticizes him publicly in a way that threatens his stature, he seems compelled to hit back. He can’t seem to ignore any slight.
That’s a sign of weakness, not strength — as Putin and other world leaders surely have figured out.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.