Many politicians - like most people - think before they speak. They have a plan, and decide what points they want to make. Even when they willfully deceive their audience, they do so with basic narrative. They tell a story.
Trump is different. He offers no narrative, and the primary sentence he offers us is a slogan or mantra - he will "make America great again". He also repeats how well he's doing in the polls.
When it comes to facts, to genuine narratives about policy - about the whys and wherefores - he cannot do it. He cannot put two sentences together, let alone utter a coherent paragraph or political thesis. Not only is there no narrative, other than his continued success, there is no consistency even when he does take a position. For example, he said he would not raise taxes, but then told Chuck Todd that he would tax the wealthy. He first opposed having a minimum wage, but now thinks it's a good idea.
At first blush one could say he flip-flops. Some Republicans say that is what makes them nervous. But he only flip-flops if one uses a narrative framework to understand him. Others say he lies. But he only lies if one thinks historically, making cause and effect links between various ideas and policies. He doesn't lie. He doesn't flip-flop. He believes what he says and says what he believes - but only at the moment he says it.
It's not funny that so many of his followers say that Trump is just being Trump. The Economist recently ranked a Trump Presidency as one of its top ten global risks. Europeans take him more seriously than Americans, because they believe he takes himself seriously and that he thinks before he speaks. There was an old joke, when we had pay phone booths. If you saw a man standing in a phone booth and not on the phone, you knew he was European. Why? Because he was waiting for a guy to call him back who promised to do so in a few minutes.
What is troubling to me is that a great variety of Americans support him, and even cheer him on. He's not just a racist like Jean-Marie Le Pen or Enoch Powell; he's not just an insensitive business tycoon like Lloyd Blankfein or Silvio Berlusconi; he's not just an arrogant smug elitist like Norman Podhoretz or Nicholas Sarkozy; he's not just tyrannical like Mitch McConnell or Vladimir Putin; he's not simply a fear-monger like Dick Cheney. He is all of those, plus being covered with a self-made Teflon coating. Even his own words don't stick to him.
With President Reagan it was scandals, like Iran-Contra, that didn't stick. But with Trump, his own words don't stick to his own tongue, once they leave his mouth. He calmly denies having said something he just said - even when he's shown proof. He remains supremely confident that he can say whatever comes into his mind: he once boasted that he could walk down Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, but still go up in the polls. Nothing sticks to Trump except his hair.
For generations people's thoughts and ideas traveled on an arc, or at least on something like train tracks. Thoughts evolved in a linear fashion, with some extraneous lateral diversions thrown in. Trump has made it clear that those days are over - at least for him and his supporters. I just hope they are not also over for the rest of us.