That was the Ambrose Bierce definition from his Devil’s Dictionary. Bierce, a late nineteenth century writer and satirist (Remember “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”?) could be more than a bit cynical, but I thought of him yesterday as the news cycle looped around the latest Trump nonsense. Ambrose Bierce had that envy thing down pretty well, and knowing what we know about Trump’s capacity for meanness, it’s even easier for us to understand the extent to which he envies his predecessor:
① Barack Obama’s farewell address painted an honest picture of America beset by divisiveness but moving forward with hope and anticipation. Trump’s Inaugural painted a a bleak picture of a divided America terrified of strangers and cowering in a corner.
② Barack Obama’s wife Michelle devoted much of her public life to the betterment of the nation’s children and, occasionally, dancing with her husband. Donald Trump’s wife Melania has spent much of her initial month planning a lawsuit against a newspaper that has deprived her of “potential earning power” from her new position.
③ Attendance estimates for Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration range from 1.2 million to 1.8 million. Similar estimates to Donald Trump’s fall short of 800,000. (The following day’s Women’s March drew a larger crowd.)
④ Barack Obama’s approval rating on January 18 was 53%. Donald Trump’s plummeted to 44% the day after the inauguration(!) and has held steady since. (A slight spike after his “presidential” address Congress hardly moved the meter.)
⑤ Over an eight-year term Barack Obama’s vacation and political travels cost the United States $100 million, about twelve million a year. Fiscally conservative Republicans incessantly and vociferously complained. Donald Trump has exceeded that amount in his first four trips to Mar-a-Lago. Republicans of all stripes are silent.
⑥ Reading books and newspapers made Barack Obama a student of history, of the Constitution, of law—of contemporary society. Reading Breitbart news made Trump a student of conspiracy theories, white supremacy, misogyny, and anti-Semitism.
⑦ Barack Obama averaged 67,000,000 votes in his two victories, earning 365 and 332 electoral consecutively. Trump garnered 62,000,000 votes, three million fewer than his opponent, and 306 electoral votes.
And there are countless more reasons one could ascribe to Donald Trump’s envy of his predecessor, blind jealousy ranking near the top. And if Obama feels the same antipathy toward Trump, the birther fiasco would be justification enough. Let’s agree that the two men don’t like each other. Let’s also agree that one knows how to be civil toward his enemies and the other is more tantrum-oriented. Maybe we can even agree that Trump knows too little about how the components of the government actually function and the rules under which they do; and so when he spouts wild and baseless accusations as he did yesterday, we have to take them for what they are—expressions of ignorance. But also they’re desperate attempts to deflect us from the one insurmountable problem that he cannot bluff or bully his way out of: Russia.
All anybody could talk about yesterday was Trump’s wire-tapping accusations. We should refuse to be sucked in, though if those accusations are true and Trump Towers was in fact surveilled legally by the government, that further impugns any remaining pretense of innocence; after all, if the Justice Department had doubts about Trump’s dealings with foreign adversaries even before he was elected president, it was doubly stupid for Trump to hand the smoking gun (“I was wiretapped!”) to law enforcement.