Milbank: At home and abroad, Trump has fondness for ‘bad boys’

And Trump’s crush on Kim Jong Un could lead to dangerous concessions to the North Korean leader.

By Dana Milbank

The Washington Post

Why does President Trump fall in love with bad men?

One man — let’s call him “Jong Un” to protect his privacy — imprisons, tortures and kills people without trial. He starves millions and apparently ordered his own half-brother killed. He practices infanticide and executes people who sleep during patriotic displays.

But Trump finds Jong Un irresistible. “He wrote me beautiful letters. … We fell in love,” said the smitten Trump, who also described Jong Un as “smart,” “honorable,” “open,” “funny” and in possession of “a great personality.”

Another man, “Paul,” is a convicted felon, described by prosecutors as having “a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse” after dabbling in tax fraud and money laundering.

But the course of true love never did run smooth, and Trump fell for Paul, too. “Such respect for a brave man!” he said, calling him a “good man” even after Paul’s crimes became known.

“Michael,” similarly, pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud, campaign-finance violations and lying to Congress.

But Trump, unaware that Michael would soon “flip,” lashed out at those who would destroy Michael “and his relationship with me.” Michael is “a fine person,” a “good person” and somebody “I have always liked & respected.”

Next, there’s “Roger,” who has been charged with lying about stolen emails. He just posted an image of the judge overseeing his case with crosshairs near her head.

But Trump had fallen for Roger, too, calling him “a good guy” and “so loyal and so wonderful.”

Finally, there is a man — we’ll call him “Jinping” — who is holding 1 million people in concentration camps and whose dictatorship steals technology from Trump’s country.

But Trump tells Jinping, “My feeling toward you is an incredibly warm one. … There’s great chemistry.”

To understand why Trump falls so hard for so many bad men, maybe we should take him at his word: It’s chemistry.

Evolutionary psychologists (not to mention Cosmopolitan magazine) have studied why some women love bad men. Research shows that men who possess the “Dark Triad” traits of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism are skilled at beginning relationships, deploying charm and manipulating would-be mates. Such men (few women have the Dark Triad) are more successful with women at first, before becoming abusive and unfaithful.

Why a U.S. president would fall for bad men is less well known, given the small sample size. But something similar could explain Trump’s attraction to authoritarian and unsavory figures. If power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, as Henry Kissinger said, then absolute power is, like, wow.

Gregory Carter, a psychologist at Britain’s York St. John University who studies the Dark Triad, explained to me why a leader might be attracted to a strongman of dubious morals. “They will use soft tactics — compliments, charm, praise — and hard tactics — bullying, threatening — interchangeably based on whatever will get the best result for themselves,” Carter explained. That’s beguiling stuff.

Sparks really fly when two Dark Triad leaders get together. “Individuals who are highly psychopathic gravitate to other individuals who are also highly psychopathic,” Carter told me. “Individuals possessed of this personality are relatively rare. So one who has defied the odds and become a successful psychopath represents something desirable” to a fellow psychopath, confirming “that this deceitful, personal, manipulative, callous perspective on the world does actually pay off.”

Carter isn’t necessarily diagnosing Trump as a Dark Triad guy, which is good, because relationships between two Dark Triad people tend to be brief and explosive, even without nuclear arms.

But Trump clearly crushes on bad men. He has spoken of his “great chemistry” not just with China’s Xi Jinping but also with Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, and he has a “positive chemistry” with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. At home, Trump’s fondness for bad boys is legend: Six associates have been charged in the special counsel’s probe, and four Cabinet officers have been driven out over questionable use of money.

Nobody enraptures Trump at the moment quite like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Kim “never had a relationship” like this before, Trump said before departing to meet the object of his affection in Hanoi. The recipient of gushing letters from Kim, Trump speaks of their “fantastic chemistry.”

You can’t hurry love, though, and Trump now is in “no rush” to have North Korea denuclearize. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s wingman in Hanoi, must prevent the besotted president from dropping sanctions against Kim while getting nothing.

Unrequited concession is a risk when you’re dealing with the Dark Triad. And Trump was already swooning when he landed in Vietnam on Tuesday. “So much love!” he tweeted. Even his Twitter account is aflutter.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

Patricia Robles from Cazares Farms hands a bag to a patron at the Everett Farmers Market across from the Everett Station in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Editorial: EBT program a boon for kids’ nutrition this summer

SUN Bucks will make sure kids eat better when they’re not in school for a free or reduced-price meal.

Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, April 23

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Students make their way through a portion of a secure gate a fence at the front of Lakewood Elementary School on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. Fencing the entire campus is something that would hopefully be upgraded with fund from the levy. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Levies in two north county districts deserve support

Lakewood School District is seeking approval of two levies. Fire District 21 seeks a levy increase.

Don’t penalize those without shelter

Of the approximately 650,000 people that meet Housing and Urban Development’s definition… Continue reading

Fossil fuels burdening us with climate change, plastic waste

I believe that we in the U.S. have little idea of what… Continue reading

Comment: We have bigger worries than TikTok alone

Our media illiteracy is a threat because we don’t understand how social media apps use their users.

Editorial: A policy wonk’s fight for a climate we can live with

An Earth Day conversation with Paul Roberts on climate change, hope and commitment.

Snow dusts the treeline near Heather Lake Trailhead in the area of a disputed logging project on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, outside Verlot, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Editorial: Move ahead with state forests’ carbon credit sales

A judge clears a state program to set aside forestland and sell carbon credits for climate efforts.

Eco-nomics: What to do for Earth Day? Be a climate hero

Add the good you do as an individual to what others are doing and you will make a difference.

Comment: Setting record strraight on 3 climate activism myths

It’s not about kids throwing soup at artworks. It’s effective messaging on the need for climate action.

People gather in the shade during a community gathering to distribute food and resources in protest of Everett’s expanded “no sit, no lie” ordinance Sunday, May 14, 2023, at Clark Park in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Comment: The crime of homelessness

The Supreme Court hears a case that could allow cities to bar the homeless from sleeping in public.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.