Consider how this notable presidential candidate was described:
- Symptoms of “preposterous megalomania” (362)
- Tendency to inflate numbers (363)
- Talks incessantly about himself, what he has done and could do more than other mortals (340)
- Authoritarian – “a man with absolute dominion over his people who brooks no advice that does not further his own daydreams and grinds out policies solely in the grist-mill of his own ambition” (354-55)
- “A president of the United States, not a ‘party’ president, but a president of the whole people” (364)
- Does not allow criticisms, even by his associates and “contradictions rouse in him the lion”; threatens to trample down enemies (355, 420)
- Needs to confabulate stories — that is, make up stories out of whole cloth — but present them as real. Seems to be “formally” aware that claims are false but has overall impaired sense of reality (418)
- Empire builder, real estate magnate, financial and land speculator — builder of temples, cities and kingdoms — but mostly “a constructor of continuing fantasy” (421)
- Tremendous ability to gain free publicity (viii)
- Known as an inveterate woman-chaser with multiple marriages
- Unscientific racial theories (415, 423)
Have you guessed yet?
Here are a few more traits commonly ascribed to this public figure.
- Habit of loose and wild utterances (420)
- Destruction of media he regards as unfavorable (377)
- Exuberant talent for improvisation with lack of care for consistency of detail (403, 409)
- Personality traits of “jollity, love of sport and good living” (402)
- “Impostor” personality with “omnipotence fantasy” (418)
- Prodigious personal charm (402)
- Nimble in explaining and extricating himself from failure (417)
- Presidential campaign theme: “American liberty is on the wane and calamity is about to destroy the peace of the people”; “too much government” (341)
- Good showman, absolutely dependent on having an audience (418)
- Identification of God with material prosperity (402)
If you’re thinking “Donald J. Trump” you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but the actual figure in question is Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church).
Smith started out as a gold-digger (literally) and treasure-hunting entrepreneur in his teens in Vermont and western New York in the 1820s; proclaimed a revelation from the Angel Moroni which resulted in the Book of Mormon; and journeyed westward where he founded businesses, cities, temples and got involved in numerous lawsuits involving his various properties and management practices.
He actually did run for president of the U.S. in 1844 but ultimately died in July of that year trying to flee a murderous mob at the jail where he was imprisoned following his orders to his legion to destroy an anti-Mormon newspaper office that he considered “libelous.”
Smith clearly wanted complete control about what was said about him and his movement and his group’s destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor was described as the act of “an autocrat who could think only in terms of suppression.” (377).
Obviously I have structured the list above craftily to bring out the most obvious and egregious similarities between Smith and Trump.
But let’s just take one item, “confabulation,” to get a better understanding of how autocrats feel they can simply “make stuff up” without consequences.
Joseph Smith, not realizing that the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics would soon be revealed in America, came across some genuine Egyptian papyri in 1835 and, perhaps feeling the spirit of God once again descending on the same self-taught linguistic talents that produced the Book of Mormon, proclaimed that he had translated the papyri. The scrolls were, he declared, the writings of Abraham and Joseph (son of Jacob). Of course this was eventually exposed by scholars as pure confabulation.
Likewise, Donald Trump confabulated, that is, simply imagined, at 9/11 that “thousands and thousands of people in New Jersey were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” He says he saw it on TV despite no external evidence of such coverage or cheering. Anywhere. (See Trump Needs Apprentice for Fact-Checking)
He also claimed that the U.S. unemployment rate could be as high as 42 percent. And of course there’s the whopper that he had handpicked instructors for his dubious Trump “University.”
Earlier this year Trump said that there were 1.5 million people at his inauguration. “I’m like, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people.” Confabulator extraordinaire!
Most recently, Trump claimed that his electoral college win was the biggest since Reagan. Confabulation elite status.
And of course there’s the on-again-off-again bromance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Trump most recently boldly claimed that he has never met him, has no relationship: “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy.”
Yet in a newly resurfaced 2015 interview with conservative talk radio host Michael Savage, Trump claimed that he met Putin and that they “got along great,” contradicting his later campaign trail claims that he never met or spoke with Putin.
The Washington Post has a very helpful chronology of the bromance, including this exchange:
TRUMP: I have no relationship with Putin. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I never met him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You would know it if you did.
TRUMP: I think so.
It would be fascinating to book a trip in the Wayback Machine to bring Mr. Smith to Washington and put the Mormon up against the Trumpon.
Would they be like old fishing buddies spinning tall tales of giant marlins caught and thrown back? Or would they just glare at each other as poseurs to the title of Confabulator-in-Chief? Would Trump immediately nominate Smith to the new Cabinet post of Secretary of Religion? Would Joe offer advice on how to build a real temple?
My guess is that they would immediately set to work on a new self-absorbent prophetic novel: The Book of Trumpon.