Donald Trump is famously narcissistic; framed copies of a fake TIME magazine cover of him hang in at least seven of his properties. The president's outrage at CNN, creation of a voter-fraud commission and reluctance to tout the Senate's healthcare bill are best viewed through the lens of his self-obsession.
Trump recently tweeted a video of him pummelling World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CEO Vince McMahon in a staged fight in 2007, with CNN's logo superimposed on McMahon's face, and the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN. He has intensified his attacks on the cable TV network following its retraction of an article that alleged Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci was being investigated over his links to a Russian investment fund.
Meanwhile, the new election integrity commission has sent letters to all 50 US states requesting lists of voters' names, birth dates, addresses, political affiliations, voting history, felony convictions and other personal information. Trump created the unit to investigate the millions of illegal ballots he believes were cast in last year's election, tilting the popular vote in Hillary Clinton's favour.
The president has also been uncharacteristically quiet regarding the Senate's healthcare bill; experts predicted the latest version would leave 22 million more citizens without health insurance. He also said it would be "okay" if the bill weren't to pass. Moreover, after celebrating the passage of the House healthcare bill with a premature ceremony in the Rose Garden, Trump reportedly called it "mean" behind closed doors.
Trump's hatred of CNN, crackdown on voter fraud and mixed feelings about Republicans' healthcare bills are expressions of his self-obsession. He views CNN, the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets as threats to his authority and legitimacy: their reporting on his campaign's possible collusion with Russia has undermined his electoral victory and cast a cloud over his administration. Lambasting them as biased and dishonest is an attempt to seize control of the narrative and convince his supporters there's nothing to worry about. Similarly, when the hosts of Morning Joe made him feel belittled and emasculated, he lashed out with personal attacks in order to protect his self-esteem.
Rather than admitting Clinton secured nearly 2.9 million more votes, it's easier for a winning-obsessed misogynist to blame mass voter fraud. However, the election integrity commission's investigation may have more insidious goals than simply finding evidence to support the president's baseless claim. The administration could leverage cases of voter fraud to push for voter ID laws, limited early voting and other voting restrictions that would disproportionately harm people of colour (who tend to be Democrats). The trove of voter data collected could also inform gerrymandering - the redrawing of district lines to favour one political party - or be used to precisely target vulnerable voters or districts in future elections. Although the data should be subject to federal public records requests, the administration's history of secrecy and obfuscation may mean some information isn't shared.
Finally, Trump doesn't want to open himself up to criticism by supporting a deeply unpopular healthcare bill that will either fail or harm millions if it passes. His "mean" comment suggests he feels some guilt over his campaign pledges to not cut Medicaid - a social programme that provides healthcare to poor individuals and families - and provide great healthcare for all; the legislation proposed so far would do the opposite. Trump is only loyal to Trump; he's repeatedly thrown his allies and subordinates to the wolves, and won't hesitate to distance himself from the bill and leave Congress with a hot potato.
Trump's narcissism has been key to his success: shameless self-promotion turned his name into a global brand, and it takes immense self-belief to run for president without government or military experience. But his ego has been a steady source of embarrassment this year, distracting from his policies and undercutting his administration at every turn. And in the case of voter fraud, an exercise in humouring a wild accusation could be masking a dangerous assault on voting rights. Trump should start putting America first; ironically, it could salvage his reputation and save his presidency.