When asked about President Trump's threat to revoke the security clearances of critics, House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the threat by saying: "I think he's trolling people, honestly."
This hints at the best way to understand the bizarre aberration that is the Trump presidency: He's a troll.
Ryan isn't the first to point this out. Comedian Dave Chappelle said in an SNL monologue just after Trump's election that "We've actually elected an internet troll as our president."
The Wikipedia has a pretty good definition for what a troll is:
"A troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll's amusement or a specific gain."
In Trump's case, the "specific gain" he trolls for is: attention.
Trump suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. Here's how the Mayo Clinic defines that malady:
"Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism."
This combination of a bottomless need for attention and hypersensitivity to criticism explains literally everything that's problematic about Trump as a person and as a president.
Trump trolls on Twitter, threatening Iran, for example, in all-caps. It's horrible practice. It's backed by zero policy. It harms the United States and its reputation. But Trump has other priorities, namely to satisfy his "deep need for excessive attention and admiration."
Trump has a strange list of enemies for a US president, and an even stranger list of friends.
His enemies are pretty much every American or American institution of goodwill seeking the benefit of the nation, but who have criticized Trump.
Trump's "friends" -- the people he praises -- are pretty much anyone who flatters or supporters him, including all the world's current dictators.
He's not subtle or sophisticated about this. He literally says that the reason US policy should support another leader is because they "like me."
Trump tends to infuriate his critics. And this is by design. Trump says things that are off, wrong, lies, false, skewed in just such a way as to "trigger" people, causing everyone to scramble to "educate" Trump -- which is how trolls get attention.
For trolls, the "triggering" is the whole point of public statements.
Media observers often complain that in the era of Trump, the new cycle is a rollercoaster of daily outrages. Again, this is by design. Trump has finally found a place where he feels like everyone is talking about him all the time. The second Trump feels the conversation veering off topic, he does what trolls do: He goes on Twitter and says something outrageous to get the attention back on him.
They say that the way to deal with a troll is to ignore them. But Trump's greatest achievement is being elected president. In that role, wrapped in the enormous powers granted to a president by the Constitution, there's no possibility of ignoring, blocking or reporting the troll in the White House.
So all we can do is understand. We can understand that Trump is a troll with a bottomless appetite for attention, and a lot of resources and skill in taking that attention.
People are worried that Trump will destroy the economy, start catastrophic wars and end the liberal international order that has created the post World War II peace and prosperity in between and among the nations of Europe, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Japan and other beneficiaries.
While those events might be averted, we know for sure that Trump is steadily trolling us all into squandering our precious lives on his all-consuming narcissism.
It's up to each of us to protect ourselves in our own way from the Mother of All Trolls.