Earlier today I was interviewed by Salon about Trump’s continuing erratic and dangerous behavior. To watch the full 20 minute interview click here:
Earlier today I was interviewed by Salon about Trump’s continuing erratic and dangerous behavior. To watch the full 20 minute interview click here:
Since December 2016, I have been writing a book called Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. I published two previous books using the principles of applied psychoanalysis to examine the psyches of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama – as well as the nature both of their supporters and their opposition. In a normal world, I would continue to pursue my analysis without having to worry about current events on a daily basis. But such is not the case when trying to analyze Mr. Trump.
His erratic behavior compromises my efforts, especially since it is escalating. In fact, if he were my patient I would insist that he be hospitalized before attempting psychoanalytic treatment. A working therapeutic relationship requires that the patient have control over his impulses.
I have treated people whose behavior was similar to Mr. Trump’s, but it was in a hospital where the first order of business was setting limits. Why a hospital setting? Because the people I’ve treated who behave like President Trump require hospitalization – even if against their will.
The hospital offers structure and supervision of impulsive people, and helps restrict dangerous behavior until patients can contain their urges and think clearly. I suddenly find myself in a rush of sympathy with Mr. Trump’s parents, who chose to place their impulsive adolescent son in another institution of structure and supervision, The New York Military Academy.
Donald Trump is unstable, and there is no need to list the evidence here. As President of the United States, his behavior presents a clear and present danger to an entire nation, if not the world. We cannot employ, as president, someone too impulsive to think, unable to reason, and unable to engage in complex discussions with the various government agencies from State to Defense to National Security to Justice.
Now is the time for all good members of the GOP – with their powerful grip on all three branches of government – to put party aside, and come to the aid of their country.
Ever since George W Bush was asked to assess his presidency he quipped that the only time he looks in the mirror is when he “combs his hair in the morning.” Recently Donald Trump said he is not introspective. He cares about winning, fighting, and not losing.
Over time it has become obvious that Republicans have a prerequisite to run for President. They must eschew introspection. Reacting replaces thinking, as taking time to think is a sign of weakness. Not only that, thinking risks having to confront one’s own ideas or behaviors.
Bush couldn’t name any mistake he made during his first term; his mind went blank when a reporter asked about it in 2004. Trump’s approach is even more refined, and I don’t think any of his 16 primary opponents was much different. Although recently Rubio, Cruz, Carson, and Speaker Ryan criticized Trump for groping women, they soon reiterated their support for his candidacy. So much for thought process or self-examination.
How, then, do we discover what Trump actually thinks? How do his statements reflect his covert feelings? It’s actually not that difficult: whenever he attacks others he’s describing himself.
Here are some examples: Trump slams Clinton for taking time off to attend an Adele concert. Translation: I shouldn’t be taking time off to promote my Trump International hotel in Washington DC. (In fact, he blasted Hillary as he cut the ribbon.)
His criticism of Biden: “You know when he’s a tough guy. It’s when he’s standing behind the microphone by himself.” Translation: “You know when I’m a tough guy. It’s when I’m standing here alone behind a microphone and mocking Biden for acting tough.
Trump twice criticized Obamacare today: “It’s killing our businesses; it’s killing our small businesses; it’s killing individuals.” Translation: I’m killing my businesses (reservations at my properties are down and some hotels are contemplating removing my name from their marquee); I’m killing small businesses (my steak business and tie-manufacturing business are also hurting); I’m killing myself in this campaign.
Then he said, “All my employees are having a tremendous problem with Obamacare.” Translation: “None of my employees is having trouble with Obamacare because they don’t use it. Instead, I am having a tremendous problem with its success.”
This is what we see: when Trump is not scaring us with the prospect of his finger resting on the nuclear trigger, he is offering a vivid self-portrait based on his defensive delineations of others. He in effect continues to describe himself when he thinks he’s attacking others. Our leaders are losers, he says. We know now more than ever who the real loser is.
America’s confidence in its electoral integrity will overshadow the shadow Donald Trump tried to cast over it at Debate III. Many of those watching suddenly froze, as if on a ship trapped in dangerous icy waters – like the Titanic about to go down or the Mariner’s ship in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Our democracy – our ship of state – has always been kept safe by the Constitution, the rule of law, and an electoral system that guarantees peaceful transfer of power. But there has also been a spirit, an amorphous pride, which has kept our ship moving forward despite the inevitable storms of history. And that spirit – something beyond patriotism – leaves most of us feeling lucky and optimistic.
Coleridge’s epic poem – published over two hundred years ago – chronicles a journey that parallels our belief in democracy. Like the metaphoric albatross did in Coleridge’s poem, our faith protects our ship of state as it sails on through dangerous international and domestic waters. It helps the ship break through and “split” apart dangerous icy waters. That hovering bird gave those sailors their needed confidence to survive. That is, until the Ancient Mariner shot and killed it with his crossbow.
Our own national bird, the Bald Eagle, has a similar unconscious function today, and Donald Trump is making a concerted effort to become our Ancient Mariner. He took aim at America’s democratic spirit when Obama defeated Romney in 2012, claiming that Obama was illegitimate because he wasn’t born in the US.
As the presidential election approaches, Trump intensified his destructive rhetoric – screaming that our election is “rigged.” He keeps trying to kill the albatross/eagle, but so far has been unsuccessful. Chris Wallace twice gave him the opportunity to lay down his verbal crossbow but he didn’t. He refused to say he would not try to kill the creature that embodies our nation’s unique place on earth.
Hit or miss, the consequences of his murderous rage against democracy will affect us beyond November 8. Unlike Coleridge’s mariner, Trump won’t be able to kill our bird, our majestic bald eagle. His screams that the “system is rigged” will neither bring us down nor curse our vibrant and resilient nation as it navigates treacherous waters. His hatred of losing and his need to blame everyone but himself will be his downfall. And it will be up to the good sailors of our ship of state to drown his threats of violence.
The dead albatross hung on the mariner’s neck for the remainder of the voyage. While I think Trump will not be thus burdened, since he is virtually incapable of experiencing guilt, the GOP may suffer from bits of that albatross for years to come.
Since 2009 the entire Republican Party refused to accept having a black president. Trump gave voice to that refusal, loud enough to paralyze his 16 primary opponents. What he said aloud was what his fellow “sailors” felt in private: How could a black man be allowed to captain of our ship of state? And, starting next year, how can we elect a woman to do the same thing?
Our ship’s rigging is rigged, but the election is not.
The poem Churchill read to FDR in 1940 – when he asked for America’s help to defeat Hitler – is most apt:
“Sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Hangs breathless on thy fate!”
All decent citizens were horrified by Trump’s demagoguery, as Churchill was by Hitler’s.
And yet we sail on.
For the past few months it has become clear that Donald Trump was foreshadowed in 1941 with the publication of What Makes Sammy Run? Schulberg, most famous for his script of “On The Waterfront” 15 years later, described a Brooklyn man who relocated to Hollywood and became a producer/writer – all based on his insatiable drive and his ruthless ability to manipulate and discard others.
Donald Trump is about to do his third debate, and pundits are predicting he’ll throw everything at Hillary Clinton but the kitchen sink. So I thought I’d offer a few quotes from “Sammy” to whet our appetites:
“He was the smartest and stupidest human being I’d ever met. He had a quick intelligence, which he was able to use exclusively for the good and welfare of Sammy Glick. And that kind of intelligence implies stupidity. Where other people might have one blind spot, Sammy’s mind was a mass of blind spots, with only a single ray of light focused immediately ahead.”
People call Trump’s blind spots arrogance, narcissism, sociopathic, and alexithymia. All true. But Schulberg makes Trump come alive as literature, as he described Sammy’s journey to adulthood:
“He was coming into his own special brand of maturity. No mellowing, no deepening of understanding. Maturity to Sammy merely meant the quickening and the strengthening of the rhythm of behavior that was beginning to disconcert everybody who came into contact with it. Because he seemed to escape all of the doubts, the pimpled sensitivity, the introspectionism, the mental and the physical growing pains of adolescents, he was able to throw off his youth and take on the armor of young man hood with the quick changing ease of course girl.”
We all know by now that Trump disconcerted his family, his schoolmates, and his teachers as a child. His parents sent him away to military academy when he was twelve. He emerged at eighteen, having learned how to keep his impulses to fight more under control while simultaneously enjoying expressing himself with every woman he thought worthy.
Schulberg describes how Sammy’s face reflected his character – something also reminiscent of Trump: “His face gave the impression of arrogance and a fierce aggressiveness which, when u included the determination of the pointed forward-thrust chin, produced a face that reminded you of an army, full of force, strategy, single will and the kind of courage that boasts of never taking a backward step.”
Let the games begin – we never answer the question of what makes Sammy run. And now the term “run” has double meaning – function as well as run for President. What we do know describes and also predicts Trump’s behavior – past, present, and future. Sammy’s philosophy is Trump’s blueprint for tonight’s Debate III:
“Work hard, and, if you can’t work hard, be smart; and, if you can’t be smart, be loud.”
The only thing Trump would add is, “Be menacing.”
As my first year of psychiatric residency began, I was stunned by how often the inpatients relied on their unconscious projections to define their experiences, their world-view. They accused doctors and nurses of not giving them day passes – even though they were the ones who couldn’t live outside the hospital at the time. One man would light matches and toss them over his shoulder, so if the ward caught fire it wouldn’t be his fault. The fire to him would seem a random event, depending on whether or not the match stayed lit. The fact that he was the person that lit the match was virtually forgotten. By then I made a bad pun of the legal phrase about the rules of possession: “Projection is nine-tenths of the law.” It was true then on the ward. And it’s true now in the 2016 election.
By yesterday, October 16TH, even politicians were talking about projection. Nancy Pelosi told Jake Tapper on CNN that Donald Trump is “always projecting.” She said, “When he knows his temperament is not going over very well, he says, ‘I have the temperament for the job.’ When he knows that his stamina is lagging, he says, ‘I have the stamina for the job’. When he knows that he has exposure in terms of women, he projects onto Bill Clinton. When he says Hillary’s engaged in an international conspiracy, whatever he’s describing it as, his own people describe his advisers admitting to having back-channel conversations with the Russians.”
The simplest way to illustrate the process of projection is with the saying, “The pot calling the kettle black.” In that case, however, the projection has a clear element of truth, because the kettle is black. But on the psychiatric ward I saw what is called “delusional projection,” where the targets of a psychotic projection have none of the attributes the patient perceives them as having. Most of Donald Trump’s projections fit into this latter category: delusional.
Some don’t, as when Trump attacks Bill Clinton for verifiable sexual misconduct.
Delusional projection is an unconscious process whereby one disavows a part of the self so completely that he must psychically evacuate it into the environment. If that doesn’t occur, internal conflicts will fester, causing greater psychic distress. It doesn’t matter where the projection happens to land. Thus, the projection needn’t fit the object or situation. And when it might fit, one has to make a stretch to perceive how. Because the process is unconscious, the person doing the projecting is convinced that what he thinks is absolute fact.
These past weeks, Trump was satirized on various TV shows for how much he sniffed at both debates. Howard Dean – himself a doctor and former chair of the DNC – went so far as to suggest cocaine use. Trump now wants drug testing before the next debate, since he says Hillary is all pumped up before she tires at the finish. He doesn’t deny Dean’s accusations, but instead flips them onto her with conviction and ease.
He tweets incessantly, and those too are mostly projections. His latest obsession, besides pre-debate drug testing, is that the election is “rigged” by the Democrats and the media. But Trump is the one who wants to rig the election by having armed poll watchers to menace voters. The GOP has been instituting restrictions to voting rights in numerous states, some of which have been struck down by the courts. The Democrats, on the other hand, want everyone to vote. So, if anyone were “rigging” things, it would be Trump and the GOP.
But because many of Trump’s supporters will follow him anywhere, his most recent projections are not simply harmless or crazy-seeming, despite their obvious distortions. They call into question the very function of a democracy that relies on free and open elections. Some of his supporters say that if Hillary wins they will start a revolution – so convinced are they that enthusiastic Trump rallies represent a majority of Americans. What Trump is recklessly doing threatens the very stability of our nation’s electoral system of government. To his believers, it’s even more likely that his projections are not at all delusional. To me, they are.
Or are they? During the Democratic Primary it seemed to many that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC were gaming the system to make sure the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton defeated the anti-establishment Senator Bernie Sanders. Debates between the two were limited, and held at times when very few viewers could watch. There were numerous voting irregularities, particularly in the California Primary, and Sanders poll watchers complained that many votes were uncounted or actually discarded.
So Trump may not be delusional after all – at least not totally. There is precedent for his beliefs. And that’s what I found when I examined even the most psychotic patients on the ward – they had in fact had traumatic experiences which they then made unrecognizable to anyone but themselves. I soon realized that the Wheaties commercial applied: “There’s a whole kernel of wheat in every Wheaties flake.”
It remains to be seen, if Trump loses, how he will manage his angry supporters. Will he calm them down and defend the electoral system? Or will he serve them all fresh bowls of Wheaties and tell them to go at it?
Children are taught at home never to lie. It is supposed to be a sin, though more venial than cardinal. Parents take pride in their ability to raise honest and responsible children. There are songs – most famously “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.” There are TV shows and movies that make lies and their consequences the basis of their plots. Lying has been linked to American politics since people first ran for office and promised to make things better. Humorists – like Mark Twain and Will Rogers – mocked lying politicians. And Baltimore Sun columnist H.L. Mencken mocked us for believing them.
In 2016 all that has changed. Now we seem immune, as if it’s just another day, another lie. Donald Trump tells so many lies that there are people and groups whose sole function is to keep track of them before making them public.The Politifact website is one. Toronto Star journalist Daniel Dale is another.
There are several powerful reasons Trump gets away with lying so consistently. He lies with an air of certainty. He points fingers at others like Lyin’ Ted or Crooked Hillary to keep the spotlight off his own lies. He blames the media for any criticism directed his way – even the most recent scandal that he may not have had to pay any federal income tax for 18 years. His surrogates call his tax evasion “genius.” Those who believe in him don’t care about any accusations, unless they come out of his own mouth.
People don’t confront because they are flooded. People don’t confront because they don’t know where to start. People don’t confront because doing so invites retaliation, ridicule, or being put on the defensive. People don’t confront because they don’t want to finger-point the way he does. People don’t confront because they don’t want to make waves or upset the apple cart. And people don’t confront because they feel their protests will fall on deaf ears – the opposite of fearing retaliation. One reason Trump’s people don’t confront lies is actually hard for me to confront. I don’t want to sound superior like Clinton did when she called half of Trump supporters “deplorables.”
In 1933, as a demagogue was taking over Europe, Bertrand Russell visited the US and wrote a short essay he called “The Triumph of Stupidity.” In it he said that stupidity triumphs in part because of the brutal tactics used by people in power, as well as because those in power themselves were stupid. I think he also meant ignorant if we refer to Trump. Because nobody could convince me that Trump is stupid.
Trump is a master manipulator who taps into a basic need to blame someone else for whatever troubles we have. Over time, intelligent people become defenseless and unable to organize against the tyranny of brutal stupidity. Just look at the badgering from Fox News, the constant interrupting of others by Trump surrogates. Examples are better put on video clips than in this blog.
Russell was writing then about Nazi Germany. But the most tragic thing about his essay is its final paragraph:
“In this gloomy state of affairs, the brightest spot is America. In America democracy still appears well established, and the men in power deal with what is amiss by constructive measures, not by pogroms and wholesale imprisonment. After the defeat of the French Revolution, democracy, discredited by the reign of terror, reconquered the world from America. Perhaps America is destined once more to save Europe from the consequences of its excesses.”
There is little more to say, other than it must be courageous outspoken Americans that save our nation from the consequences of our own excesses. And we have 36 days left to do it.
“Don’t shit the shitter; he carries a turd in every pocket” was what fraternity brothers told pledges at my college. I never thought presidential politics would remind me of that time long ago, nor of the emotions that accompanied it. It was a time of late adolescence, of young men – or old boys – who left home for the first time to go off to university.
Fast forward to a few months ago in the Republican debates. Donald Trump gave fraternity-boy nicknames to most of his rivals, belittling them by hurling turds like “Low-energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” or “Lyin’ Ted.” His name-calling didn’t stop once he got the GOP nomination, as he continues to fecalize Democratic opponents with new epithets like “Crooked Hillary” or “Crazy Bernie.”
To be on offense politically has fused with Trump’s childish compulsion to be offensive personally. He is offensive in more than one way, unless he stays on script. Once off-script, Trump’s off-color insults abound unchecked.
His ease at fecalizing opponents reflects Trump’s life-long comfort with power. He knows how to use it, and understands that being rich makes you more believable to others – no matter what you say. Hurling turds is now second nature to him.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has responded with turds of her own. Her ads make fun of him making fun of others. And they can feel lethal. A recent ad has a Trump voice-over mocking women as they look in the mirror. Clinton ads expose the destructiveness caused by malevolent-laced language. No longer does the child’s retort of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” seem adequate. The real and potential harm caused by Trump’s name-calling is now writ large.
But even though Clinton’s messages are often powerful and compelling, they employ the same ad hominem techniques that Trump himself uses. She (since she approves of the ads they must be seen as her vision, heard as her voice) stoops to his level while rising to his bait. More interesting is that Clinton’s ads understand Trump’s confusion between taking the offensive and being just plain offensive. And she reminds us that who he is and what he says are inseparable.
Still, I don’t think Eighteenth Century playwright Oliver Goldsmith would see Clinton’s behavior as a political version of his comedic “She Stoops to Conquer.” In that play, an aristocratic woman has to behave like a commoner in order to woo her prospective mate. Using ads that stoop to Donald Trump’s level show how hard Hillary Clinton is trying to woo the common public away from him. But she stoops to his level, even by accurately pointing out his hateful behavior. And people may want an uncouth president unencumbered by ordinary cultural customs. Stooping will neither seduce nor conquer; it makes Clinton need to seem superior while simultaneously fueling the turd mentality already dominating the 2016 political scene.
On Monday, will both Clinton and Trump have neat little piles of fecal matter ready to unleash? At least, while seeing and hearing the debate, we will be spared having to smell it.
By now there is no question that Trump supporters love him. Ever since Hillary labeled half of them “deplorables” his constituents are sporting T-shirts that say “Deplorables Unite: Trump.”
Given all of Trump’s offensive language and all of his rapidly emerging dishonest behavior – from bribery in Florida to massive secrecy about his taxes and foreign business dealings – the people who love him as they do must be desperate.
Hillary doesn’t understand desperate people because her defense structures are so tough – and in many ways, they have to be. It wasn’t just her use of the phrase “basket of deplorables” that got to me, however, it was the waves of her hand while saying it. She dismissively waved away the very people who are enraged because they already feel dismissed and discredited. Her gesture was like one Marie Antoinette could have made when she spit, ‘Let them eat cake”.
Evidence about how deplorable Trump is means nothing to his supporters. What their support does mean, however, goes beyond racism and xenophobic traits. Their blind devotion reflects a powerful feeling Trump instinctively taps into: he is giving voice to the voiceless. And he recognizes that they really are voiceless.
Bernie recognized that as well, with his focus on fairness, despair, and the greedy destructive 1% who haven’t a modicum of empathy or concern for the 99%. Trump seizes on the same rage and frustration, but says the cause is different – it is stupid leadership, outsourcing jobs, and an insistence on political correctness that muzzles “free speech” – sadly now a code phrase for “hatred.”
To quote venerable poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, there is “despair to spare.” Hillary tries to turn Trump into an evil demagogue, but that won’t work. Sadly, what has been helping Trump is Hillary’s tone-deafness and contempt for those Trump and Bernie were speaking to – those with genuine pain, hurt, and rage.
As candidate Trump launched another attack on Hillary Clinton in an African-American church in Flint MI, the Reverend Faith Green Timmons approached him gently to tell him that he wasn’t invited to give campaign speech. The church invited him to talk in Flint about the horrific plight of their poisoned drinking water. He suddenly got quiet and changed topics.
The event evoked a loving and thoughtful kindergarten teacher coming to tell a five-year-old boy that he forgot what they talked about, that he forgot his assignment because of his limited attention span. She was redirecting a child who had veered from the plan they made. And he looked chastised, like a scolded little boy told to get back on track, dear.
The reverend’s intervention cut through Trump’s aggression and bombast, tenderly.
And in doing so, she clearly revealed the bully for the hollow man he truly is. He is, after all, an overgrown boy. At the church he reacted like a scolded child. But the next day he returned to form, as he ripped her a new one on Fox News. After all, she had God’s grace coming out of her eyes; God’s grace coming out her wherever.
It’s easy to be a big boy, a bully, when the lady teacher isn’t in the room.