The psychological reasons behind why Trump behaves the way he does — and how the American public can break free

If we imagine Trump as an abuser, and the public his victim, we can begin to see the pattern of destruction from years back when he was a child, dying for approval and falling short at every turn

M. Jane
New York
Tuesday 09 July 2019 18:54
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Donald Trump: 'The ambassador has not served the UK well, I can tell you that'

Ambassador Kim’s opinion of the Trump administration — in which leaked emails detailed issues of ineptitude and the disbelief that any improvement was possible — have struck the very core of what makes this current POTUS tick. While much of his posturing and bombast can be chalked up to “putting on a good face” or showmanship for ratings, Trump knows that a quietly specific and unpublicised opinion of his failings is the public equivalent of a parent saying, “I’m just really, really disappointed.” It cuts to the core of the insecure child because it isn’t about anything but their inability to impress. And Trump...oh, he wants to impress. At all costs.

When someone is low, when they have no credibility, no honesty, no elevation of their private self, they seek to lower all others with their creation of a false reality in which they aren’t failing — everyone else is. In fact, the most common survival method of insecure narcissism is to flip undesirable traits in themselves onto those that created those feelings, then attach some other magnanimous and likely untrue quality to themselves. Trump’s response to Sir Kim?

“The wacky Ambassador that the UK foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy…”

“...I’ve been told he is a pompous fool…”

“...Tell him the USA now has the best Economy & Military anywhere in the World…Thank you, Mr. President!”

Reverse the injury (ineptitude); rebuild the ego (look at my apparent accomplishments). This is a pattern with this POTUS, and it has become symptomatic of American culture itself.

Reading through the infamous 1990’s Playboy interview with our current president — then a real estate up-and-comer in New York City — makes for an interesting psychological study. He talks about America being “out-egoed” by other nations, particularly Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea, and demands that our collective cultural ego should be inflated to match and overcome other nations. “Our ‘allies’ are making billions screwing us,” he says, true to form. “Every successful person has a very large ego,” he continues, detailing how important it is for him that success be loudly and triumphantly exalted.

Donald summarizes this pendulous swing between distrust and posturing for success when he talks about his father, Fred Trump: “I instinctively mistrust many people. It is not a negative in my life but a positive… So I learned that from Fred, and I owe him a lot.... He could have ultimately been a happy guy, but things just went the unhappy way.” Trump’s idea of leadership is defined by his father: dominance, not empathy. “I did want to prove to my father and other people that I had the ability to be successful on my own,” he continues. “He was a strong, strict father, a no-nonsense kind of guy, but he didn't hit me… He ruled by demeanor, not the sword.”

How does one “rule by demeanor” in a strict fashion? Psychological abuse often manifests as the withholding of affection, leaving invisible emotional scars. “He never hit me” in particular is a statement often utilized in many relationships of subtle (or overt) psychological and emotional abuse; it is a means of denying pain (expressing pain is a weakness in this context) and insisting it made the person who they are today. What is beneath the surface, what is internalized and what is felt is inconsequential to what is shown. What is unseen is nonexistent.

This delusion demands continued affirmation that it is reality. The accumulation of wealth has long been linked to a variety of human accomplishments, with industry quickly leading to empire and all the accoutrements that accompany it. Success in Trump’s America means you need to show it.

There is a distinct and remarkable pain in the delusions of grandeur that Trump continues to press into society and, in turn, onto himself. His very specific need for attention, in any form, is reminiscent of a child of trauma. There is no safety — and no self — that is accepted and loved regardless of productivity or appearance. There is a threat at every turn — so, rather than build healthy relationships of accountability and mutual respect, there is a desire to subvert every social nicety and moral ethos because there is always the chance the carpet will be immediately pulled out from underneath his feet. His ongoing and persistent belief that winning by any means necessary is the rhetoric of someone who cannot survive a perceived loss. How fragile the form that insists it never feels the pain of loss.

This fragility is, of course, mirrored in equal parts to the ego. The larger and more ominous the ego appears, the deeper and weaker is the core self. The smallest of blows is then taken deeply and personally, and the speed and ferocity in which he must lash out in order to recover is imperative to preserve the tenuous mirage of strength and power.

This is yet another reason why the totalitarianism Trump repeatedly fawns over (in the Playboy interview he talks of Tiananmen Square, and the “strength” shown by the government, even in its brutality) should not come as a surprise in the least. His ability to preserve his concept of self is directly tied to his ability to crush anyone who threatens him: so his idolatry of despots and tyrants is in keeping with his desire for unlimited control, which he will never have internally.

His bullying — the tweets, the rallies, the marginally subtle methods of inciting violence and white supremacy — these are the tools used to hold as tightly as possible to the power and influence that was unjustly handed down from the birth of our nation. This is an insidious and poisonous fear that if control cannot be seen, it doesn’t exist, and it leaves the ultimate hole in all egos and all empires: vulnerability.

Trump is not just a symptom of our times, he is the very personification of a culture of trauma and empire. He is capitalism embodied: profit before people. Our culture — much like Donald — was formed through a requirement that you show your worth through material success. Your worth is directly related to your ability to prove it, win it, display it. The Donald Trump America is the one with a televised preacher arriving by private jet to insist you buy salvation. The Donald Trump America is the one that is so in love with industry and profit that it “doubts” climate change. It’s an America that shrugs when our children are shot, preferring the feeling of security over the reality of living through grade school. This America calls itself the greatest nation in the world while failing to provide the most basic human rights. Donald Trump’s America is about image without substance, and it is unacceptable. We have to imagine more.

Imagination is anathema to empire. It insists that there is something better beyond what holds power now, and imagining a better country and a better world is the key to dismantling Trump’s America. It requires a bold and painful introspection that often manifests as listening to the most unheard and hurting voices. That listening must drown out Trump’s loud, abrasive rhetoric that has long been used by bullies and abusers to scare people into obedience.

Imagination refuses to be bridled to reality. The impetus for those spinning their own existence from fragile strands of innuendo, lies, posturing, and the blind adoration of others is to maintain the illusion at all costs. This is why the president uses nicknames — like a schoolyard bully, he is adept at rutting out what might injure his foes, and attaches a term that creates a caricature with enough relevancy to hint at truth in the hope that it sticks and injures them enough to back them away from his fragile ego.

If we imagine Trump as an abuser, and the public his victim, we can begin to see the pattern of destruction from years back when he was a child, dying for approval and falling short at every turn. Nothing is good enough but utter and total submission. Because it’s not about us. It’s about him.

How do you combat narcissism and power-hungry abusers? You imagine a way out, a different life, and then you do it with the support of everyone around you with honesty and integrity. You become transparent. Acknowledge the failings, point out the atrocities, and ask for help.

Imagination unweaves the false realities promoted by the abuser, and so collectively, we must systematically and lovingly imagine a world in which we reveal Trump to be the impotent peacock he really is: ”uniquely dysfunctional”, “inept”, “clumsy”, and headed for a disgraced downfall.

It’s not easy, and in many cases doesn’t seem possible — but it is essential. Our world depends on our dismantling and removing power from a dangerous, angry, self-obsessed culture that has authored the rise of the distasteful, blundering, psychologically chaotic man.

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