I submit that our 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, is a psychopath. Psychopathy is an important problem that we don’t talk about very well and people have misconceptions about the condition. What’s more, the vexing implication–one any right-thinking person would want to suppress–is the notion of the terrible damage a psychopath in Trump’s position could wreak on the planet. It’s almost unthinkable. Talk about #resist…bruh!
Hear me out. You don’t have to be the world’s pre-eminent researcher on the condition and the developer of the Psychopathy Checklist, Robert Hare, sitting in a Canadian prison with a voluminous file while interviewing a convicted serial killer to know one when you experience one. If you get to know a person well enough, his or her true nature will be revealed. Would you give me that? They may not be incarcerated, they even may not have committed crimes, (that you know of), but at some point we can say with reasonable certainty that so-and-so is an awful human being.
What is a psychopath? A psychopath has no conscience; no sense of obligation towards, or genuine ties to, anyone on Earth. Possessing a pathological sense of entitlement, they run roughshod over the norms of civilized behavior, violating, in myriad ways, those who have something–anything–they want. They are social predators on the hunt to exploit and hurt others. Prone to boredom, they enjoy taking risks to get the stimulation they need to feel alive. Psychopaths learn that most people feel remorse when they have done wrong. They don’t experience remorse, and I suspect they discover that early in their lives. Only the recognition that they could be caught or exposed reins them in. In Freudian terms, they are walking, raging Ids. Every psychopath leaves a trail of destruction in his or her wake.
Facts: about twenty percent of the male prison population in this country are psychopaths. Most psychopaths are out here, in the wild; they are not in prison. Many are high-functioning, sub-criminal types, which means they hold down jobs and do not get caught/arrested for their misdeeds.
Psychopaths hide in plain sight using a mask. They may even assemble a family in order to uphold a facade of normality. The mask they use depends on who they target. Different people are susceptible to different come-ons.
In the literature on Cluster B personality disorders, there is a process known as Idealize, Devalue, Discard, which is often referred to as the relationship cycle of a psychopath. My metaphor goes like this: Trump has love-bombed a certain segment of the American populace. In essence, he has seduced them. This is the period of idealization: We, Trump says, are great. I like you. I am like you. You are safe with me, he says. (He says “we” are falling apart a lot, too, but he really means us, not him).
At the beginning, the idealization goes both ways. He may have been genuinely excited about you (us) at first. The “psychopathic bond” this idealization engenders runs in only one direction. The people bond to him. He cannot bond to anyone. Once hooked, and now that some of us have pinned our hopes, expectations, and future to Trump, the abuse can begin in earnest, and we have already seen it–in the denial of objective reality, in the form of Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts“; and in the constant lying, such as the assertion of “three to five million illegal voters, none of whom voted for him“. There is the pettiness of the president calling the assistant director of the National Park Service to complain about the Service posting pictures of the smaller crowd for Trump’s inauguration compared with Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Also Friday, many Trump supporters “marched for life” on National Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day on which Mr. Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning the entry of foreign nationals from Iraq and Syria, among other countries. These developments are not just ironical. They are intentional.
Trump’s basic appeal fails to work on an ever-larger part of this society, but it can still light up the biggest group of voters: white people. As presently constituted, white people are especially susceptible to his advances. Trump targeted them, and his success indicates that we have failed to extinguish whatever animates his popular appeal.
Further, there are elements within our culture that reinforce antisocial tendencies, such as extreme individualism–we are encouraged to “beat our own drum”, and the ethos of “Everybody for himself”, for example. The festival of narcissism that is social media today is another. Trump, on Twitter? Winner!
When the loner Trump climbs out of bed in the morning, he envisions himself as King of the Jungle in a landscape of lambs demanding to be gored. Who are the lambs? The vast majority of us, who are weak and inferior to him because we are “burdened” by our feelings, ties to others, and conscience. See his tweet Monday where he tells us “There is nothing nice about searching for terrorists…” and “Study the world!”
Trump will turn the charm on and off. He will run hot and cold. He will do just enough to keep his base coming back for more. This will prompt his amen chorus to cling tighter to his pronouncements, recalling the vision of the wonderful man they met who was going to solve all their problems. This is called intermittent reinforcement, and it is one of the most powerful motivating strategies of which we know.
This intermittent reinforcement sows the seeds of self-doubt and damages self-esteem. Coupled with a nagging sensation that the relationship has gone bad, for reasons you cannot figure, this causes an internal crisis known as cognitive dissonance. Two opposing concepts are active in the mind at the same time. Put simply, there will be a great chasm between the reality Trump maintains to be true or has promised, and the actions he takes, and their effects. The brain cannot handle endless cognitive dissonance. It must resolve on one idea–the concrete reality–for a person to begin the process of recovering and moving on. In this model, that “person” is the American body politic.
Psychopaths disarm us, mostly without our being aware of it. (They do it by the lying and hiding what they are really up to.) What part we are conscious of we “gift” to the abuser, because we want it to work out, we want to give him a chance, because he likes us so much and he was so fun in the beginning!
Right now, Trump is consolidating the power to intimidate us into meek compliance. Just as the psychopathic lover forces you to narrow the range of your emotions, and to curb their expression, (because he won’t deal with what he has created), so he does on a national scale. The president, through purges and diktats is arranging things so that our ability to stand up for ourselves, collectively, against him, will necessarily be hobbled and constrained.
Once, he needed the people to buoy him. (Remember when he said, “If I lose this election, this will be a waste of my time.”) Somewhere in there, the tables were turned, and now the people need him for validation. This is the psychopath’s big trick–making you believe you were on equal terms when, in fact, he had drastically tilted the playing field from the first interaction by using a false and incomplete biography as the foundation of the con.
We are already into the Devaluation stage. Trump is priming us to be dumped. (What would that mean for the world?) He may not have known it at the start of the affair, but it is always where he ends up. A psychopath always finds *you* wanting. (Sometime in the future we will hear that Trump was disgusted by his ascendance to the presidency. What a letdown it was, he’ll say.)
If I am close to correct about my amateur profile of Donald Trump, our “marriage” to him will not end well. And when things break down, don’t expect him to claim any responsibility. The blame will lie with us, it will be all our fault, since we did not–could not–live up to his Superman image of himself. We would all have to be him to “make it”. That is how he governs, and it is how he thinks.
The red flags are stiff in the wind. If we persist with this man we are going to get the whole treatment. What will recovery look like?