A Study in Individual Psychopathology and Collective Regression
Trump and Kim: The Dread of Shame and Humiliation
U.S. President Donald John Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong-un seem very different from one another but, psychologically, they are very much alike. Both of them love to fire: tweets, people, missiles, threats, insults, anything. Neither of them can tolerate any public threat or insult, which both experience as personal shaming and humiliation, nor any expression of superiority by someone else, which makes each of them feel powerless. They see one another as in a mirror: each sees the evil in the other, but not in himself. This psychological situation makes for the most dangerous pair of political leaders today, and perhaps ever, if they cause a nuclear war to break out.
On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, the anniversary of the dropping of the U.S. nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, as the tension between Trump and Kim reached its peak, Trump told U.S. reporters, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the U.S. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen […] he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” Trump has repeated this threat several times since. Was he threatening North Korea with nuclear bombing?
Trump’s inflammatory comments were sharply criticized by many U.S. politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, yet three days later, on Friday, August 11, at 4:29 AM, Trump tweeted, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” When Trump spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017, he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea (see https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/19/donald-trump-threatens-totally-destroy-north-korea-un-speech).
Why did Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un make all these terrible threats, which were likely to provoke a Third World War and destroy our entire species?
Trump and Kim see madness in one another, as if in a mirror. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean tyrant, had called Donald Trump “mad,” and Trump had called him a “crazy rocket man.” While Kim had threatened a military attack on “the waters near Guam,”the U.S. military base in the Pacific Ocean, Trump was threatening a massive military attack, if not a nuclear one, on a nuclear-armed state equipped with super-sophisticated long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles built by Russian and Chinese experts, whose leader had threatened to bomb South Korea, Japan, and the United States. A CBS News opinion poll had found that nearly three out of every four Americans were “uneasy” about North Korea and doubted Trumps ability to handle the dangerous situation. The world was facing a catastrophe in which hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, could be killed. (see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/08/politics/north-korea-cbs-poll-donald-trump/index.html).
Kim has been equally threatening. On November 8, 2017, during Trump’s trip to Japan and South Korea, he announced that the United States must remove the “lunatic old man” Donald Trump or face the “abyss of doom.” Kim said that the United States “had better make a decisive choice […] if it does not want a horrible nuclear disaster and tragic doom.” In other words, Kim was threatening the U.S. and the world with a Third World War, in which nuclear weapons would be used. Such a war could mean the death of millions of people in North Korea, South Korea, Japan, possibly Guam, and even the United States.
In response, Donald Trump said “Do not underestimate us and do not try us […] North Korea is a country ruled by a cult […] The weapons that you are acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.” After saying he would not fall victim to intimidation, which to him means humiliation, Mr. Trump added: “And we will not let the worst atrocities in history be repeated here, on this ground we fought and died to secure. The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation.” (http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/876961/world-war-3-north-korea-latest-donald-trump-USA-nuclear-war-south-korea).
Donald Trump loves to fire. He fires people, and he fires tweets. On Monday night, June 3, 2017, after North Korea had tested a ballistic missile that it claimed to be capable of hitting the United States, Donald Trump derogated the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, on Twitter as “This guy.” The U.S. president tweeted, “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
What Trump failed to see was that “this guy” was just as addicted to firing his missiles as Trump himself was addicted to firing his tweets, and that the question he asked about Kim Jong-un could be asked about him as well. Trump fires his tweets in much the same way Kim fires his missiles. No day passes without the U.S. president tweeting, usually in the wee hours of the morning or late at night, at times firing several tweets in one say. In July 2017 Julia Gillard, a former Australian prime minister, predicted that Trump’s tweets would trigger public discussions of his mental health. The debate about Trump’s mental health is ongoing, crucial, and we shall discuss it below. (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/04/donald-trumps-tweets-will-trigger-talk-mental-health-says-former/).
Trump has a compulsive need to shame and humiliate his opponents. The obverse of this psychological coin is his own terror of being humiliated himself. In his White House speech of June 1, 2017, announcing his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords of 2015, Trump said, “They won’t be laughing at us any more, believe me.” Being laughed at, shamed, or humiliated is his deepest fear. His destructive decision was self-destructive as well. CEOs of major U.S. corporations withdrew from his business advisory council, other business leaders and billionaires attacked him for putting our children’s future at risk, and he alienated most of the world’s other leaders. (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/paris-agreement-withdrawal-bob-iger-disney-ceo-donald-trump-elon-musk-advisory-council-tech-climate-a7768346.html).
In 1996 the Canadian political scientist and psychoanalyst Blema Steinberg published a book entitled Shame and Humiliation: Presidential Decision Making on Vietnam, in which she compared the war-related decisions of U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon as commanders-in-chief concerning Vietnam. Steinberg demonstrated the crucial influence of experiences of shame and humiliation on the tragic war-related decisions of Johnson, who entered the Vietnam war, and of Nixon, who prolonged it, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, as opposed to the wise decision of Eisenhower, who had not suffered such experiences, and who had refused to let the French drag the U.S. into that war. (see http://www.mqup.ca/shame-and-humiliation-products-9780773513921.php).
Donald Trump seems to fascinate writers, cartoonists, and biographers. In late August 2016 the Japanese-American journalist Michiko Kakutani (born 1955) reviewed six recent books about the Republican presidential nominee, most of them by journalists, “written rapidly as Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy gained traction” in order to capitalize on his political ascendancy: Trump Revealed by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher of The Washington Post; Trump and Me by Mark Singer of The New Yorker; The Making of Donald Trump by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, a former reporter for The New York Times; Yuge by the cartoonist G. B. Trudeau; Never Enough by another Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, the free-lance Michael D’Antonio; and Great Again by Trump himself, a recycled version of his book Crippled America. Kakutani wrote, “the latest of these books rarely step back to analyze in detail the larger implications and repercussions of the Trump phenomenon. Nor do they really map the landscape in which he has risen to popularity and is himself reshaping through his carelessness with facts, polarizing remarks and disregard for political rules.” (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/books/in-books-on-donald-trump-consistent-portraits-of-a-high-decibel-narcissist.html?_r=0).
The most serious among these books seems to be that of the American writer Michael D’Antonio. His fascinating biography of Donald Trump gives us an important insight into the unconscious sources of Trump’s powerful need to shame and humiliate others. D’Antonio’s book was entitled Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success and was re-published in 2016 as The Truth About Trump. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/books/review/never-enough-donald-trump-and-the-pursuit-of-success-by-michael-dantonio.html).
The original title of D’Antonio’s book was apt: whatever success Trump achieves, his unconscious grandiose self says to him, “That is not enough!” and demands ever greater achievements. In an interview with a German television station, D’Antonio called Trump a “narcissistic sociopath” with no empathy or feeling for those around him as human individuals. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vmW3GyRjxA).
Trump has had his share of shame and humiliation. Even if we put aside the strong possibility of his having suffered them in his early life, his adult life has been full of them: his first two marriages broke up; his business companies have suffered no less than six bankruptcies; and he is publicly known not to have paid any federal taxes for many years. (see http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jun/21/hillary-clinton/yep-donald-trumps-companies-have-declared-bankrupt/).
For a normal man, such public failures would have been shameful and humiliating; Trump’s biographer, Michael D’Antonio, has found that he is obsessed by shame and humiliation and deeply fears them. To avoid the unbearable pain of shame and humiliation, and the depression that might ensue from them, however, Trump twists reality to view each of his failures as a success: his failed marriages got him the world’s most beautiful woman as a third wife; his Chapter 11 bankruptcies only made him wealthier; he is so “smart,” he says, that he has “bigly” exploited loopholes in the U.S. tax code to pay no federal taxes over decades. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/books/review/never-enough-donald-trump-and-the-pursuit-of-success-by-michael-dantonio.html).
Donald Trump is so thin-skinned that he, his companies and his wife have filed some four thousand libel suits against journalists and mass-communication media; this has had a chilling effect on reporters and editors alike. While courageous journalists of high integrity like those at The New York Times have stood up to him, others have published retractions and apologies. The scariest thing about Donald Trump’s inability to suffer shame and humiliation is his unpredictable reaction to North Korea’s and Iran’s constant flow of anti-American vituperation. In early January 2017 Trump tweeted that he would not allow North Korea to acquire a missile that could reach the United States; he also insulted China by tweeting, “China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!” Trump’s dread of shame and humiliation could lead to a Third World War that would wipe out our species. (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-north-korea-tweets_us_586b198de4b0eb58648a423e).
Kim Jong-un seems to be as terrified of public humiliation as Donald Trump. The American psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Dekleva has said, “Kim Jong-un has shown a degree of savvy, ambition, and ruthlessness which has shocked outside observers. He has shown such patterns over time, starting with the 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, his purges of hundreds of senior personnel, the murder of his uncle Jang Song-thaek, and the assassination of his half-brother Kim Jong-nam […] Kim sees himself and the DPRK as under existential threat from the United States. Such a view is not new, but has likely solidified due to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump […] The recent derogatory rhetoric between Kim Jong-un and President Trump is extremely dangerous, more so than even sanctions, and poses a heightened risk of accidental misunderstanding, potentially leading to a pre-emptive first-strike with devastating consequences. The DPRK’s leadership has long relied upon a variety of highly-nuanced signals in terms of gauging the United States’ intentions and strategic posture […] Kim Jong-un and the DPRK’s ruling elite are sensitive to nuance and to loss of face. ” (see https://thediplomat.com/2017/10/kim-jong-uns-political-psychology-profile/).
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
On June 9, 2017 the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, publicly questioned Trump’s fitness for office in her weekly press conference because he did not have the curiosity, discipline and stamina required for the job. The next day U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, urging him to investigate possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. Feinstein said she was especially concerned after U.S. National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and U.S. National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers had declined to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee about possible undue influence on them by Trump. Feinstein said she did not necessarily believe Trump was unfit for office, as Nancy Pelosi has asserted, but said he had a destabilizing effect on government. “There’s an unpredictability,” wrote Feinstein. “He projects an instability.” (see http://time.com/4814180/republicans-trump-comey-tapes/).
Borderline Personality Disorder
Emotional instability is the hallmark of the borderline personality disorder, a long-term pattern of abnormal feelings and behavior characterized by unstable relationships with other people, unstable sense of self, unstable emotions, dangerous behavior and self-harm, an inner struggle with feelings of emptiness and a fear of abandonment, outbursts of violent rage at seemingly-normal events which are perceived as humiliations, substance abuse, sexual addiction, depression, and eating disorders; one out of ten people with borderline personality disorder commits suicide. Few American mental health professionals have suggested that Donald Trump suffers from this disorder, as Adolf Hitler did. Most of my American colleagues think that Trump suffers from a malignant narcissistic personality disorder; in my view, however, he does suffer from a borderline personality disorder.
Be that as it may, the most predictable thing about Trump is his unpredictability, the most stable thing about him his instability. One can never tell what he is going to do or say next. He can change from a pleasant, smiling fellow with a sense of humor into a mean, growling, humorless bully in a moment. The total lack of connection between his different selves is due to the operation of unconscious splitting. (see http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/12/the-radical-unpredictability-of-donald-trump.html).
In 1922 Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) wrote his younger writer friend Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) that great writers, such as William Shakespeare, often have deeper psychological insight than psychoanalysts, and that they also express it more beautifully. The Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was a case in point. The protagonist of his Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an upper-class physician of impeccable manners who seeks to prove that every person harbors evil along with good in his soul. To do so he concocts a potion that turns him into an evil beast, Mr. Hyde, who perpetrates all manner of sadistic and violent acts on innocent people. He then drinks an antidote that turns him back into the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll.
There is a splitting between the two characters in the story; they cannot exist together at the same time. In most people, however, the good and bad aspects of the self are merged in the same personality. When the good and evil aspects of the self are split, when the person can be totally different at different times and in different situations, this is known as “multiple personality disorder” or “dissociative personality disorder.” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociative_identity_disorder).
Some observers have noted Trump’s Jekyll-and-Hyde personality, his unconscious splitting, his black-and-white view of the world. For him everything and everyone is either good or bad; there are no shades of gray, nothing and no one can be both good and bad. This is part of his unconscious splitting of both his internal self and external reality. He sees himself as all-good and his opponents as all-bad. The all-white can also become all-black. At first he praised his predecessor, Barack Obama, for having treated him very gracefully during the transition-of-power period; later he repeatedly denounced Obama, one of the best presidents the United States had ever had, for having “destroyed America” with his “misguided policies.”
All of the southwestern U.S. had been part of Mexico, conquered by the U.S. during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. During his presidential campaign, Trump traveled to Mexico to meet its president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and was friendly to him; the following day, back in the U.S., Trump viciously attacked the “illegal and criminal Mexican immigrants.” Needles to say, Peña Nieto felt that he had been manipulated and humiliated. The Australian journalist Paul McGeough noted Trump’s “Jekyll-and-Hyde performance” on the Mexican issue but did not see that this was the crucial aspect of his character and politics. A few days after Trump’s inauguration he announced again that he would build his two-thousand-mile-long “wall” between the U.S. and Mexico and that Mexico would pay for it; Peña Nieto, who is twenty years Trump’s junior, promptly denied this statement and canceled his scheduled meeting with Trump. Unable to endure this public humiliation, Trump announced that this had been a joint decision and that since Mexico could not “treat the U.S. with respect” their meeting would have been fruitless. (see http://www.smh.com.au/world/us-election/different-messages-to-different-audiences-donald-trump-on-immigration-in-mexico-and-arizona-20160901-gr68l1.html for McGeough’s article and http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/25/politics/mexico-president-donald-trump-enrique-pena-nieto-border-wall/index.html for the cancellation of Peña Nieto’s visit).
After hearing so much in early 2016 about Donald Trump’s misogyny, his rudeness to women, his bad marriages and divorces, his crudeness to beauty queens, his abuse of Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, and his sexual assaults on beautiful women, there was a big surprise. In March, at a Trump election rally in Wisconsin, a sick woman got up to publicly thank Trump for his generosity to her. She was the terminally-ill former Miss Wisconsin, Melissa Young, who said, “You’ve saved me in so many ways. In recent years I’ve been struggling with an incurable illness and I’m on home care now and it was caused by a doctor’s medical negligence. In those dark days fighting — right now all the tubes have been removed and I have a ‘do not resuscitate’ order and I have a seven year old son — those days in the hospital, I received from you a handwritten letter that says ‘to the bravest woman I know.’ […] It lifted my spirits. He continued to do that, to reach out to check on me, to check on my son to see how he was doing.” In October 2016, at the height of the U.S. presidential race, the dying Melissa Young again told reporters that Mr. Trump was the most generous person upon the face of this earth, that he had helped her in her darkest hour, and that she would love, praise and support him “until her last breath.” She added that this was the only Donald Trump she knew, and that she had never experienced any of the abuse that he had reportedly heaped on other women. (see http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/30/politics/former-miss-wisconsin-trump-darkest-hour-newsroom-costello-intv/).
Another woman who trumpeted Donald Trump’s virtues in the past is the First Lady of the United States, his Slovenian-born third wife, Melania Trump. She had been born Melanija Knavs; after immigrating to the U.S. she had anglicized her name to Melania Knauss. In 2004, in one of her first appearances on Trump’s “reality” television show The Apprentice, the future Mrs. Trump “committed the cardinal sin of upstaging her future husband.” Donald Trump and Melania Knauss had been together for four years; despite her “cardinal sin,” they became engaged to be married two weeks after the episode, and were married the following year. Trump believed that he had finally found the right mate. “She’s shown she can be the woman behind me,” he later told the gossip columnist Cindy Adams. “We’re together five years, and these five years for whatever reasons have been my most successful. I have to imagine she had something to do with that.” (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/the-mystery-that-is-melania-trump/2016/08/16/d4f10136-527c-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html?utm_term=.e18706fa197a).
During the U.S. presidential race of 2016, Melania went all out to defend, protect and promote her husband. She told the senior CNN reporter and anchorman Anderson Cooper that “the Donald she knew” was loving, generous, and kind, and that he would never do anything of the things he bragged about to Billy Bush, who had “egged him on into boy talk.” It takes a good deal of unconscious denial for a wife not to recognize in her husband what is plain for the whole world to see — unless Melania’s private Donald is very different from the public Donald Trump whom we all know. (see http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/17/politics/melania-trump-interview/index.html).
For a while, Donald Trump seemed to be kind to his third wife, Melania, whom he married in 2005. She is still young, slender and beautiful, if somewhat cold, and, above all, satisfies his narcissistic needs; but he inflicted emotional pain on Melania with the revelations of his sexual misconduct during the campaign and, as he told his biographer, being married to him is very tough. During the Al Smith charity dinner following Trump’s third debate with Hillary Clinton, he publicly embarrassed Melania by “humorously” reminding everyone that she had copied her campaign speech from Michelle Obama. Melania smiled, but she was obviously hurt. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/us/politics/donald-trump-interviews.html?emc=edit_ta_20161025&nlid=68054513&ref=cta&mtrref=undefined&_r=0).
As the 2016 campaign progressed, Melania seemed to grow increasingly unhappy; the American magazine Vanity Fair published an article entitled “The Quiet Tragedy of Melania Trump,” showing how her small acts of defiance and resistance to her husband betrayed her growing unhappiness with him. In November 2016, after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, Melania praised him in a joint family interview with Lesley Stahl on the CBS News program 60 Minutes as “tough, confident and strong.” That was shortly after he had embarrassed her publicly at the Al Smith charity dinner. By mid-February 2017, less than a month into her First Lady career, Melania was showing signs of misery. “The Donald she knew” had made her, as he had his two previous wives, quite unhappy. During their red-carpet walk upon arrival in Israel on May 22, 2017, Melania walked beside Donald, on his left. Donald reached out his left hand to hold Melania’s right hand; rather than take it, she slapped his hand and kept hers to herself. One can only imagine what is going on between the narcissistic president and his unhappy wife. (for the Vanity Fair article see http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/10/quiet-tragedy-of-melania-trump for the CBS interview see http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-donald-trump-family-melania-ivanka-lesley-stahl and for Melania’s unhappiness as First Lady see http://nypost.com/2017/02/15/melania-trump-is-absolutely-miserable-as-first-lady).
How can we square the magnanimous Dr. Donald with the mean Mr. Trump? Well, the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality is familiar to psychological professionals. It is based upon what psychoanalysts call an unconscious “splitting of the self.” This kind of splitting develops early in one’s life, as a psychic defense, when the child cannot reconcile the “good” or pleasurable and “bad” or painful parts of himself. It usually goes along with an inner “object splitting,” when the child cannot reconcile the “good” and “bad” parts of its primary emotional “object,” usually the mother, upon which his very life depends.
The “splitting of the self” was given literary expression in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, while “object splitting” is given concrete expression in fairy tales, such as that of Snow White, whose protagonist has two mothers, one all good, but dead, the other all bad, cold, narcissistic, who keeps looking at her own image in the mirror. When this unconscious splitting persists into one’s adult life, the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality develops. Indeed, Donald Trump sees his world in split-up, black-and-white terms: to him, there are “very good people” and there are “very bad people” who must be denied entry, deported or killed. In reality, most people are both good and bad.
How did Donald Trump develop his Jekyll-and-Hyde personality? His alternating, deeply ambivalent, love-and-hate attitude to women gives us a clue. He is fascinated by beautiful women, but his love for them has repeatedly alternated with, or turned into, contempt, hatred and abuse.
Trump can be endlessly generous to dying beauties like Melissa Young, as he was at first to his beautiful Czech-born first wife, Ivana Zelníčková, whom he married in 1977; after thirteen years of marriage and three children, however, after she had put on weight and lost her beauty, he tired of her, had an affair with the former Georgia beauty queen, Marla Maples, and divorced Ivana in a notorious trial, in which she claimed that he had been “cruel and inhuman”to her.
Trump’s second wife, Marla, whom he married in 1993, gave him one child. Their marriage lasted less than four years; once more, his idealization of a woman he loved seems to have turned into a loathing for her, and they had an ugly divorce trial.
During Trump’s first two marriages he seems to have sexually assaulted numerous women by kissing, caressing and groping them in the intimate parts of their bodies against their will. No woman has publicly claimed that he had tried to rape her, however. Trump, who lives in a world of his own, may have seen his attacks on women as delightful attempts at seduction. Did he get his orgasms from touching, kissing, caressing or groping beautiful women against their will without having sexual relations with them? Does he suffer from a sexual addiction or, as Hitler did, from a sexual perversion?
The Duty to Protect: The Goldwater Rule vs. the Tarasoff Rule
Before going into any further discussion of Donald Trump’s mental health, we need to explore the ethical implications of such a discussion. Are we allowed to diagnose a person we have never seen in our office? Is it ethical to do so? Is it imperative? Do we need to warn the American people against the dangers posed to them by their president’s psychological makeup?
In 1964 U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998), who, like Donald Trump, liked nuclear weapons, had been the Republican nominee for President, running against the Democratic incumbent, Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973). Some American psychiatrists, alarmed by the prospect of Goldwater becoming President and launching a nuclear war against the Soviet Union that would end life on Earth, gave psychiatric diagnoses of Goldwater to the now-defunct Fact magazine, which published The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater. Among other things, the magazine called Goldwater “paranoid, sexually insecure, suicidal, and grossly psychotic.”
An enraged Barry Goldwater, who lost the election, successfully sued the magazine’s owners and editors and won $1 million in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages. The American Psychiatric Association thereupon amended its code of ethics by adding the famous Section 7.3, which reads, “On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” Section 7.3 is commonly called the Goldwater Rule.
On January 27, 2017, a week into Donald Trump’s presidency, U.S. News and World Report published an interview with the American clinical psychologist John D. Gartner, author of a psychobiography of Former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Dr. Gartner, who is one of President Trump’s most vocal opponents, offered the following psychiatric diagnosis of President Trump:
Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president. Trump has “malignant narcissism,” which is different from narcissistic personality disorder and which is incurable […] it’s obvious from Trump’s behavior that he meets the diagnostic criteria for the disorder, which include anti-social behavior, sadism, aggressiveness, paranoia and grandiosity. Trump’s personality disorder (which includes hypomania) is also displayed through a lack of impulse control and empathy, and “a feeling that people […] don’t recognize his greatness.” (see http://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2017-01-27/does-donald-trumps-personality-make-him-dangerous).
Let us examine the terms used by Dr. Gartner. The narcissistic personality disorder is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “a personality disorder in which there is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations.”Malignant narcissism an extreme variety of narcissism that also includes an antisocial personality disorder, aggression, and sadism. It is characterized by a sense of absolute entitlement, a total absorption in one’s own thoughts, feelings, and needs, and a total disregard for other people’s feelings. Often grandiose, and always ready to raise hostility levels, the malignant narcissist undermines the organizations in which he is involved and dehumanizes the people with whom he associates. He is fearless, guiltless, remorseless, calculating, ruthless, inhumane, callous, brutal, rancorous, aggressive, biting, merciless, vicious, cruel, spiteful, hateful and jealous; he always anticipates betrayal and seeks punishment; he craves revenge; he can be homicidal. Saddam Hussein of Iraq was a case in point, and so is Donald Trump. On May 25, 2017, for instance, in a photo op at the NATO meeting in Brussels, Trump publicly shoved aside the Montenegrin prime minister, Duško Marković, as if the latter did not exist, in order to get in front of him and be in the center of the photograph. (see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/25/politics/trump-pushes-prime-minister-nato-summit/).
On January 30, 2017 no less than ten other American psychiatrists and psychologists sounded out on the psychopathology of Donald Trump in interviews with Stat News. One of them, John Montgomery, a psychologist at New York University, thought that Trump exhibited “a desperate need to keep from feeling, even fleetingly, that he might not be superior to everyone else” and that Trump “derives deep satisfaction from abusing and hurting people.” Many of his colleagues echoed this view. Four months later, thanks to Dr. Gartner’s Duty to Warn campaign, the number of mental-health professionals who publicly demanded Trump’s removal from office due to his emotional illness had grown to several thousand. (see https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/30/trump-mental-health/).
The American journalist who interviewed Dr. Gartner observed that “his comments run afoul of the so-called Goldwater Rule […] But Gartner says the Trump case warrants breaking that ethical code.” In my own mind and in that of many other mental-health professionals, however, the psychiatric Goldwater Rule conflicts with the judicial Tarasoff Rule of 1976, which resulted from the fatal stabbing in 1969 of a Russian-born female student, Tatiana Tarasoff, by a mentally-ill Indian-born fellow graduate student, Prosenjit Poddar, in the University of California at Berkeley. Tatiana’s bereaved parents used the university because its psychologist who had treated Poddar had not warned them of the imminent danger to their daughter’s life.
In Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, the Supreme Court of California held that mental health professionals have a duty to protect individuals who are being threatened with bodily harm by their patients. A lower court decision two years earlier had mandated warning the threatened individual, but the ruling by the California Supreme Court also called for a duty to protect the intended victim. Under this ruling, the psychological professional may discharge this duty in several ways, including notifying the police, warning the intended victim, or taking other reasonable steps to protect the threatened individual. While Donald Trump is not my patient, of course, nor that of any other mental-health professional, in my view, and in that of many of my colleagues, he does threaten our entire species, not only with bodily harm, but also with total annihilation.
Mental health professionals have a hard time choosing between the Tarasoff Rule and the Goldwater Rule. The American Psychoanalytic Association says its members are “free to comment about political figures as individuals,” while the American Psychiatric Association says “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” While Donald Trump at times seems like a walking psychiatric textbook, as far as we know no psychiatrist has ever seen him in his office, which is a prerequisite for an accurate psychiatric diagnosis. Nonetheless, among mental health professionals, the Tarasoff Rule has trumped the Goldwater Rule.
On February 18, 2017, less than a month into Trump’s presidency, my U.S. colleague Howard Covitz, speaking for a group of American mental health professionals called Free Citizen Therapists, addressed a public appeal to the members of the U.S. Congress to impeach their president under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which deals of the removal of the President due to his inability to discharge his duties, declaring Trump unfit for his office:
Speaking as citizens who are trained to observe human behavior and recognizing that we cannot offer a definitive diagnosis except, if you would, “almost certainly unfit to carry a weapon or to leave a Mental Health Professional’s office with such a weapon,“ we (who have worked on this letter) ask the Houses of the U.S. Legislature to act on their mandate to protect (for such a mandate can be no less than that assigned to the Executive Branch) and to remove the President under our 25th Amendment or to require him to submit to psychiatric and psychological evaluation […] whether Donald J. Trump is suffering from Pathological or Malignant Narcissism, a Delusional Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder or some Hypo-manic combination of two or more of these disorders or something else are a concern for treatment but not for his fitness to serve as a guardian of safety in a dangerous world. (see https://www.facebook.com/groups/722444487922770/permalink/723151327852086/?comment_id=723154607851758¬if_t=group_comment¬if_id=1487442169640810).
It took time for the U.S. mass-communication media to recognize and decry the severity of Trump’s emotional illness. On May 15, 2017 David Brooks of The New York Times wrote that the world was led by a seven-year-old child:
First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him. His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. On an impulse, he will promise a tax reform when his staff has done little of the actual work. Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself. “In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care,” he told Time. “A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,” he told The Associated Press, referring to his joint session speech. By Trump’s own account, he knows more about aircraft carrier technology than the Navy. According to his interview with The Economist, he invented the phrase “priming the pump” (even though it was famous by 1933). Trump is not only trying to deceive others. His falsehoods are attempts to build a world in which he can feel good for an instant and comfortably deceive himself. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/15/opinion/trump-classified-data.html).
The next day Brooks’s colleague Ross Douthat called for Trump’s impeachment under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. His column read as follows:
The presidency is not just another office. It has become, for good reasons and bad ones, a seat of semi-monarchical political power, a fixed place on which unimaginable pressures are daily brought to bear, and the final stopping point for decisions that can lead very swiftly to life or death for people the world over. One does not need to be a Marvel superhero or Nietzschean Übermensch to rise to this responsibility. But one needs some basic attributes: a reasonable level of intellectual curiosity, a certain seriousness of purpose, a basic level of managerial competence, a decent attention span, a functional moral compass, a measure of restraint and self-control. And if a president is deficient in one or more of them, you can be sure it will be exposed. Trump is seemingly deficient in them all. Some he perhaps never had, others have presumably atrophied with age. He certainly has political talent — charisma, a raw cunning, an instinct for the jugular, a form of the common touch, a certain creativity that normal politicians lack. He would not have been elected without these qualities. But they are not enough, they cannot fill the void where other, very normal human gifts should be. There is, as my colleague David Brooks wrote Tuesday, a basic childishness to the man who now occupies the presidency. That is the simplest way of understanding what has come tumbling into light in the last few days: The presidency now has kinglike qualities, and we have a child upon the throne. It is a child who blurts out classified information in order to impress distinguished visitors. It is a child who asks the head of the FBI why the rules cannot be suspended for his friend and ally. It is a child who does not understand the obvious consequences of his more vindictive actions — like firing the very same man whom you had asked to potentially obstruct justice on your say-so. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/16/opinion/25th-amendment-trump.html?_r=0).
Taking its cue from its U.S. colleagues, on May 26, 2017, during Donald Trump’s first visit to Europe as President of the United States, the influential German magazine Der Spiegel called for his removal from office. The headline read, “A Danger to the World. It’s Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump. Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing stock and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse.” The body of the article, written by the magazine’s fifty-year-old editor-in-chief, Klaus Brinkbäumer, began as follows:
Indeed, Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees. He is a man free of morals, the type used to be known as a psychopath or a sociopath. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media’s tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world. (see http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/donald-trump-is-a-menace-to-the-world-opinion-a-1148471.html).
On July 12, 2017, the California Democratic Representative Bradley James Sherman formally introduced an article of impeachment, House Resolution 438, accusing the president of obstructing justice regarding the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In late October, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI Director appointed to investigate Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election that brought Trump into the White House, indicted Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates for hiding their lobbying work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, using elaborate schemes to funnel more than $75 million through offshore accounts to conceal their activities and avoid paying taxes on the proceeds. The main focus of the indictment was on Manafort’s and Gates’s apparent corruption prior to joining the Trump campaign. Trump himself was no indicted. (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/30/16570262/paul-manafort-indictment-trump-russia-mueller).
In early June 2016, during the U.S. Presidential election campaign of that summer, The Atlantic had published a special issue on Trump, in which the American psychologist Dan P. McAdams (born 1954), a professor at Northwestern University, analyzed the personality of Donald J. Trump (born 1946), the Republican presidential candidate). Among many other complex “personality traits” (rather than psychopathology) McAdams found Trump extremely extroverted, incredibly disagreeable, ambitious and aggressive in a very angry manner, highly narcissistic, and very grandiose. No reference was made in the long and scholarly piece to the professional ethics of discussing a presidential candidate’s personality in public. (see https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/the-mind-of-donald-trump/480771/).
A few days later the U.S. online magazine Fife Thirty Eight, which takes its name from the number of members of the U.S. Electoral College, which elects the president after the votes of the states are tallied, published an article entitled “Psychiatrists Can’t Tell us What they Think About Trump,” which included interviews with prominent American psychiatrists and psychologists about the ethics of “psychoanalyzing” Trump in public. The interviewees included Prof. McAdams, who pointed out to the interviewer that he had deliberately stayed away in his Atlantic article from medical words like “diagnosis,“ and “psychiatric” because of the so-called Goldwater Rule. (see https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/psychiatrists-cant-tell-us-what-they-think-about-trump/).
In mid-February 2017 a British Muslim psychiatrist, Kamran Ahmed, had weighed in on the issue of Trump’s mental health with a piece in The Guardian. Dr. Ahmed thought that understanding Trump’s narcissism was the key to removing him from office. One can sense that this psychiatrist is torn between his professional ethics and his realization that President Trump is a very dangerous leader who needs to be removed from office if humanity is to be saved. (see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/17/donald-trump-narcisissm-mentally-ill-personality).
Dr. Bandy Lee, a courageous Yale University psychiatrist, believes that the duty to warn and to protect of the Tarasoff Rule trumps the gag order of the Goldwater Rule. In early 2017 she teamed up with Dr. John Gartner, the founder of Duty to Warn, an organization of mental health professionals that considers it its professional duty to warn the American public and the entire world against the grave dangers posed by Donald Trump’s presidency. Along with Dr. Gartner, Dr. Lance Dodes, a retired Harvard psychiatrist, initiated an online petition by mental-health professionals demanding that Trump be removed from office under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. By mid-April 2017 the petition had gathered nearly fifty thousand signatures. After the petition’s signatures had passed the 10,000 mark, Dr. Gartner and Dr. Dodes appeared on the U.S. television show Late Night with Lawrence O’Donnell, where many millions of viewers watched them pronounce Trump very dangerous as U.S. president due to his mental illness. On April 20 Dr. Gartner represented Duty to Warn at a “town-hall” meeting at Yale University Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, hosted by Dr. Lee; its panelists included the ninety-year-old, highly-respected Yale psychiatrist Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, author of many books about the psychology of politics and history. They publicly warned the Yale meeting against Donald Trump’s mental unfitness to govern. (see http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/yale-psychiatrists-cite-duty-to-warn-about-unfit-president.html).
Dr. Gartner is also a courageous man. On May 7, 2017, he battled a very hostile interviewer named Jesse Watters on a Fox News television show. Watters viciously attacked Gartner, attempting to make him lose his composure, but the psychologist stood his ground and kept his cool. In the face of death threats from Trump supporters, Gartner continues to push for Trump’s removal from office due to his mental illness. On May 12 Gartner published an op-ed article in the New York Daily News entitled “Psychologists have a duty to warn the country about Trump: We can no longer pretend that he is stable.” Gartner compared Trump in the White House to a bomb on an airplane waiting to explode. (see http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/psychologists-duty-warn-country-trump-article-1.3160022).
Like myself, Dr. Gartner is a psychologist, and thus not bound by the Goldwater Rule, which only binds psychiatrists. Moreover, many psychiatrists object to the gag order of the Goldwater rule because it restricts their freedom of speech. Furthermore, there does not seem to be any ethical violation in discussing a public figure, as no confidential doctor-patient information is being disclosed. Finally, for a psychological professional to alert people to the dangerous personality of an emotionally-disturbed leader who may, Hitler-like, plunge their country and the entire world into an all-out war, which, in Trump’s case, could end our species, seems to be an ethical imperative rather than an ethical violation. (see https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/30/trump-mental-health/).
Mothers and Bombs
In early 1991, during the first Gulf War, the murderous Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein declared that his people’s war on the United States was “the mother of all battles.” The phrase quickly entered the English language. In April 2017 U.S. President Donald J. Trump ordered the “mother of all bombs” dropped on an Islamic State stronghold in Afghanistan. This ten-ton bomb was the most powerful non-nuclear explosive device in the world. Ninety-four Islamic “militants” were killed. The real purpose of the bombing, however, was to warn Syria, Iran and North Korea of what was in store for them if they continued to threaten the U.S., that is, Donald Trump.
How did Donald J. Trump become the very dangerous man that he is, the man who may destroy our species in a nuclear Holocaust? The French say, cherchez la femme (search the wife); psychoanalysts say, cherchez la mère (search the mother). This in no way means blaming the mother for her son; it means trying to understand how Donald Trump became what he is and what unconscious role his mother may have played in this. It is no accident that two of Donald Trump’s three wives have been beautiful foreign immigrants; his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, whom he has called “smart as hell,” had been one herself. Sigmund Freud thought that exogamy was an unconscious defense against incestuous wishes. Trump’s repeated choice of foreign wives may express both his unconscious incestuous wish and his defense against it. (see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/donald-trumps-immigrant-mother).
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The relationship goes much deeper and much farther back, all the way to Donald’s birth, infancy, and childhood. When he was a child, Donald’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump (1912-2000), called him “Donny,” and the nickname stuck into his adulthood. The mother tended to “infantilize” her son and did not like to see him grow up and become independent of her. “Donny” Trump idealized his “smart” mother and identified with her “smartness.” Under this idealization, however, as we shall see below, lay unconscious narcissistic rage at a mother who, on the one hand could not let him separate from her, and on the other, let his father send him away from home when he was a teenager.
In The Art of the Comeback, published in 1997, Trump praised his “smart” mother and criticized the other women in his life. “Part of the problem I’ve had with women has been in having to compare them to my incredible mother, Mary Trump. My mother is smart as hell.” Donald dropped his mother’s middle name, Anne, in this sentence; if her name was Mary rather than Mary Anne, then she was not his sister Maryanne’s namesake. In his first TV debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump boasted of how “smart” he was in not having paid any U.S. federal taxes.
Donald Trump’s unconscious identification with his mother Mary Anne goes deep. Trump has named a room at his Florida estate of Mar-a-Lago after his mother. She and Donald shared a penchant for dramatic hair sculpting: “For years Mary Trump appeared in photos with a dramatic orange swirl. Slight in frame, she took to New York City’s streets draped in furs and jewelry, a far cry from the teen-age girl who set sail during the Great Depression.” His praise for his mother permeates his books. (see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/donald-trumps-immigrant-mother).
Along with his conscious idealization of his mother, however, Donald harbors unconscious rage at her. We can get some insight into this darker side of Trump’s relationship with his mother from the fact that Mary Anne MacLeod had been a poor immigrant, and that in August 2005 Trump published an immigration plan in which he railed against poor immigrants being allowed to enter the United States:
The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working-class Americans — including immigrants themselves and their children — to earn a middle-class wage. Nearly half of all immigrants and their US-born children currently live in or near poverty, including more than 60 per cent of Hispanic immigrants. Every year, we voluntarily admit another two million new immigrants, guest workers, refugees, and dependents, growing our existing all-time historic record population of 42 million immigrants. We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers. (see http://ijr.com/2016/02/546532-donald-trump-turned-down-hundreds-of-american-workers-and-hired-immigrants-instead/).
Mr. Hannan wrote ironically, “How inconvenient for the would-be president that ‘low-earning worker’ was exactly the status of [his mother] Mary Anne MacLeod when she emigrated from Scotland to the USA in 1930.” (see http://www.thenational.scot/news/an-inconvenient-truth-donald-trumps-scottish-mother-was-a-low-earning-migrant.17822).
In 1987 Donald Trump published a best-selling book entitled The Art of the Deal, written by himself and by the journalist Tony Schwartz, who later asserted that he, not Trump, had actually written the book, and that he regretted his involvement with Trump. On pp. 79-80 of that book Donald wrote, “Looking back, I realize now that I got some of my sense of showmanship from my mother. She always had a flair for the dramatic and the grand. She was a very traditional housewife, but she also had a sense of the world beyond her.” (see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/donald-trumps-immigrant-mother).
The forty-year-old Trump recalled that his mother had been “enthralled” by the pomp and circumstance of the Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, which she watched on television, glued to the set the whole day, while his father Fred “paced around impatiently, saying, “For Christ’s sake, Mary, enough is enough, turn it off.” Ironically, the father’s middle name was Christ. The British queen’s coronation, however, took place when “Donny” was only seven years old. Did he really recall his mother’s “enthrallment” when he was a child? Was she as childish as she seems from this recollection? (see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/donald-trumps-immigrant-mother).
“My mother didn’t even look up,” Trump wrote, implying that she was the stronger of the two parents. “They were total opposites in that sense. My mother loves splendor and magnificence, while my father, who is very down-to-earth, gets excited only by competence and efficiency.” While Donald became a wealthy businessman like his father, on a deeper level he identified more with his mother; like his mother, he loves splendor and magnificence; and, like her, he has a knack for dramatic hairdos and a flair for dramatic showmanship, with constant exaggeration and endless lying. (see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/donald-trumps-immigrant-mother).
But this is not the most important aspect of Donald Trump’s psychology. The crucial effect of Mary Anne MacLeod Trump on her son was her unwitting part in the creation of his Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. Donald Trump has told many stories about himself and his parents; his tales about his father and his fortune are well known, while those about his mother less so. One of them is that his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, came from Scotland to America “on vacation” and overstayed her tourist visa; in fact, Mary Anne MacLeod made three voyages from Scotland to the United States in her youth: the first was in 1929, when she was seventeen, to visit her married elder sister, who had already immigrated from Scotland to America; the second trip was in 1930, when she herself came to the U.S. as an immigrant; and the third voyage was in 1934, when she returned to Scotland for three months before sailing again to New York.
The mother’s first visit to America was discovered in June 2016 by the American journalist Mary Pilon, who mistook it for Mary Anne’s immigration voyage; the second and third voyages had been found the month before by the Scottish journalist Martin Hannan, who described Mary Anne MacLeod as “a penniless Scot who traveled to America as an immigrant when she was eighteen,” in 1930, seeking a better life. She left Scotland with only $50 to her name to work in New York as a “domestic,” meaning a servant or a maid; and she was not only fleeing poverty but also her family. (see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/donald-trumps-immigrant-mother and http://www.thenational.scot/news/the-mysterious-mary-trump-the-full-untold-story-of-how-a-young-scotswoman-escaped-to-new-york-and-raised-a-us-presidential-candidate.17824).
The Scottish journalist thought that Mary Anne MacLeod was fleeing a family scandal. In late 1920, when Mary Anne was eight years old, her elder sister Catherine MacLeod Reid, known affectionately as Kate or Katie, had given birth out of wedlock to a baby girl in Scotland; she named her daughter Annie. As Mr. Hannan put it, “It is difficult in this modern age to convey just how absolutely scandalous and shameful such a birth occurring to an adherent of the very strict Free Presbyterian Church in a tight-knit community would have been.” Soon after that event, in 1921, Catherine fled to America, where she married, and was followed by three of her sisters in succession. Mary Anne was the fourth MacLeod daughter to leave home and her native land. (see http://www.thenational.scot/news/an-inconvenient-truth-donald-trumps-scottish-mother-was-a-low-earning-migrant.17822).
Mr. Hannan did not ask why Catherine had had an illegitimate child, however, nor why four daughters of the MacLeod family fled their homeland for America. Was it possible that they also escaped an unhappy family? Could it be that, as well as fleeing her “family scandal” in Scotland, Mary Anne MacLeod also hoped to replace an unloving mother with a loving, embracing motherland? Her three back-and-forth voyages between Scotland and America may indicate an unconscious quest for a good mother in the shape of a new motherland. Let us see why Mary Anne may have searched for a good new motherland to “adopt” her.
The youngest of ten children, perhaps an unwanted child, Mary Anne MacLeod had been born on May 10, 1912 in the fishing village of Tong on the Scottish isle of Lewis, the daughter of a Presbyterian fisherman-crofter named Malcolm MacLeod and his wife, Mary Smith MacLeod. Mary Anne’s mother was an orphan who had never known her own father; Duncan Smith had drowned in a fishing accident when she was a year old. Donald’s maternal grandmother had been raised by her bereaved, widowed mother.
How much love could Mary Smith MacLeod have received from her grieving mother? How much love could this orphan mother have given her own children, especially Mary Anne, her last child, whom she may not have wanted, given the nine other children that she had had to raise and take care of?
Mary Anne MacLeod seems to have left Tong for Glasgow as a teenager; three of her sisters were already married and living in the United States by the time she was seventeen and made her first voyage to America in late 1929: Christina MacLeod Matheson, Mary Joan MacLeod Pauley and Catherine MacLeod Reid. In November 1929 Mary Anne MacLeod sailed from Glasgow to New York, returning to Scotland a month or two later. In May 1930 she sailed again for New York, this time with an immigrant’s visa; after landing there she stayed with her sister Catherine in Glen Head, Long Island. Mary Anne MacLeod then worked as a “domestic” with wealthy families in New York for four years. In June 1934, perhaps homesick for her mother, or motherland, she sailed back for Scotland, but returned to New York in September; had she not received the kind of love from her mother that she had pined for?
A Father Named Christ
Mary Anne MacLeod was slender and pretty in 1935, when she moved as a “domestic” into the Trump family residence at 175-24 Devonshire Road in Jamaica, Queens, New York, a multi-family house built ten years earlier; in early 1936 she wed the American businessman Frederick Christ Trump (1905-1999) at Manhattan’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. It is not clear whether it was Mary Anne’s elder sister Catherine who introduced them. Mary Anne MacLeod was a servant; Fred Trump was an established businessman, builder and developer seven years her senior. Why did the wealthy thirty-year-old American businessman chose to marry a poor twenty-three-year-old immigrant far beneath his station?
Donald Trump uses the word “smart” for himself and for manipulative people like him who excel at using others, and the American legal, political and economic system, to achieve their own ends. In 1997 he published his second book, The Art of the Comeback, where he greatly idealized his old mother: “Part of the problem I’ve had with women has been in having to compare them to my incredible mother, Mary Trump. My mother is smart as hell. I remember once, a long time ago, my sister Maryanne, a highly respected federal judge in New Jersey, told me that my mother is one of the smartest people she ever met. At the time it didn’t make much of an impact on me, but I didn’t really understand why she said it. All I knew was that my mother was a really great homemaker and wife to my father […] but now I fully understand why Maryanne made that statement, and it is 100 percent true.”
By implication, Donald’s father Fred was not as “smart” as his mother Mary Anne. Did the “smart as hell” Mary Anne MacLeod manipulate Frederick Christ Trump into marrying her, using his sexual attraction to him, his idealization of her, or both? (see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/donald-trumps-immigrant-mother).
In 1937 Mary Anne Trump gave birth to their first child, whom she named, significantly, Maryanne, after herself; their first son, born in 1938, was named Fred Jr. after his father. In 1940, while the Second World War raged in Europe and East Asia, the FDR administration conducted a population census in the United States. Mr. Hannan found that “Fred and Mary Anne Trump played fast and loose with the American authorities on their census return in 1940, stating that Mary Anne Trump was a naturalized [U.S.] citizen when records openly available to researchers show that she was not naturalized until 1942.”
From 1937 to 1947 Frederick Christ and Mary Anne Trump had five children, whom they named, successively, Maryanne, Fred Jr., Elizabeth, Donald John, and Robert. Donald was born in 1946, the fourth child, a year before Robert. It is not clear whom Donald’s mother named him after; it may have been a brother or an uncle whom she loved. Donald seems to have been his mother’s favorite son. He idealized his mother as “very smart” and seems to have identified with her more than he did with his father, both in his hair-styling and in his “smart” manipulations of everyone and everything he encountered.
What kind of mother was Mary Anne to her son Donny? We can hazard an informed guess by looking at the photographs of the former New York “domestic.” Mary Anne’s photos from the time of her first voyages to New York show a beautiful, slender, smiling young woman, looking forward to reaching her new motherland; her picture from her socialite heyday shows a cold and stern face; her snapshots from her older age show an overweight lady with an elaborate hairdo.
As he was growing up, then, the handsome young Donald Trump may have watched with concealed disappointment and anger, how his idealized “housekeeper” mother changed from a thin and beautiful young woman into an old and fat one. Is it surprising, then, that the change that Miss Universe Alicia Machado underwent from a slender beauty queen into an overweight woman reminded Trump of his mother and made him so furious that he attacked her as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping”? As we have seen, Donald Trump has called his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, “smart as hell.” She may have “outsmarted” her own children as well, using them for her own needs. Was the “smart” little Donny her favorite child because he was the one who was most like her?
The Psychological Father
Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, was a strict disciplinarian. He was on Donald’s school board when “Donny” was expelled at the age thirteen for having insulted his music teacher. Rather than protect his son and keep him in school, the father supported his expulsion. Had the sassy and rebellious Donny insulted his father as well?
Later, in his twenties, Donald found a new “father” in the person of Roy Marcus Cohn (1927-1986), a homosexual American Jewish attorney who had become famous during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into Communist activity in the United States during the “Second Red Scare.” Cohn had gained special prominence during the Army-McCarthy hearings. He was also a member of the U.S. Department of Justice’s prosecution team at the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in the electric chair.
Three days before the U.S. Election Day in 2016, the American journalist Kathy Kiely (born 1955) published an interview with her colleague David Cay Johnston (born 1948), who had been studying Trump for thirty years and authored The Making of Donald Trump, about the relationship between Donald Trump and Roy Cohn. Here is an excerpt from that interview:
In 1927, Fred Trump was arrested at a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Queens — something his son has tried furiously to deny, but, said Johnston: “I have the clips.” Later, as Johnston details in his book, the elder Trump, in trouble once before with the feds for allegedly bilking a federal housing program for returning GIs, was ordered by the federal authorities to stop discriminating against African-Americans who were trying to rent apartments he owned. The settlement came only after Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to get the allegations of racial bias thrown out by the courts — a lawsuit in which he was represented by Roy Cohn, former longtime aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), the disgraced Communist witch-hunt perpetrator. Johnston sees Trump’s association with Cohn — who, he said, “taught Donald how to hurt people”— as part of a disturbing pattern. “We have never had a major party candidate for president with the kind of relationships Donald Trump has,” Johnston said. While some past presidents have had unsavory friends and business associations, Johnston continued, “They were not the mob. They were not drug traffickers.” (see http://billmoyers.com/story/making-donald-trump-told-journalistic-nemesis/).
Sigmund Freud thought that exogamy was an unconscious defense against incest. Donald Trump has been married three times; his first and third wife have been “foreigners” from Eastern Europe. When Trump married the Czech-born Ivana Zelníčková in 1977, his lawyer was none other than Roy Cohn, who told Trump to put a special clause in his pre-nuptial agreement with Ivana saying that should the couple split, she would return everything — cars, furs, rings — that Mr. Trump might give her during their marriage. Roy Cohn had become Donald Trump’s psychological father. As one journalist put it, “If Fred Trump got his son’s career started, bringing him into the family business of middle-class rentals in Brooklyn and Queens, Mr. Cohn ushered him across the river and into Manhattan, introducing him to the social and political elite while ferociously defending him against a growing list of enemies.” Roy Cohen died of AIDS in 1986 after being disbarred for flagrant ethical violations. It was from Roy Cohn that Donald Trump learned his “wrecking ball of a presidential bid — the gleeful smearing of his opponents, the embracing of bluster as brand.” (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/us/politics/donald-trump-roy-cohn.html?_r=0 and ther astute comment by Prof. Gordon Fellman at the end of this article).
Death of An Elder Brother
Donald’s elder brother, Freddy, who had been born in 1938, died at the age of forty-three from alcohol addiction. The American journalist Jason Horowitz thought that Freddy’s addiction had been caused by his “perfectionist” father, Fred, and by his fiercely competitive and aggressive younger brother, Donald. Horowitz called Freddy “a fun-loving airline pilot with a gift for imitating W.C. Fields.” adding, however, that “the story of Freddy, a handsome, gregarious and self-destructive figure who died as an alcoholic in 1981 at the age of 43, is bleak and seldom told […] The painful case of Freddy Trump, eight years his brother’s senior and once the heir apparent to their father’s real estate empire, also serves as an example of the dangers of failing to conform in a family dominated by a driven, perfectionist patriarch and an aggressive younger brother.” Did Donald Trump blame himself for his elder brother’s death? Did he unconsciously have to punish himself for it? And, if Donald’s father was such a perfectionist, did he not demand such high standards from Donald as well, which Donald found impossible to live up to? (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/us/politics/for-donald-trump-lessons-from-a-brothers-suffering.html?_r=0).
The driven, perfectionist father, and the aggressive younger brother, however, were not the only cause of Freddy’s self-destructive addition; such addictions begin with early-life experiences of maternal deprivation or rejection, or, more generally, with disturbed mother-child relations. It may not be accidental that it was Mary Anne’s firstborn son, Freddy, who became addicted; nor, for that matter, is it an accident that Trump’s presidential-campaign website makes no mention of his mother, while his books are full of praise for her.
On February 1, 2017, twelve days into Donald Trump’s presidency, by which time he had already signed several executive orders and other official documents, a Boston Globe journalist interviewed Sheila Lowe, a U.S. graphologist with over forty years of experience in her field, about Trump’s “horrifying” signature. “His signature is this barbed-wire thing that’s into power and control and rigidity,” said Lowe. “It’s closed, it’s not open, it’s not soft at all and it looks like Himmler’s.” For those of her readers who had not heard about Himmler, the journalist added, “As in Heinrich Himmler, head of Adolf Hitler’s SS and the man who established the first official concentration camp at Dachau.” Lowe had first come across Trump’s handwriting and signature in the 1990s and had been keeping a professional eye on it ever since. “Handwriting changes over time in people who grow and change,” the graphologist said, “but Trump’s handwriting has remained largely consistent for the last twenty years. He’s the same person he was all those years ago — an empty narcissist.” Lowe continued, “There’s absolutely no softness in his signature, it’s just mean and tough and rigid, and there is no room for anybody else. He’s not interested in anyone else’s opinion. It’s like a big fence.” “A wall?” asked the journalist. “Yes,” said Lowe, “and he hides behind it. He’s afraid of being seen.” We shall return to the matter of Trump’s wall below. (see https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2017/02/01/trump-signature-horrifying-but-should-you-care/5Bbnsu2DoPJkcqmm06LzgM/story.html).
On an Israeli radio news program on May 24, 2017, in which I was interviewed about the contents of this study, an Israeli graphologist who followed me said that Trump’s signature reminded her of shark’s teeth, that he was “a snake,” and that he wore a perpetual mask. Whether or not graphology is scientific and accurate, Trump’s signature is but the tip of the iceberg of his psychopathology. Before going down that road, however, we must discuss the ethical issues involved in the public diagnosis of political leaders by mental-health professionals who have never examined them in person and whose professional opinion may affect the leader’s career.
How Could Such a Guy Become President of the United States?
On November 8, 2016 a lifelong gambler, con man and pathological liar named Donald John Trump won the biggest gamble of his life: an unprecedented race by a political novice for the office of President of the United States of America. From a very young age, Donald Trump had practiced both plain deception and self-deception. Thanks to the inequities and to the inadequacies of the antiquated American electoral system, he won the majority of the Electoral College votes, which made him the President-elect, even though millions more Americans voted for his rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton. (for Trump’s “art of deception” see http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/03/opinions/art-deception-dantonio/ and for his self-deception see https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/10/opinion/truth-and-lies-in-the-age-of-trump.html).
Expressing the feelings of countless people around the world, David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, wrote, “The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.” (see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/an-american-tragedy-donald-trump?intcid=mod-latest).
Nonetheless, on Friday, January 20, 2017, repeating his simplistic and populist campaign slogans of America First and Make America Great Again, Donald J. Trump was sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court President John Roberts as the 45th president of the United States of America, gravely threatening American democracy, the very essence of America, nay, the very existence of the human species. In an article in The Atlantic of January-February 2017 the American writer and journalist James fallows (born 1949) wondered about how this disaster could have happened. Referring to the former FBI Director James Comey, who had helped Trump get elected by revealing his investigation of his rival Hillary Clinton, he wrote:
No one can know for sure, and with an event this complex and contingent—why not more visits to Wisconsin? what about Comey? and the Russians?—there will be no single explanation. But I disagree with two elements of instant analysis: that this was a sweeping “change” election, and that it reflected a pent-up desperation and fury that would have been evident if anyone had bothered to check with Americans “out there,” away from the coasts. In its calamitous effects—for climate change, in what might happen in a nuclear standoff, for race relations—this could indeed be as consequential a “change” election as the United States has had since 1860. But nothing about the voting patterns suggests that much of the population intended upheaval on this scale. “Change” elections drive waves of incumbents from office. This time only two senators, both Republicans, lost their seats. Of the nearly 400 representatives running for re-election to the House, only eight lost, six of them Republicans and two Democrats. In change elections, the incumbent president and his party are out of favor, even reviled: Hoover after the start of the Great Depression, George W. Bush after the financial crash. Through 2016, Barack Obama’s popularity kept rising, and if he could have run again, he would have been a favorite for re-election. But even the much less popular candidate from his same party comfortably won the popular vote, and the Democrats gained seats in both the Senate and the House. This is not what 1932 looked like, or 1980, or 2008. (see https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/01/despair-and-hope-in-the-age-of-trump/508799/).
If Fallows is right, then how could a dishonest, arrogant, tyrannical man, a malignant narcissist and hatemonger, a racist, misogynist, high-risk gambler and con man who cannot abide the slightest criticism or resistance to his will, win the presidency of the world’s greatest democracy? How could the members of the Electoral College of the United States entrust a dangerous seventy-year-old egomaniac who must always win over others, who is addicted to humiliating his opponents, no matter what the cost, who can lie unflinchingly and believe in his own lies, who is often out of touch with reality, a man with such a dark and vulnerable mind that he may, in his rage, bomb Syria, Iran, North Korea or some other “terrorist nation” and provoke a Third World War, with the nuclear weapons of the world’s most powerful country and with the future of their country and of humanity itself?
Poor Self-Control: The “Loose Cannon”
During the election campaign of 2016 Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and many political pundits called Trump “a loose cannon” because he could not control his rage, his tongue, or his tweets. In May 2017 Trump gave sensitive and highly-classified intelligence on the Islamic State, supplied to the U.S. by Israel, to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. Israel thereupon decided not to supply such information to the U.S. again. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/16/world/middleeast/israel-trump-classified-intelligence-russia.html).
Leon Panetta, the former CIA Director and Defense Secretary under President Barack Obama, was aghast at Trump’s carelessness, which severely damaged U.S. credibility. Interviewed about this by Chris Cuomo on the CNN television show New Day, Panetta said, “I watch the President rationalize these kinds of things, and the problem that really bothers me is it undermines the credibility of the office of the Presidency.” Panetta called Trump a “loose cannon,” and said that the President must come to terms with the idea that his words now have gravity as the leader of the free world. “I just think this president has to understand that he cannot just say whatever the hell he wants and expect that it doesn’t carry consequences,” Panetta said. Ultimately, Panetta hoped, others in the White House could save the President from himself. “This President needs to have some grown-ups around him that make very clear what the lines are here,” he said. (see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/16/politics/leon-panetta-donald-trump-russia-classified-info-cnntv/index.html).
On Wednesday, June 28, 2017 the U.S. mass-communication media reported that eight years earlier Donald Trump had had a fake TIME magazine cover made for him, in his own image, and that it was hanging on the walls of his four golf clubs, two in the U.S., the others in Scotland and Ireland. TIME magazine promptly asked the Trump Organization to remove the fake cover from all the walls where it was on display. Would Trump comply? (see https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/28/time-magazinetrump-fake-covers-golf-clubs).
The next morning, Thursday, June 29, 2017, Mika Brzerzinski and Joe Scarborough, the co-hosts of the influential MSNBC television show Morning Joe, which features in-depth, informed discussions that help shape the day’s current political conversation and interviews prominent politicians and pundits, excoriated Mr. Trump on their show, denouncing his behavior and questioning his mental health. Mika said sarcastically, “Nothing makes a man feel better than making a fake cover of a magazine about himself, lying every day and destroying the country.” This comment set off an uncontrollable outburst of narcissistic rage in Donald Trump, which, as often happens, led to a gross tweet on Twitter. (see http://www.businessinsider.com/why-did-trump-attack-mika-brzezinski-2017-6).
Mika and Joe, who are a couple in real life, outside their show, had been friendly to Trump during the early phase of his election campaign and had visited his Mar-a-Lago “White House” in Florida. Their relationship had begun to sour in mid-2016, when Scarborough publicly declared that Trump did not have what it took to win the election. Trump had launched a Twitter attack on him, and the mutual verbal blows snowballed into a war of words. Trump experienced Mika and Joe’s attacks on him as a personal betrayal.
Shortly after their show had aired, Trump once again showed the world what a “loose cannon” he can be. He fired off a furious and infantile message on Twitter, divided into two tweets, because the total number of characters exceeded the 140 Twitter allows per tweet. Combined, Trump’s tweets read, “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” Trump’s outrageous tweets provoked widespread condemnation from Democrats as well as from Republicans. Commentators pointed out that it was infantile and self-destructive. (see http://www.politico.com/story/2017/06/29/trump-targets-morning-joe-hosts-in-tweet-240085).
Under the U.S. constitution, President Donald J. Trump is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces. But, as David Brooks had written in The New York Times a few weeks earlier, psychologically Trump is a seven-year-old child. Can an infantile “loose cannon” like Donald Trump be trusted with the nuclear weapons of the world’s mightiest military power? What will he do in Syria, in Iran, or in North Korea if he becomes enraged with their leaders? Can the grown-ups around Trump reign in the narcissistic rage of a child with a terrible temper, or will they keep heaping praise on him and nurture his malignant narcissism? Are we headed for a Third World War that will wipe out our species? (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/15/opinion/trump-classified-data.html).
The Narcissistic Need for Admiration
On Monday morning, June 12, 2017 U.S. President Donald J. Trump held one of the most surrealist cabinet meetings in U.S. history. It was the first meeting of his full cabinet, including the Secretaries of all the Departments of the federal government, Trump’s top advisers, his U.N. ambassador, and the heads of the U.S. intelligence and security services. Each of them spoke for less than a minute, each thanked Trump for the opportunity to serve him and the American nation in his capacity, and several participants heaped personal praise on Trump.The Secretaries and top advisors must have sensed how much Trump needs this kind of adulation, and gave it to him abundantly.
The president himself joined the chorus: ”Never has there been a president, with few exceptions … who has passed more legislation, done more things,“ Trump declared, even though the U.S. Congress, which is controlled by his party, had not passed any major piece of legislation. He hailed his plan for the “single biggest tax cut in American history,” even though he had not proposed any such plan, and the Congress had not acted on one. Trump said that “no one would have believed” his election in November 2016 could have created so many new jobs over seven months (1.1 million), even though 1.3 million jobs had been created in the seven months preceding his election. The next day the American television talk show host David Colbert mocked Trump’s cabinet meeting on his CBS Late Show as a “strokefest for an emotionally frail man.” (see http://www.newsweek.com/stephen-colbert-calls-trumps-cabinet-meeting-strokefest-emotionally-frail-man-624901).
In early February 2017, after Iran tested a long-range missile, Trump’s national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, who is known for his Islamophobia, publicly threatened Iran by saying, “We are officially putting Iran on notice” without spelling out what he meant. Flynn soon became the subject of FBI and Congressional investigations due to his secret ties with Russia. On February 13 Vice President Mike Pence forced Flynn to resign in disgrace by for having lied to him about his relations and contacts with the Russians. The next day, February 14, Trump held a one-on-one meeting with FBI Director James Comey in the Oval Office in which he tried to pressure him to drop the Flynn investigation. This was a clear breach of the rules of conduct of the U.S. president, if not an illegal obstruction of justice. In early December 2017, after Flynn confessed to Special Counsel Robert Mueller that he had lied to the FBI, Trump tweeted that he had been forced to fire Flynn because he had lied both to the Vice President and to the FBI, prompting a host of questions about his collusion with Flynn’s lies and his obstruction of justice.
On February 11, 2017, after North Korea tested yet another long-range missile, Trump stood alongside Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, at Mar-a-Lago and declared that the U.S. was 100% behind Japan. Trump’s saber-rattling was alarming because it could lead the U.S. to war with with nuclear-armed North Korea whose consequences, not only for these two countries, but also for South Korea, for Japan, and for our whole world might be dire. (see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/01/iran-trump-michael-flynn-on-notice).
Some of Trump’s appointments have been alarming. His chief political strategist and senior counselor is the far-right American nationalist Steve Bannon; because of his racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements, his appointment, shortly after Trump’s election, drew fire from the U.S. Anti-Defamation League, the Council on American–Islamic Relations, the Southern Poverty Law Center, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and even some Republican politicians. Bannon, whom Trump has put on his National Security Council while removing the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from it, has told the U.S. mass-communication media to “keep its mouth shut.”
Trump appointed Rex Tillerson, the chairman of Exxon Mobile and a former close friend of the Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin, who has committed war crimes in Ukraine and in Syria, his Secretary of State; his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, adamantly opposes the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While some Israelis applauded the long-awaited move of the U.S. embassy in our country to our “eternal capital” of Jerusalem, which Trump had no real intention of carrying out, the Arab leaders have declared that this move would make the traditional U.S. role of honest broker between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs no longer tenable; and the one-state solution would mean the end of Zionism, if not second-class citizenship for the Arabs. Trump’s designated Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, does not believe in global warming and in climate change, which is like a Secretary of the Treasury not believing in money. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/world/middleeast/david-friedman-us-ambassador-israel.html?_r=0 on Friedman and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/business/media/stephen-bannon-trump-news-media.html?_r=0 on Bannon).
Trump’s appointments and his statements on nuclear weapons endangered the future of our species. On January 26, 2017, reacting to those statements and appointments, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, indicating that nuclear war and the end of our species were more imminent than at any time since 1953, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested their hydrogen bombs. Dr. Rachel Bronson, the executive director of the Bulletin, wrote, “words matter, and President Trump has had plenty to say over the last year. Both his statements and his actions as president-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. His nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science. In short, even though he has just now taken office, the president’s intemperate statements, lack of openness to expert advice, and questionable cabinet nominations have already made a bad international security situation worse.” Five months later the situation has worsened. Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris accord on global warming, which over 110 nations had signed. (see http://thebulletin.org/sites/default/files/Final%202017%20Clock%20Statement.pdf).
Black-and-White Thinking: Xenophobia, Islamophobia, Arabophobia
In mid-February 2017, when U.S. President Donald Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to “let go” of the investigation of his just-resigned national security adviser General Flynn, he called Flynn “a good guy.” During the 2016 presidential election campaign, when he spoke about the need to build a wall on the border with Mexico, he said “there are a lot of bad honchos over there.” Trump thinks that people are either good or bad. He is unable to see that every person has both good and bad traits at once. He divides his emotional and interpersonal world into the good us and the bad them. This type of black-and-white thinking and perception is due to unconscious splitting, which we shall discuss below.
On January 28, 2017, without consulting Congressional leaders, President Trump signed an executive order banning refugees, immigrants, and other citizens of seven Muslim Arab countries — Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran — from entering the United States, claiming that “Radical Islamic terror” had to be stopped and that the Islamic State (also known as ISIL or ISIS) has to be destroyed. Significantly, Saudi Arabia, the home of the terrorists who had committed the worst attack on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001, killing thousands of Americans, was not included in the ban; nor were Afghanistan and Pakistan, the homes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, whom America defines as some of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations. Congressmen and Senators were roiled, legal experts questioned the constitutionality of this executive order, and protest demonstrations against it erupted all over the world, yet Trump felt that he was saving America — his idealized mother — from those who would destroy it.
Donald Trump cannot abide criticism: it constitutes an unendurable blow to his self-esteem. His defense is to denigrate, attack, or fire the critic. Trump’ unconscious says, “if I can fire, humiliate, attack and ridicule you, then you can’t fire or humiliate me.” During his election campaign and his first seven months in office he fired some of his most important aides and officials: his election campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his successor, Paul Manafort; his key campaign adviser, Chris Christie; his national security adviser, General Mike Flynn; his acting attorney general, Sally Yates; his FBI director, James Comey; his communications director, Michael Dubke, and the latter’s successor, Anthony Scaramucci (after just ten days in office); his press secretary, Sean Spicer; his chief of staff, Reince Priebus; and the head of the U.S. office of government ethics, Walter Shaub. Trump ordered his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to demand the immediate resignations of all 46 Obama-appointed federal prosecutors; when one of them, Preet Bharara, refused to resign, he was fired. (see http://www.smh.com.au/world/officials-donald-trump-has-fired-20170801-gxngdd.html).
When Trump’s acting attorney general, Sally Yates, questioned the legality of his executive order banning Muslims from entering the U.S. he promptly fired her; when a courageous federal judge in Seattle, James Robart, temporarily suspended the president’s ban, an enraged Trump tweeted, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” He promptly ordered his Justice Department to appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit federal appeals court in San Francisco. His lawyers argued, incredibly, that the court did not have the authority to review the president¹s executive order. The attorney general of the state of Washington, as well as those of many other states, and some one hundred chief executive officers of top U.S. business corporations filed amicus curiae briefs opposing Trump’s ban and arguing that his executive order was eminently reviewable. The federal appeals court accepted their arguments and upheld Judge Robart’s suspension of Trump’s travel ban. “There is no [legal] precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the court said. (see http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/09/appeals-court-to-issue-decision-on-trump-travel-ban-later-today.html).
Trump’s arrogant response on Twitter was “See you in court. The security of our nation is at stake!” What was really at stake, however, was Trump’s self-esteem. Trump’s various executive orders banning travel from Muslim countries have repeatedly been voided by federal judges. His attorney general, Jefferson Sessions, who provided Trump with the excuses he needed to fire FBI Director James Comey, and who on June 13, 2017 was grilled by the members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on his communications with Trump, refusing to answer their questions and being accused by the Democrats of obstructing their investigation, may eventually also have the ungrateful and well-nigh impossible task of defending his boss’s illegal or unconstitutional orders in the U.S. Supreme Court. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/us/politics/visa-ban-trump-judge-james-robart.html?_r=0).
On February 8, 2017, in a conversation with U.S. senators, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, had reportedly criticized Trump’s attacks on the U.S. judicial system as “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” One of his interlocutors, the Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, publicized Gorsuch’s comments and urged him to go public with them; Trump then falsely stated that Blumenthal had “misrepresented” Gorsuch’s comments, adding that the senator had also “misrepresented” his Vietnam record. (for Yates’s firing see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/30/politics/donald-trump-immigration-order-department-of-justice/ and for his attack on Senator Blumenthal see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/09/politics/donald-trump-neil-gorsuch-democrats/index.html
The abused child becomes an abusive parent. One reason Trump constantly shames and humiliates others may be that he has been traumatically shamed and humiliated himself: it is as if his unconscious was constantly telling him, “Do unto others as they did unto you!” Trump has also hurt and humiliated his wives. In one of his rare moments of self-awareness, he told his biographer that being married to him was very tough. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/26/us/politics/donald-trump-interviews.html?emc=edit_ta_20161025&nlid=68054513&ref=cta&mtrref=undefined&_r=0).
Charisma and Narcissism
Charismatic leaders, whether highly constructive, like Mustafa Kemal Atatrürk or Barack Obama, or frighteningly destructive, like Adolf Hitler or Donald Trump, are extremely narcissistic people. Some psychological professionals have called Trump a “sociopath.” Writing in The Atlantic, one journalist discussed Trump’s “sociopathy” and narcissism:
Psychiatrists often bestow labels knowing less about the facts of people’s lives and actions than we collectively know today about Donald Trump’s. We’re also legitimized in this endeavor by the fact that sociopathy and psychopathy—which are similar, and sometimes used interchangeably—are not formal psychiatric diagnoses. The terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” do tend to be thrown around casually by people in need of an insult that carries an air of empiricism […] The closest thing to psychopathy or sociopathy in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [of the American Psychiatric Association] — the book that defines every mental illness and outlines how mental-health professionals should make the diagnosis — is either Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Other analysts have focused on the applicability [to Trump] of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which the Mayo Clinic defines by “an inflated sense of [one’s] own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” One psychologist, Ben Michaelis, called Trump “textbook Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” Psychologist George Simon called Trump “so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his [narcissistic] characteristics.” (see https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/07/trump-and-sociopathy/491966/).
In 1973 the Canadian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Irvine Schiffer published a slender tome entitled Charisma: A Psychoanalytic Look at Mass Society. Schiffer thought that charisma was in the eye of the beholder: it is not a quality inherent in the charismatic leader but rather a quality with which he is endowed by his followers. Among the psychological “ingredients” that make immature followers attribute charisma to their “great” leader, Schiffer found, were his foreignness, his imperfection, his feeling of calling, his fighting stance, his social station, his sexual mystique, his perpetrating a hoax, and his innovative lifestyles. These traits revive in his immature followers powerful emotions of longing, fear, and idealization, dating back to their infancy and childhood, which they have not outgrown, and which Schiffer explained in detail; and most of these “ingredients” characterize Donald Trump. His foreign wife is only one of them. (see https://www.amazon.com/Charisma-Psychoanalytic-Look-Mass-Society/dp/0802019587).
The American historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of Italian history at New York University and an expert on the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), found many similarities between him and Donald Trump. She wrote:
Italians learned in the 1920s what Americans are learning in 2016: Charismatic authoritarians seeking political office cannot be understood through the framework of traditional politics. They lack interest in, and patience for, established protocols. They often trust few outside of their own families, or those they already control, making collaboration and relationship building difficult. They work from a different playbook, and so must those who intend to confront them. The authoritarian playbook is defined by the particular relationship such individuals have with their followers. It’s an attachment based on submission to the authority of one individual who stands above the party, even in a regime. Mussolini, a journalist by training, used the media brilliantly to cultivate a direct bond with Italians that confounded political parties and other authority structures and lasted for 18 years. For over a year now, Trump has been subjecting Americans and American democracy to analogous tests. Actions many see as irrational make chilling sense when considered under this framework: the many racist tweets or retweets, which his campaign then declares a mistake. His early declaration that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and not lose any supporters. His extended humiliation of powerful politicians such as Paul Ryan and John McCain. His attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the American electoral process. His intimation that “the Second-Amendment people” might be able to solve the potential problem of Hillary Clinton appointing judges, presumably by shooting her. This last remark is a sign that Trump feels emboldened in his quest to see how much Americans and the GOP will let him get away with — and when, if ever, they will say “enough.” (see https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/american-authoritarianism-under-donald-trump/495263/).
The Cypriot-Turkish-born American psychoanalyst Vamık Djemal Volkan (born 1932) explained the unconscious dynamics of this special bond between charismatic leaders and their followers. He wrote:
It is generally when an ethnic, national, religious or ideological large group is regressed, that the “fit” between a large group and a political leader with exaggerated self-love (narcissism) is likely to be strongest: the narcissistic leader’s belief in his or her own superior power, intelligence and omnipotence creates comfort for the regressed large group and an illusion of safety. Thus, the followers use the narcissistic leader’s personality as an “antidote” for shared anxiety. In turn, narcissistic leaders utilize the dependency and adoration of their regressed followers as one way to protect and maintain their grandiosity and hide their own dependency needs. Leaders are then inclined to manipulate, in an exaggerated manner, the societal and political signs of large-group regression, consciously, but more importantly, unconsciously. The shared psychological processes of members of a large group dovetail with the internal psychological processes of narcissistic leaders. They, in turn, tame or inflame large-group regression along with its signs or symptoms. (see http://www.vamikvolkan.com/Some-Psychoanalytic-Views-On-Narcissistic-Leaders-and-Their-Roles-in-Large-group-Processes.php).
Let us examine an example of Trump’s narcissistic relationship with his followers to see how he manipulates them and why they idealize him and endow him with such charisma.
The President and the War Widow
On Tuesday night, February 28, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump delivered an address to a joint session of the two houses of the U.S. Congress. Many Democratic Congresswomen wore white, reminding the world of the women’s suffragette movement a century earlier and of Trump’s misogyny. The high point of the evening came when Trump mentioned the presence in the hall of Carryn Owens, the widow of U.S. Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William Ryan Owens, who had been killed a month earlier in a bungled raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen ordered by none other than Trump himself. The black-clad Ms. Owens sat next to the president’s daughter, Ivanka, in the First Lady’s box high above the hall. In the midst of pressing his case for many more billions of dollars for the U.S. Military, Trump said, looking up at Ms. Owens:
We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero — battling against terrorism and securing our Nation. I just spoke to General Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom — we will never forget him.
The president then addressed the widow directly: “And Ryan is looking down right now. You know that,” he told her. In what seemed to be a reference to the length of the standing ovation that followed his words about her husband, the president said: “And he’s very happy, because I think he just broke a record.”
In fact, the raid in Yemen had been a failure due to incompetence. The death of Ryan Owens on Jan. 29 resulted from a series of errors and misjudgments that produced a fifty-minute firefight with Al Qaeda fanatics. Three other Americans were wounded, as well as several Yemeni civilians. A $75 million aircraft was deliberately destroyed.
The grieving widow, who probably did not know all this, looked upward toward Heaven, where the jubilant president had just told her her husband was, and repeatedly murmured “I love you.” The widow tried to hold back her sobs, but the television cameras focused on her contorted face and tearful eyes. In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Republicans and Democrats rose up and applauded for several minutes in a standing ovation; it was not clear whether they were applauding the president, the dead soldier, or the widow. The president broke from his prepared remarks, saying that Ryan Owens must be looking proudly down from heaven at the “record” likely set, an apparent reference to the long ovation. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/01/us/politics/william-ryan-carryn-owens-navy-seal-yemen.html).
At least one other American war widow, Kaili Joy Gray, saw through Trump’s blatant exploitation of Ms. Owens for his own purposes. She pointed out Trump’s total lack of empathy for the widow’s feelings:
At the very least, I would have hoped my president would be capable of humility, of kindness, and of a recognition that my loss is not about his glory or his blamelessness, but about the tragedy that forever changed my life. It’s hard to imagine, though, that Trump’s words were intended to comfort, and not instead to establish his innocence in this tragedy, to prove that he is a victim of the generals’ insistence upon this mission and of the previous administration’s plans, as he also claimed earlier in the day, and that certainly he bears no responsibility for Carryn Owens’s grief.
This perceptive war widow put her finger on one of Trump’s most prominent character traits, his narcissistic lack of empathy for other people’s feelings and his using them for his own needs:
After all, Trump’s astonishing lack of empathy has been well-documented — from his repeated attacks during the 2016 election on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the [bereaved] Gold Star parents of United States Army Captain Humayun Khan, to the horrifying story of Trump cutting off health benefits for his own nephew just to spite his family. After the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub last year, Trump praised himself on Twitter for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” Asked recently about the dozens of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and schools, Trump found no sympathy for those victims of terror, but only for himself, the victim of a reporter’s question he did not care to answer. Trump’s sympathy for victims and their families is arbitrary at best and seemingly never without a crass, cynical agenda — to justify his policies, to attack others, or to lavish congratulations upon himself.
Trump’s exploitation of her fellow war widow made Kaili Gray quite upset. She pointed out how the president manipulates the American public by pretending to care for them when he only cares for himself:
To demonstrate his supposed empathy for victims of violent crimes, Trump announced in his speech the creation of a new office, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE), devoted to crimes committed exclusively by immigrants — one of his favorite subjects, which he invokes regularly to justify his anti-immigration policies. This, as his administration reportedly intends to shift the focus of an existing counter-terrorism program away from white supremacist and right-wing extremism to Islamic extremism only. Trump is unconcerned with the violence committed by white, homegrown criminals. A knife attack in Paris, in which there were no fatalities and one minor injury, was tweet-worthy for Trump to justify his Muslim ban; the deadly shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, allegedly by a far-right extremist and Trump supporter, was greeted with deafening presidential silence.
Ms. Gray has no faith in President Trump. She does not believe anything he says. She perceives him as a malignant narcissist who tries to manipulate and exploit everybody and anybody he ever encounters:
So it is hard to give Trump any benefit of the doubt or credit when it comes to his words about Navy SEAL Owens during his Tuesday night address, even as a flood of post-speech punditry declared this moment marked the long-awaited pivot (at last!), when Trump finally learned to put his pettiness, cruelty, and braggadocio aside and to take seriously the enormous responsibility of the office he holds. Trump is, the day after his speech, still Trump: a man who has compared his “sacrifices” — of creating jobs, building “great structures,” and having “tremendous success” — to those of our fallen military and their families. He is, first and foremost, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the hero or victim of every story he tells, in which the pain of others is merely a background for his preferred self-serving narrative. And there is nothing presidential about that. (see http://www.cosmopolitan.com/politics/a9078877/carryn-owens-donald-trump-speech-navy-seal-widow/).
So much for the president and the war widow. But, as we shall see, this incident has much more ominous implications for the personality of the president of the United States and for the fate of our species.
The Troubled Mind of Donald Trump
In 1916 Sigmund Freud published a pioneering psychoanalytic study of political leaders entitled Those Wrecked by Success in which he speculated on the unconscious guilt feelings and inner conflicts that cause some successful people to unwittingly destroy themselves. In 1930 the American political scientist Harold D. Lasswell, who was keenly interested in psychoanalysis, published an equally groundbreaking study entitled Psychopathology and Politics about the emotional illnesses of political leaders. Since then there has been a growing body of scholarly research into this fascinating subject, much of it by members of the International Society of Political Psychology, who come from political science, psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, political philosophy, political sociology and other disciplines.
One of the key questions in such studies is whether people with prior psychopathology are drawn to politics and, if so, what it is about politics that draws such people to it. Does the power that comes with political office provide an unconscious antidote to unbearable feelings of powerlessness that such people carry with them since their childhood?
The current president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump is a case in point. On May 4, 2017, after repealing “Obamacare,”which had given health coverage to tens of millions of previously-uninsured Americans, and without waiting for the required approval of the U.S. Senate, the Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives came to the White House to celebrate the “passage” of their new American Health Care Act with President Trump. The president praised the Republican politicians and then said, “Coming from a different world and only being a politician for a short period of time — How am I doing? Am I doing okay? I’m president! Hey! I’m president! Can you believe it, right?” Television viewers rubbed their eyes and convinced themselves that this was the President of the United States speaking, not an anxious little boy asking his demanding parents to reassure him about his achievements. (see http://www.mediaite.com/uncategorized/im-president-can-you-believe-it-trump-stops-ahca-speech-to-remind-us-hes-potus/).
On May 9, 2017, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had helped him defeat his Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by publicizing the FBI’s investigation of the latter’s e-mails as President Obama’s Secretary of State at a critical time in the election. On May 17 the Democratic U.S. Congressman Al Green of Texas called for Trump’s impeachment on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. In his written testimony to the U.S. Senate that was made public the following month, Comey claimed that Trump had fired him because (a) he had refused to give him a personal pledge of loyalty, the kind that Adolf Hitler had required of all German officials (b) he had testified to the U.S. Congress that the Obama Administration had never wiretapped Trump, contrary to the latter’s assertions, and (c) because he had turned down Trump’s request to “let go” the FBI investigation of the Russian connections of Trump’s former national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, and of the Russian tampering with the U.S. election that made Trump president.
Fearful of being publicly accused by Comey of collusion with Russia, in his letter of dismissal Trump formally thanked Comey for having told him three times that he was not personally under FBI investigation. Comey later claimed he had never told Trump any such thing. On May 10 The New York Times published a front-page story revealing that two months earlier Comey had told some of his associates that Trump was “outside the realm of normal, maybe even crazy.” Trump had threatened the Times several times with libel suits, but the newspaper’s owners had stood their ground and refused to be intimidated. By making Comey into his sworn enemy, Trump had brought his personal and political disaster upon himself. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/10/us/politics/how-trump-decided-to-fire-james-comey.html?_r=1).
His Own Worst Enemy
Donald Trump has been self-destructive throughout his life. As a teenager he got himself kicked out of school for insulting his music teacher. Throughout his career he has lied and cheated his way into success, making enemies of his victims along the way. In real life as well as on his television shows he has fired numerous people from their jobs, earning many more enemies. During his business career his companies went bankrupt no less than six times. He embarrassed himself publicly by not paying any federal taxes for decades, by body-slamming his rival Vince McMahon at the 2007 WrestleMania, and by boasting to a friend about freely groping beautiful women by their pussies. In early July 2017 Trump edited the body-slamming video by replacing McMahon’s head with the CNN logo, producing a movie of the President of the United States body-slamming and wrestling down the news organization. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuesauNtqTU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKX51slEcO).
Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and his attempt to attribute the responsibility for this firing to his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, led the latter to appoint Comey’s predecessor, Robert Mueller, as Special Counsel to the U.S. Justice Department with the authority and responsibility “to investigate any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” In mid-June 2017 The Washington Post reported that Mueller was investigating Trump for possible obstruction of Justice; Trump was said to be considering firing Mueller, which would almost certainly lead to Congressional impeachment proceedings against Trump, just as Nixon’s firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox did for Nixon in 1973. Trump tweeted that this was a witch hunt. (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/special-counsel-is-investigating-trump-for-possible-obstruction-of-justice/2017/06/14/9ce02506-5131-11e7-b064-828ba60fbb98_story.html?utm_term=.2af6b66a835b).
On May 23, 2017, the former CIA director, John Brennan, testified to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee that Russia had indeed brazenly tried to interfere with the U.S. election that made Trump president. (see http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/watch-live-former-cia-director-john-brennan-testifies-house-committee/).
Trump certainly has paranoid features in his personality. Paranoid people, however, also have real enemies, and Trump’s are legion. The Special Counsel has wide-ranging powers. Nixon-like, Trump has attacked his appointment, which he justly fears may end his career, calling it a “witch hunt” and “an attack on America itself.” Trump believes that he is being personally persecuted, which, as the American journalist Eugene Robinson has pointed out, is “a frightfully dangerous mind-set for a man with such vast power.” If it came to his impeachment, would Trump, who cannot stand to be humiliated, launch a military attack on Syria, Iran, or North Korea, provoke Russia and China, and start a Third World War that would end our species? (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-thinks-hes-under-attack-thats-very-dangerous/2017/05/18/e7af59e6-3bf9-11e7-a058-ddbb23c75d82_story.html?utm_term=.1f19902d4209).
Writing in the New York Daily News on May 11, 2017, the American journalist Shaun King had this to say of his president: “Donald Trump is crazy. I’ve believed that for some time now. His dishonesty is so severe, among the worst measured by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact, that it alone suggests a deep level of mental instability, but that’s not his only problem. The man was recorded openly bragging about grabbing women [by the pussy]. He repeatedly suggested he’d like to date his daughter. His first wife said in a court deposition that he assaulted her, though she later backtracked from that claim.” One might add to this Trump’s paranoid assertions that he had been wiretapped by the Obama Administration, which Comey had publicly asserted was pure fantasy, and the repeated public calls by mental health professionals to have Trump removed from office on grounds of his mental incapacity to execute the functions of his office. (see http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/king-comey-calling-trump-crazy-shows-crossed-line-article-1.3156924).
Donald Trump tweets on Twitter every day, and his tweets come back to haunt him. On Friday morning, May 12, 2017, fearful that a vengeful James Comey would leak what he knew about him to the press, Trump threatened the just-dismissed FBI Director in an early-morning tweet; apparently he had slept poorly and had woken up anxious. “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump tweeted. The very mention of the tapes was an unconsciously self-destructive invitation to a future Special Counsel to subpoena his tape recordings, just as Archibald Cox had done with Richard Nixon in the Watergate affair forty-four years earlier. The New York Times wrote that day, ”Mr. Trump appeared agitated over news reports on Friday that focused on contradictory accounts of his decision to fire Mr. Comey at the same time the FBI is investigating ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.”(see https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/us/politics/trump-threatens-retaliation-against-comey-warns-he-may-cancel-press-briefings.html).
Not surprisingly, after each of his three meetings and six phone calls with Trump, each and every one of them initiated by the president, Comey had made minutely-detailed memos of their content, fearing that Trump would later lie about them. On Monday night, May 15, still agitated by his dismissal by Trump, he shared the content of his memo about Trump’s request the previous February to drop the Flynn investigation with his friend Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia University Law School. Richman in turn leaked the memo to The New York Times, which wrote on May 16, “President Trump asked the FBI director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting. ’I hope you can let this go,’ the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.” This disclosure led to the appointment of Comey’s predecessor, Robert Muller, as Special Counsel to the U.S. Department of Justice on the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election of 2016, which could lead to Trump’s impeachment by the U.S. Congress. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/16/us/politics/james-comey-trump-flynn-russia-investigation.html).
On June 7, 2017, the day before James Comey’s testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, in a speech to the National Press Club of Australia, the former U.S. Director of National Intelligence under President Barack Obama, James Robert Clapper (born 1941), said that “Watergate pales, in my view, compared to what we are confronting now.” Two Democratic U.S. Congressmen, Al Green of Texas and Brad Sherman of California, began drawing up formal articles of impeachment against Trump. (see and http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-40187457/watergate-pales-beside-trump-russia-allegations-james-clapper).
The stage was set for a damning public testimony on Thursday, June 8, 2017 by Former FBI Director James Comey before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that could destroy Trump’s career. In an open session of the Committee, Comey testified about his meetings and phone calls with Trump, all of which had been initiated by the latter, and about the various FBI investigations of Russia, General Flynn and the 2016 Trump election campaign, whose details he could only reveal in a closed, classified session. Comey, who has great integrity, bent over backwards to be fair to Trump and not to accuse him of anything he did not have solid proof for, yet Trump came off in his testimony as a habitual liar. Comey was especially blunt about Trump’s defamation of the FBI at the time of his firing, calling it “a blatant lie.” When repeatedly asked by the senators to explain Trump’s behavior, however, Comey was at a loss to do so; he tends to attribute rationality to people’s actions, whereas Trump’s actions are often irrational. There was little doubt that the firing of Comey had not only not helped Trump in any way, and that it had, in fact, done him enormous damage, even with own party’s members in the U.S. Senate. And this was only a beginning, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller was conducting his own investigation of Trump. (see http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/james-comey-testifies-trump-administration-lied-defamed-fbi/story?id=47901315).
Why has Trump done all this damage to himself? This study sets out to examine the roots of Trump’s self-destructiveness, to see whether he is “crazy,” whether he is “emotionally ill” or suffers from a “malignant narcissistic personality disorder,” to trace the origins of his psychopathology, and to assess the danger he poses to the survival of our species.
Apocalypse Now and the Mother of all Bombs
In 1899 the Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) published Heart of Darkness, a novel about a white ivory trader named Kurtz who takes over an African tribe and makes it into his private army. The tribesmen worship Kurtz as a god. He uses his power wantonly, raiding the surrounding territory in search of more ivory and killing black people indiscriminately. The fence posts around his station are adorned with the severed heads of the natives he has killed. The narrator of the story, a sailor named Marlow, is fascinated by the stories he has heard of Kurtz and sails up the river to meet him. Kurtz orders his tribesmen to attack Marlow’s steamer with bows and arrows. Its African helmsman is killed, and Marlow frightens the attackers away. When he finally meets Kurtz, he discovers a madman obsessed with exterminating the Africans, whom he calls “the brutes.” When Kurtz dies, his last words are “The horror! The horror!”
Eighty years later the American filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (born 1939) adapted Conrad’s novel into a film entitled Apocalypse Now, set in Indochina during the horrific Vietnam war in the late 1960s, in which many hundreds of thousands had lost their lives. Coppola kept the name of Conrad’s protagonist, Kurtz, as that of the mad American colonel in his film. By that time the world had also suffered the horrors of two world wars, in which tens of millions of soldiers and civilians had been killed. At the end of the Second World War, in August 1945, on the orders of U.S. President Harry Truman (1884-1972), a U.S. Air Force pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets (1915-2007), dropped an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima from a bomber named Enola Gay, burning to death hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. The pilot’s mother’s name was Enola Gay Tibbets.
Why did the pilot name his bomber after his mother? What do mothers have to do with terrible wars and with mass killings? Joseph Conrad lost his mother when he was seven years old. His loss of her had a lifelong effect on him. He also lost his father four years later. Before becoming a writer he had been a sailor. Like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Cervantes’s novel, or Don Giovanni and Leporello in Mozart’s opera, Marlow and Kurtz were two different aspects of Conrad himself. What effect did Conrad’s mother in real life, or Kurtz’s mother in Heart of Darkness, have on their sons?
From 1964 to 1970, at the height of the “Cold War,” the Italian psychoanalyst Franco Fornari (1921-1985) wrote four books about the unconscious motives of war-making and the nuclear threat to humankind. The English edition of Fornari’s most important book, The Psychoanalysis of War, was published in 1974. Fornari believed that war-making betrayed the inability to mourn one’s losses; he called it “the paranoid elaboration of mourning.” The classic example is the reaction of a preliterate tribe to the death of one of its members. Feeling guilty about it, and unable to mourn their loss, the survivors unconsciously project their guilt feelings on the neighboring tribe, believe that it has killed their fellow tribesman by witchcraft, and make war on it. The earliest loss in a person’s life is that of the blissful infantile fusion with the mother, symbolized by the Biblical myth of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
Among other things, this study sets out to uncover the hidden connections between Trump’s tormented childhood relationship with his mother and his extremely dangerous military conduct in Afghanistan, Syria, and, as we may well expect, Iran and North Korea in the near future. It also aims to explore Trump’s unhealthy relationship with his father and its effect on his relationship with other world leaders, such as Vladimir Putin.
The danger is very real. On his very first day in office President Trump had made the retired Marine general James “Mad Dog” Mattis his Secretary of Defense, calling him “very dignified and impressive.” Given Trump’s unconscious identification of America the Great with himself, will he perceive Iran and North Korea’s verbal attacks on America and their threats against “her” as a personal affront? Will he feel shamed and humiliated? Will it provoke his narcissistic rage? Will he see any way of preventing Iran and North Korea from developing their nuclear-weapons programs other than “pre-emptive” attacks on their nuclear installations and on their missile bases? Will Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump order the kind of “shock and awe” attack on Iran or North Korea that his predecessor George W. Bush ordered on Iraq? Will the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un launch his nuclear-warhead-tipped missiles on Japan, South Korea or the United States in desperate retaliation? Will nuclear-armed China intervene? Will that bring about “the mother of all wars” and the end of our species? (see http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/28/mad-dog-on-the-loose-the-blood-soaked-career-of-general-james-mattis/).
America as the Idealized Mother
Louis XIV, the seventeenth-century “sun king” of France, purportedly said, “I am the State.” While he may not actually have said this, from most accounts this king seems to have been grandiose and narcissistic. Most psychological professionals have similarly diagnosed Donald Trump as suffering from a malignant narcissistic personality disorder. This has become so commonplace that “Donald Trump is a narcissist” is by now a journalistic truism. In Donald Trump’s unconscious mind, he and America are one. In late November 2016, when students burned the American flag at the obscure Hampshire College in Massachusetts, Trump reacted as if they had burned him in person. He became enraged and proposed on Twitter that flag burners should be jailed or lose their American citizenship; both proposals were in fact illegal. (see http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/donald-trump-proposes-two-illegal-responses-flag-burning-n689726).
In 2015 Donald Trump published a book entitled Crippled America, which has now been recycled as Great Again. When Donald Trump that he will make America great again, he unconsciously means, “I shall make myself great again!” or “I shall make America as great as I am!” Trump feels that he is not as great as he should have been, that he needs to become great again. As we shall see below, in his unconscious mind America is his mother; he unconsciously repeats with her his early relationship with his mother, in which, on the one hand, he idealized her, and, on the other, he wanted to destroy her.
Narcissism, however, has a broad spectrum, and it is important to be more precise about Trump’s narcissism. Some types of narcissism may be benign. Barack Obama’s narcissism, for example, is of the high-level, constructive type. He gets his narcissistic satisfaction from lifting other people to his own level, which is very high. Obama also tried to bring people together and to reconcile their differences. Trump’s narcissism, on the other hand, is low-level, malignant and destructive. He gets his narcissistic satisfaction from shaming and humiliating other people, which makes him feel big and powerful next to them. We can see this in the U.S. “reality television” series The Apprentice, a copycat version of a British television series of the same title, which starred Trump, on NBC TV. Each time Trump said “You’re fired!” to one of his “apprentices” he beamed with self-satisfaction, as if he were saying, “See how great I am! I can walk all over you!” Sadomasochism is an integral part of Trump’s narcissism.
In 2007 NBC followed up The Apprentice with The Celebrity Apprentice, on which Trump joyfully humiliated well-known people. Donald Trump received a sort of comeuppance for his sadism in 2015 when NBC fired him from The Celebrity Apprentice after he had publicly attacked Mexican Americans. Typically, however, Trump announced that he had not been fired but that he had rather quit the show to run for President of the United States. This is Trump’s way of preserving his unconsciously shaky self-esteem: he imagines that nobody ever defeats, shames or humiliates him; it is he who always defeats, shames and humiliates others. (see http://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-i-wasnt-fired-by-nbc-2015-8).
In 1941 the American actor and filmmaker Orson Welles released his famous film Citizen Kane, in which an enormously wealthy but deeply unhappy newspaper tycoon named Charles Foster Kane, modeled after William Randolph Hearst, runs for political office. As a child, Charlie Kane had a sled named Rosebud, with which he was playing on the day his mother, Mary Kane, suddenly sent him away from home “to be properly educated.” Her real reason for abandoning him was her greed. Mary ran a boarding house in rural Colorado. In lieu of a payment, one of her tenants gave her some stock in what she thought was a worthless mine; it turned out to give her ownership of the Colorado Lode, a working gold mine. Finding herself suddenly wealthy, she decided to send away her son, Charles, to be raised by her banker, Thatcher. Charles was understandably upset and whacked Thatcher with the sled he had been happily riding when Thatcher showed up to escort him away. Kane’s relationship with Thatcher never improved. Vignettes from their years together show Kane engaging in questionable journalism, wasting money, and constantly enraging Thatcher.
Trump’s personal happiness seems to depend on the woman he is with. In 2002 the fifty-four-year-old American documentary filmmaker Errol Morris interviewed the fifty-six-year-old real-estate tycoon Donald Trump about Citizen Kane. Trump, too, had a mother named Mary; she, too, had sent him away from home when he was a boy, after he had insulted his music teacher. The filmmaker’s first question to Trump was, “Do you have any advice for Charles Foster Kane, sir?” The twice-divorced Trump replied, “My advice to Charles Foster Kane is find another woman!” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a63ymFn6nS0).
At the peak of the 2016 presidential election campaign the American journalist Anthony Audi, who considered Charles Foster Kane a “cinematic monster,” talked to Errol Morris about his interview with Trump, and the following conversation ensued:
Anthony Audi: It’s an incredible line. And it makes you wonder what goes through Trump’s mind as he watches the movie. I still can’t wrap my head around if he just chooses to ignore its obvious moral undertone, or if he genuinely doesn’t see it.
Errol Morris: Well, that’s one of the great mysteries of self-deception. When Donald Rumsfeld says to me, “There you were in the Oval Office of the White House. There’s Gerald Ford, there’s you, there’s Henry Kissinger, et cetera, and we are pulling out of Vietnam. People are climbing onto helicopters.” And I ask: Do you feel we learned anything from the experience of Vietnam? And Donald—I guess the other Donald, Donald Rumsfeld—says to me, “Well, we learned that some things work out and some things don’t. And that didn’t.” And the question that comes to my mind, actually at the time, and then certainly subsequently, is what is he saying to me? Is he just simply saying fuck you and I don’t really care to reflect on this or to answer the question? Or is he revealing the fact that there’s nothing there? Like the Wizard of Oz, you open the curtain and there’s just simply a little man, an imposter, standing there. (see http://lithub.com/erroll-morris-on-the-time-he-filmed-donald-trump-missing-the-point/#).
In his interview with Errol, Morris Trump also said, “The word Rosebud, for whatever reason, has captivated moviegoers and movie watchers for so many years. And, to this day, is perhaps the single word. And perhaps if they came up with another word that meant the same thing, it wouldn’t have worked. But Rosebud works.” Trump said that Rosebud signified “bringing a sad, lonely figure back into his childhood.” Anthony Audi tried to show that Donald Trump had modeled his entire life on the “cinematic loser” Charles Foster Kane. (see http://lithub.com/donald-trump-modeled-his-life-on-cinematic-loser-charles-foster-kane/).
American journalists who have studied his childhood described the boy “Donny” as a “confident, incorrigible bully.” In his autobiographical book The Art of the Deal Trump recalled that in second grade he had punched his music teacher at the Kew-Forest School in Queens, Charles Walker, so hard that he had given him a black eye, because “I didn’t think he knew anything about music,” adding “I almost got expelled.” This was pure fantasy. None of Donald’s classmates, nor Mr. Walker himself, ever recalled such an incident; Mr. Walker’s son, however, remembered the ten-year-old Donny as “a piece of shit.” What did this fantasy mean, then? Did the “ignorant” music teacher represent Donny’s “unmusical” father in his unconscious mind? (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/young-donald-trump-military-school/2016/06/22/f0b3b164-317c-11e6-8758-d58e76e11b12_story.html).
When Donny was in seventh grade he was in fact expelled from his school, where his father was on the school board, after insulting — but not punching — his music teacher; he was sent away from home to a boarding school at the New York Military Academy in upstate New York. His father did not lift a finger to protect him; in fact, he approved his expulsion. His expulsion from school was Trump’s Rosebud: it was the first serious failure in his life, and it left him with very painful feelings of rejection, shame, humiliation and narcissistic rage. (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/young-donald-trump-military-school/2016/06/22/f0b3b164-317c-11e6-8758-d58e76e11b12_story.html).
Donald Trump, Vince McMahon, and Vladimir Putin
Donald Trump’s narcissistic rage can be overwhelming and lead to physical violence. It is only matched by his need to feel stronger than and superior to everybody else. In 2007 he body-slammed his fellow tycoon Vincent McMahon and humiliated him publicly by shaving his entire head and spraying shaving cream on it at WrestleMania, an annual professional-wrestling event. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMKFIHRpe7I). While American professional wrestling is a big show, Trump is a showman, and his body-slamming of McMahon may have been part of this show, such a “joke” has an unconscious kernel of truth in it, and Trump seems to have a history of violent physical assaults. (see http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/the-violence-of-donald-trump-w444012).
On February 6, 2017 the sixty-seven-year-old American television host Bill O’Reilly, who two months later was fired from his Fox News job for sexual harassment and other ethical violations, interviewed President Donald Trump about the sixty-four-year-old autocratic Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Trump told O’Reilly that he respected his Russian counterpart. “But he’s a killer!” O’Reilly protested. “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump replied. (see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/04/politics/donald-trump-vladimir-putin/).
Why did Trump defend Putin? Had he received help from Putin during the U.S. presidential election? Was he biding his time until he could launch an attack on Putin and show him who was more powerful? And why did his warm relationship with Putin deteriorate so much during the next two months that U.S.-Russian relations have reached, by Trump’s own statement, an all-time low, that some Russian politicians have compared the present U.S.-Russian relations with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says we are closer to a nuclear Holocaust than ever before? (see http://thebulletin.org/timeline).
The American Jewish sociologist Gordon Fellman (born 1934) believes that Donald Trump waged a life-and-death Oedipal battle with his strict, authoritarian and “castrating” father, against whom he rebelled even as his father built up his business career. Is Putin an unconscious father figure to Trump? The fact that Putin is a few years younger makes no psychological difference. Putin is a very powerful man, if not the second most powerful person in the world; Trump’s father was the most powerful man in his life when he was a child. Trump may be unconsciously saying to Putin, “You are not my father, and you will no longer tell me what to do! You may have helped me become President of the United States, but I will now show you which of us is more powerful!” (see Prof. Fellman’s comment at the end of this article).
The entire population of our planet fears a nuclear war that would end our species. These fears were confirmed during Trump’s bizarre news conference on February 16, 2017, when, in response to a reporter’s question about a Russian missile firing thirty miles off the coast of Connecticut the day before, he speculated on a “nuclear holocaust.” Here is the text of that interchange:
QUESTION: Is Putin testing you, do you believe, sir? TRUMP: No, I don’t think so. I think Putin probably assumes that he can’t make a deal with me anymore because politically it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal. I can’t believe I’m saying I’m a politician, but I guess that’s what I am now. Because, look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal. Now, I don’t know that we’re going to make a deal. I don’t know. We might. We might not. But it would be much easier for me to be so tough — the tougher I am on Russia, the better. But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world. If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along — and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. There’s no upside. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other. They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. (see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/us/politics/donald-trump-press-conference-transcript.html).
Why did Trump need to repeat three times that America was a very powerful nuclear country and so was Russia? In his unconscious mind, he is America and Putin is Russia. Is he always comparing himself with Putin or with others to make sure he is more powerful? Is that why he body-slammed and humiliated Vince McMahon at the 2007 WrestleMania? Is this going to cause him to strike Iran or North Korea, to show himself that he is more powerful that they are?
On Thursday night, April 6, 2017, the world saw Trump’s first dangerous and frightening military intervention in another country. Rather than strike North Korea or Iran, which, as he saw it, posed an imminent threat to the United States, Trump had struck Syria, in which Putin’s Russia was heavily invested and had a vital interest. Trump had a good pretext. The murderous Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad had just committed an unspeakable atrocity, killing dozens of his own people with chemical weapons and injuring hundreds of others; Putin had backed Assad, blaming Syria’s “terrorist rebels.” At Trump’s command, the U.S. military had launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against the obscure Syrian airfield from which the chemical weapons had been launched. Russia issued an ominous warning to the United States. Trump himself, who is given to black-and-white thinking, declared U.S.-Russian relations at an all-time low.
Was Trump out to prove, as he had done with McMahon, that he was the boss and that no one would humiliate him? What would happen if his next strike in Syria hit a Russian plane? Would he follow this up with military strikes in Iran or in North Korea?
When Trump announced the strike, his words were full of righteous rage; his voice and his body language, however, betrayed no such feelings. The president read monotonously, slowly and deliberately from his teleprompter:
My fellow Americans, on Tuesday [April 4] Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror. Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention, and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies. Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed, and we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will in the end prevail. Good night and God bless America and the entire world. Thank you. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGYZHtfJEYg).
This gap between the spoken word and its accompanying feeling is called “unconscious splitting” or “dissociation” in psychoanalysis. We shall discuss Trump’s personality from a psychoanalytic viewpoint.
“Alternative Facts” and “Fake News”
After Donald Trump’s inauguration, the American mass-communication media found that much fewer people had attended it than those who attended that of Barack Obama. Trump, for whom lying is second nature, angrily accused the media of faking the news and declared that reporters were the most dishonest people on the face of the earth. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, who later publicly claimed that Adolf Hitler had never used any chemical weapons, publicly claimed that Trump’s inauguration audience was the largest that had ever attended any U.S. presidential inauguration; Trump’s senior advisor, Kellyanne Conway, told a CNN television interviewer that there were “alternative facts” that proved her boss right; and, as the American journalist Samantha Schmidt has put it, in early February 2017 Ms. Conway “took those ’alternative facts’ to a new level” when she defended Trump’s travel ban on the citizens of seven Muslim countries by citing a “Bowling Green massacre” that never happened. The language of the Trump administration was beginning to sound like Newspeak in George Orwell’s 1984 or, if you like, like Victor Klemperer’s Lingua Tertii Imperii (Language of the Third Reich). One could clearly see here the operation of unconscious denial and projection on a large scale. (for Conway’s “alternative facts” see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/22/politics/kellyanne-conway-alternative-facts/ and for her “Bowling Green massacre” see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/02/03/kellyanne-conway-cites-bowling-green-massacre-that-never-happened-to-defend-travel-ban/?utm_term=.454ec0503795).
Donald Trump had told Errol Morris in their taped interview that he could understand why the table between Charles Foster Kane and his wife in Citizen Kane grew larger and larger as the two grew farther and farther apart. The American writer and journalist James Fallows found Trump’s statements about Citizen Kane “utterly absorbing. For any rich person to say these things about the movie, and its theme of the isolation of wealth, would be something. But from the Trump we now (think we) know, the clip is more like astonishing. The man we see here seems … introspective. Self-aware.” (see http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/10/trump-time-capsule-148-rosebud-and-hillary/505391/).
Is Donald Trump really self-aware? In his bizarre press conference of February 16, 2017, less than a month into his presidency, President Trump bitterly complained about the “tone of hatred, such hatred” that pervades his coverage by the American mass-communications media. He said that he was really not a bad person, that he was, in fact, a very nice person, and that he could not understand why the media hated him so much. To me, this indicates a total lack of self-awareness. People hate Trump because he is selfish and cold, because he constantly lies, because he does not really care about anyone but himself, because he is abusive, abrasive, and downright unpleasant. Trump himself, however, does not think so at all. He thinks he is very nice. He has no idea why others hate him. Donald Trump lives in a psychological world of his own, in which he is the greatest, strongest and smartest person on the face of the earth. His reality-testing is shaky; denial seems to be one of his key unconscious defenses. He constantly makes statements with no basis in fact. Is Trump consciously and deliberately lying? Is he even aware that he is lying? Does he believe his own lies? Is he able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy? (see https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/trump-presser-15-of-the-most-bizarre-moments-1.3288901
Xanadu and Mar-a-Lago
Xanadu is the name of the “stately pleasure-dome” of the Mongol emperor in the poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Orson Welles liked this poem; in Citizen Kane, the newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane owns a vast Florida estate named Xanadu. Like him, Donald John Trump owns Mar-a-Lago, a landmark estate near Palm Beach, Florida, built in the 1920s as a retreat for U.S. presidents. Trump bought it in 1985; he spends almost every weekend in his “Winter White House.” Unlike the reclusive Kane, however, the greedy and gregarious Trump turned Mar-a-Lago into a private commercial club for millionaires, with membership fees of up to $200,000 per year. Just before Election Day 2016, a perceptive Cornell University senior had this assessment of Donald Trump’s view of Citizen Kane:
Following Welles’ lead, most viewers have interpreted the images of Charles Kane alone in his extravagant estate as critical of material pursuits, and also reminiscent of William Hearst’s own retreat behind castle walls. Trump, meanwhile, sees the grandeur of Greek tragedy in the film but plays down the significance of the fall. “There is a great rise in Citizen Kane, and there was a modest fall,” he said. “The fall wasn’t a financial fall, it was a personal fall. But it was a fall, nevertheless.” This coping mechanism may prove itself useful come Tuesday. In the end, Hearst and Kane’s political careers failed spectacularly, imploding in scandal and landslide defeats. To his credit, Trump’s toxic vacuum of narcissism has carried him farther than either of those men went, and he currently sits within reach of the country’s highest office. If and when he loses, the real estate mogul seems likely to retain the limelight rather than retreat behind the walls of Mar-a-Lago. The “fall,” after all, is only a matter of perspective. (see http://cornellsun.com/2016/11/08/stanton-trumps-rosebud/).
Fire is always present in Trump’s life, whether materially or emotionally. In early 2018 three people were seriously burned in a fire that broke out on the roof of Trump Tower in Manhattan. The Trump Organization called the fire “routine.” Donald Trump has been unfaithful to all his wives. Even Melania may ultimately leave him. Is Trump anything like the fictional Charles Foster Kane? Will he end up in Mar-a-Lago or in Trump Tower, as Kane does at Xanadu, abandoned by his wife, alone, dying with his prize possession, Rosebud, cast into the flames of his fireside? Will those flames not only consume Trump himself but all of New York, America, and the entire world? If so, what was his Rosebud? Studying Trump’s relationship to his mother may yield the answer to these questions, as well as the key to everything we have discussed heretofore.
Trump won the Electoral College vote, but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Her advisers called for a recount in some states in which the vote was close. Trump tweeted that he had also won the popular vote “if you discount the millions of illegal votes.” After the CIA announced that it had evidence of Russia having tried to sway the U.S. election, U.S. Senators called for an investigation for Russia’s role in hacking Trump’s election. Trump reacted by attacking the CIA and telling an interviewer that he did not need its daily briefing. The Washington Post was clearly worried. (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-cia-on-collision-course-over-russias-role-in-us-election/2016/12/10/ad01556c-bf01-11e6-91ee-1adddfe36cbe_story.html).
Donald Trump’s other unconscious psychic defense is massive projection. On January 11, 2017, nine days before his inauguration, in his first press conference in months, he publicly clashed with CNN’s senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, whom he put down and humiliated. Trump, who acts more like Adolf Hitler than any other American political leader in living memory, had tweeted “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Shortly after being sworn in, he demanded of FBI Director James Comey a pledge of personal loyalty like that demanded in the 1930s by the Führer of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler. Trump denounced CNN’s reports on his ties with Russia and on the Russians’ file on him as “fake news.” Acting like a true tyrant, when Mr. Acosta tried to ask him a question, Trump would not let him speak. The reporter loudly and repeatedly insisted that he deserved to be given the chance to ask Trump a question after Trump had libeled his network, but Trump repeatedly told him to sit down and be quiet, and Trump’s incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, threatened to throw Acosta out of the room. The Americans would soon find out that Trump’s vision of America resembled Hitler’s vision of Germany. Donald Trump cannot tolerate public shame and humiliation. The incident with Acosta seems to forebode a serious curtailing of the freedom of the press which the Americans had always taken for granted. (see https://mediamatters.org/video/2017/01/11/cnns-jim-acosta-reports-incoming-press-secretary-spicer-threatened-throw-him-out-trump-press/214977).
As we have seen at the beginning of this study, an experienced American graphologist who had analyzed Donald Trump’s signature told a Boston Globe journalist that there was absolutely no softness in it, that it was mean, tough and rigid, and that there was no room in it for anybody else. “He’s not interested in anyone else’s opinion. It’s like a big fence,” said the graphologist. “A wall?” asked the journalist. “Yes,” said Lowe, “and he hides behind it. He’s afraid of being seen.” (see https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2017/02/01/trump-signature-horrifying-but-should-you-care/5Bbnsu2DoPJkcqmm06LzgM/story.html).
The matter of the wall that Trump wants to build between the U.S. and Mexico is psychologically fascinating. In a series of psychoanalytic studies on the symbolism of international borders in the 1970s and 1980s I have shown that in our unconscious mind external boundaries symbolize internal ones. The external borders are visible: fences, walls, barriers, demarcation lines, checkpoints, border controls and border guards; there are also external laws, rules and prohibitions that tells us what is allowed and what is not. The internal boundaries are invisible, yet no less real: they are the boundaries of the self, namely, sense of where you end and where others begin; internal prohibitions, such as the incest taboo; and the superego, or conscience, that tells one what to do and what not to do and makes on feel guilty, embarrassed or tormented when one has transgressed its statutes. (see http://www.avner-falk.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Border-Symbolism-1989.pdf).
People who do not have clear and firm internal boundaries badly need external ones. Borders, walls and fences defend the self against the unbearable anxiety aroused by the wish for fusion with the other and the fear of loss of self and loss of being through that fusion at the same time. Donald Trump’s internal boundaries are fluid. He does not have a clear sense of self, his self identity is diffuse, he has different selves at different times, and he needs external walls to defend himself against anxiety. Hence Trump Tower, a well-guarded fortress that separates and shields him from the external world. Trump’s powerful desire to build a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico comes from the same wellspring: in his unconscious mind, America is himself, and Mexico is his other, perhaps his engulfing mother, who threatens to engulf him by sending in “bad hombres.”
Gambling as the Quest for Mother’s Love
Donald Trump is a compulsive high-risk gambler. He made most of his enormous fortune by gambling on high-risk business ventures. Gamblers, however, are self-destructive. The gambler wants to force Fate, who is an obvious mother figure (the Romans called her Fortuna), to love him: he says to her, “If you love me, let me win!” We shall see below what this has to with Donald’s relationship to his mother. Most gamblers ultimately lose and destroy themselves. In late1989 or early 1990 Trump made a high-risk business deal with another compulsive gambler, the Japanese billionaire Akio Kashiwagi (1938-1992), who later sued Trump for reneging on his obligations under their deal. Two years later Kashiwagi was murdered by the Yakuza in Tokyo. To this day, twenty-four years later, the Japanese authorities do not know who ordered this assassination. (see http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/japanese-gambler-donald-trump-213635).
Donald Trump clearly has fantasies of omnipotence. During the third presidential debate, when Hillary Clinton described the sort of Supreme Court judges she would nominate, Trump said he would appoint pro-life judges. The U.S. political and judicial system, however, only gives the president the power to nominate judges and submit their nominations to Congress, who votes on their nomination; it does not give the President the power to appoint those justices. (see http://www.lifenews.com/2016/10/19/donald-trump-i-am-pro-life-and-i-will-be-appointing-pro-life-judges-to-the-supreme-court/).
One of Trump’s younger friends at NBC was Billy Bush, who produced the weekday television entertainment news program Access Hollywood and later hosted the Today show. In 2005 Trump and Bush worked together on an Access Hollywood episode that indirectly promoted Trump’s show The Apprentice by including his cameo appearance on an episode of an NBC soap opera, Days of Our Lives. As the two men rode a bus with the show’s name written across its side to the set of Days of Our Lives to videotape Trump’s cameo appearance, Bush secretly recorded Trump bragging to him about his sexual exploits with women, including grabbing their genitals: “They’ll let you do anything if you’re a star!”
In 2016, just before Donald Trump’s second televised debate with Hillary Clinton, Billy Bush destroyed Trump’s political career by releasing the tape of their “lewd” conversation on that bus, which Donald Trump belittled during that debate as “locker room talk.” He lied to the moderator, Anderson Cooper, who had asked him whether he had done the things he had bragged about to Bush, by quickly saying “No, I have not” while speaking of his “great respect for women.” Lying seems to come naturally to Trump; he seems to believe that he is entitled to do anything and everything he pleases, including lying in public. (see http://time.com/4529433/inside-donald-trump-total-meltdown/).
This could not have been accidental. Trump, who had humiliated countless other people, must have offended Bush as well. The release of the tape was a suicide-bomber act, however: Bush himself was suspended by NBC for it two days later. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Bush#Suspension_for_lewd_Trump_conversation).
President Donald J. Trump
Let me recap my thesis about the development Trump’s Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. The child Donny had a “smart,” cold, manipulative, narcissistic mother, herself deprived of maternal love, who could not give him what the British psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott called “good enough” mothering. Mary saw herself in her “smart” little Donny as in a mirror and could not let him separate and individuate from her, grow, and be himself; to her he was part of herself, and she could not bear to lose him. This “symbiotic” or fusional relationship caused him unbearable feelings of non-being; his unconscious defense against them was to split his inner image of his mother into two, the all-good mother who nursed him and took care of him and the all-bad one for whom he did not exist.
The False Self
Many Trump watchers have observed that Trump wears a perceptual psychological mask that conceals his true thoughts and feelings from others. In his “Trump Time Capsule” series in The Atlantic, James Fallows distinguished between the “genuine” Donald Trump and the “fake” one. He wrote, “Trump the movie critic, the wheeler-dealer, as well as the X-rated media guru, is the genuine article, while Trump the religious, pro-life, GOP conservative, redneck, Tea Partier … is fake. An act. A stunt. A last gasp for something big before its too late […] He is a lifelong New Yorker, city slicker, playboy, Democrat … now playing a character from rural Mississippi(?) … or West Virginia. Other days he’s Archie Bunker, in a one-man play, on stage. The crowd loves him!” In fact, as have seen, Donald Trump can be Dr. Donald today and Mr. Trump tomorrow; at the same time, Donald Trump often assumes a self that is not his true one; Donald Winnicott has called it “the false self.” (see http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/10/trumps-rosebud-what-happened/505418/).
The boy Donny Trump developed his “false self” in order to win the maternal love that he could not have but could not live without. Donny’s perfectionist, demanding father exacerbated this situation. Donny outwardly complied with his parents’ expectations of him, while inwardly filled with narcissistic rage at both of them. The inner conflict exploded when he attacked his music teacher as a teenager; perhaps his parents’ harsh voices and fights had not been music to his ears.
As Donny grew up and became Donald J. Trump, other women unconsciously took the place of his mother in his unconscious mind. He repeatedly fell in love with a cold, beautiful woman whom he idealized, but later became deeply disillusioned with her, hated her, and left her. Needless to say, the narcissistic Donald is no less cold than his mother was; and even though he called his current wife, Melania, “very warm” in their joint 60 Minutes interview, Melania seems cold and distant in her public appearances. Donald calls himself “smart, tough, strong and confident,” while Melania called him “strong, tough, and confident” — the very terms she used about herself; they seem to have a fusional relationship, just like Donny’s early relationship with his mother. Yet under the surface of harmony lie rage, unhappiness and suffering. (see http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-donald-trump-family-melania-ivanka-lesley-stahl/).
The most alarming thing about President Donald Trump, however, is not his narcissism, his sadism, or his misogyny. It is his high-risk gambling, his need to defeat his opponents and to win no matter what, his need to defeat, shame and humiliate others at all cost, his splitting of his world into the all-good “us” and the all-bad “them,” his lack of empathy, his inability to treat other people as individuals in their own right rather than as objects to be exploited, his lack of inner boundaries and controls. All of these could bring the United States into armed conflict not only with Iran but also with nuclear powers like North Korea, China, even Russia, and the dire consequences for our entire species are not hard to see.