Donny and Bibi

Mirroring and Twinship

Donald Trump’s mother called him “Donny.“ Binyamin Netanyahu’s called him “Bibi.” While Americans do not refer to Trump by his childhood name, Israelis commonly refer to their prime minister by his.

In psychopolitical terms, Trump is a “mirror-hungry” leader who needs his followers to mirror himself to him, including his thoughts, feelings, and self-image.[1] He likes people who give him the “mirroring” of himself that he is hungry for. They satisfy his deep emotional need and make him happy.

On Monday, March 25, 2019, upon his return from his Shangri-La at Mar-a-Lago to Washington, the day after his attorney general “cleared” him of collusion with the Russians in the 2016 election, the seventy-two-year-old U.S. President Donald Trump received his chief foreign admirer, the sixty-nine-year-old Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu, who had come to see Trump two weeks before a general election in Israel that would decide his political future.

While there are obvious differences between Donny and Bibi in origins, upbringing and culture, the two men are political and psychological twins. Both had tyrannical fathers who preferred their elder brothers. Both had cold, distant and infantilizing mothers. Like Trump, Bibi is paranoid and narcissistic.[2]

Like Trump, Bibi is a nationalist, right-wing leader who thrives on incitement, fear, and hate. Like Trump, Bibi acts as if he is entitled to do whatever he likes and is above the law. Like Trump, he has broken the law many times and had been investigated by his country’s law-enforcement authorities for his crimes; the Israeli attorney general had announced that he would indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, breach of public trust.[3]

Three former commanders-in-chief of the Israeli defense forces had formed a new political party called Blue and White to oppose Bibi in the upcoming elections. Like Trump’s political future, Bibi’s hangs in the balance. Both men face removal from office, if not jail terms. Like Trump, Bibi is a greedy, self-destructive narcissistic leader who exploits others for his own needs and has little empathy for their pain. Both of them get their narcissistic pleasure from defeating others and putting them down rather than form lifting them to their own level.

Nations and countries are products of collective psychology. The psychoanalyst Erik Erikson[4] called them “pseudo-species,”[5] his colleague Vamık Volkan studied their “large-group psychology,” and the political scientist Benedict Anderson[6] called them “imagined communities.”[7] Trump led the world’s wealthiest and mightiest nation; Bibi led one of the world’s tiniest countries, albeit one with a special place in world history, a strong military, and nuclear weapons.

But the size of their respective countries did not matter. What did matter to Donny and Bibi was their mutual mirroring and “twinship” relationship. The two leaders used one another to fight their investigators and advance their political careers.[8] With Donald Trump, flattery gets you everywhere. “Bibi,” who knew that, who had spent a good part of his younger life in the United States, and who spoke English fluently, fed Trump’s narcissism by dressing like him, agreeing with him on everything and heaping praise on him.

The U.S. president was delighted. Having moved his embassy to the contested Israeli capital of Jerusalem the year before, Trump now gave Bibi another huge political gift by formally recognizing the formerly-Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel had occupied since 1967 and annexed in 1981, as an integral part of Israel. Among the Israeli nationalists, this could help Bibi win the election, giving him yet another term as prime minister,[9] but it could also further weaken U.S. Democratic support for Israel, which had been steadily decreasing.[10]

Both Trump and Netanyahu were short-sighted. Their political gains from their mutual-admiration society were short-lived. In the longer term, both these dangerous, malignantly-narcissistic leaders could bring about their own personal destruction, if not that of their countries and the entire world.

 

[1] Jerrold M. Post, “The Charismatic Leader-Follower Relationship and Trump’s Base,” in Bandy X. Lee (Ed.), The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President — Updated and Expanded with New Essays, New York, Thomas Dunne Books, 2019, pp. 385-396

[2] Shaul Kimhi, The psychological profile of Benjamin Netanyahu using behavior analysis, in Ofer Feldman & Linda O. Valenty (Eds.) Profiling Political Leaders: Cross-Cultural Studies of Personality and Behavior, Westport, Connecticut, Praeger, 2001, pp. 149-164

[3] Yonah Jeremy Bob, “Mandelblit announces intent to indict Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery,” in The Jerusalem Post, March 1, 2019

[4] Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994), German-American psychoanalyst, biographer of Martin Luther and Mahatma Gandhi, best known for his theory on the stages of the human “life cycle” and for the notion of “identity crisis”

[5] Erik H. Erikson, “Pseudospeciation in the Nuclear Age,” in Political Psychology, vol. 6, no. 2, June 1985, pp. 213-217

[6] Benedict Richard O’Gorman Anderson (1936-2015), British-Irish-American political scientist and historian who studied the origins of nationalism

[7] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised edition, London and New York, Verso, 2006

[8] Deirdre Shesgreen, “Trump-Netanyahu: How two leaders reap political rewards from their cozy relationship,” in USA Today, March 25, 2019

[9] Netanyahu had “served” as PM of Israel from 1996 to 1999 and from 2009 to 2019

[10] Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump and Netanyahu keep on colluding,” in The Washington Post, March 26, 2019