(WTHIWWT? part 5)
Sure he’s crazy and corrupt, but what happens if/ when we do something about it?
“I think the danger with Trump is something else. If this Mueller investigation ever comes up with something, which I doubt very much, but if it comes up with something that implicates Trump, everybody’s in trouble because he’s going to react like a maniac.
Might try to start a war in the United States. He might start using nuclear weapons. He might do anything. Anything that goes after him personally is very dangerous.
So, again, I think the liberals are out of their minds on this. What they want to do is implicate Trump, you know, threaten to impeach him, at which point he could go crazy. And he has a lot of power. Maybe the military wouldn’t follow his orders, who knows? But they might.”
What Noam Chomsky is talking about here is narcissistic injury/ rage. From a very pragmatic point of view, Americans should think clearly and deeply about what may happen if the House of Cards really begins to tumble down in a spiral. It’s a be careful what you wish for situation.
Given he holds the most powerful office in the world, knowing what to expect from him is of considerable importance. If we can predict how Trump might react, we can better prepare for damage control and countering any destructive behavior or attempts to create further division and chaos. To do this requires looking to the field of psychology.
“While the exaggerator-in-chief is well known for his habitual lying, the most common psychological diagnosis he’s been given by experts in the field is narcissistic personality disorder. The mountains of behavioral evidence for Trump’s narcissism arguably provides more justification for the label than any standard clinical test.
At this point, the claim can hardly be debated, and even staunch supporters would admit Trump thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. It takes a special kind of narcissist to shamelessly compare their book to The Bible in front an audience full of conservatives. His narcissism knows few limits, and it’s hard to imagine even the man himself denying such an obvious observation.
So, the question becomes, what happens when a narcissist is being threatened with the loss of power and control?
The answer is something psychologists call “narcissistic injury.” The phrase was coined by none other than Sigmund Freud in the 1920s, and it occurs when a narcissist feels that they have been disrespected, belittled, or their true self revealed.
This often happens when they are experiencing a “fall from grace,” which is why understanding the phenomenon is so important at present.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines narcissistic injury as “vulnerability in self-esteem which makes narcissistic people very sensitive to injury from criticism or defeat.” The manual goes on to say “Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt these individuals and may leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow, and empty.”
A common initial reaction to injury is for the narcissist to lash out and place the blame on others. Unfortunately, petty attacks toward old allies aren’t all we have to worry about.
When a narcissist’s self-esteem or self-worth is badly injured, their whole identity begins to fall apart, and they often respond with what is referred to as “narcissistic rage.”
When this happens, the lashing out, bullying, threats, and erratic behaviors rise to new levels. Rather than accepting the blame one deserves for their own actions, narcissists tell themselves that others are responsible, and that they deserve to be punished. They often become obsessed with revenge, which comes in many forms, such as verbal or even physical abuse.
Modern technology – such as social media – provides the narcissist with a perfect medium for attacking perceived enemies, and Donald Trump has certainly taken advantage of it. But his threats have gone beyond personal enemies.
When the possibility of impeachment became a reality for the president, his instinct was to tell the world on national television that if such a thing were to happen, it would cause the economy to crash. “I think everybody would be poor,” he told Fox News last Wednesday, trying to strike fear into the hearts of all Americans.
Narcissistic rage can manifest as intense anger, outbursts, and extreme aggressiveness. As Donald Trump begins to feel more and more like his downfall is imminent, we should expect his behavior to become progressively chaotic, and a total meltdown is likely. When this happens, in a desperate attempt to regain control, he likely will call on his remaining loyal supporters to wreak havoc on the nation in his name.
Let’s just hope by the time that happens the number of loyalists will have dwindled to numbers so small that the damage would essentially be negligible. If Trump continues to attack and humiliate his fellow Republicans, and if more of his trusted allies decide to turn against him, we may see just that.”
Trump is the commander in chief of the most expensive military in history, one with nuclear capability to blow up the earth several times over. Should we ride out these four years? Giving Trump enough narcissistic supply to keep him from going apeshit? Pat him on the head and tell him he’s a good boy?
Perhaps. But what if Trump is more than a narcissist?
And I believe he is. I believe Hillary and Obama and all sorts of politicians are narcissists. Why is Trump different? I believe Trump has something more than simply NPD alone:
“Nearly two years into this presidency, it’s become normal for pundits and professionals alike to regularly express concerns about Donald Trump’s mental health. Most speculations focus on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and it’s easy to see why. If you look at the DSM-5 criteria for NPD, Trump’s public behaviors are consistent with all nine diagnostic criteria.
As disturbing as observations of Trump’s narcissism may be—and as frustrating as it is that none of it seems to matter at all—what I find most frightening about his personality isn’t the narcissism. Narcissistic traits among politicians and presidential candidates, who often have big personalities, are common.
Far more worrisome and dangerous is his statements and behaviors fit so well with a different personality style. This style is what renowned psychologist Theodore Millon called “The Aggrandizing-Devious-Antisocial Personality,” aka antisocial personality.
Millon summarized these personalities as “driven by a need to achieve superiority.” They act “to counter expectation of derogation and disloyalty at the hands of others,” and do this by “actively engaging in clever, duplicitous, or illegal behaviors in which they seek to exploit others for self-gain.”
What follows are summary descriptions of Millon’s formulation of antisocial personality. Millon’s statements are not diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder, and the purpose here is not psychiatric diagnosis. They are simply psychological observations that can help us to better understand and describe Trump, speculate on his future behaviors, and consider how antisocial behaviors can be contained.
Impulsive imprudence. Millon described antisocial personalities as “shortsighted, incautious, and imprudent. There is minimal planning, limited consideration of alternative actions, and consequences are rarely examined.”
Blaming others for shirked obligations. Antisocial personalities “frequently fail to meet or intentionally negate obligations of a marital, parental, employment, or financial nature.”
Pathological lying. Millon wrote, “Untroubled by guilt and loyalty, they develop a talent for pathological lying. Unconstrained by honesty and truth, they weave impressive talks of competency and reliability. Many become skillful swindlers and imposters.”
Declarations of innocence. During times of trouble, antisocial personality types employ an innocence strategy. “When caught in obvious and repeated lies and dishonesties, many will affect an air of total innocence, claiming without a trace of shame they have been unfairly accused.”
Empathy deficits. Antisocial personalities are devoid of empathy and compassion.
Millon called this “A wide-ranging deficit in social charitability, in human compassion, and in personal remorse and sensitivity.” He added “many have a seeming disdain for human compassion.”
Counterattacks. Millon noted antisocial personalities are hyperalert to criticism. He “sees himself as the victim, an indignant bystander subjected to unjust persecution and hostility” feeling “free to counterattack and gain restitution and vindication.”
Moral emptiness. Antisocial personalities have no ethical or moral compass. As Millon described, they “are contemptuous of conventional ethics and values” and “right and wrong are irrelevant abstractions.”
Antisocials may feign religiosity—when it suits their purpose. But the moral litmus test will always involve whether they stand to gain from a particular behavior, policy, or government action.
Clinicians have observed some individuals with antisocial personalities burn out. Over time, negative family and legal consequences take a toll, prompting antisocials to conform to social and legal expectations.
However, when antisocial personalities wield power, burning out is unlikely. Power provides leverage to evade personal responsibility for financial maleficence and sexual indiscretions.
Antisocial personalities who have the upper hand will increase their reckless, impulsive, and self-aggrandizing behaviors in an effort to extend their ever-expanding need for power and control. This seems to be the case with Trump: He will continue to be drawn toward authoritarian leaders, for example, because they symbolize his interpersonal goal of gaining even more power and authority over everyone.
Because antisocial personalities don’t change on their own and don’t respond well to interventions, containment is the default management strategy. Without firm, unwavering limits, the antisocial’s deception, law-breaking, greed, manipulation, and malevolent behaviors will increase.
An antisocial person in a position to self-pardon or self-regulate is a recipe for disaster. Containment must be forceful and uncompromising, because if an antisocial personality locates a crack or loophole, he will exploit it. Staff interventions, comprehensive law enforcement, and judicial systems that mandate accountability must be in place.
The three main containment strategies that remain in play for Trump are Republican power checks, the Robert Mueller investigation, and the potential for a November blue wave.
It seems near certain the first option is not moving forward. Although many Republicans profess to be concerned about Trump’s behaviors, they have not managed to stand up to their president. Defying Trump has proven too costly; he can make Republicans pay with electoral consequences. Like him or not, Republicans have little motivation for clashing with a powerful leader who promises them judicial appointments and legislative opportunities. This leaves the Mueller investigation and a November blue wave as the main means of checking Trump’s power.
As we contemplate how these strategies might work to check the antisocial dimensions of Trump’s personality, it’s important to return to what Millon posited as the core distinction between the pure narcissist and the antisocial. Having a deeper understanding of this distinction can help predict and contextualize Trump’s future behaviors and potential response to containment efforts.
Although pure narcissistic personalities are profoundly egotistical and perpetually preoccupied with grandiose fantasies of admiration, idyllic love, and eternal success, they differ from antisocials in that they aren’t constantly striving to achieve advantage over others via aggression, deceit, and manipulation.
Narcissistic personalities love to be revered and may experience narcissistic rage when criticized, but they prefer voluntary reverence. In contrast, the antisocial dynamic is far more active; it’s also based on an underlying assumption that the world is unsafe, unfair, and that all others—at their core—are untrustworthy.
This translates into a combination of paranoid thinking and living with the mantra “I can only trust myself” and it requires continuous and active deception and manipulation. Antisocials are allergic to passivity and drawn to coercive control.
What does this say about how Trump will respond to containment strategies?
We should be ready for a pattern of increasing denial, increasing blame of others, increasing lies, declarations of complete and total innocence, and repeated claims of mistreatment. He will protect and insulate himself from critique and responsibility through active counterattacks, along with alignment, even briefly, with whatever sources of power, control, and dominance he can find. This might mean further alignment with Vladimir Putin, more campaign rallies, and an additional need to gather others around him who will offer only adulation.
He will gleefully throw anyone and everyone who betrays him under the bus. As he escalates, his insults toward others will become increasingly demeaning—virtually everyone questioning his superiority will be labeled a dog or disgrace or traitor.
The antisocial personality is a force that requires an equal or greater counterforce for containment. This is not a man who will slip quietly into the night. If we don’t gather together an adequate counterforce, Trump’s antisocial behaviors will continue, expand, and potentially lead us toward an international crisis. In the meantime, we should collectively buckle up. Trump won’t be waving a white flag any time soon, and the fight to contain him promises to be an ugly one.”
Therefore, in conclusion, though the usual cheerleaders are calling for Trump’s head, mentally masturbating and celebrating all sorts of possible outcomes for the Mueller investigation, I find myself wondering what Trump would do. If it did happen.
It won’t be as simple as the postcard perp walk most Democrats imagine.
More than likely, they’ll be violence. That’s what all of this seems to be leading up to.
In any case, Trump is not going to go quietly. That’s magical thinking. We need a better plan than “Lock Him Up!”
For instance, what if Trump’s followers don’t accept any type of impeachment conviction? Alternate facts in an alternate reality TV show.
Too many “What Ifs” for me to advocate poking the bear with a sharp burning stick in the eye. America needs a serious risk/ benefit analysis before messing with the man who aims the direction the military points in.
What if we find out Trump is guilty and just can’t do anything about it?
As long as the base is convinced that Mueller is an agent of the deep state (or whatever), it will punish any Republican politician that strays from the pack and criticizes Trump. For a GOP officeholder, standing up for democratic integrity could mean sacrificing reelection in 2018 or 2020.
As long as Republican politicians are frightened by the base, the base is frightened by scary conspiracies in right-wing media, and right-wing media makes more money the more frightened everyone is, Trump appears to be safe. As long as the incentives are aligned in that direction, there will be no substantial movement to censure, restrain, or remove him from office.
What happens if nothing happens?
Mainstream scholars do not think that Trump will be able to get away with simply ignoring Mueller’s findings or pardoning everyone involved. As Andy Wright, a law professor at Savannah Law School, put it, “with each abnormal, unbecoming, or dishonorable act, President Trump makes it harder for his appointees to defend him, harder for traditional Republicans to maintain their uneasy power alliance with him, and easier for Democrats to take the moral high ground and secure political advantage.”
But if there’s one thing non-experts like me have learned over the last few decades of watching US politics, it’s that experts are frequently caught flat-footed by the growing intensity of partisanship and the destruction of norms it has wrought.
They are operating based on certain assumptions that it simply doesn’t occur to them that a politician can ignore. But politicians can. Mitch McConnell can simply refuse to hold a vote on a Supreme Court nominee. There’s no explicit rule or law that says he can’t, so he can, and he did.
That one shocked and flabbergasted experts too, but just like all the other perverse steps down this road to illiberal lawlessness, they eventually took it on board and normalized it.
Now they’re sure Donald Trump can’t simply brazen his way out of an indictment. What if they’re wrong about that?
Say he pardons everyone. People will argue on cable TV about whether he should have. One side will say up, the other will say down. Trump may have done this, but what about when Obama did that? What about Hillary’s emails? Whatabout this, whatabout that, whatabout whatabout whatabout-ism?
There is no longer any settling such arguments. The only way to settle any argument is for both sides to be committed, at least to some degree, to shared standards of evidence and accuracy, and to place a measure of shared trust in institutions meant to vouchsafe evidence and accuracy. Without that basic agreement, without common arbiters, there can be no end to dispute.
If one side rejects the epistemic authority of society’s core institutions and practices, there’s just nothing left to be done. Truth cannot speak for itself, like the voice of God from above. It can only speak through human institutions and practices.
The subject of climate change offers a crystalline example here. If climate science does its thing, checks and rechecks its work, and then the Republican Party simply refuses to accept it … what then?
That’s what US elites are truly afraid to confront: What if facts and persuasion just don’t matter anymore?
As long as conservatives can do something — steal an election, gerrymander crazy districts to maximize GOP advantage, use the filibuster as a routine tool of opposition, launch congressional investigations as political attacks, hold the debt ceiling hostage, repress voting among minorities, withhold a confirmation vote on a Supreme Court nominee, defend a known fraud and sexual predator who has likely colluded with a foreign government to gain the presidency — they will do it, knowing they’ll be backed by a relentlessly on-message media apparatus.
And if that’s true, if the very preconditions of science and journalism as commonly understood have been eroded, then all that’s left is a raw contest of power.
Donald Trump has the power to hold on to the presidency, as long as elected Republicans, cowed by the conservative base, support him. That is true almost regardless of what he’s done or what’s proven by Mueller. As long as he has that power, he will exercise it. That’s what recent history seems to show.
Democrats do not currently have the numbers to stop him. They can’t do it without some help from Republicans. And Republicans seem incapable, not only of acting on what Mueller knows, but of even coming to know it.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe US institutions have more life in them than I think. But at this point, it’s just very difficult to imagine anything that could bridge the epistemic gulf between America’s tribes. We are split in two, living in different worlds, with different stories and facts shaping our lives. We no longer learn or know things together, as a country, so we can no longer act together, as a country.
So we may just have to live with a president indicted for collusion with a foreign power…
This essay is part of our O Society continuing series called “What the Hell is Wrong With Donald Trump?!?” (WTHIWWDT?) – which focuses on the mental, spiritual, and medical illness of Trump. Indeed, as he epitomizes, personifies, and makes manifest the problems rampant in America for all the world to clearly see, these essays are written from the varied viewpoints of expert authors: