Unhinged – Trump’s Mental State And The Risk It Poses Until He Leaves Office
During the past 4 years, there has been ample examination of Donald Trump, from the standpoint of his psychological profile. Considerable analysis of his patently clear status as a malignant or extreme narcissist has been in fairly wide circulation.
As that is well trodden ground, we won’t re-litigate it here. What we will outline within the context of that and related components of Trump’s psychological makeup, is how Trump’s mental illness plays into the scenario of his inability or unwillingness to accept the outcome of the election on November 3rd. This in light of the fact that it is abundantly clear that Joseph R. Biden is President-elect and will be sworn as the 46th President of the United States in two months from now.
Of equal importance is how Trump’s inability and unwillingness to psychologically manage that reality, from now until the office changes hands, presents – not only a suspenseful period of uncertainty, but severe national security and foreign policy perils during that span of time.
Before we examine that in specific, let’s discuss some terms. Donald Trump has been identified by some observers of his behavior, as a Sociopath and by others as a Psychopath.
Despite the fact that the mental health scientific community is not always entirely on the same page as to what constitutes sociopathy as opposed to psychopathy – in real world circumstances, there is some overlap between them.
One of the distinctions between the two, is the question of “nature vs. nurture.” Behavioral scientists regard psychopaths as individuals whose behavioral traits are largely accountable to organic abnormalities in the brain, whereas sociopaths are considered to be products of their environment, particularly their childhood experiences and the home setting – parents, abuse, traumatic events.
Sociopaths are very limited in their capacity to form and maintain personal and family relationships. Psychopaths are superficially more adept at maintaining the facade of relationships, despite the reality that most all of them are fraudulent and structurally, a house of cards.
Both Sociopaths and Psychopaths are capable of felony assault, up to and including murder – but physical violence is not an inevitable component of the disorders. In most of the situations, the negative actions exist within the constellation of emotional abuse, financial crimes, character assassination, manipulation, infidelity, chronic lying, gaslighting, predatory sexuality and sabotage.
Most of the above list is the domain of psychopaths. And here is where the delineation between the two destructive personalities exists, according to behaviouralists. While the actions of sociopaths are typically impulsive in nature and largely spontaneous – the psychopath can devise an anti-social act over a span of time and invest a great deal of patient preparation towards the accomplishment of the act. In courtroom terms, it’s called premeditation.
In virtually all instances, someone with a rich history of operating con games, will be a psychopath, not a sociopath. And while a psychopath may not take a physical hand in the murder of a fellow human being, (Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin), they can function as a catalyst for their death.
Donald Trump’s personal orientation that a pandemic is a matter to be dealt with from a political calculus and personal agenda, rather than a public health emergency – has resulted in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Getting back to the Trump situation as it relates to the question of sociopath versus psychopath, the whole question of childhood development muddies the distinction once again, because there is no linearity to Trump’s background.
It’s quite possible that to a certain extent, Trump was born with a predisposition to the sort of traits his family history clearly displays – and that would suggest, psychopathy.
However, as we learn from niece Mary Trump’s recent book about her uncle Donald, that whatever innate tendencies Trump possessed toward orienting himself as the center of his own universe, were also attitudes and actions displayed and encouraged by his parents – particularly Fred Trump, Sr., his father.
And then, to illustrate how psychology, in practice as opposed to theory, fails to maintain a strict ordering of disorders, we have a third element that overlaps with both sociopathy and psychopathy – narcissism. When that element is brought into the mix, the classification of a disturbed psyche becomes more precise.
Psychologists have identified the constituents of psychopathy in a cluster they describe as the “Dark Triad.” What is the Dark Triad? It is the mix of three related personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. MindTools.com outlines them as the following:
- Narcissism: narcissism comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, and drowned. Narcissistic people can be selfish, boastful, arrogant, lacking in empathy, and hypersensitive to criticism.
- Machiavellianism: the word comes from the renowned 16th century Italian politician and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli. He earned notoriety when his 1513 book, “The Prince,” was interpreted as an endorsement of the dark arts of cunning and deceit in diplomacy. Traits associated with Machiavellianism include duplicity, manipulation, self-interest, and a lack of both emotion and morality.
- Psychopathy: personality traits associated with psychopathy include a lack of empathy or remorse, antisocial behavior, and being manipulative and volatile. It’s important to note that there is a distinction between psychopathic traits and being a psychopath, with its commonly held association with criminal violence.
This is where things really begin to fill in the portrait of Donald Trump as it regards what we are seeing in his actions post-election, up to this point and what we can likely expect in the next few months before he is legally obligated to vacate the White House.
Before we continue, though, I need to respond to an objection that is frequently raised whenever Trump’s mental state is examined by anyone that has not personally consulted him in a therapeutic setting. This is the “you can’t diagnose Trump because you are not his psychiatrist” objection. It is referred to in some circles as the “Goldwater Rule.”
A couple of points in rebuttal to this false equivalence are in order.
Number one – diagnosis does not specifically require personal access to the subject. This is especially the case when there is the voluminous extent of material in the public record from which an analysis of the likes of Donald Trump can be derived.
People who maintain that diagnosing Trump is either unethical or unprofessional, do not understand the methodology of diagnosis and the alternate means by which the raw material of a diagnosis can be obtained.
That raw material can be derived in a private counseling session or just as effectively, from an inventory of a person’s behavior curated from public sources – i.e., Trump’s interviews with reporters, comments made during press briefings and yes – his obsessive and perpetual postings on social media.
What actually would be improper and in violation of the law, would be treating (counseling, prescribing medicine) a person with mental health issues, without a medical license and outside of a clinical setting.
What I have outlined above, is evident by the many books that have been written by licensed mental health practitioners and academics on the subject of Trump’s behavior and his psychological makeup, including “Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President” by Justin A. Frank, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center.
Dr. Frank cites an example in his book of how observing Trump in an interactive engagement with the hosts of “Fox and Friends”, provided him insight as to Trump’s fragile psychological moorings. It was an instance in which Trump went on such a lengthy and incoherent rant that the panel had to cut Trump off and move to another segment, while he was still in the middle of his tirade.
Of that situation, Dr. Frank writes:
The president’s performance on Fox & Friends struck me and many viewers as one of a frighteningly unhinged individual. It supported my conclusions from hundreds of hours of analysis that Trump is mentally unfit in ways that make him psychologically unsuited for the presidency.
Referencing the fallacy of the Goldwater Rule, Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a psychiatrist who has taught at Yale and author of the new book “Profile of a Nation: Trump’s Mind, America’s Soul,” told Salon by email:
“One does not have to diagnose to recognize pathological or toxic narcissism. This is behavior, not a diagnosis — and the media need not fixate so much on ‘the Goldwater rule,’ which applies to only 6% of practicing mental health professionals (that is, members of the American Psychiatric Association, the only association in the world with this rule).”
If you want to play a Doctor of Psychiatry on TV – you can, because it is not as if there isn’t ample material for which to study for your role.
For example, if your script calls for analysis of a psychopathic, Machavellian narcissist, you can consult the work of Dr. Peter Jonason, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Western Florida, and his co-author, Gregory Webster, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida, who, in 2010, both developed the “Dirty Dozen” rating scale, or a 12-item methodology, to measure Dark Triad traits.
Jonason and Webster’s measure asks people to rate themselves against these questions:
- I tend to manipulate others to get my way.
- I have used deceit or lied to get my way.
- I have used flattery to get my way.
- I tend to exploit others towards my own end.
- I tend to lack remorse.
- I tend to not be too concerned with morality or the morality of my actions.
- I tend to be callous or insensitive.
- I tend to be cynical.
- I tend to want others to admire me.
- I tend to want others to pay attention to me.
Anything look familiar on this list? Would Trump rate himself honestly on this survey, or would his tendency to “be cynical” and to use deceit or lying to “get his way” prevent him from doing so?
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So now, it’s time to detail the sort of behavior we have already seen and what we are certain to see going forward, as we inhabit a period of existential acute risk by virtue of an individual with all the markers of the ‘Dark Triad’ occupying the White House during (what should be) the transition period.
Key to this is the fact that Trump has become triggered by his obvious status as a loser. The most recent count of the popular vote shows him to have lost the popular vote to Joe Biden, by just under 6 million votes, twice the number of votes Hillary Clinton bested him by in 2016.
Making matters worse, is the fact that after the 2016 election, Trump took numerous victory laps in which he described his award of 306 electoral votes as a “landslide.” Whether the margin of victory met the standard among election experts or historians to be considered a ‘landslide’, is immaterial. What mattered was that Trump believed it was. He didn’t pause to consider that his definition of his win was hyperbolic, because he never envisioned a circumstance in which he would be denied a second term by that same identical margin.
Now that Biden has accumulated the same total in a reversal of fortune, Trump is reacting in the predictable manner of a person with all the traits of the Dark Triad. As many have observed, the one thing a person with an orientation of malignant narcissism cannot manage temperamentally, is losing – and worse, being exposed as and branded, a “loser.”
While most people would find such life events as divorce or death of a loved one, to be the most traumatic – for a narcissist, it is attaining the status of loser. What do they do when they lose? First, they deny the obvious.
“He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. “I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!”
Loss is inconceivable to the likes of Donald Trump. There is no cubbyhole in their mind where such a realization can reside.
The next in the process of pushing back on reality, is to, exact retribution on any and all who contradict the narcissist’s assertions. One such individual that found himself in Trump’s crosshairs, was Christopher Krebs – director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security and whom Trump fired in a tweet.
What was Mr. Krebs’ crime against Trump? Merely contradicting Trump’s claim that the election was “rigged.”
In the week prior to his firing, Krebs made the declaration, that the 2020 Presidential election was the “was the most secure in American history.” That, of course, was a total and complete repudiation of the various assertions Trump has been making both before and after November 3rd.
And since delegitimizing the election was Trump’s prime strategy for saving his identity as a ‘winner’ – Krebs’ statement of fact could not be allowed to stand, nor could he be allowed to retain his job.
Further compounding the blow to Trump, was Krebs’ publication of a report citing 59 election security experts saying there exists no credible evidence of computer fraud in the 2020 election outcome.
Joe Navarro, M.A., a 25-year veteran of the FBI where he served on the National Security Division’s Behavioral Analysis Program, writing in Psychology Today, describes how those inhabiting the traits of the Dark Triad, deal with facts (and people) who refute their cover story about their failure:
Foolproof evidence will be portrayed as false and the result of: pettiness, jealousies, bad actors, malicious individuals, negativity, haters, enemies, losers, conspirators, opposition, gain seekers, the faithless (usually seen in religious groups or cults), or as we are seeing now in American politics, “fake news” or “deep state” actors. There is always a large constellation of people to blame, the narcissist casts wide to see which vacuous claim resonates, especially with their supporters.
All of that resonates as true to form with the manner in which Trump is handling his public humiliation. Trump, seeking to maintain emotional equilibrium, must attempt to convince himself, the public in general and in particular – his loyal following that his presidency has been hijacked by inept, indifferent and disloyal subordinates as well as others outside his direct control.
He blames everyone imaginable for his looming one term status in history but himself (another notable trait of psychopathic narcissists). And while he is in this state, he is disengaged completely from the responsibilities of his elected office – even in the midst of a pandemic that has now claimed the lives of 253,000 Americans. But that is not terribly unexpected.
On the list of scapegoats, we’ve already seen the media – (whom Trump wants to charge with conducting illegal polls), Democrats, minority voters, cabinet members, election officials (even Republican ones), Fox News and conniving postmasters.
Republicans that are subject to Trump’s ability to marshal his voting base against them if they step out of line, are justified in fearing his reactions should they decide to, even timidly, weigh in on the side of the rule of law. They have seen in too many instances to enumerate, how Trump can instantly brand as enemies, those he once touted as close allies. There can be no substitute in Trump’s estimation, for blind, unwavering loyalty.
Mr. Navarro notes another characteristic of narcissists who find themselves in the personal dystopia of failure.
As they face failure, arrest, indictment, or dismissal, they will endlessly air their grievances. Narcissists are natural wound collectors and as such, they have been collecting and nurturing social slights and perceived wrongs just for this occasion. They will wallow in victimhood claiming they have been relentlessly and needlessly persecuted.
Even while playing the victim card like an out of tune fiddle, Trump opportunistically identifies ways he can exploit it for financial gain.
But with all of the drama from the Drama Queen-in-Chief, the greatest danger Trump now poses is that his fragile psyche, based on our body of knowledge in how psychopathic narcissists react to the shame of losing – presents the strong possibility that his actions will run true to form. And that form, is the psychopath’s impulse to baptize everyone possible in their own suffering. In extremis, such a person will burn everything down, damn the consequences.
Trump displays vindictiveness that is elevated to extreme national security risks. Trump, in his rage and spite, fires top Pentagon officials and replaces them with sycophants.
He orders cabinet officials in Health and Human Services, which houses the Centers For Disease Control and National Institute of Health, to refuse to cooperate and coordinate with the health advisers from the Biden transition team, thus endangering thousands more Americans by delaying the competent functioning of those incoming officials.
Dr. Lee, whom we quoted earlier, describes the peril associated with having a national leader who is in rage mode about the embarrassment of having been defeated in an election:
“Just as one once settled for adulation in lieu of love, one may settle for fear when adulation no longer seems attainable. Rage attacks are common, for people are bound to fall short of expectation for such a needy personality—and eventually everyone falls into this category. But when there is an all-encompassing loss, such as the loss of an election, it can trigger a rampage of destruction and reign of terror in revenge against an entire nation that has failed him.”
Lee added, “It is far easier for the pathological narcissist to consider destroying oneself and the world, especially its ‘laughing eyes,’ then to retreat into becoming a ‘loser’ and a ‘sucker’ — which to someone suffering from this condition will feel like psychic death.”
It’s eerie that political activist and former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader predicted in August, virtually everything we’ve witnessed so far. Nader cautioned that:
Trump could pressure the Justice Department to issue bogus subpoenas in order to punish his critics and opponents, pull out of contracts with businesses and individuals who he feels wronged him, refuse to work with Biden’s transition team in handing over power and (of course) intensify the use of the Justice Department and his personal lawyers to challenge in every frivolous, obstructive way the results of the election in selected states, no matter what the margin of his defeat.
It is well documented that Trump, throughout his term, has made a number of inquiries about the possibility of launching a large scale attack on Iran – and the New York Times reported on November 16, that once again in recent days, Trump has raised the spectre of doing so with the Department of Defense and White House aides.
“What I’ve always worried about was that people around Trump would try to persuade him that he’s the last thing standing between the ‘weak Democrats’ who would take over after him, and Iran developing a bomb,” said Rob Malley, a former Obama administration official who was one of the JCPOA negotiators, and is now head of the International Crisis Group.
Although Joe Navarro never mentions Donald Trump specifically by name, his final advisory of the most dire instincts of a psychopathic narcissist, leave no doubt as to who is being indicated in his analysis of potential behavior of someone who fits that profile, in meltdown mode:
In certain situations, as the end nears, the suffering of others is paramount to the malignant narcissist. It is their way of elevating themselves—sick as that sounds—by malevolently paying back society with even more suffering.
As they lash out, they will show no concern or empathy because they have none. If others are suffering because of their actions, the narcissist simply does not care. Lacking a conscience or any kind or remorse, much like Robert Hare’s psychopath, they sleep very well at night while everyone else is anxious, worried, stressed, physically or psychologically traumatizes all the while nervously and justifiably pondering what further malevolence will take place.
Brace yourself for the worst and be thankful if it doesn’t materialize.
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