This is a summery of an article by David Roberts on Vox. Here is a link to the entire article. The full title of the article is: We overanalyze Trump. He is what he appears to be. There is no correct Theory of Trump.
The gist of this article is that Trump does not have a core set of values or a plan to accomplish any specific political or social goals. Roberts says that “Trump is exactly as he appears: a hopeless narcissist with the attention span of a fruit fly, unable to maintain consistent beliefs or commitments from moment to moment, acting on base instinct, entirely situationally, to bolster his terrifyingly fragile ego.” He says that with Trump, there is no there, there. Trump reacts impulsively, he exacts revenge on anyone who crosses him and has absolutely no self control at all. So, what happens when Trump is in negotiations with the North Korean Leader, Kim Jong Un, who most likely would deliberately antagonize and enrage him. This situation is not good, not even a little bit. The possibilities with this kind of leader are frankly, terrifying.
Trump seems to do a lot of things, simply because he is mad. If someone disagrees with him or appears to disrespect him, Trump usually flies off the handle and does the first thing that comes into his mind. Roberts says this is what is behind Trump’s firing of FBI director Comey.
Human beings usually try to figure out what is going on with other people by checking out the signals people are constantly sending out. Humans, being the pattern seekers that they are, try to look at other people and read their behavior from their facial expressions and tone of voice and body language. But, says Roberts, none of that works with Trump because he doesn’t really have any long term goals or beliefs. Trump is only reacting blindly to whatever is going on around him.
And so, says Roberts, much of the journalism that attempts to explain Trump just doesn’t work. We aren’t really prepared to deal with someone like Trump. We can’t explain someone who isn’t acting in any rational, understandable way.
Clearly there is something wrong with Trump, he is clearly dysfunctional in some way, but in what way exactly?
Roberts says what is wrong with Trump is probably what psychiatrists call narcissistic personality disorder. Roberts has been reading about this. He says there is a great article in Rolling Stone by Alex Morris and another by Vox reporter Brian Resnick on Trump’s dysfunction.
There nine basic traits used to identify narcissistic personality disorder, things like “requires excessive admiration” and “has a grandiose sense of self-importance”. David Roberts says that “All nine describe Trump’s public behavior with eerie accuracy.”
Like all extreme narcissist, Trump sees every interaction as a zero-sum game, a game in which there are only winners and losers. And as such, he is never interested in openness, or in the facts or the truth or in working out compromises that work politically.
This is an idea that I’m particularly interested in. People, governments, nations can never figure out how to make the world better, or even figure out how to make America a better place for everyone without honest and public debate between people who are genuinely looking for compromises and for the truth. And that’s truth with a lower case t.
I’ve read and reviewed a couple of other books on this subject. Eli Pariser says in his book The Filter Bubble that social Apps like Facebook digitally filter out all points of view except your own until you are living in an artificial filter bubble that dooms you to provincialism and ignorance. Cass Sunstein in #Republic says that American Democracy has always been based on groups of people openly and publicly, debating other people of opposing opinions as opposed to thinking inside filter bubbles. Hugo Mercer says in his Edge.org article “The Argumentative Theory” that human brains just don’t work well unless their owners are operating in open, public discussions with other minds as opposed to working in isolation in locked studies as seen in the many myths of isolated geniuses.
Anyway, back to David Roberts. He says that Trump has other problems beyond his narcissism. He says that Trump “lacks any ability to hold beliefs, commitments, or even deceptions in his head across contexts. (On Twitter, I compared him to a goldfish.) He is utterly unable to step back and put his gut emotions in larger perspective, to see himself as a person among people, in social contexts that demand some adaptation. He is impatient with attempts to influence him to take a larger view — he demands one-page memos, for instance.”
Roberts also says that Trump seems to be terrified and hostile toward all kinds of weakness. Roberts points out that Trump has mocked a disabled reporter and that his fear of weakness is possibly “why he’s been so consistently racist. Somewhere in his reptile brain, he views being captured, disabled, or persecuted as weakness, as being dominated.” And this is possibly why he is so fond of every strongman that comes along: Putin, Erdogan, El Sissi, and the Philippine president.
But Robert’s point here is that these attitudes, instincts really, of Trump’s, don’t seem to yield any real beliefs or principles. “Trump is highly attuned to dominance and submission in the moment, but each moment is a new moment, unconstrained by prior commitments, statements, or actions.”
He says that “Trump defies our theory of mind because he appears to lack a coherent, persistent self or worldview. He is a raging fire of need, protected and shaped by a lifetime of entitlement, with the emotional maturity and attention span of a 6-year-old, utterly unaware of the long-term implications of his actions.”
We are just not accustomed to dealing with someone like this. And so politicians and journalists invent stories about Trump. But Roberts says there is really not any story behind Trumps actions. He’s not a Machiavellian schemer, he isn’t acting out some devious political strategy, he’s not the simple but honest friend of the lower classes.
Roberts says that there is nothing inside Trump:
“No agenda guides him, no past commitments or statements restrain him, so no one, not even his closest allies (much less the American public or foreign governments) can trust him, even for a second. He will do what makes him feel dominant and respected, in the moment, with no consideration of anything else, not because he has chosen to reject other considerations, but because he is, by all appearances, incapable of considering them.”
The real danger of all this, says Roberts, is that with no real convictions of anything, Trump is incredibly vulnerable to being manipulated by almost anyone.
Roberts asks “What will happen when he gets into a confrontation with North Korea, when Kim Jong Un deliberately provokes him? Will his response be considered and strategic? Will he be able to get information and aid from allies? Will he be able to make and keep commitments during negotiations? There’s no sign of hope for any of that.”
More likely, Trump would get mad and in the moment, think a nuclear punishment of Kim would be a great thing to do. Or maybe he would give away the store and whisper US secrets in Kim’s ear to make him his best friend forever.
There is not much to hope for Trump being wise or sensible about much of anything. As Roberts says,:
“That’s who he is: a disregulated bundle of impulses, being manipulated by a cast of crooks and incompetents, supported by a Republican Party willing to bet the stability of the country against upper-income tax cuts. We need to stop looking for a more complicated story.”
If you ask me. I think this is about the scariest thing I have ever heard of. Oh my God.
Autumn Leaves and pine needles in a still pond in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Picture by Hanselmann Photography.