Being Donald Trump: Delusions, Dishonesty, and the Empathy of a Hornet's Nest
In the dark 1999 comedy, Being John Malkovich, John Cusack enters a hidden doorway and finds himself locked in a dark, cockpit-like space literally in the skull and behind the eyes of Malkovich. As Malkovich swivels his head, the scene through two eye-openings for Cusack swivels with it. In order to begin to grasp how DT experiences the world, imagine you are in the same cockpit behind his eyes. The scene is a violent video game down a dark trail of death and destruction in which the goal is survival by destroying others before they destroy you. His weapon is fire-breathing. The view swivels from side to side as DT methodically incinerates all those who come into view, many of whom are perfectly innocent: "Oh well, sucks for them. That's how a winner wins!"
After rapidly accelerating toward the blazing goal of success and adulation at the end of the trail, DT feels "savagely attacked" by the Gold Star parents of a fallen hero and with shocking insensitivity, lashes out: "When you hit me, I'll hit you back harder." The blazing goal, once within grasp, suddenly darkens, recedes, and becomes barely perceptible.
DT's very real life destructiveness replaces fire-breathing with cleverly conning the system, leaving in his wake literally thousands of lawsuits while cheating investors, bankrupting plumbers, electricians, contractors, and suppliers such as in Atlantic City, when he skimmed millions off the top for himself before skipping town -- "I did great in Atlantic City." No one is spared. Ditto Trump University. As Bloomberg said at his DNC speech, "I'm from NY, and I know a con when I see one."
When told by his long-time lawyer and mentor, Roy Cohn of Joseph McCarthy red-baiting notoriety, that DT should pay him whatever he thought he deserved, DT paid him nothing. He did, however, give him a gift of diamond encrusted cuff-links and tuxedo studs elegantly presented in a Bulgari box. After Cohn's death, they were appraised and shown to be fake! Even Cohn, whom Trump idolized was not spared.
In Part I of this series, I laid out the official, easy-to-understand diagnostic criteria used by mental health professionals such that each individual could determine the severity of Trump's mental illness. It is critical to understand that a patient can fulfill all the diagnostic criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and yet the mental disorder also fulfills the criteria for the more serious Sociopathic and most serious Psychopathic personality disorder. NPD is to Sociopath is to Psychopath what the flu is to pneumonia is to late stage cancer. DT fulfills each and every diagnostic criteria for NPD, but the qualities of vengeance, viciousness, and cold-blooded, carefully calculated dishonesty confirm that his disorder is far worse than mere NPD. Those diagnosed as NPD, despite being maddeningly self-absorbed and over-reactive to perceived slights, can be honest and even delightful to be around. Anyone who has ever been involved with DT has had to watch their back.
Following DT's attacks on the Kahns, the debate has raged as to whether DT is "insane?" In professional clinical nomenclature, that term is roughly equivalent to "psychotic," which includes those conditions wherein the individual breaks free of the ties to reality, including acute psychotic episodes, schizophrenia, and severe bipolarity, often accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations and bizarre delusions such as, "the CIA is trying to poison me before I can expose state secrets."
But there is also a class of so-called "non-bizarre delusions" in which a person adamantly insists on an idea or event that has been shown to be irrefutably false by overwhelming objective evidence. DT insists that he saw "thousands and thousands of Muslims" cheering on 9/11 as the world Trade Center collapsed. It simply did not happen. He remains certain that President Obama was not born in the US, despite rock solid, repeated evidence to the contrary. From watching television and hearing "what my people tell me," he genuinely believes he "knows more than the generals." Following the DNC, he furiously screamed, "I have the greatest temperament for president of anyone in American history! Why? Because I'm a winner and I win!" Similarly, be bloviated that, "If I wanted to, if I WANTED to -- I could be more presidential than anyone, except maybe Abe Lincoln." Washington? Jefferson? Adams? FDR? Though not quite of the bizarre variety of delusions generally associated with psychosis, these are fixed delusions of paranoia and grandeur that do constitute a personality that cannot rightfully be considered sane.
This brings us to the question of lying, of which professional clinicians observe two kinds. The more common form is lying when the person knows they are not telling the truth. A second, more clinically disturbed form of lying, occurs when the individual has lied to himself, actually believes the lie is now the truth, and then tells that "truth" to others. Statements from DT are continuously fact-checked as false. But the pervasiveness of "truth-lying" is exceedingly troubling in which, like the propagandist, he has told the lie to himself so often he now believes it.
Regarding empathy, some mistakenly propose that DT must be empathic because, for example, he is able to read crowds so well. In our 1989 book on empathy, Burke and I discuss empathy as a complex interpersonal process, the outcome of which has been referred to as "emotional knowledge." It requires actually feeling a degree of what it must be feel like to be the other. Most professionals agree that the capacity for empathy -- like with musical, intellectual, or athletic ability -- is a mix of genetically hard-wired predisposition along with environmental influence, especially by early childhood caregivers. Both nature and nurture are involved. Regarding the psychopath, there is research suggesting that some may actually be born missing the "empathy gene," not unlike the aspiring musician who is completely tone deaf such that no amount of instruction can ever correct it. The empathic connection I am describing must be sharply distinguished from scanning the environment for cues in a pursuit of intellect-only, hyper-vigilance to ascertain where threats and opportunities lie. The gambler who picks up the "tells" of others at the table, the boxer who looks for the telegraph of the next punch.
DT's chillingly cold, reptilian gaze when sizing up and then rebuking Khizr and Ghazala Kahn or scanning the crowd for cues to incite agitation most effectively, has zero to do with any clinical understanding of empathy.
In the Part III of this series clinically examining the mental illness of DT, I will investigate more carefully his stunning thirst for vengeance toward all who offend him, from the trivial slight to the stinging repudiation, and the unspeakable danger this poses. We must all recognize the unchecked ability of an American president to launch nuclear missiles in literally five minutes. There are no procedures for anyone to intervene -- none.
DT is not simply putting up a front that he can easily put aside once elected. Has he changed since winning the nomination? Absolutely -- he's gotten much worse. He may as well try to get himself to be taller than to become more rational. A wounded grizzly cannot be domesticated.
I will leave you with a terrifying compilation of DT's rallies and the violence he foments. Twentieth Century world history has witnessed this before. We have not learned those lessons.
Wake up America!