Those Who See the Devil: President Trump, Hate Groups, and the Nature of Aggression

Only a few years ago, when clients consulted me about overwhelming anxieties concerning the future, in time they would view their fears as irrational. This is no longer the case. In over thirty years of clinical practice, I have never heard the intensity of rage, fear, and anguish about any world leader that I have heard about Donald Trump, and the expressed fears are rational. “I am unable to put his name with his title.” “He is sickeningly aggressive, destroying our country from within, disgracing us.” “Our president’s middle name is Hate.” “How do I teach my children values and courtesy when a man like Trump is the Father of Our Country?”

Shedding light on the differences between healthy and pathologic aggression, specifically the nature of hatred, can lead to a better understanding of what can go terribly, dangerously wrong with leaders, their followers -- as well as any of us, and why. My concentration will focus on three primary faces of aggression: assertion, hostility, and hatred. In this formulation I am grateful for the invaluable insights of Philadelphia psychiatrist, the late Eli Marcovitz.

Many wrongly believe that aggression is synonymous with violence and destruction. However, this is both an inaccurate and simplistic misperception. Aggression comes with mother’s milk; it is a life force. Without it, we are lost. The term is derived from the Latin ad gradi, which means to go toward by steps. A healthy and vital form of aggression is assertion – the progression of myriad activities from infancy on – the expression of needs, exploration, curiosity, trying new things.

Assertion propels us to go forward step by step, express ourselves, communicate with others, compete fairly for our goals, reach maturity, and in doing so care for ourselves, our loved ones, our community. In societies offering these opportunities as well as inspiring, appropriate role models, we learn also to compete with ourselves, setting our own goals and standards of behavior, doing our best. Further, we develop the ability to give and take, compromise, discuss, empathize with others.

During our youngest years, if we are not cared for well enough to experience aggression we will not have the motivation to assert ourselves and move forward: Infants who are unloved reject feeding; children who are unloved reject learning; adults who fear or deny aggression, internalizing it, have great difficulty navigating the slippery slopes of life or reaching their potential. Often they become emotionally or physically ill. Close examination of isolated cultures seen initially as free from aggression prove to be overwhelmed by hate and fear.

Highly charged situations, such as the desire to change leadership, accomplish a resisted goal believed necessary, as well as defend against lack of opportunity, exploitation and peril involve a heightened expression of aggression, hostility. Hostility connotes the intention to remove obstacles that frustrate goal-directed activity. There are expressions of hostility in all societies -- as humans compete to establish hierarchy and find and maintain sustenance, stability, a partner and family. With hostility, however, a primary goal is recognition and winning, not destruction. Once a goal is achieved, hostility ceases.

A profoundly dangerous expression of aggression is hatred. Hatred, the most extreme form of hostility, does not come with mother’s milk. It is a poisonous, reactive response -- a vehicle to reach a goal, not caring who is hurt or even killed in the process. For those motivated by hate, tempered expressions of assertion and hostility are foreign and remain so. Behavior has no ethical limit. The total aim is injury, humiliation, and elimination with no desire to curtail animosity. Those who realize or experience this toxic motivation hate in response. The latter group wants the abuse ended and hatred defeated. If this is accomplished, revenge feels extremely sweet.

In my work, I have learned what life events and inner demons result in expressions of hatred. The shame and humiliation caused when one who thrives on control is criticized or rejected leads to relentless unleashing of hatred. Also, hatred occurs with the betrayal of love or trust, accompanied by feelings of foolishness and shame for devoted investment. Often those seeking total control of others and situations avoid intimacy; their fear of rejection based on feelings of unworthiness keeps them ever on the run. Another reason for hatred is envy, which fuels ruthless, perilous competition. (“I will get the power you hold, using every tactic conceivable to win!”) Or jealousy. (“I hate you for the love you have found!”)

Further, acting out sadistic impulses is an expression of hatred. Those who intimidate, attack and violate for their own sexual pleasure and excitement are motivated by the deepest of insecurities. Unable to achieve and maintain fulfilling, intimate relationships with women, fear of intimacy and self-loathing are expressed by horrid acts.

Hatred is also projected on the innocent as the embodiment of Evil. In other words, others are attacked due to the desires and qualities we cannot face in ourselves. Fear, intimidation, falsehoods, ridicule and demonizing others are glaring signs of blind leadership fraught with danger. Succinctly put: Those who constantly see the devil in others have one hellova cloven hoof.

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