What is Trump's Psychological Problem?

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When Donald Trump was asked to document his claim that “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey Muslims openly celebrated on 9-11, he cited a link to Infowars, the website of radio talk show host Alex Jones. Jones, nicknamed “the king of conspiracies,” believes the American government was behind 9/11, the world is run by a secret cabal of bankers who meet annually at the Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands, FEMA is setting up concentration camps, and Sandy Hook was a hoax.

But according to Trump, Jones is one of the few media personalities he trusts. “Your reputation is amazing,” Trump told Jones when he appeared as a guest on his show on Dec 2, 2015. Trump vowed that if he were elected president, “you will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center.”

Last week, The New York Times and the Washington Post both ran front page stories about Trump as a conspiracy theorist.

1) Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, and had a Hawaiian government bureaucrat murdered to cover up birth-gate (“How amazing, the state health director who verified copies of Obama’s birth certificate died in a plane crash today. All others lived.”)

2) The “cunning” government of Mexico is systematically exporting their rapists and drug dealers (“The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States.”)

3) Medical researchers and the CDC are covering up the link between autism and vaccines (“the doctors lied’).

4) Global warming is a “hoax” “created by the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”

5) “There is no drought” in California. Government officials are simply denying farmers water and lying about it.

6) Antonin Scalia was murdered, (“they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”)

When his paranoid conspiratorial beliefs are viewed together, it suggests there may surprisingly little difference between Donald Trump and Alex Jones. One website, Rightwing watch, has accumulated a list of 58 conspiracies Trump has proclaimed or implied are true.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for Psychology Today about conspiracy theorists, profiling Alex Jones. Like Trump, he was a bombastic bully, and he derailed my ability to interview him. Whenever I challenged his wild statements, Jones became insulting, then veered off topic into a tirade. When Politico declared that Trump had “destroyed the interview,” rendering the form meaningless thanks to his “skills at quibbling” and his “talent for the non-sequitur,” it reminded me of my encounter with Jones.

Trump is a master of implying bizarre conspiracy theories, without actually endorsing them outright. When pressed, he will often just say he is just repeating something he heard or read. For example, a National Enquirer story that allegedly linked Ted Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination—the mother of all conspiracy theories. “What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible.” But when pressed, Trump passed it off as something he read—though it was something people might just want to pay attention to. “I’m just referring to an article that appeared, it has nothing to do with me.”

Which raises the question, does Trump really believes these preposterous stories, which would suggest that he is at least a little bit crazy? Or is he is cynically using these fantastic tales to manipulate voters, which would suggest that he is at least a little bit wicked?

In truth, he’s both. Renowned Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner and I, in separate papers, diagnosed Trump with a rare and virulent form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder that actually combines three personality disorders in one: narcissistic, paranoid, and antisocial and The narcissistic personality traits go without saying, as evidenced by the fact that they’re so immense and toxic that no one can stop saying how narcissistic he is. The paranoid component is evident in his conspiracy mongering.

But the third leg of the stool, Antisocial Personality Disorder is what makes Trump wicked. Anti-socials lie, exploit and violate the rights of others, and have neither remorse nor empathy. Politifact estimates 77% of Trump’s statements are false or mostly false, and Politico estimated Trump tells a lie every five minutes. The newly released Trump University playbooks show Trump approved predatory schemes that encouraged people to max out their credit cards and retirement accounts for seminars that were not going to make them rich as promised. Trump is allergic to apology or remorse over anything. He has even gone so far as to assert that he has no sins that God needs to forgive “I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness,” said Trump, who nonetheless has “a great relationship with God”(and this guy is winning the Evangelical vote?). And empathy? Even Trump’s former friend, the notorious Roy Cohn—lawyer for gangsters and the infamous Joseph McCarthy—said Trump had “ice water running through his veins” when it comes to his feelings for his fellow human beings.

Having established that Trump meets the diagnostic criteria for malignant narcissism, it’s important to know the historical origin of the diagnosis. The term was introduced in 1964 by famed psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who escaped Nazi Germany in 1934, to explain the psychology of Hitler and other Fascist leaders. It embodied “the quintessence of evil,” Fromm said. While Trump is no Hitler (He only wants to send 11 million immigrants to deportation camps, not death camps), the implications of his sharing Hitler’s diagnosis are profound.

First, it explains the bizarre mutual admiration he has expressed for Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, who have both reciprocated in speaking well of him, as well. “I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants” said Hillary in her foreign policy address yesterday. Simply put, brutal dictators are his kindred spirits, his soul mates, and he identifies with and admires their power.

Second, the idea that Trump is going to settle down and become presidential when he achieves power is wishful thinking. Success emboldens malignant narcissists to become even more grandiose, reckless and aggressive. Sure enough, after winning the nomination, there has been no “pivot” towards more reasonable behavior and ideas, just the opposite. He has become more shrill, combative and openly racist.

Finally, like all malignantly narcissistic leaders, Trump has demonized one community within our own population, who he imagines is involved, en masse, in a conspiracy against America. “I think Islam hates us,” he has said (not radical Islam, all Islam), arguing that “virtually 100%” of mosques are radical. In response, he wants to register all U.S. Muslims, ban all Muslim immigrants, and put surveillance on all mosques. Muslims make up a third of the planet. Do we really want to declare war on all of them? Trump’s paranoid conspiracy world-view and pugnacious nature could ignite the very global clash of civilizations that Bin Laden set out to achieve. As conservative foreign policy expert Max Boot put it: “By setting up war on terror as struggle of West vs. Islam, Trump does what ISIS wants.” Trump may complete Bin Laden’s work

In April, The Economist Magazine put a Trump presidency in it’s top ten list of global risks to the economy and world peace—the first time it has ever included a candidate for any political office on its list. Now that he has wrapped up the Republican nomination, he has arguably graduated to the number one slot. The idea that the American nuclear codes could be in the hands of a grandiose, thin skinned paranoid, with little in the way of conscience or impulse control, is the stuff of dystopian science fiction.

Only this doomsday tale is no paranoid fantasy.

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