“I’m of the belief, having covered politics for a long time, that people by and large go by the tone of the person. People can come out of a Trump speech and say, ‘What do you think about him saying, possibly rearming the Japanese with a nuclear weapon?’ ‘I don’t know, I didn’t hear all that clearly, but I like the guy.’ That’s tone, and Trump has mastered it. It’s one reason that if you’re a Democrat and want Hillary Clinton elected, you should be very, very afraid coming into November.”
This is Dan Rather, discussing the media’s influence in aiding Trump’s rise to power.
Rather is, of course, correct on all counts, including the responsibility of American media in creating the Trump phenomenon. His words are worth remembering especially as we are watching Fear and Loathing (and Plagiarism) in Cleveland, or the week-long Trump brand infomercial known as the RNC.
It is, or should be, apparent by now that Trump’s so-called policies as he presents them in public do not have much to do with reality and even less so with his supporters’ enthusiasm for him. Sure, there is The Wall — the biggest, most awesomest wall you’ll ever see, a real beauty, believe me — but even he admits that he uses it as an agitprop to spark enthusiasm during dull moments of his rallies, when, unable to follow his meandering stream of grievances and braggadocio, his supporters start losing interest. His rallying cry We gonna built The Wall! never fails, because it is the theme of projected crime and punishment — or scapegoating and revenge, to be accurate — that’s always the greatest aphrodisiac for narcissists everywhere, both the grandiose and the vulnerable ones.
We’ve talked about the main features of Trump’s speech/talk. His public performances — because calling them speeches does not do them justice — always follow the same predictable script. It is essentially an ongoing list of personal grievances, past and especially present, interspersed with compulsive bragging and punctuated by random (yet often strategic in timing) invocations of issues, which, as he has learned by now, bring him the greatest applause. They are always the same: the Wall, our poor veterans, Crooked Hillary, radical Islamic terrorism, dishonest media, and unfair trade, all tied together with the undercurrent of imminent danger and quasi-militaristic posturing meant to assuage the fears evoked by this danger. Did we mention Crooked Hillary?
He throws out those slogans like bones to his fear-driven and revenge-hungry audiences, who do not notice that none of them are ever elaborated — other than in the context of airing more of Trump’s personal grievances (see dishonest media) — and often are the very issues on which Trump’s personal record is dismal (see his history of scheming our poor veterans’ charities out of their promised donations, for example).
When you listen to Trump, you notice that he is the least coherent when discussing facts and those objective bone-like, non-Trump-related issues, whatever they may be (facts and the objective reality they inhabit are not a narcissist’s strong suit); but his speech flows almost effortlessly and largely coherently when he airs his personal grievances (nothing sets a narcissist afire like frustrated entitlement and the rage it fuels).
This is where Trump feels at home. Aggrieved entitlement is his territory, of which he is an undisputed king. And this is what his followers identify with the most, so much so that they forget he is not, never has been, and never will be one of them. But it is, paradoxically enough, the same narcissistic wound of personal humiliation that binds the spoiled, selfish billionaire who has not put a week of honest work in his life, with his working stiff followers who, after Steinbeck, see themselves as billionaires too, just temporarily down on their luck.
Revenge is the theme of Trumpism. Those pundits and journalists who have not yet noticed it continue to be surprised by the man’s enduring popularity and lecture his supporters about the dangers of racism and bigotry, believing somehow that Trumpists give a damn. Racism and bigotry of all kinds are necessary fortifiers of Trumpism, but those who keep bringing up and condemning Trump’s racism and bigotry as his raison d’etre and THE reason not to vote for him miss the point along with the source of his appeal.
Trump’s bigotry is a fact, but it is a plausibly deniable one, since he would not exert himself to single out anyone, including non-white non-males, for otherization and discrimination. As a supreme narcissist, he is an equal opportunity “natural” dehumanizer: treating anyone as lesser than — if even human — comes as easily to him as breathing (though if you watch his speeches, you’ll notice that his breathing, specifically inhaling, tends to be unsettlingly loud and laborious at times — maybe he should have it checked out). His racism and bigotry are part of his character defect, but not its most obvious or defining feature. In fact, from the perspective of dehumanization inherent in a narcissistic / psychopathic pathology, it is hard to see what the big deal is. Why, he loves broads! Particularly 10s under 30. He’s consistently demonstrated that, has he not? Same with the blacks. Remember his African-American? Didn’t Trump like him at his rally? Nasty people are just looking for any reason to unfairly criticize the great man.
Trumpism is all about revenge, and that revenge is achieved through winning. But it is not just ordinary winning, of the kind that makes the winners happy, proud, and satisfied, and maybe even benevolent toward the losers. Winning with Trump comes at a price — for the winners — and he is not shy about making it known:
We’re going to win, win, win! We’re going to win so much, you’re going to get sick and tired of it. You’re going to say “Mr. President, we can’t take it anymore, we’re winning too much! Because we’re going to make America great again. We’re going to make it greater than ever before!
My father used to say, “Son, you are are too tough.” (…) My father was great. (…) Folks, we’re gonna start winning again. We gonna win so much. You’re gonna be so sick of me, you’re gonna have the justice call me, you’re gonna have the lieutenant governor and the governor call me and say, “Mr. President, the people of NC are sick and tired of winning! You are winning too much! They’re really starting to dislike you, Mr. President.” And I’m gonna tell the justice, and I’m gonna tell the the governor and the lieutenant governor, “I’m sorry, but we’ve gotta keep winning, because we’re gonna make America great again.”‘
So Trumpian Victory™ (new phrase alert!) is as much a promise as it is a threat, because what kind of winning guarantees to overwhelm the winners so much that they would be conquered and vanquished by it?
“Please, we don’t want to win that much anymore, we can’t take it, Mr. President!” And I’m not going to care — we’re going to keep winning!”
Does this not invoke an image of a torture victim begging his or her oppressor to stop? Or, more accurately perhaps, an abused child asking his parent for mercy?
The parent, however, does not care: You are going to keep winning, no matter what! You’ll keep winning even if it destroys you. This is what narcissistic parental abuse looks like, although it is always coached in the language of “It’s for your own good” and “You’re gonna thank me for it one day.” This kind of abuse is perpetrated from one generation to the next, creating new ranks of emotionally crippled, conscience-deficient people, confused and blindly rageful, eager to unload their suppressed pain and anger on others — their children and spouses, and their enemies, real and imagined (though mostly the latter) — especially with the approving nod from their beloved authority figure (boss, commander, god), a substitute for their abusive parent.
Since Donny is always enacting in public his private psychodramas, it is not too farfetched to speculate that this is the same message he received from his father. Fred Trump called his favorite son “king” and “killer.” Names that our parents give us are powerful: they convey parental feelings, hopes and expectations, helping to shape a child’s character and thus his future. In Donny’s case, they primed him for his apparent character defect, that of narcissistic psychopathy, something he is proud of and the main reason for his appeal today.
Trump’s followers gulp up the promise of this self-destructive winning, as if elated by the prospect of that overwhelm, or at least oblivious to it. No one stops to ask Win what, exactly? because that’s irrelevant. Winning, even if you will get sick of it, is all that matters, according to Trump’s philosophy that appears to have roots as much in the American cultural pathology as it does in his childhood abuse, hinted at so clearly in his speeches, not in the least through his vehement assurances about the awesomeness of his father. (By most accounts, Fred was anything but.)
He promises to abuse his supporters (and the entire nation), and they clap and cheer, conditioned by the mistreatment they experienced in their formative years. Finally they have gotten a ruler who feels familiar to them and speaks their language. They call him Our Glorious Leader and ULTIMATE SAVIOR and Father, in the kind of effusive, histrionic praise that signals a total — and dangerous — devotion to a cult leader, impenetrable to reason.
In his book, Narcissism and Politics, Jerrold Post writes the following about Germany under Hitler:
Especially for the Hitler Youth Movement, which was at the forefront of Hitler’s support, Hitler’s externalizing hate-mongering rhetoric was a comforting and inspiring message, and Hitler provided the strong inspiring father figure that these children could not find within their own families. But, in rebelling against their own families, they submitted uncritically to Hitler’s authoritarian leadership. Importantly, Adolf Hitler’s unleashing of the demons of war was turning the passive humiliation of defeat [in WWI] into the active experience of redemptive action. (p.34)
Now listen to what this devoted Trump’s fan says:
You taught me how to Win. I appreciate what you’ve done for me personally, and what you’re doing for our country. I know I’m not the only man who admires you, and can’t wait for you to become the father, and leader, of our country. It’s been a long, cold winter for men in America the last 8 years, and I believe that your election will dramatically improve the level of respect, admiration, and love people will show for strong men and Fathers, and will create a new generation of leaders from impressionable young boys.
Narcissistic leaders and their followers fit together like hand and glove, as their pathological needs become enmeshed, to everyone’s detriment. The leader obtains thousands of mirrors to reflect his glory, an open and ongoing line of narcissistic supply that feeds his insatiable desire for adulation and power, at least for some time; and his followers receive The Ideal to emulate, which, via identification, patches up their inner wounds and makes them feel whole, if only for a while. In this state of heightened narcissistic collusion that suspends reason and conscience, anything, no matter how unrealistic or vile, becomes possible and necessary.
This is often how revolutions or wars get started — incited by the narcissistic leader’s need for power and glory, which is uncritically and enthusiastically reflected by his adoring supporters who eagerly follow his every order. At some point in the future, after the killing exhausts the faithful and the earth is scorched beyond recognition, the bloodlust diminishes for a while, enough for the reality to intrude on that sacred leader-follower bond, opening the eyes of many — but never all — on its destructiveness. As the inevitable disappointment sets in, a few may grow up and out of their need for a strong leader, but most will just seek a new one, assuring the continuation of the destructive cycle, for psychopathically narcissistic leaders always guarantee disorder (there are also positive charismatic/non-psychopathically narcissistic leaders, who can inspire their followers to affect change in the right direction; Trump does not appear to be one of them).
It is no accident that the most enthusiastic Trumpists can be found among the manospherians, alt-righters and neo-Nazis: white men (usually) with a deficient conscience and a sense of hurt and their own, so far unrecognized (but that’s gonna change soon!), specialness. They feel victimized by their own fears, at least some of which come from having to share human rights with the groups that were previously denied them, something they consider both a personal insult and grave threat to their existence. These are the men who live with the specter of white genocide taking place under the feminazi totalitarianism, in their minds already in progress in America. They come from among the spite voters, a large and largely unrecognized voting bloc brilliantly described by Mark Ames — in 2004 — as affected with the Middle American malice:
Spite voting is mostly a white male phenomenon, which is why a majority of white males vote Republican. It comes from a toxic mix of thwarted expectations, cowardice, shame, and a particular strain of anomie that is unique to the white American male experience.
It is not the economic woes that drive their spite, although this explanation always sounds plausible in America, because the deepening inequality with all its sordid effects is an ever present fact of this American life of the past several decades. Trump supporters do not come from the poor; and if they were genuinely interested in improving the lot of the working class, they would support Bernie. But they choose to follow a con artist who capitalizes on their fears and rage, promising them a deal they won’t be able to refuse: he will erase their feeling of weakness by avenging their humiliations, and thus make them feel great again, even if at a price. The Avenger’s fractured song is a siren call for the wounded. Resistance, if there even was a possibility of such, is futile, and so he marches on, in his successful “bid to transform the GOP into the abusive-daddy party,” as Ed Kilgore astutely put it in his analysis yesterday.
I encourage you to read Ames’ 2004 piece because he nails the never-changing psychology of the American spite voter and the liberals’ eternal incomprehension of it:
If I’m an obese 40-something white male living in Ohio or Nevada, locked into a permanent struggle with foreclosure, child support payments and diabetes, then I’m going to vote for the guy who delivers a big greasy portion of misery to the Sarandon-Robbins dining room table, then brags about it on Fox News. Even if it means hurting myself in the process. (…)
It’s simple mathematics: Bring down the coastal elite and the single 40-something Ohio salesman might actually matter.
Even if it means hurting myself in the process. This explains why Trumpian Victory™, winning so much that you beg (and beg, and beg) to stop, is an attractive proposition for so many.
Some do not seem to understand or care about what’s at stake, but that blindness is part and parcel of the narcissistic collusion taking place (which, paradoxically, Trumpism is here to unmask — because its unstated purpose is to make this darkness visible once and for all, whether you want it or not, and especially if not).
I recently came upon a blog written by a white, upper middle class, middle-ageish man who openly supports Trump despite his doubts, having rationalized this stance through his hatred of Hillary.
This is what he said (won’t link):
Some say that Donald Trump is an “authoritarian.” But Trump cares nothing about what I do personally. (…) Trump may be kind of thuggish, but he’ll leave me alone.
Too bad Martin Niemöller is not available for comment.