Out with The Old Trump, In with The Old Trump


Trump in Lousiana, pretending to look presidential. Max Becherer / AP photo

Much excitement is being had in the media and whereabouts about the New Trump who has allegedly showed signs of humanity by reading from the teleprompter an inane and nebulous statement of “regret” for who knows what exactly. One thing sure is that he, incapable of empathy and especially guilt, does not know or understand it himself, nor does he want to. He’s also shown up for a photo-op in the flooded Louisiana, pretending to care. A shtick as convincing as a serial killer’s finding God in prison (which, according to expert on manipulative characters, George Simon, is a classic psychopathic move). Not to mention — although one will — that his presence there creates a distraction and headache for the security and rescue personnel.

These brazenly manipulative PR moves are greeted with relief and taken as a sign of the long-awaited “pivoting” (which has to be the word of the year in 2016, mark my prediction) toward a humane and presidential Donny.

But this foolish hope is just that, foolish, and one reason, among many, why people with a conscience cannot understand and spot those without it. Naivete and denial, like hope, their close cousin, spring eternal from the same source: our inability / unwillingness to face the truth.

Kellyanne Conway, the new Trump handler who is most definitely responsible for the “human” Donny, is a seasoned GOP operative, thus she has plenty of experience with both lipstick and pigs. But even she won’t be able to accomplish this impossible feat of a make-up-based makeover. There simply isn’t enough lipstick in the world.

To wit, a fragment from my earlier piece, re-posted in the generous spirit of aiding our Republican friends and foes in understanding all things Trump:

Your candidate, dear GOPers, is not going to change. Not because he does not want to — and he surely does not want to — but because he cannot. In order to change in any meaningful fashion, a person must have a functioning conscience. There is no way around it, no matter how hard we may try to find it. There’s just not enough lipstick in the world.

A functioning conscience, much better than reason itself, tells us when and where we erred and how, and what we must do to correct our errors. A functioning conscience with its empathy, guilt, and humility — the three capacities distinctly missing from a narcissist’s inner milieu — is what makes it possible for us to notice and admit that we are at fault, want to rectify our mistakes and change our behavior. No functioning conscience, no change; not even a possibility of acknowledging a wrongdoing. And, if you are a grandiosely narcissistic “winner” (triple redundancy warning!), the best in all you do and also in things you have never done, you would see no need whatsoever to learn anything. Why, perfection means no need to ever say you’re sorry — it is one of its undeniable benefits, for gods and narcissistic humans alike. 

This also means your candidate is not going to surround himself with reasonable, or — god forbid — wise people, because, again, he does not believe he could be wrong and he does not need anyone’s advice. And, as he’s someone with the best brain, whose advice could even come close to his own? Besides, he has no tolerance for competition.

The impairment of conscience characteristic for narcissism severely limits a person’s cognitive capacities, as it makes him (or her) incapable of, among so many things, understanding points of view other than his own. This itself makes objective — or at least non-egocentric — reasoning impossible. The result is dangerous solipsism where one’s desires become a substitute for reality, and facts (and people), particularly those that are unpleasant for the narcissist to acknowledge, cease to exist. What he wants, must happen, regardless of consequences for the world — the consequences he is unable to envision in the first place, but even if he did so, he would disregard them.

Unable and unwilling to learn — a distinction without a difference in a narcissist’s case — the best your candidate can be expected to do is to stick to a teleprompter and read the scripts written for him by his children and handlers. Those scripts are not going to be free of their own pathology, however, one which they share with your candidate; but they will be more subdued and polished, as such things go. So they may fool more people, maybe even enough to have your candidate elected, if that’s what you’re after. They will not help your candidate grow a conscience, though. He probably does not understand a lot of what he reads in those prepared speeches; and if he does, he likely does not care to notice how it may differ from what he is about and what it could possibly mean. No conscience, no values, no problem.

Once he’s off the teleprompter, he will remain his usual “winning” self, looking for any opportunity to make a “deal” that would personally elevate him and humiliate someone else, because this is his lifelong modus operandi. 

Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” You have been shown time and again, and also explained, one hopes clearly enough; so don’t say you have not been warned. 

And a nice takedown of the “new Trump” by John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

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Trump The Con Man

Another day, another con.

Agent Orange issued an “explanatory” tweet yesterday:

Ratings challenged @CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama (and Clinton) “the founder” of ISIS, & MVP. THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?

And our journalists proceeded to discuss in earnest the difference between “jokes” and “sarcasm,” continued to wonder why Trump does not seem to be interested in “pivoting,” and engaged in mind-numbingly pointless “debates” with Trump’s thuggish surrogates whose job is to translate Trumpese into English by insisting that black is white and up is down, and anyone who does not believe so is itching for a fight. And they are all too happy to oblige.

This sordid spectacle boggles the mind more and more as our media types refuse to acknowledge the reality of the man’s apparent character defect. They seem to have come to terms, as much as that’s possible, with his “narcissism;” but judging by their reactions, they do not understand well what narcissism means, nor notice Trump’s glaringly missing conscience. They smirk ironically and call him “unconventional,” which says… something.

And as much as one wants to blame them (and one does), a significant portion of the responsibility for this ignorance falls on the mental health professionals who have failed in their role as public educators. And not just now. This failure to teach about character defects / disorders and their dangerous ramifications appears to be a feature rather than a bug of psychiatry and related fields, and not just American. Of course in a society where narcissists and psychopaths are admired and rewarded in multiple ways, these defects will not seem to be so defective, if at all, not even to the professionals. In a future post we’ll take a look at the various ways in which American mental health experts (not all) have misunderstood Trump’s character problem.

He, meanwhile, taunts the media (not undeservedly in this instance, one must say):

I love watching these poor, pathetic people (pundits) on television working so hard and so seriously to try and figure me out. They can’t!

One person who can and does is David Cay Johnston, whose new book, The Making of Donald Trump, has just been published. In it, Johnston unmasks Trump’s most unsavory deals and exposes his sadistic and manipulative, conscience-free character without the strained and misguided attempts to “understand the man,” i.e.,  whitewashing his consciencelessness in the name of being “fair and balanced” or something like it. (For comparison, see the soon-to-be-published book by two WaPo journalists, “Trump Revealed,” which promises to show the man as “[p]opulist, frustrating, naive, wise, forever on the make” — with the exception of the last one, these are mostly positive, or at worst neutral, attributes that could be ascribed to, say, any social reformer, from Gandhi to Sanders. The moral aspect — that of values, of differences between right and wrong — is completely absent in such whitewashing “evaluations;” this leads, in a manner typical for moral relativism, to a normalization of conscience-free characters.)

Kathy Kiely interviewed Johnston for Moyers & Company:

“The coverage [of Trump] has been extremely poor in my opinion,” Johnston, who at 67 clearly still enjoys making trouble*, pronounced at no less a lions’ den than the National Press Club on Thursday night in Washington. (…) The main reason he has “been extremely critical of my colleagues,” in the media Johnston said, is they’ve been too buttoned-down and professional. “They’re covering him as though he is a serious person,” Johnston said of the Republican presidential nominee.
Here is an interview Johnston gave France 24. When asked what Donald doesn’t want people to know, he says that, apart from his ties to mobsters and drug traffickers:
[Trump] doesn’t want you to know about his unbelievable cruelty to others, and his utter contempt for Christians, and (…) that Donald doesn’t know anything. (…) his answers are gibberish, because he doesn’t know anything.

David, from your mouth to the pundits’ ears. Let’s hope they are listening and able to hear what’s painfully obvious.

*I’ve just noticed this after publishing the post. Johnston’s truth-telling is labeled as “making trouble” — and that in such a seemingly progressive publication as “Moyers & Company.” Our journalists’ job was to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted; instead, so many of them do the opposite that those who break this mold are seen as troublemakers.

The Con Man Conneth

 

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. At the end it’s either going to work or I’m going to have a very, very nice long vacation.”

Donald Trump, in a phoned-in interview with CNBC today, showing, for the umpteenth time, how much he cares about the country or anybody besides himself.

True to his character, he will continue his depraved downward spiral of inciting hate, violence, and mass disorder, consequences be damned. At least in warning us about it, he is honest. Sort of.

“Look, all I do is tell the truth. I’m a truth teller. All I do is tell the truth.”

And if that “truth telling” doesn’t “work” and he is not elected after all, he will go on a nice long vacation, leaving behind the sea of rage and smoldering ruins of civility, no doubt feeling great as always about a job well done.

He is a killer, that Donny, and a king, as his proud daddy said. But even Trump Sr. would remind his boy not to be so tough; even he, the callous and ruthless manipulator, was concerned about his favorite son’s aggression and unbridled desire for power and adulation. Donny should have listened to his old man. If he could, that is. We’d all be better off now.

There must have been a typo in his campaign slogan, and Donny either didn’t notice it or left it there on purpose, the con man that he is. Because it should have indeed read Make America Grate Again; and he has surely delivered on that promise already, many times over. Mission Accomplished, to borrow another empty slogan, from another conscience-deficient leader blind to his own hubris and folly, whose legacy of death and destruction we have still not grappled with, allergic as we are to any admission of guilt. That guy’s vices pale, however, in comparison with those of our presumptive Killer King who has promised us, repeatedly, a Trumpian Victory. And he is a man of his word. Sort of.

Donny The Gaslighter

You’ve heard of course about Trump’s 2nd Amendment “solution” to the Hillary-as-president problem that he proposed yesterday:

The intense backpedaling, as evidenced briefly in the video above, has commenced immediately and continued unabated today, with Trump’s surrogates minimizing his “gaffe” (that wasn’t) as best as they could. Their trumpsplanations have ranged from ridiculous  but amusing (Trump, despite having the best words, don’t speak so good, what with not having a Ph.D. in grammar) through misguided (it was a “joke gone bad,” said Paul Ryan, unaware apparently that narcissistic psychopaths do not have a sense of humor) to patently absurd (it’s about unification, y’all!).

Trump himself attributed the debacle to a nasty media conspiracy (what else) but let the truth slip out, inadvertently and with a plausible spin, by admitting that this controversy is “a good thing for me.”

As the media and public storm rages on, let’s stop for a moment to remember that we are dealing with a con man who has had a lifetime of manipulation and abuse of others to practice his schtick. We are being had, again, and it may be instructive to examine how and why.

What Trump is doing is called gaslighting. As Christine Louis de Canonville writes on her blog,

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse used by narcissists in order to instill in their victim’s an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. The techniques used in “Gaslighting” by the narcissist are similar to those used in brainwashing, interrogation, and torture that have been used in psychological warfare by intelligence operative, law enforcement and other forces for decades.

A form of crazy-making, this abusive tactic used by “natural-born” manipulative abusers everywhere is meant to engender fear-based submission to the abuser. When used repeatedly, as it always is, it makes the victims lose a sense of reality and of their own agency and strength, sometimes even leading to sympathy for and an identification with the abuser (Stockholm Syndrome).

Gaslighting can be done on an individual and mass scale, and Trump has been doing it since the beginning of his campaign (if not before). He also does it with predictability embedded in his character defect, as these expressions of his own aggression and calls for violence from others are eruptions of narcissistic rage which follow his personal humiliations.

He incites aggression, but when called on it, denies doing it and blames “the victims” — the subjects of his aggressive remarks and/or those taking him to task for them — and immediately assumes the stance of a victim himself. Because his denials and deflections may sound plausible, people end up giving him the benefit of a doubt and he “wins.”

For a malignant narcissist*, such overt displays of aggression, followed by denials and victim blaming, are meant to meet the following objectives, immediate and long-term:

  1. release the pent-up rage;
  2. exact revenge for the “wounding” on the humiliators or their proxies, or even on unrelated subjects;
  3. patch up his narcissistic wound and restore the elevated (grandiose) sense of his power and importance;
  4. divert attention from the reason for his humiliation (his incompetence, dishonesty, etc.);
  5. cow the victims into submission by engendering confusion and fear (gaslighting);
  6. continue with whatever schemes he’s perpetrating at the moment.

This behavior is not conscious and typically is not premeditated (although it can be), but it is purposeful (see the above objectives, esp. 4 to 6).

Politico has compiled a list of Trump-the-candidate’s most egregious expressions of direct aggression / calls for violence to date. Here are a few:

At a rally in Cedar Rapids on the day of the Iowa caucuses, Trump offered to pay the legal fees of supporters who attacked anyone trying to throw fruit at him. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously,” he said. “Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.” As it turned out, there were no attempts to throw fruit at him at the rally.

Later in February, at a Las Vegas rally on the eve of the Nevada caucuses, Trump said of a protester, “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

“We’re not allowed to punch back any more,” Trump lamented in Las Vegas. “You know what they used to do to a guy like that in a place like this?” he said. “They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”

And last month, Trump said he’d like to “hit” speakers at the Democratic National Convention who spoke ill of him.

“The things that were said about me. You know what, I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard,” Trump said. “I was gonna hit this guy so hard, his head would spin. He wouldn’t know what the hell happened.”

It is worth noting that these incidents followed some major public humiliation that exposed his ineptness and dishonesty (widely publicized and disastrous interviews with the WaPo and NYT in early spring, the collective bashing at the DNC, and the latest, his inane “economy” speech on Monday). His outrageous statements thus effectively deflect attention from his glaring lack of substance and basic qualifications for any office, much less that of the American president. But as long as we debate whether he really called for Hillary’s assassination or not, we are not talking about his lack of actionable solutions to the problems he’s promising to cure. Remember, he admitted so himself when he said that the controversy is good for him.

Astonishingly, his jaw-dropping statements about wanting to hit the DNC speakers did not elicit much outrage, suggesting that either we are immune to Trump’s threatening behavior or find it acceptable, maybe both. (That, however, was before The Khan Effect, fully exposing the chasm between the humanity with a conscience and Trump, took hold, which may be the reason for this relative silence.)

It does not help that the media insist on treating the man as if he were a normal candidate, straining for reasonable explanations and equivalencies, as documented by Peter Dreier :

The headlines about Trump’s comment that appeared on-line within hours of his speech reflect how constrained the media are in reporting such an outrageous statement:

  • “Trump Appears To Suggest ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Stop Clinton” (NPR),
  • “Donald Trump Says ‘Second Amendment People’ Can Stop Hillary Clinton From Curbing Gun Rights” (Wall Street Journal),
  • “Trump sparks uproar by saying ‘maybe there is’ a way for ‘2nd Amendment people’ to keep Clinton from naming justices” (Los Angeles Times),
  • “Donald Trump Suggests ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Act Against Hillary Clinton” (New York Times),
  • “Trump suggests ‘Second Amendment people’ could stop Clinton” (Chicago Tribune),
  • “What Ever Could Trump Have Meant With This Joke About ‘Second Amendment People’ and Clinton?” (Slate),
    • “Trump ‘Second Amendment’ Quip Seen as Veiled Threat Against Clinton” (NBC)
  • “Donald Trump says ‘Second Amendment people’ may be the only check on Clinton judicial appointments” (Washington Post)
  • “Trump in trouble over ‘Second Amendment’ remark” (Politico).

All these headlines are accurate but misleading. They don’t explain what he meant or put what he said in political context.

He is right, they don’t. They do illustrate, however, how the narcissistic collusion that’s behind much evil in the world, happens: almost imperceptibly and almost with our full, though usually unwitting, participation.

There is dangerous but predictable logic to Trump’s destructive behavior. And this is just a preview of things to come, should he become our president (may fates help us). Understanding what we are dealing with — a con, one in a long series of many, this time the largest of them all, perpetrated by a psychologically primitive, but skilled in abuse, conscienceless manipulator who’s driven by an insatiable desire for power and adulation — would be helpful to the media as well as the American citizens dealing with the inevitable emotional reactions of being subjected to such abuse (confusion, fear, anger, helplessness, exhaustion).  We are being led by our noses; it is up to us to resist this enforced march toward an abyss.

*Not a medical diagnosis.

Quote of the Day: “People don’t understand”


During a campaign stop in Dubuque, Iowa on January 30, 2016.

Updated, below.

Dana Milbank relates the following from Trump’s rally today in Ashburn, VA, where, among other notable things, Donald accepted the Purple Heart from a veteran, saying “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier“:

The Republican presidential nominee, rallying supporters in a high school auditorium here, was talking about Chinese currency manipulation when an infant began to cry.

“Don’t worry about that baby. I love babies,” he said. “Don’t worry. The mom’s running around like — don’t worry about it, you know. It’s young and beautiful, and healthy and that’s what we want.”

It was an unexpected moment of tenderness from the strongman — and it lasted precisely 55 seconds.

 “Actually I was only kidding: You can get the baby out of here,” he said, when the child continued to cry. “I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking. That’s okay. People don’t understand, that’s okay.”

There were murmurs and some uncomfortable laughter.

After attacking prisoners of war, virtually every racial minority in the United States and even the parents of a fallen U.S. soldier, it was perhaps just a matter of time until Trump got around to attacking a mother and her baby.

This is obviously unsurprising. But I would like to focus on the ease (or “ease”) with which Trump switches between his pretend “benevolent” persona and his real ruthless self.

I put “ease” in quotes the second time, because when you watch the clip of this performance, you’ll see how difficult it really is for Donny to fake pro-social emotions: the grimacing and the outlandish statements meant to underscore his smarmy sentiments, for which he has no internal correspondence, are a sure and cringe-inducing giveaway of the effort involved. He wants to convey care and joy, but what comes out is a barely disguised contempt.

And then, as if on cue, comes Donny’s own admission of his psychopathic manipulation (amazingly, he does this once in a while, openly reveling in his power and the people’s inability to see through his craven games — that’s how brazen he is and seemingly unconcerned with any possible fallouts from such admissions):

I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking. That’s okay. People don’t understand, that’s okay.

Yes, sadly too many still believe that this man is what he so strenuously, at times, pretends to be: a caring and normal human being. But his always wobbly mask of normalcy slips more often these days, revealing the “Freudian junkyard” within, as one astute WaPo commenter put it. They react with “uncomfortable laughter,” but don’t know what to make of it.

Donald, meanwhile, revels in his deception, as evidenced by his proud tone when he mocks the mother for believing that he cares. And “that’s okay,” because people’s naivete that comes from their ingrained goodness is what has enabled his destructive existence and rise to power so far. People with a conscience have a hard time imagining that there are those without it and don’t know what it may look like.

So Donald is correct that “people don’t understand,” but no, it is not “okay.” People must wake up to the existence of psychopaths in our midst and start seeing the damage they inflict on the world. This is as good a time for it as any.

Update:

Khizr Khan, a Muslim immigrant who has become the (badly missing so far) conscience of America, has something to say about Trump’s acquisition of that Purple Heart:

The Khan Effect

You may have heard the words that shook the world — or at least awakened the American pundits’ dormant consciences and opened a few eyes:

Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law.”

Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.

You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

The words were spoken by Khizr Khan at the DNC, where he, accompanied by his aggrieved wife, Ghazala, talked about his late son, Capt. Humayun Khan, and what his ultimate sacrifice meant for the Khan family and what it should mean for others, including Donald Trump, if he had a conscience.

However, bereft of conscience as Trump is, he responded, predictably, with a slew of insults, seeing himself as the aggrieved and injured one (the Perpetual Victim Complex is strong in all narcissists). This has led to an ongoing media storm of unusual, so far in this campaign, proportions, complete with (wait for it) long overdue questions about the candidate’s mental health and suitability for office.

It is remarkable to watch the punditry opening their sleepy eyes to the stark raving reality of the presidential candidate’s character defect — a defect that has been on display all along and as long as Trump has been in the public eye, so at least several decades; a defect that they, American journalists, helped deepen through their adulation for, or even participation in, the narcissistic psychopath’s narcissistically psychopathic ways; a defect that has led him to this moment in history, where he is able to hijack the nation and bring it to the brink of the abyss — and he’s not even elected to office yet.

Better late than never, one consoles oneself.

The poignant irony of this moment cannot be overstated. It has taken two unknown grieving parents, Muslim immigrants (Muslim. immigrants.), to present America with the undeniable contrast between human and democratic values and their utter lack embodied in Trump. Good versus evil, not to put too fine a point on it.

You must watch the humble and courageous Khans to fully appreciate how different they are from the bloviating, power-hungry ignoramus whose nemesis they have become. On PBS, Mr. Khan confesses, with a mixture of pride and embarrassment, that at home they keep a supply of pocket-size copies of the American Constitution, which they give out to their guests. You can’t make this up. Just as you can’t make up the fact that the only book apparently ever read by Trump, or at least kept on his nightstand, was a collection of Hitler’s speeches.

This irrefutable contrast between good and evil has caused the opinion-makers take note and wonder, finally, just what kind of pathology may be involved in such an utter lack of human values, including empathy and plain decency, as displayed by Trump. Only now they are beginning to notice what was glaringly obvious all along: that their presumptive emperor has no conscience and that this peculiar defect may carry some predictable consequences.

Apparently it ain’t over — or real, or true — until a fat pundit sings.