Last night, writing to a friend on the subject of Trump’s most unfortunate first weekend in office, I said the following:
What we know about malignant narcissists is that they psychologically decompensate once they achieve the ultimate position of power. They worsen in every possible way: become more grandiose and paranoid, more aggressive and demanding, and progressively less in touch with reality (and Trump has never been fully in touch with it).
We can expect his narcissistic rage to intensify in proportion to his increasing grandiosity and paranoia.
His handlers will have to resort to increasingly more “creative” ways to placate and subdue him — and it will work, for a while, until it doesn’t.
There’ll be blood, symbolic, if not literal, as he’ll fire and destroy his previously “trusted” associates, maybe even in rapid succession and without any rhyme or reason.
His demands for adulation will also become increasingly intense and bizarre, and we’ll be witnessing idiotic and quite possibly dangerous displays of his “superiority” and might, likely military as well. This is where the possibility of him starting a war or two just to satisfy his ego becomes quite real.
It’s not only that he will never get better, but it is certain that he will get worse.
There has never been a case of a malignant narcissist in power whose pathology improved, or even remained stable: they always deteriorate, and often rapidly, as they become drunk on (what they see as) now unlimited power and adulation.
Almost immediately after I sent it, this news item popped up on my computer screen:
This, rather than Trump’s inauguration, which was revealing enough (though it’s too bad he was not allowed to have tanks and missile launchers at his parade, as he desired), is an unmistakable sign — for anyone who still may have harbored some doubts — that we have arrived at our homegrown autocracy of the kind we have not seen, in America, yet.
Whoever wrote that proclamation designed to soothe Agent Orange’s ego gravely injured by the crowds that were too small at his inauguration and too large at his protests — since without a doubt this is its main purpose — must have been as bereft of any sense of irony as the man himself. Or maybe s/he is a stealthily ironic prankster?
That’s because nothing illustrates this famous quote attributed to Sinclair Lewis,
When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.
like that miserable piece of psychopathically narcissistic — but also dangerous –nonsense.
The glaring pathology of it, devoid of higher values but — so completely that it seems cartoonish — co-opting empty and deceitful sloganeering about “Constitution,” of which this man knows nothing and cares even less about, and “patriotism” and “freedom,” just like that of Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech, begs for psychoanalysis, but that’s for another time.
I will only briefly remark on one related matter here.
Some observers note the significance of Trump bombastically using “The People” in his inauguration speech as a portent of fascism. They are correct in this observation, but late in making it.
Signs of Trump’s pathological and disingenuous identification with “The People,” an inevitable development in every tyrant’s journey to power, were on full display in the summer, when he also began using the word “movement” to describe the narcissistic collusion between himself and his followers. We can be certain that it was not his idea, but his handlers’; however he glommed onto it, as every tyrant does, to prettify and further justify his push for power and adulation. The signs were already there, early on, it’s just that most did not pay attention.
Back to Proclamation 9570, which, like most of other laws Trump has signed this week (and it’s only Tuesday), is a direct response to the narcissistic injury he suffered over the weekend when he had to endure images of his “comically small” inauguration crowds. In the past, he handled such humiliations through personal responses to specific people. Those included jaw-dropping letters of derision and scorn, or petty and ridiculous, but crippling for the other side, lawsuits; now, however, he can use the office of president to enact his revenge on a large scale and thus make it so much more satisfying — and dangerous to all.
Anyone who knows anything about malignant narcissists in power could easily imagine how enraged Trump must have been over the weekend. Heck, we did not have to strain: his lapdog Spicer’s behavior during his Saturday “press conference” gave us more than a decent clue. But now we have White House reports confirming it.
We know that a humiliated narcissist must release his narcissistic rage somehow, best on those who caused his psychic injury; and if that’s impossible, on the nearest and usually weakest available object (preferably a living one, so he could enjoy watching the suffering).
We don’t know exactly what went on in Trump’s private quarters during that stormy time over the weekend, but we know that, A. he was conspicuously restrained on Twitter (which suggests a strong outside intervention), and, B. he started the week with a slew of executive orders aimed at the issues dear to his protesters.
In addition to the self-serving eruption of “patriotism” in his Proclamation Flag ‘n Cross, he also signed a global gag order, which will have catastrophic consequences for millions of women around the world; ordered construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines; and prohibited scientists, including data collectors who have assembled photos from D.C. during his inauguration, from sharing their work with the public.
How’s that for a payback?
One of my favorite signs during the weekend march was this:
I shudder to think what executive order Trump would come up with in response to it.
We can expect this Trumpian trend — of enshrining his vengeful reactions to the slightest narcissistic injury of shame and humiliation into his presidential decrees — to continue and worsen. This is one hallmark of tyrannical rule by narcissistic psychopaths. There is no bottom to their vengefulness, since, as you may recall, “[n]arcissistic rage is one of the darkest and deadliest forces known to mankind.”
If you have any doubts about it, notice that Trump’s compulsive twitterin’ has subsided — and that’s not because he’s “pivoted” toward reason and self-control, but because now he has replaced it by executive order signing, which, as far as instruments of narcissistic rage go, is much more effective and satisfying. It can punish the offending millions with fewer than 140 strokes of a pen — and you can turn it into a self-aggrandizing photo op at that. It also counts as good ol’ fashioned governing, of the kind that everyone expects of presidents. Win-win.
And these are just his first few days in office.
If tasked with creating an autocratic villain and plausible scenarios of his rise to power, most fiction writers would scoff at Trump and his story, because it would seem such an over-the-top caricature, offensive to their intelligence and artistic sensibilities. Yet once again life proves to be more pedestrian than fiction.
But from the point of view of psychopathology, and especially its intersection with politics, Trump/ism is both predictable and instructive, and also spectacular at the same time, as it provides such a clear confirmation of everything we know to be true about character defective tyrants and the formation of their regimes. From the point of view of human beings who find themselves oppressed by the tyrants and those regimes, however, the spectacularness of it wanes dramatically.
For some (not all) lessons on how to cope what’s in store for us we should look to authoritarian regimes of the past and present: yes, Nazi Germany (sorry all ye Trump’s-not-Hitler! folks out there), the USSR and its Eastern Bloc satellites, North Korea, Cambodia under Pol Pot, Iraq under Saddam, Uganda under Idi Amin, and others like them.
Frederick Burkle’s Antisocial Personality Disorder and Pathological Narcissism in Prolonged Conflicts and Wars of the 21st Century, which talks about these characterologically defective leaders — and which, not at all coincidentally, was the most viewed paper on ResearchGate in 2016 — has a handy list of them if one needs more examples. Now we have our own, here, in America.
The major overarching lessons are (starting with good news) 1. that these leaders and their regimes always fall — always, without exception; but, 2. unfortunately, they cause grave and lasting damage, and traumas that take generations to heal, if they heal at all.
Our yearning for higher values — truth, freedom, justice, dignity, and love — is irrepressible. When we live in relative peace and comfort, we become complacent and forget that these values are not a given, but must be discovered and created by each of us anew, and often must be fought for.
Karol Wojtyla, later known as John Paul II, wrote in The Place Within that,
Freedom has continually to be won, it cannot merely be possessed. It comes as a gift but it can only be kept with a struggle. Gift and struggle are written into pages, hidden yet open.
People start to remember this truth when their cherished values are threatened. As soon as the tyrant du jour plants his boot on his subjects’ necks, they begin to rebel and eventually rise up against him and his unjust rule. This is a given. It is just a matter of time until the human spirit prevails, even though it may take a very long time indeed.
The Soviet empire lasted three quarters of the century and almost nobody within or outside of it believed that it could ever fall. But it did, taking its tinpot tyrants with it, as it always happens, in a large measure as a result of the devastation they create: there comes a time where there is nothing else to plunder and no one else to kill to one’s satisfaction, so the tyrants’ avaricious glory has nothing left to feed on. Of course new tyrants, and some say worse than the old ones, often take the reign next. And so the bloody wheel turns, churning out new misery and its victims; but the process, the struggle hidden yet open, in essence always the same, accelerates with every turn, yielding hopeful surprises.
The response to Trump’s enthronement was as swift as it was overwhelming. Close to 3 million women (and men) world-wide marched against him and his pathological rule the day after his inauguration.
No less remarkable — and yet not at all, as an avalanche often begins with one pebble — is the fact that this mass protest started with one woman, Rebecca Shook, a retired lawyer from Hawaii.
This is “unpresidented,” as Twitler himself would sputter, if his handlers allowed him to do so on that fateful day. (He did issue one sarcastic response, and then someone else — my guess is Tom “Soft Sensuality” Barrack — wrote his second, civil tweet for public consumption.) Yes, he has had the last word in that skirmish, as of now — but the battle has just begun.
Eve Ensler in her manifesto reminds us that,
We are marching to turn our fear and sorrow and shame to power and imagination. We are marching for another paradigm where the lack of ethics, morality, and truth that have brought us to this moment are transformed – into principles which will drive a powerful intersectional, spiritual movement of movements.
To be effective, the anti-Trump/ism movement must be widely inclusive and based on solidarity of all people of conscience from all walks of life. It is no accident that “Solidarity,” if you recall, was the name of the first free workers’ union in Poland which toppled communism in Eastern Europe.
What most people in the West do not know, however, is that the real engine — political, moral, and spiritual — of that movement were women. Most people associate “Solidarity” with Nobel-winning Lech Walesa, who was more or less an opportunistic narcissist searching for and stealing spotlight from the people doing the real work behind the scenes. The chief figure among those was Anna Walentynowicz, who became known as the “Mother of Solidarity.”
In the summer of 1980, five months before her retirement from a job as a crane operator in a Gdansk shipyard, Walentynowicz was fired for her participation in an illegal workers’ union. This decision led to a workers’ strike in the shipyard, which then spurred a cascade of developments eventually ending communism in Europe — remember, an unthinkable feat for almost a century.
What’s of special importance is that after the striking workers’ initial demands were met and Walentynowicz was reinstated to her position, Walesa and other men decided that this was enough — there was no more need to protest. But the women of the shipyard, including Walentynowicz, and the male workers’ wives at home, disagreed.
As Wiki says,
Walentynowicz and [another woman worker, Alina] Pienkowska managed to close the gates of the shipyard and keep some workers inside, but many workers went home, only to return by the next day. Wałęsa was stopped near the Gate no° 1 as he was leaving, and was persuaded to change his plans and return to the shipyard.
Walesa was persuaded to return by Pienkowska and Walentynowicz, and the male workers who went home were implored by their wives to go back to the shipyard the next day to continue the strike.
Women, eh? They do change history.
Late Anna Walentynowicz is one of the people worth knowing. A humble person doing the right thing, she is a moral exemplar, of the kind that we very much need in the world. Not surprisingly, the story of her heroic life was one of nearly constant battles against networks of psychopaths and narcissists in power which included Lech Walesa, under communism as well as — and disappointingly so — after its fall. That story was defined by her tireless struggle for truth and justice, and was marked by several stints in prison as well as attempts at her life, among many other adverse events.
Here is a quote from Walentynowicz, which seems so right for these and any times, and a good end of my post:
Our aim should not be to secure a somewhat thicker slice of bread today, even if this would make us happy; we must not forget what our real aim is. Our main duty is to consider the needs of others. If we become alive to this duty, there will be no unjustly treated people in our midst, and we, in turn, shall not be treated unjustly. Our day-to-day motto should be: “Your problems are also my problems.” We must extend our friendship and strengthen our solidarity.