If Leo Tolstoy were alive today, instead of creating Anna Karenina
he might find writing Donald John Trump
more intriguing. I suspect he would again begin with similar memorable words: "Happy presidencies are all alike; every unhappy presidency is unhappy in its own way."
Just beyond its three-month mark, Trump’s presidency is already uniquely unhappy, sad, chaotic, unpredictable, reckless, irrational, erratic, and ignorant. His Republican colleagues find it bewildering and jarring; much of the American electorate find it bitterly discouraging; and the rest of the free world, extremely dangerous.
And even as the Trump saga is being wrapped in words by the media, day after day, hour after hour, it is becoming more grotesque, more astonishing, and more alarming.
Trump is in the midst of a diplomatic firestorm centred on what he did or did not say to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office. His account of it varies depending upon what random thought happens to be traversing his unruly mind when he speaks or tweets.
At first there was denial of the Washington Post
report of Trump’s disclosure of intelligence information that could jeopardise a crucial intelligence source, in this instance probably Israel. Like a small child showing off his toys, he even boasted to Lavrov “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”
Then, when Trump realized that the truth could no longer be denied, he declared that he had every right to disclose such intelligence, and that his actions were ‘wholly appropriate’. This seemed to fly in the face of the outright denial by National Security Advisor H R McMaster “The President engaged in ‘routine sharing of information’ and nothing more…the story that came out tonight is false. I was in the room, it didn’t happen.”
Time will expose the truth, which any sane president ought to know. Even crooked Nixon knew that!
Then there was the sacking of FBI chief James Comey. The story changed by the day. Trump said Comey asked to have dinner with him, a highly improbable scenario. Then Trump said Comey asked him that he keep his job, an implausible tale. Then he said that Comey reassured him three times that he was not under investigation. It is beyond belief that an FBI director would reveal such information even if it were true, which it was not.
Then Trump allegedly asked Comey to wind up the investigation into former national security adviser, Michael Flynn with: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go…He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
General Flynn resigned after being confronted with the fact that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.
While Comey has not commented on Trump’s request, his colleagues know that he is a fastidious note taker and almost certainly has a written record of his encounter with Trump, which will now be revealed at a Senate intelligence committee that has requested that notes of the meeting be out in the open. He has been invited to testify in both open and closed-door hearings. What will Comey say?
Having been described by Trump as a “grandstander” and a “showboat”, that he was "crazy, a real nut job”, and having accused him of incompetence: “Because he wasn’t doing a good job. Very simply, he was not doing a good job.”
, Comey is unlikely to be favourably disposed to bailing Trump out. Not satisfied with demeaning Comey publically, Trump took to threatening him via Twitter: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”
Alongside this development, the US Justice Department has appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special prosecutor to oversee an investigation into Russia’s influence on last year’s US presidential election. Trump denies any influence.
And this extraordinary saga has emerged in just the last couple of weeks, dwarfing Trump’s previous transgressions! His recent misdemeanours may be the ones that will land him in trouble with the law, or possibly a move to impeach or remove him.
In an opinion piece Fear and loathing inside the beltway
in the May 20 edition of The Weekend Australian
, conservative commentator Chris Kenny, in an article that is largely defensive of Trump, writes:
…his character was so obviously flawed, policies so contradictory and utterances so impetuous that his promise of much-needed change seemed far too risky…Four months into his presidency, Trump does not seem to have had a single comfortable day in the Oval Office. His self-inflicted problems include: random tweeting that ranges from barbs about television shows and shots at opponents to serious policy announcements and foreign policy posturing; difficulty implementing his agenda, such as his migration controls, caused partly by his previous loose language; and poor selection of staff, from his since-departed national security adviser Michael Flynn to spokesman Sean Spicer, who is often as incoherent as the President he seeks to clarify.”
If a conservative like Kenny thinks this way, is it any surprise that less favourably disposed journalists are so vitriolic in their criticisms of Trump?
This piece could go on and on detailing Trump’s words, deeds, tweets and behaviour since his inauguration, indeed from the time he entered the presidential race. This is not my purpose. You have read about these matters or seen them on TV ad nauseam
; you need no reminding. My purpose is to explore what’s behind Trump’s behaviour.
Here is my assessment, my opinion. You may have another viewpoint, which you can express in Comments below.
To me the following seem to be Trump’s underlying personality defects, which evoke his extraordinary behaviour:
Lack of insight
This seems to be the most cogent explanation of his behaviour.
He seems to have little idea of the impact on others of his demeanour, his language, the words he uses, his verbal and non-verbal expressions, his constant use of Twitter, his body language, his use of hand gestures, and his manner of dress and deportment.
He seems not to comprehend that he has become an object of ridicule, a laughing stock the world over in the eyes of journalists, commentators, politicians and the general public.
Have we ever experienced an American President who has been so unfavourably received? His approval ratings in the US are the worst ever for a president so soon after inauguration, and steadily getting worse. And don’t forget this is despite him still attracting a large coterie of fervent supporters, who will seemingly go on supporting him no matter how badly he behaves, no matter how ineffectual he is, no matter how many promises he breaks.
Sadly, lack of insight of this magnitude is virtually incurable. So used has he become to having extravagant accolades heaped upon him by the sycophants with whom he surrounds himself, in his reality TV shows and in his business world, that the lack of them in the rough and tumble world of politics and news reporting is unnerving for him.
For Trump, deprivation of praise and admiration for his words and actions is distressing in itself, but combined with penetrating and persistent questioning from the media, and robust criticism of his behaviour and his decisions, it is all too much for him, causing him to declare publically that “I have never seen more dishonest media, frankly than the political media.”
He has repeatedly described media criticism of him as "fake news", labelling the media as the "opposition party".
He insists that he is the subject of “…the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
, and after a special counsel was appointed to explore the involvement of Russia in his election campaign, he protested angrily that “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”
Observers see this whingeing about his own predicament as hypocrisy writ large when they reflect on how in the election campaign they saw him repeatedly condemn Hillary Clinton, call her ‘The Devil’, a ‘nasty woman’, ‘a disgrace’, ‘a liar’, and then threatened her with a special counsel to look into her use of a private email server if he were president, going on to insist that she should be in jail, which evoked the ‘Lock her up’ chant from his followers.
As the paragraphs above signal, Trump appears to have a deep-seated paranoia. He fervently believes that people are out to ‘get him’: the media, his opponents, some of his colleagues, and even his staff, whom he accuses of ‘leaking’ against him. As a wise colleague once reminded me; “If it’s true it’s not paranoia”
, and certainly it is true that many people are out to get Trump. But the extent to which he believes this is abnormal.
Definitions of paranoia include:
A tendency on the part of an individual toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others.
A mental condition characterized by delusions of grandeur or persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance, typically worked into an organized system. It may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder… in which the person loses touch with reality.
Do some of these describe Trump’s behaviour? You be the judge.
Delusions of grandeur
Who could ever forget Trump’s ‘Let’s make America Great Again’? How many times has he adorned his initiatives with words that indicate they will be ‘great’? How often has he insisted that he will ‘drain the Washington swamp’ a mammoth task that no other has attempted, much less achieved? Yet he has vowed that he will
Delusions of grandeur are related to paranoia. They are a fixed, false belief that one possesses superior qualities such as genius, fame, omnipotence, or wealth. In popular language, this disorder is known as “megalomania,” but is more accurately referred to as “narcissistic personality disorder” if it is a core component of a person’s personality and identity. In such disorders, the person has a greatly out-of-proportion sense of their own worth and value in the world.
Narcissistic personality disorder
Many commentators have labelled Trump as narcissistic; his behaviour fits that description.
The symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include: a grandiose sense of importance, a belief that one is special and unique, a requirement for excessive admiration, and a strong sense of entitlement. The narcissist is exploitative, lacks empathy, is arrogant, and is envious and jealous of others.
Trump’s egotistical, bombastic behaviour matches most of these attributes.
Overbearing, punitive, bullying and ruthless behaviour patterns
Trump is an angry man. When he doesn’t get his way, or feels he has been let down, he reacts furiously. Trump is well known for “Your sacked”
, not just in his reality TV show, but now with his colleagues and staff, as past-FBI Director Comey knows only too well.
Trump is known for getting his own way. He is combative and belligerent. Those who displease him are removed. His White House staff lives under the cloud of instant dismissal if they do not perform. The poorly performing Press Secretary Sean Spicer must fear coming to work every day.
Even the way he signs and then displays his signature on his Executive Orders, with his sycophantic staff looking on and politely applauding, highlights his arrogant and attention-seeking disposition. In this regard he reminds us of Kim Jong Un and his sycophantic generals clapping their ‘Dear Leader’.
We know too that Trump is a habitual liar. He finds no virtue in sticking to the facts and speaking the truth. Having an honest conversation with him is a challenge both for his staff and the media.
Throughout his short presidency, Trump has shown lamentable ignorance.
He is ignorant of legislative processes, which delayed passage of his replacement of Obamacare. He seems to have little idea about how to address his other signature policies: large corporate tax cuts and infrastructure development. As a result the stock market went up in anticipation of action; now it’s down again as nothing is happening. He is not used to negotiating with politicians, despite his boasting about his skill in ‘closing a deal’ – he’s even written a book about it!.
He is ignorant of international politics and diplomacy, and so puts his foot in it regularly. His naive and rude treatment of Angela Merkel is a case in point.
What is more alarming is his disinclination to take expert advice. He finds briefings boring, insisting that he doesn’t need to be briefed every day about the same things, as he is “very smart”. He seems to have a restricted attention span. His staff and colleagues were petrified about what he would do and say on his first overseas trip to sensitive political places. His indiscretion about passing onto the Russian foreign minister sensitive intelligence about ISIS activities scared everyone about what might happen abroad. In the end, although there were some Facebook
-worthy visuals, some embarrassing moments with world leaders, and some defiant utterances, there were no grave faux pas
. Middle East experts though are unimpressed, and find his new tune on Islam unconvincing
He is willfully ignorant about climate science, global warming, the need for environmental protection, and is ready to let fossil fuel producers do their worst. He is threatening to pull out of the Paris agreement on global warming.
He is ignorant about the nuances of free trade agreements and has indicated that the US will withdraw from NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement. He boasts that he will bring jobs back to America from countries to which they have disappeared. He has no idea of how complicated that is, nor the effects of automation on international job transfer.
For the most powerful man in the world to be so dangerously ignorant, yet so arrogantly assured of the rightness of his own opinion is hazardous for all countries that trade with America, and all the others that will be affected by global warming.
The man is an unsafe ignoramus, who seems to have little or no insight into his condition.
So there it is – my analysis of the personality and behavioural defects that afflict Donald John Trump.
If Leo Tolstoy was to be reborn today and set about writing a play about this man’s presidency, how would it unfold? I suspect that Tolstoy’s portrayal of the bizarre unreality of Trump’s unhappy presidency would evoke an accusation that, as an author, he was guilty of outrageous fabrication - surely no presidency could be this weird!
America – what have you done to us?
To many Americans, Trump behaves like a dangerous out-of-control lunatic. Now though, even some of his own supporters are attacking their Republican representatives at town hall meetings over broken promises, and the media is scratching to find GOP members to talk in defence of Trump.
But he still has millions of devoted followers who dwell on his every word, which will support him until their dying breath.
It is these Americans that have done this to us. Frighteningly, they would likely do it all over again.