As long as Donald Trump keeps the debate on his preferred level of insult, lies, personal attacks and narcissistic boasting, and as long as the compliant media giants such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News continue to give him unlimited time on their programming, and as long as he is able to keep away from having to discuss his own policies in depth, Hillary Clinton cannot hope to match him in air-time, free publicity or monopolizing the direction of the election campaign.
Although Trump seems the perfect target for criticism for his attitudes, his prejudices and his policies, nobody so far has been able to make a dent in either his own self-confidence or the massive following he has attracted by preaching fear and hate. None of the traditional approaches of rational argument, fact-based critique, indignation, or even matching him insult for insult (Thank you, Marco Rubio) have worked.
Is there a more effective way to take him on? I think there is. Trump’s persona is built on a massive mountain of ego-inflation. (So massive, for example, that he claims his book, “The Art of the Deal”, is the most important book in the world after the Bible). Everything he owns, does or says is the best – the very, very best. Or the biggest!
On a psychological level, Trump seems stuck, somewhere between ages two and three. The incessant demands for attention, the bragging, the need to be loved and admired, these are all infantile stages of development.
A 2012 book by David Thomas on power-hungry narcissists suggests that narcissists typically display most, and sometimes all, of the following traits:
- An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
- Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
- A lack of psychological awareness
- Difficulty with empathy
- Problems distinguishing the self from other
- Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults
- Vulnerabilityto shame rather than guilt
- Haughty body language
- Flatterytowards people who admire and affirm them
- Detesting those who do not admire them
- Using other people without considering the cost of doing so
- Pretending to be more important than they actually are
- Bragging(subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements
- Claiming to be an “expert” at many things
- Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
- Denialof remorse and gratitude (Source: Wikipedia)
Trump fits many of these criteria. The choice we have is whether to respond through anger or compassion to this very rich but also very poor man. I say “poor” here because Trump is deficient in many of the common qualities that make for a complete individual – such as self awareness, empathy for others, and even the use of language that goes beyond a child’s vocabulary. If you study his unscripted talks, his range of descriptive language – adjectives, adverbs, polysyllabic words – is very limited. He sounds rather like a 10-year boy pretending to be a man.
I have no idea what trauma Trump may have suffered as a child. But it is clear that at some stage his emotional and psychological growth was stunted. He holds now a lot of rage that plays out in a variety of ways. And we in turn feel outrage as he rages.
Righteous anger toward him is the easy response, but as I described above, it has not worked because this is the dimension that Trump loves to play in. He has become an adept. The way to counter Trump is to feel and express pity and compassion for this suffering being.
Since his ego is built on the core identity of being rich, a billionaire, to be seen and treated by the world as poor and deficient is the kind of ju-jitsu move that he will not be able to handle. Witness the strong reaction he had when Rubio teased that he has “small hands”.
If enough people begin saying, “Oh poor man, he needs help;” or “I feel so sorry for him. How unhappy and lonely he must be to need this kind of attention;” or “What a terrible childhood he must have suffered to turn out this way”, Trump will wilt.
To have people feel sorry for him, to sense that he is pitied not admired, and to know that we all see though his façade to the stunted, unhappy inner child, will side-step all his usual ego defenses. In fact, to be pitied is probably nightmare territory for him.
Of course, we still have to go on rejecting his policies and behavior. Hillary Clinton has been saying recently that Trump is “temperamentally unfit to be President”. But this terminology seems to suggest that his behavior is a matter of temperament or tendency – as in being grumpy, or reclusive, or pessimistic. Let us all see and and begin to say that he is psychologically unfit.
But if we can also use compassion, saying for example, “The poor man: Why would he be so afraid of Mexicans?” rather than, “What a racist!” or “What terrible pain he must carry inside to want to torture Muslim prisoners or to punish women who have abortions,” we may find a way to change the nature of the debate from Trump’s bullying and self-promotion to public recognition that we have here a man who is deluded, who is in pain, and who needs spiritual and psychological help.
June 10, 2016
This article is an update on an earlier post I made on my personal page on Facebook. If you like this commentary, please LIKE this page, and share it on your timeline. Also published on my website: theleftcoastview.com