It is plain to see that Donald Trump is a sick man. Even those who voted for him now realize they have made a poor choice, a mistake. Their decision is hung over the shoulders of all of us and the next couple of years will be hard to take. Social security will go private, Medicare will become a tax credit voucher program and any one who compliments Trump will own him as Putin has does. We have had nut jobs run for president before but this is the first time we have elected one. This entire issue will be devoted to understanding Trump's mental problems. He's 70 years old and he's not going to change.
A neuroscientist explains: Trump has a mental disorder that makes him a dangerous world leader.
According to a number of top U.S. psychologists, like Harvard professor and researcher Howard Gardner, Donald Trump is a “textbook” narcissist. In fact, he fits the profile so well that clinical psychologist George Simon told Vanity Fair, “He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops.” This puts Trump in the same category as a number of infamous dictators like Muammar Gaddafi, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Saddam Hussein. And although there are narcissists out there who entertain us, innovate, or create great art, when a narcissist is given immense power over people’s lives, they can behave much differently. As the 2016 presidential election grows nearer we must ask ourselves, if elected president would Donald Trump act on the behalf of the will of the people, or would he behave more like a dictator—silencing any dissenting voices, perpetually refusing to compromise, and being oppressive to certain groups? To answer that, we should ask a little bit more about what makes a narcissist tick, and how they tend to behave when given free rein.
What is it exactly that makes someone a certifiable narcissist and not simply a person who has a healthy amount of confidence and a burning desire to achieve great goals? According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder is “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.”
Trump’s shortage of empathy can be seen clearly by his stances on topics like immigration. Instead of recognizing that the data shows that most Mexican immigrants are not violent, but instead people simply looking for a place where actual opportunity exists, with a broad brush he claims that they are “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” In a similar vein, Trump has vowed to ban all Muslims from entering the country should he be elected. It appears that his lack of empathy has distorted his mind’s ability to grasp the fact that the refugees he speaks of are actually seeking safety from the same murderous maniacs that he wants to keep out. Perhaps if Trump had relatives in countries like Syria and Iraq, he might understand the constant fear that most live under, and in turn become more willing to welcome them with open arms rather than leaving them to be slaughtered.
But a lack of empathy is just one part of narcissistic personality disorder. Just beneath the surface layer of overwhelming arrogance lies a delicate self-esteem that is easily injured by any form of criticism. We have all seen Trump unjustifiably lash out at a number of people with harsh and often extremely odd personal attacks. When he thought he had been treated unfairly by Fox News host and Republican debate moderator Megyn Kelly, he responded by calling her a “bimbo” and later saying that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” In response to the strange, misogynistic comments Kelly said that she “may have overestimated his anger management skills.” If the news host would have pegged him as a bona fide narcissist from the beginning she might have expected such shamelessly flagrant behavior.
To be fair, it is certainly true that not all narcissists are terrible people. Some of our most beloved celebrities and musicians have been suspected narcissists, including Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, Kanye West, and even Alec Baldwin. Not only are these decent people, some have also done a lot of good through philanthropic work. Surely Donald Trump has more in common with these individuals than he does with a psychopath like Saddam Hussein.
There is no doubt that this has been true of the past, yet there is one critical difference between those people and Trump or Saddam. Only the latter two were in or are pursuing positions as heads of state—a role that grants enormous power over world affairs and people’s lives. While a narcissistic personality might be one of the traits that allowed Trump to be such a successful businessman and reality TV star, it is also the trait that makes him potentially dangerous as a political leader.
What happens when another world leader who is a loose cannon doesn’t give Trump the admiration that he feels he deserves? We can be sure that notoriously anti-American dictators like Kim Jong-un of North Korea or Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei aren’t going to give him any respect, let alone praise. How would a President Trump react when he feels he is being put down or undermined? Will we see the start of World War III because the leader of the most important nation in the world doesn’t feel that others are kissing his ass as much as they should be? Narcissistic personality disorder is known to have strong negative effects on relationships, and when it comes to being an effective and responsible world leader, diplomacy is everything.
If it is not clear how the promise of great power can change an essentially harmless narcissist into someone oppressive, let’s see how Donald Trump’s political views have changed thus far. Prior to this presidential race, most of us knew Donald Trump as a charismatic, cheeky, highly entertaining figure that seemed like anything but a bigot. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York told CNN that the Trump he knew, and the Trump New York knew, was nothing like the intolerant xenophobe he appears to be today. It is a well-known fact that in the past Trump was a registered democrat who was in favor of liberal causes like abortion rights and pals with the Clintons. But since the promise of power has consumed him, he has become the poster boy for ultra-right wing intolerance. This change in personality and core values perfectly illustrates how the promise of power can transform narcissists. And as the race for the Republican nominee progresses, it has become increasingly obvious that Trump’s yearning to rule greatly exceeds his desire to “Make America Great Again,” as his slogan says.
The position of President of the United States is one that requires great empathy, a certain amount of humility, the ability to preserve relationships, and a willingness to establish new ones. These are all qualities that the narcissist lacks, and with their absence comes danger. Do we really want to put all Americans, and even the entire world, at great risk by giving a narcissist the nuclear code? Donald Trump is very much like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and the presidency is his “one ring to rule them all.” In this case we do not have the option of destroying the ring. The best we can strive for is keeping it out of the possession of those who cannot resist abusing its power.
Whether narcissism is a real disorder - as opposed to a dimension of personality on which we all vary - is controversial. Does Donald Trump conform to the clinical pattern?
Professional psychiatrists, and psychotherapists, are loath to go on record saying that Trump has a psychiatric disorder on the premise that one cannot do a diagnosis without an office visit and most narcissists are quite unlikely to recognize that they have a problem and to schedule an appointment.
Fortunately, the DSM is written so clearly, and so simply, that anyone can make a diagnosis. Here are the symptoms. Make up your own mind.
Does Trump have Narcissistic Personality Disorder? You Decide
According to DSM-5, individuals with NPD have most (at least five) or all of the symptoms listed below (generally without commensurate qualities or accomplishments).
1 Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment by others.
2 Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
3 Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions.
4 Needing constant admiration from others.
5 Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others.
6 Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain.
7 Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs.
8 Intensely jealous of others and the belief that others are equally jealous of them.
9 Pompous and arrogant demeanor.
Among other criteria, the symptoms must be severe enough to impair the individual’s ability to develop meaningful relationships with others and reduce an individuals ability to function at work. As far as the first of these is concerned, Trump evidently has no close personal friends.
Work function is also an issue. The ghost author of Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz, found it impossible to interview Trump who quickly became bored. He gleaned most of the necessary information by being a fly on the wall in Trump’s office.
Some of the DSM criteria are less relevant to Trump given his birth to money and life as a plutocrat that guarantee contact with high-status persons and being fawned over as a VIP. For those that are clearly relevant, he checks out on all symptoms, it seems. According to DSM criteria, Donald Trump suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.
Can a Narcissist Function as a US President?
It is, perhaps, no surprise that widely held impressions about Trump’s narcissism are corroborated by the DSM criteria. The key question to ask is whether, having come so far despite his psychiatric disorder, Trump, or any other narcissistic personality can communicate well enough to be an effective leader of the free world.
There have been many narcissistic heads of state before but the clearest examples, such as Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and Hugo Chavez, have been dictators.
Narcissists are difficult to deal with, whether as friends, or as politicians. They do not feel the need to build consensus, which is why most are screened out by democratic systems of government.
Take away all the ‘other’ labels of Donald Trump - such as racist, bigot, fear monger, elitist or fascist - which are in and of themselves hard to fathom as characteristics of a U.S. presidential candidate, and there is something even more disturbing about Mr. Trump that every American voter should be concerned about: Mr. Trump appears to be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Although saying those words may sound humorous when someone first hears them, NPD is a serious mental disorder, and someone with NPD should never be allowed to lead this country as president. When Hillary Clinton said in her acceptance speech at the DNC last week that a man with his temperament should not be anywhere near the nuclear button, she was right, but she should have gone even further to say that he should be nowhere near a position of authority in government, much less as president.
The Mayo Clinic’s definition of NPD is: “A mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others."
Behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to the slightest criticism. If you have NPD, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious, you often monopolize conversations, you may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior, and you may feel a sense of entitlement (when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry). At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior.” Does this sound like Mr. Trump? You bet it does!
Many psychology experts use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. DSM-5 criteria for NPD includes these features:
• Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
• Expecting to be recognized as superior.
• Exaggerating your achievements and talents.
• Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
• Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people.
• Requiring constant admiration.
• Having a sense of entitlement.
• Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations.
• Taking advantage of others to get what you want.
• Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
• Being envious of others and believing others envy you.
• Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.
Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others. Does this sound like Mr. Trump? You bet it does!
A personality disorder is a pattern of deviant or abnormal behavior that the person doesn’t change, even though it causes emotional upsets and trouble with other people at work and in personal relationships. It is not limited to episodes of mental illness, and it is not caused by drug or alcohol use, head injury, or illness. There are about a dozen different behavior patterns classified as personality disorders by DSM. All the personality disorders show up as deviations from normal in one or more of the following:
(1) Cognition (i.e. perception, thinking, and interpretation of oneself, other people, and events);
(2) Affectivity (i.e. emotional responses);
(3) Interpersonal functions; and
People with NPD won’t (or can’t) change their behavior even when it causes problems at work, when other people complain about the way they act, or when their behavior causes a lot of emotional distress to others (or themselves). Narcissists never admit to being distressed by their own behavior — they always blame other people for any problems. Does this sound like Mr. Trump? You bet it does!
Narcissists are a danger to others because they are in complete denial of reality and they lack empathy. One of the key presenting traits of narcissists is their utter incapability to empathize, which can manifest itself in a variety of ways:
• Ignoring requests to cease behavior (such as cheating and lying).
• Name calling, criticizing, belittling, mean “jokes”, jabs and put downs (verbal abuse).
• Arguments surrounding the same issues over and over.
• Turning around a partner’s concerns to blame him/her and block the conversation.
• No closure - no apologies, no accountability, no consequences, no change.
• Narcissists are capable of inflicting physical and psychological harm on others and are unmoved by the plight of those they hurt.
I am not a psychiatrist, but I suspect that one would have to say that, based on this description (from some authoritative sources), that Mr. Trump would be diagnosed as having NPD — a widely recognized mental disorder that should disqualify him from becoming president of the U.S. A person should certainly not be voted into office knowing in advance that he has cognition impairment, affectivity, abysmal interpersonal skills, or impulsivity. Any combination of the four would undoubtedly prove to be lethal, set this country on a course to ruin, with potentially horrendous implications for the rest of the world. Voters were not smart enough to pass on Trump.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
The same feeling perplexed Mark Singer in the late 1990s when he was working on a profile of Trump for The New Yorker. Singer wondered what went through his mind when he was not playing the public role of Donald Trump. What are you thinking about, Singer asked him, when you are shaving in front of the mirror in the morning? Trump, Singer writes, appeared baffled. Hoping to uncover the man behind the actor’s mask, Singer tried a different tack:
“O.K., I guess I’m asking, do you consider yourself ideal company?”
“You really want to know what I consider ideal company?,” Trump replied. “A total piece of ass.”
I might have phrased Singer’s question this way: Who are you, Mr. Trump, when you are alone? Singer never got an answer, leaving him to conclude that the real-estate mogul who would become a reality-TV star and, after that, a leading candidate for president of the United States had managed to achieve something remarkable: “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”
Is Singer’s assessment too harsh? Perhaps it is, in at least one sense. As brainy social animals, human beings evolved to be consummate actors whose survival and ability to reproduce depend on the quality of our performances. We enter the world prepared to perform roles and manage the impressions of others, with the ultimate evolutionary aim of getting along and getting ahead in the social groups that define who we are.
More than even Ronald Reagan, Trump seems supremely cognizant of the fact that he is always acting. He moves through life like a man who knows he is always being observed. If all human beings are, by their very nature, social actors, then Donald Trump seems to be more so—superhuman, in this one primal sense.
Many questions have arisen about Trump during this campaign season—about his platform, his knowledge of issues, his inflammatory language, his level of comfort with political violence. This article touches on some of that. But its central aim is to create a psychological portrait of the man. Who is he, really? How does his mind work? How might he go about making decisions in office, were he to become president? And what does all that suggest about the sort of president he’d be?
In creating this portrait, I will draw from well-validated concepts in the fields of personality, developmental, and social psychology. Ever since Sigmund Freud analyzed the life and art of Leonardo da Vinci, in 1910, scholars have applied psychological lenses to the lives of famous people. Many early efforts relied upon untested, nonscientific ideas. In recent years, however, psychologists have increasingly used the tools and concepts of psychological science to shed light on notable lives, as I did in a 2011 book on George W. Bush. A large and rapidly growing body of research shows that people’s temperament, their characteristic motivations and goals, and their internal conceptions of themselves are powerful predictors of what they will feel, think, and do in the future, and powerful aids in explaining why. In the realm of politics, psychologists have recently demonstrated how fundamental features of human personality—such as extroversion and narcissism—shaped the distinctive leadership styles of past U. S. presidents, and the decisions they made. While a range of factors, such as world events and political realities, determine what political leaders can and will do in office, foundational tendencies in human personality, which differ dramatically from one leader to the next, are among them.
Trump’s personality is certainly extreme by any standard, and particularly rare for a presidential candidate; many people who encounter the man—in negotiations or in interviews or on a debate stage or watching that debate on television—seem to find him flummoxing. In this essay, I will seek to uncover the key dispositions, cognitive styles, motivations, and self-conceptions that together comprise his unique psychological makeup. Trump declined to be interviewed for this story, but his life history has been well documented in his own books and speeches, in biographical sources, and in the press. My aim is to develop a dispassionate and analytical perspective on Trump, drawing upon some of the most important ideas and research findings in psychological science today.
I. His Disposition
Fifty years of empirical research in personality psychology have resulted in a scientific consensus regarding the most basic dimensions of human variability. There are countless ways to differentiate one person from the next, but psychological scientists have settled on a relatively simple taxonomy, known widely as the Big Five:
Extroversion: gregariousness, social dominance, enthusiasm, reward-seeking behavior
Neuroticism: anxiety, emotional instability, depressive tendencies, negative emotions
Conscientiousness: industriousness, discipline, rule abidance, organization
Agreeableness: warmth, care for others, altruism, compassion, modesty
Openness: curiosity, unconventionality, imagination, receptivity to new ideas
Most people score near the middle on any given dimension, but some score
toward one pole or the other. Research decisively shows that higher scores on extroversion are associated with greater happiness and broader social connections, higher scores on conscientiousness predict greater success in school and at work, and higher scores on agreeableness are associated with deeper relationships. By contrast, higher scores on neuroticism are always bad, having proved to be a risk factor for unhappiness, dysfunctional relationships, and mental-health problems. From adolescence through midlife, many people tend to become more conscientious and agreeable, and less neurotic, but these changes are typically slight: The Big Five personality traits are pretty stable across a person’s lifetime.
The psychologists Steven J. Rubenzer and Thomas R. Faschingbauer, in conjunction with about 120 historians and other experts, have rated all the former U.S. presidents, going back to George Washington, on all five of the trait dimensions. George W. Bush comes out as especially high on extroversion and low on openness to experience—a highly enthusiastic and outgoing social actor who tends to be incurious and intellectually rigid. Barack Obama is relatively introverted, at least for a politician, and almost preternaturally low on neuroticism—emotionally calm and dispassionate, perhaps to a fault.
Across his lifetime, Donald Trump has exhibited a trait profile that you would not expect of a U.S. president: sky-high extroversion combined with off-the-chart low agreeableness. This is my own judgment, of course, but I believe that a great majority of people who observe Trump would agree. There is nothing especially subtle about trait attributions. We are not talking here about deep, unconscious processes or clinical diagnoses. As social actors, our performances are out there for everyone to see.
Like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton (and Teddy Roosevelt, who tops the presidential extroversion list), Trump plays his role in an outgoing, exuberant, and socially dominant manner. He is a dynamo—driven, restless, unable to keep still. He gets by with very little sleep. In his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, Trump described his days as stuffed with meetings and phone calls. Some 30 years later, he is still constantly interacting with other people—at rallies, in interviews, on social media. Presidential candidates on the campaign trail are studies in perpetual motion. But nobody else seems to embrace the campaign with the gusto of Trump. And no other candidate seems to have so much fun. A sampling of his tweets at the time of this writing:
3:13 a.m., April 12: “WOW, great new poll—New York! Thank you for your support!”
4:22 a.m., April 9: “Bernie Sanders says that Hillary Clinton is unqualified to be president. Based on her decision making ability, I can go along with that!”
5:03 a.m., April 8: “So great to be in New York. Catching up on many things (remember, I am still running a major business while I campaign), and loving it!”
12:25 p.m., April 5: “Wow, @Politico is in total disarray with almost everyone quitting. Good news—bad, dishonest journalists!”
A cardinal feature of high extroversion is relentless reward-seeking. Prompted by the activity of dopamine circuits in the brain, highly extroverted actors are driven to pursue positive emotional experiences, whether they come in the form of social approval, fame, or wealth. Indeed, it is the pursuit itself, more so even than the actual attainment of the goal, that extroverts find so gratifying. When Barbara Walters asked Trump in 1987 whether he would like to be appointed president of the United States, rather than having to run for the job, Trump said no: “It’s the hunt that I believe I love.”
Trump’s agreeableness seems even more extreme than his extroversion, but in the opposite direction. Arguably the most highly valued human trait the world over, agreeableness pertains to the extent to which a person appears to be caring, loving, affectionate, polite, and kind. Trump loves his family, for sure. He is reported to be a generous and fair-minded boss. There is even a famous story about his meeting with a boy who was dying of cancer. A fan of The Apprentice, the young boy simply wanted Trump to tell him, “You’re fired!” Trump could not bring himself to do it, but instead wrote the boy a check for several thousand dollars and told him, “Go and have the time of your life.” But like extroversion and the other Big Five traits, agreeableness is about an overall style of relating to others and to the world, and these noteworthy exceptions run against the broad social reputation Trump has garnered as a remarkably disagreeable person, based upon a lifetime of widely observed interactions. People low in agreeableness are described as callous, rude, arrogant, and lacking in empathy. If Donald Trump does not score low on this personality dimension, then probably nobody does.
Researchers rank Richard Nixon as the nation’s most disagreeable president. But he was sweetness and light compared with the man who once sent The New York Times’ Gail Collins a copy of her own column with her photo circled and the words “The Face of a Dog!” scrawled on it. Complaining in Never Enough about “some nasty shit” that Cher, the singer and actress, once said about him, Trump bragged: “I knocked the shit out of her” on Twitter, “and she never said a thing about me after that.” At campaign rallies, Trump has encouraged his supporters to rough up protesters. “Get ’em out of here!” he yells. “I’d like to punch him in the face.” From unsympathetic journalists to political rivals, Trump calls his opponents “disgusting” and writes them off as “losers.” By the standards of reality TV, Trump’s disagreeableness may not be so shocking. But political candidates who want people to vote for them rarely behave like this.
Trump’s tendencies toward social ambition and aggressiveness were evident very early in his life, as we will see later. (By his own account, he once punched his second-grade music teacher, giving him a black eye.) According to Barbara Res, who in the early 1980s served as vice president in charge of construction of Trump Tower in Manhattan, the emotional core around which Donald Trump’s personality constellates is anger: “As far as the anger is concerned, that’s real for sure. He’s not faking it,” she told The Daily Beast in February. “The fact that he gets mad, that’s his personality.” Indeed, anger may be the operative emotion behind Trump’s high extroversion as well as his low agreeableness. Anger can fuel malice, but it can also motivate social dominance, stoking a desire to win the adoration of others. Combined with a considerable gift for humor (which may also be aggressive), anger lies at the heart of Trump’s charisma. And anger permeates his political rhetoric.
Imagine Donald Trump in the White House. What kind of decision maker might he be?
It is very difficult to predict the actions a president will take. When the dust settled after the 2000 election, did anybody foresee that George W. Bush would someday launch a preemptive invasion of Iraq? If so, I haven’t read about it. Bush probably would never have gone after Saddam Hussein if 9/11 had not happened. But world events invariably hijack a presidency. Obama inherited a devastating recession, and after the 2010 midterm elections, he struggled with a recalcitrant Republican Congress. What kinds of decisions might he have made had these events not occurred? We will never know.
Still, dispositional personality traits may provide clues to a president’s decision-making style. Research suggests that extroverts tend to take high-stakes risks and that people with low levels of openness rarely question their deepest convictions. Entering office with high levels of extroversion and very low openness, Bush was predisposed to make bold decisions aimed at achieving big rewards, and to make them with the assurance that he could not be wrong. As I argued in my psychological biography of Bush, the game-changing decision to invade Iraq was the kind of decision he was likely to make. As world events transpired to open up an opportunity for the invasion, Bush found additional psychological affirmation both in his lifelong desire—pursued again and again before he ever became president—to defend his beloved father from enemies (think: Saddam Hussein) and in his own life story, wherein the hero liberates himself from oppressive forces (think: sin, alcohol) to restore peace and freedom.
Like Bush, a President Trump might try to swing for the fences in an effort to deliver big payoffs—to make America great again, as his campaign slogan says. As a real-estate developer, he has certainly taken big risks, although he has become a more conservative businessman following setbacks in the 1990s. As a result of the risks he has taken, Trump can (and does) point to luxurious urban towers, lavish golf courses, and a personal fortune that is, by some estimates, in the billions, all of which clearly bring him big psychic rewards. Risky decisions have also resulted in four Chapter 11 business bankruptcies involving some of his casinos and resorts. Because he is not burdened with Bush’s low level of openness (psychologists have rated Bush at the bottom of the list on this trait), Trump may be a more flexible and pragmatic decision maker, more like Bill Clinton than Bush: He may look longer and harder than Bush did before he leaps. And because he is viewed as markedly less ideological than most presidential candidates (political observers note that on some issues he seems conservative, on others liberal, and on still others nonclassifiable), Trump may be able to switch positions easily, leaving room to maneuver in negotiations with Congress and foreign leaders. But on balance, he’s unlikely to shy away from risky decisions that, should they work out, could burnish his legacy and provide him an emotional payoff.
The real psychological wild card, however, is Trump’s agreeableness—or lack thereof. There has probably never been a U.S. president as consistently and overtly disagreeable on the public stage as Donald Trump is. If Nixon comes closest, we might predict that Trump’s style of decision making would look like the hard-nosed realpolitik that Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, displayed in international affairs during the early 1970s, along with its bare-knuckled domestic analog. That may not be all bad, depending on one’s perspective. Not readily swayed by warm sentiments or humanitarian impulses, decision makers who, like Nixon, are dispositionally low on agreeableness might hold certain advantages when it comes to balancing competing interests or bargaining with adversaries, such as China in Nixon’s time. In international affairs, Nixon was tough, pragmatic, and coolly rational. Trump seems capable of a similar toughness and strategic pragmatism, although the cool rationality does not always seem to fit, probably because Trump’s disagreeableness appears so strongly motivated by anger.
In domestic politics, Nixon was widely recognized to be cunning, callous, cynical, and Machiavellian, even by the standards of American politicians. Empathy was not his strong suit. This sounds a lot like Donald Trump, too—except you have to add the ebullient extroversion, the relentless showmanship, and the larger-than-life celebrity. Nixon could never fill a room the way Trump can.
Research shows that people low in agreeableness are typically viewed as untrustworthy. Dishonesty and deceit brought down Nixon and damaged the institution of the presidency. It is generally believed today that all politicians lie, or at least dissemble, but Trump appears extreme in this regard. Assessing the truthfulness of the 2016 candidates’ campaign statements, PolitiFact recently calculated that only 2 percent of the claims made by Trump are true, 7 percent are mostly true, 15 percent are half true, 15 percent are mostly false, 42 percent are false, and 18 percent are “pants on fire.” Adding up the last three numbers (from mostly false to flagrantly so), Trump scores 75 percent. The corresponding figures for Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, respectively, are 66, 32, 31, and 29 percent.
In sum, Donald Trump’s basic personality traits suggest a presidency that could be highly combustible. One possible yield is an energetic, activist president who has a less than cordial relationship with the truth. He could be a daring and ruthlessly aggressive decision maker who desperately desires to create the strongest, tallest, shiniest, and most awesome result—and who never thinks twice about the collateral damage he will leave behind. Tough. Bellicose. Threatening. Explosive.
In the presidential contest of 1824, Andrew Jackson won the most electoral votes, edging out John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and William Crawford. Because Jackson did not have a majority, however, the election was decided in the House of Representatives, where Adams prevailed. Adams subsequently chose Clay as his secretary of state. Jackson’s supporters were infuriated by what they described as a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Clay. The Washington establishment had defied the will of the people, they believed. Jackson rode the wave of public resentment to victory four years later, marking a dramatic turning point in American politics. A beloved hero of western farmers and frontiersmen, Jackson was the first nonaristocrat to become president. He was the first president to invite everyday folk to the inaugural reception. To the horror of the political elite, throngs tracked mud through the White House and broke dishes and decorative objects. Washington insiders reviled Jackson. They saw him as intemperate, vulgar, and stupid. Opponents called him a jackass—the origin of the donkey symbol for the Democratic Party. In a conversation with Daniel Webster in 1824, Thomas Jefferson described Jackson as “one of the most unfit men I know of” to become president of the United States, “a dangerous man” who cannot speak in a civilized manner because he “choke[s] with rage,” a man whose “passions are terrible.” Jefferson feared that the slightest insult from a foreign leader could impel Jackson to declare war. Even Jackson’s friends and admiring colleagues feared his volcanic temper. Jackson fought at least 14 duels in his life, leaving him with bullet fragments lodged throughout his body. On the last day of his presidency, he admitted to only two regrets: that he was never able to shoot Henry Clay or hang John C. Calhoun.
Combined with a gift for humor, anger lies at the heart of Trump’s charisma.
The similarities between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump do not end with their aggressive temperaments and their respective positions as Washington outsiders. The similarities extend to the dynamic created between these dominant social actors and their adoring audiences—or, to be fairer to Jackson, what Jackson’s political opponents consistently feared that dynamic to be. They named Jackson “King Mob” for what they perceived as his demagoguery. Jackson was an angry populist, they believed—a wild-haired mountain man who channeled the crude sensibilities of the masses. More than 100 years before social scientists would invent the concept of the authoritarian personality to explain the people who are drawn to autocratic leaders, Jackson’s detractors feared what a popular strongman might do when encouraged by an angry mob.
During and after World War II, psychologists conceived of the authoritarian personality as a pattern of attitudes and values revolving around adherence to society’s traditional norms, submission to authorities who personify or reinforce those norms, and antipathy—to the point of hatred and aggression—toward those who either challenge in-group norms or lie outside their orbit. Among white Americans, high scores on measures of authoritarianism today tend to be associated with prejudice against a wide range of “out-groups,” including homosexuals, African Americans, immigrants, and Muslims. Authoritarianism is also associated with suspiciousness of the humanities and the arts, and with cognitive rigidity, militaristic sentiments, and Christian fundamentalism.
When individuals with authoritarian proclivities fear that their way of life is being threatened, they may turn to strong leaders who promise to keep them safe—leaders like Donald Trump. In a national poll conducted recently by the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams, high levels of authoritarianism emerged as the single strongest predictor of expressing political support for Donald Trump. Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants out and his railing against Muslims and other outsiders have presumably fed that dynamic.
As the social psychologist Jesse Graham has noted, Trump appeals to an ancient fear of contagion, which analogizes out-groups to parasites, poisons, and other impurities. In this regard, it is perhaps no psychological accident that Trump displays a phobia of germs, and seems repulsed by bodily fluids, especially women’s. He famously remarked that Megyn Kelly of Fox News had “blood coming out of her wherever,” and he repeatedly characterized Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break during a Democratic debate as “disgusting.” Disgust is a primal response to impurity. On a daily basis, Trump seems to experience more disgust, or at least to say he does, than most people do.
The authoritarian mandate is to ensure the security, purity, and goodness of the in-group—to keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. In the 1820s, white settlers in Georgia and other frontier areas lived in constant fear of American Indian tribes. They resented the federal government for not keeping them safe from what they perceived to be a mortal threat and a corrupting contagion. Responding to these fears, President Jackson pushed hard for the passage of the Indian Removal Act, which eventually led to the forced relocation of 45,000 American Indians. At least 4,000 Cherokees died on the Trail of Tears, which ran from Georgia to the Oklahoma territory.
An American strand of authoritarianism may help explain why the thrice-married, foul-mouthed Donald Trump should prove to be so attractive to white Christian evangelicals. As Jerry Falwell Jr. told The New York Times in February, “All the social issues—traditional family values, abortion—are moot if isis blows up some of our cities or if the borders are not fortified.” Rank-and-file evangelicals “are trying to save the country,” Falwell said. Being “saved” has a special resonance among evangelicals—saved from sin and damnation, of course, but also saved from the threats and impurities of a corrupt and dangerous world.
Trump appeals to an ancient fear of contagion, which analogizes out-groups to parasites and poisons.
When my research associates and I once asked politically conservative Christians scoring high on authoritarianism to imagine what their life (and their world) might have been like had they never found religious faith, many described utter chaos—families torn apart, rampant infidelity and hate, cities on fire, the inner rings of hell. By contrast, equally devout politically liberal Christians who scored low on authoritarianism described a barren world depleted of all resources, joyless and bleak, like the arid surface of the moon. For authoritarian Christians, a strong faith—like a strong leader—saves them from chaos and tamps down fears and conflicts. Donald Trump is a savior, even if he preens and swears, and waffles on the issue of abortion.
In December, on the campaign trail in Raleigh, North Carolina, Trump stoked fears in his audience by repeatedly saying that “something bad is happening” and “something really dangerous is going on.” He was asked by a 12-year-old girl from Virginia, “I’m scared—what are you going to do to protect this country?”
Trump responded: “You know what, darling? You’re not going to be scared anymore. They’re going to be scared.”
II. His Mental Habits
In The Art of the Deal, Trump counsels executives, CEOs, and other deal makers to “think big,” “use your leverage,” and always “fight back.” When you go into a negotiation, you must begin from a position of unassailable strength. You must project bigness. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after,” he writes.
For Trump, the concept of “the deal” represents what psychologists call a personal schema—a way of knowing the world that permeates his thoughts. Cognitive-science research suggests that people rely on personal schemata to process new social information efficiently and effectively. By their very nature, however, schemata narrow a person’s focus to a few well-worn approaches that may have worked in the past, but may not necessarily bend to accommodate changing circumstances. A key to successful decision making is knowing what your schemata are, so that you can change them when you need to.
In the negotiations for the Menie Estate in Scotland, Trump wore Tom Griffin down by making one outlandish demand after another and bargaining hard on even the most trivial issues of disagreement. He never quit fighting. “Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition,” Trump writes. When local residents refused to sell properties that Trump needed in order to finish the golf resort, he ridiculed them on the Late Show With David Letterman and in newspapers, describing the locals as rubes who lived in “disgusting” ramshackle hovels. As D’Antonio recounts in Never Enough, Trump’s attacks incurred the enmity of millions in the British Isles, inspired an award-winning documentary highly critical of Trump (You’ve Been Trumped), and transformed a local farmer and part-time fisherman named Michael Forbes into a national hero. After painting the words no golf course on his barn and telling Trump he could “take his money and shove it up his arse,” Forbes received the 2012 Top Scot honor at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards. (That same year, Trump’s golf course was completed nonetheless. He promised that its construction would create 1,200 permanent jobs in the Aberdeen area, but to date, only about 200 have been documented.)
Trump’s recommendations for successful deal making include less antagonistic strategies: “protect the downside” (anticipate what can go wrong), “maximize your options,” “know your market,” “get the word out,” and “have fun.” As president, Trump would negotiate better trade deals with China, he says, guarantee a better health-care system by making deals with pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, and force Mexico to agree to a deal whereby it would pay for a border wall. On the campaign trail, he has often said that he would simply pick up the phone and call people—say, a CEO wishing to move his company to Mexico—in order to make propitious deals for the American people.
Trump’s focus on personal relationships and one-on-one negotiating pays respect to a venerable political tradition. For example, a contributor to Lyndon B. Johnson’s success in pushing through civil-rights legislation and other social programs in the 1960s was his unparalleled expertise in cajoling lawmakers. Obama, by contrast, has been accused of failing to put in the personal effort needed to forge close and productive relationships with individual members of Congress.
Having said that, deal making is an apt description for only some presidential activities, and the modern presidency is too complex to rely mainly on personal relationships. Presidents work within institutional frameworks that transcend the idiosyncratic relationships between specific people, be they heads of state, Cabinet secretaries, or members of Congress. The most-effective leaders are able to maintain some measure of distance from the social and emotional fray of everyday politics. Keeping the big picture in mind and balancing a myriad of competing interests, they cannot afford to invest too heavily in any particular relationship. For U.S. presidents, the political is not merely personal. It has to be much more.
Trump has hinted at other means through which he might address the kind of complex, long-standing problems that presidents face. “Here’s the way I work,” he writes in Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, the campaign manifesto he published late last year. “I find the people who are the best in the world at what needs to be done, then I hire them to do it, and then I let them do it … but I always watch over them.” And Trump knows that he cannot do it alone:
Many of our problems, caused by years of stupid decisions, or no decisions at all, have grown into a huge mess. If I could wave a magic wand and fix them, I’d do it. But there are a lot of different voices—and interests—that have to be considered when working toward solutions. This involves getting people into a room and negotiating compromises until everyone walks out of that room on the same page.
Amid the polarized political rhetoric of 2016, it is refreshing to hear a candidate invoke the concept of compromise and acknowledge that different voices need to be heard. Still, Trump’s image of a bunch of people in a room hashing things out connotes a neater and more self-contained process than political reality affords. It is possible that Trump could prove to be adept as the helmsman of an unwieldy government whose operation involves much more than striking deals—but that would require a set of schemata and skills that appear to lie outside his accustomed way of solving problems.
III. His Motivations
For psychologists, it is almost impossible to talk about Donald Trump without using the word narcissism. Asked to sum up Trump’s personality for an article in Vanity Fair, Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard, responded, “Remarkably narcissistic.” George Simon, a clinical psychologist who conducts seminars on manipulative behavior, says Trump is “so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example” of narcissism. “Otherwise I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”
When I walk north on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, where I live, I often stop to admire the sleek tower that Trump built on the Chicago River. But why did he have to stencil his name in 20‑foot letters across the front? As nearly everybody knows, Trump has attached his name to pretty much everything he has ever touched—from casinos to steaks to a so-called university that promised to teach students how to become rich. Self-references pervade Trump’s speeches and conversations, too. When, in the summer of 1999, he stood up to offer remarks at his father’s funeral, Trump spoke mainly about himself. It was the toughest day of his own life, Trump began. He went on to talk about Fred Trump’s greatest achievement: raising a brilliant and renowned son. As Gwenda Blair writes in her three-generation biography of the Trump family, The Trumps, “the first-person singular pronouns, the I and me and my, eclipsed the he and his. Where others spoke of their memories of Fred Trump, [Donald] spoke of Fred Trump’s endorsement.”
In the ancient Greek legend, the beautiful boy Narcissus falls so completely in love with the reflection of himself in a pool that he plunges into the water and drowns. The story provides the mythical source for the modern concept of narcissism, which is conceived as excessive self-love and the attendant qualities of grandiosity and a sense of entitlement. Highly narcissistic people are always trying to draw attention to themselves. Repeated and inordinate self-reference is a distinguishing feature of their personality.
Narcissism in presidents is a double-edged sword. It is associated with historians’ ratings of “greatness”—but also with impeachment resolutions.
To consider the role of narcissism in Donald Trump’s life is to go beyond the dispositional traits of the social actor—beyond the high extroversion and low agreeableness, beyond his personal schemata for decision making—to try to figure out what motivates the man. What does Donald Trump really want? What are his most valued life goals?
Narcissus wanted, more than anything else, to love himself. People with strong narcissistic needs want to love themselves, and they desperately want others to love them too—or at least admire them, see them as brilliant and powerful and beautiful, even just see them, period. The fundamental life goal is to promote the greatness of the self, for all to see. “I’m the king of Palm Beach,” Trump told the journalist Timothy O’Brien for his 2005 book, TrumpNation. Celebrities and rich people “all come over” to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s exclusive Palm Beach estate. “They all eat, they all love me, they all kiss my ass. And then they all leave and say, ‘Isn’t he horrible.’ But I’m the king.”
The renowned psychoanalytic theorist Heinz Kohut argued that narcissism stems from a deficiency in early-life mirroring: The parents fail to lovingly reflect back the young boy’s (or girl’s) own budding grandiosity, leaving the child in desperate need of affirmation from others. Accordingly, some experts insist that narcissistic motivations cover up an underlying insecurity. But others argue that there is nothing necessarily compensatory, or even immature, about certain forms of narcissism. Consistent with this view, I can find no evidence in the biographical record to suggest that Donald Trump experienced anything but a loving relationship with his mother and father. Narcissistic people like Trump may seek glorification over and over, but not necessarily because they suffered from negative family dynamics as children. Rather, they simply cannot get enough. The parental praise and strong encouragement that might reinforce a sense of security for most boys and young men may instead have added rocket fuel to Donald Trump’s hot ambitions.
Ever since grade school, Trump has wanted to be No. 1. Attending New York Military Academy for high school, he was relatively popular among his peers and with the faculty, but he did not have any close confidants. As both a coach and an admiring classmate recall in The Trumps, Donald stood out for being the most competitive young man in a very competitive environment. His need to excel—to be the best athlete in school, for example, and to chart out the most ambitious future career—may have crowded out intense friendships by making it impossible for him to show the kind of weakness and vulnerability that true intimacy typically requires.
Whereas you might think that narcissism would be part of the job description for anybody aspiring to become the chief executive of the United States, American presidents appear to have varied widely on this psychological construct. In a 2013 Psychological Science research article, behavioral scientists ranked U.S. presidents on characteristics of what the authors called “grandiose narcissism.” Lyndon Johnson scored the highest, followed closely by Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson. Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Nixon, and Clinton were next. Millard Fillmore ranked the lowest. Correlating these ranks with objective indices of presidential performance, the researchers found that narcissism in presidents is something of a double-edged sword. On the positive side, grandiose narcissism is associated with initiating legislation, public persuasiveness, agenda setting, and historians’ ratings of “greatness.” On the negative side, it is also associated with unethical behavior and congressional impeachment resolutions.
In business, government, sports, and many other arenas, people will put up with a great deal of self-serving and obnoxious behavior on the part of narcissists as long as the narcissists continually perform at high levels. Steve Jobs was, in my opinion, every bit Trump’s equal when it comes to grandiose narcissism. He heaped abuse on colleagues, subordinates, and friends; cried, at age 27, when he learned that Time magazine had not chosen him to be Man of the Year; and got upset when he received a congratulatory phone call, following the iPad’s introduction in 2010, from President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, rather than the president himself. Unlike Trump, he basically ignored his kids, to the point of refusing to acknowledge for some time that one of them was his.
Psychological research demonstrates that many narcissists come across as charming, witty, and charismatic upon initial acquaintance. They can attain high levels of popularity and esteem in the short term. As long as they prove to be successful and brilliant—like Steve Jobs—they may be able to weather criticism and retain their exalted status. But more often than not, narcissists wear out their welcome. Over time, people become annoyed, if not infuriated, by their self-centeredness. When narcissists begin to disappoint those whom they once dazzled, their descent can be especially precipitous. There is still truth today in the ancient proverb: Pride goes before the fall.
IV. His Self-Conception
The president of the United States is more than a chief executive. He (or she) is also a symbol, for the nation and for the world, of what it means to be an American. Much of the president’s power to represent and to inspire comes from narrative. It is largely through the stories he tells or personifies, and through the stories told about him, that a president exerts moral force and fashions a nation-defining legacy.
Like all of us, presidents create in their minds personal life stories—or what psychologists call narrative identities—to explain how they came to be who they are. This process is often unconscious, involving the selective reinterpretation of the past and imagination of the future. A growing body of research in personality, developmental, and social psychology demonstrates that a life story provides adults with a sense of coherence, purpose, and continuity over time. Presidents’ narratives about themselves can also color their view of national identity, and influence their understanding of national priorities and progress.
In middle age, George W. Bush formulated a life story that traced the transformation of a drunken ne’er-do-well into a self-regulated man of God. Key events in the story were his decision to marry a steady librarian at age 31, his conversion to evangelical Christianity in his late 30s, and his giving up alcohol forever the day after his 40th birthday party. By atoning for his sins and breaking his addiction, Bush was able to recover the feeling of control and freedom that he had enjoyed as a young boy growing up in Midland, Texas. Extending his narrative to the story of his country, Bush believed that American society could recapture the wholesome family values and small-town decency of yesteryear, by embracing a brand of compassionate conservatism. On the international front, he believed that oppressed people everywhere could enjoy the same kind of God-given rights—self-determination and freedom—if they could be emancipated from their oppressors. His redemptive story helped him justify, for better and for worse, a foreign war aimed at overthrowing a tyrant.
In Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama told his own redemptive life story, tracking a move from enslavement to liberation. Obama, of course, did not directly experience the horrors of slavery or the indignities of Jim Crow discrimination. But he imagined himself as the heir to that legacy, the Joshua to the Moses of Martin Luther King Jr. and other past advocates for human rights who had cleared a path for him. His story was a progressive narrative of ascent that mirrored the nation’s march toward equality and freedom—the long arc of history that bends toward justice, as King described it. Obama had already identified himself as a protagonist in this grand narrative by the time he married Michelle Robinson, at age 31.
What about Donald Trump? What is the narrative he has constructed in his own mind about how he came to be the person he is today? And can we find inspiration there for a compelling American story?
Our narrative identities typically begin with our earliest memories of childhood. Rather than faithful reenactments of the past as it actually was, these distant memories are more like mythic renderings of what we imagine the world to have been. Bush’s earliest recollections were about innocence, freedom, and good times growing up on the West Texas plains. For Obama, there is a sense of wonder but also confusion about his place in the world. Donald Trump grew up in a wealthy 1950s family with a mother who was devoted to the children and a father who was devoted to work. Parked in front of their mansion in Jamaica Estates, Queens, was a Cadillac for him and a Rolls-Royce for her. All five Trump children—Donald was the fourth—enjoyed a family environment in which their parents loved them and loved each other. And yet the first chapter in Donald Trump’s story, as he tells it today, expresses nothing like Bush’s gentle nostalgia or Obama’s curiosity. Instead, it is saturated with a sense of danger and a need for toughness: The world cannot be trusted.
Fred Trump made a fortune building, owning, and managing apartment complexes in Queens and Brooklyn. On weekends, he would occasionally take one or two of his children along to inspect buildings. “He would drag me around with him while he collected small rents in tough sections of Brooklyn,” Donald recalls in Crippled America. “It’s not fun being a landlord. You have to be tough.” On one such trip, Donald asked Fred why he always stood to the side of the tenant’s door after ringing the bell. “Because sometimes they shoot right through the door,” his father replied. While Fred’s response may have been an exaggeration, it reflected his worldview. He trained his sons to be tough competitors, because his own experience taught him that if you were not vigilant and fierce, you would never survive in business. His lessons in toughness dovetailed with Donald’s inborn aggressive temperament. “Growing up in Queens, I was a pretty tough kid,” Trump writes. “I wanted to be the toughest kid in the neighborhood.”
Fred applauded Donald’s toughness and encouraged him to be a “killer,” but he was not too keen about the prospects of juvenile delinquency. His decision to send his 13-year-old son off to military school, so as to alloy aggression with discipline, followed Donald’s trip on the subway into Manhattan, with a friend, to purchase switchblades. As Trump tells it decades later, New York Military Academy was “a tough, tough place. There were ex–drill sergeants all over the place.” The instructors “used to beat the shit out of you; those guys were rough.”
Military school reinforced the strong work ethic and sense of discipline Trump had learned from his father. And it taught him how to deal with aggressive men, like his intimidating baseball coach, Theodore Dobias:
What I did, basically, was to convey that I respected his authority, but that he didn’t intimidate me. It was a delicate balance. Like so many strong guys, Dobias had a tendency to go for the jugular if he smelled weakness. On the other hand, if he sensed strength but you didn’t try to undermine him, he treated you like a man.
Trump has never forgotten the lesson he learned from his father and from his teachers at the academy: The world is a dangerous place. You have to be ready to fight. The same lesson was reinforced in the greatest tragedy that Trump has heretofore known—the death of his older brother at age 43. Freddy Trump was never able to thrive in the competitive environment that his father created. Described by Blair in The Trumps as “too much the sweet lightweight, a mawkish but lovable loser,” Freddy failed to impress his father in the family business and eventually became an airline pilot. Alcoholism contributed to his early death. Donald, who doesn’t drink, loved his brother and grieved when he died. “Freddy just wasn’t a killer,” he concluded.
In Trump’s own words from a 1981 People interview, the fundamental backdrop for his life narrative is this: “Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.” The protagonist of this story is akin to what the great 20th-century scholar and psychoanalyst Carl Jung identified in myth and folklore as the archetypal warrior. According to Jung, the warrior’s greatest gifts are courage, discipline, and skill; his central life task is to fight for what matters; his typical response to a problem is to slay it or otherwise defeat it; his greatest fear is weakness or impotence. The greatest risk for the warrior is that he incites gratuitous violence in others, and brings it upon himself.
Trump loves boxing and football, and once owned a professional football team. In the opening segment of The Apprentice, he welcomes the television audience to a brutal Darwinian world:
New York. My city. Where the wheels of the global economy never stop turning. A concrete metropolis of unparalleled strength and purpose that drives the business world. Manhattan is a tough place. This island is the real jungle. If you’re not careful, it can chew you up and spit you out. But if you work hard, you can really hit it big, and I mean really big.
The story here is not so much about making money. As Trump has written, “money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score.” The story instead is about coming out on top.
As president, Donald Trump promises, he would make America great again. In Crippled America, he says that a first step toward victory is building up the armed forces: “Everything begins with a strong military. Everything.” The enemies facing the United States are more terrifying than those the hero has confronted in Queens and Manhattan. “There has never been a more dangerous time,” Trump says. Members of isis “are medieval barbarians” who must be pursued “relentlessly wherever they are, without stopping, until every one of them is dead.” Less frightening but no less belligerent are our economic competitors, like the Chinese. They keep beating us. We have to beat them.
Andrew Jackson displayed many of the same psychological qualities that we see in Trump.
Economic victory is one thing; starting and winning real wars is quite another. In some ways, Trump appears to be less prone to military action than certain other candidates. He has strongly criticized George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, and has cautioned against sending American troops to Syria.
That said, I believe there is good reason to fear Trump’s incendiary language regarding America’s enemies. David Winter, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, analyzed U.S. presidential inaugural addresses and found that those presidents who laced their speeches with power-oriented, aggressive imagery were more likely than those who didn’t to lead the country into war. The rhetoric that Trump uses to characterize both his own life story and his attitudes toward America’s foes is certainly aggressive. And, as noted, his extroversion and narcissism suggest a willingness to take big risks—actions that history will remember. Tough talk can sometimes prevent armed conflict, as when a potential adversary steps down in fear. But belligerent language may also incite nationalistic anger among Trump’s supporters, and provoke the rival nations at whom Trump takes aim.
Across the world’s cultures, warrior narratives have traditionally been about and for young men. But Trump has kept this same kind of story going throughout his life. Even now, as he approaches the age of 70, he is still the warrior. Going back to ancient times, victorious young combatants enjoyed the spoils of war—material bounty, beautiful women. Trump has always been a big winner there. His life story in full tracks his strategic maneuvering in the 1970s, his spectacular victories (the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Trump Tower) in the 1980s, his defeats in the early 1990s, his comeback later in that same decade, and the expansion of his brand and celebrity ever since. Throughout it all, he has remained the ferocious combatant who fights to win.
But what broader purpose does winning the battle serve? What higher prize will victory secure? Here the story seems to go mute. You can listen all day to footage of Donald Trump on the campaign trail, you can read his books, you can watch his interviews—and you will rarely, if ever, witness his stepping back from the fray, coming home from the battlefront, to reflect upon the purpose of fighting to win—whether it is winning in his own life, or winning for America.
Trump’s persona as a warrior may inspire some Americans to believe that he will indeed be able to make America great again, whatever that may mean. But his narrative seems thematically underdeveloped compared with those lived and projected by previous presidents, and by his competitors. Although his candidacy never caught fire, Marco Rubio told an inspiring story of upward mobility in the context of immigration and ethnic pluralism. Ted Cruz boasts his own Horatio Alger narrative, ideologically grounded in a profoundly conservative vision for America. The story of Hillary Clinton’s life journey, from Goldwater girl to secretary of state, speaks to women’s progress—her election as president would be historic. Bernie Sanders channels a narrative of progressive liberal politics that Democrats trace back to the 1960s, reflected both in his biography and in his policy positions. To be sure, all of these candidates are fighters who want to win, and all want to make America great (again). But their life stories tell Americans what they may be fighting for, and what winning might mean.
Trump has never forgotten the lesson from his father: The world is a dangerous place. You have to be ready to fight.
Victories have given Trump’s life clarity and purpose. And he must relish the prospect of another big win, as the potential GOP nominee. But what principles for governing can be drawn from a narrative such as his? What guidance can such a story provide after the election, once the more nebulous challenge of actually being the president of the United States begins?
Donald Trump’s story—of himself and of America—tells us very little about what he might do as president, what philosophy of governing he might follow, what agenda he might lay out for the nation and the world, where he might direct his energy and anger. More important, Donald Trump’s story tells him very little about these same things.
Nearly two centuries ago, President Andrew Jackson displayed many of the same psychological characteristics we see in Donald Trump—the extroversion and social dominance, the volatile temper, the shades of narcissism, the populist authoritarian appeal. Jackson was, and remains, a controversial figure in American history. Nonetheless, it appears that Thomas Jefferson had it wrong when he characterized Jackson as completely unfit to be president, a dangerous man who choked on his own rage. In fact, Jackson’s considerable success in dramatically expanding the power of the presidency lay partly in his ability to regulate his anger and use it strategically to promote his agenda.
What’s more, Jackson personified a narrative that inspired large parts of America and informed his presidential agenda. His life story appealed to the common man because Jackson himself was a common man—one who rose from abject poverty and privation to the most exalted political position in the land. Amid the early rumblings of Southern secession, Jackson mobilized Americans to believe in and work hard for the Union. The populism that his detractors feared would lead to mob rule instead connected common Americans to a higher calling—a sovereign unity of states committed to democracy. The Frenchman Michel Chevalier, a witness to American life in the 1830s, wrote that the throngs of everyday people who admired Jackson and found sustenance and substance for their own life story in his “belong to history, they partake of the grand; they are the episodes of a wondrous epic which will bequeath a lasting memory to posterity, that of the coming of democracy.”
Who, really, is Donald Trump? What’s behind the actor’s mask? I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.
Love him, hate him but can you feel sorry for him? Donald Trump’s personality analyzed
Ask anyone what they think of Donald Trump and you are almost guaranteed one of two instantaneous – almost reflexive – reactions: “He is great” (read: I admire his guts, love his strength and honesty) or “he is awful” (read: he is a disgusting, self-serving bigot and demagogue). Many a political figure has been controversial but none in recent history has polarized opinions as much as Mr. Trump. One obvious question is to ask why he triggers such opposing emotional reactions from folks. A less obvious – but more interesting query – is to wonder: Is there any way one can take on a nuanced position and say something like, ‘This man repulses me but I also feel sorry for him.’ As bizarre as it may initially appear, I would like to suggest it is perfectly tenable to hold such apparently contradicting positions about Mr. Trump. In order to do so, we must understand how personalities are formed and organized. More specifically, we need to analyze how particular patterns of character development lead to a personality one can feel both compassion for and be deeply disturbed by. It all depends on which aspect of self one chooses to focus on.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
One of the words most commonly thrown around to define Donald Trump’s personality is that he is a narcissist. A narcissist is someone who is intensely focused on themselves – often to the point of self-adoration – and belittles others. They spend an inordinate amount of time listing their accomplishments (as proof of their greatness) and it is impossible to have a balanced conversation with them as they invariably pay cursory or no attention to what you say. On the rare occasions they actually listen, it is because they are planning a strategy to redirect conversations back to them. There is no doubt about it: Mr. Trump is a textbook example of a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychologists will have no trouble diagnosing him with that condition. But saying someone has a personality disorder (narcissism or otherwise) tells us nothing about the cause for such development and the mechanism people use to maintain such traits. And this where it gets interesting.
It has been widely accepted that many psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are conditions with a strong biological component. This means the genetic makeup of such individuals plays a critical role in the development of the disorder. This contrasts with personality disorders, characterized by traits that have been learned. In other words, personality disorders develop as a result of life experiences, not because of genetic vulnerability. It is of course very difficult to claim with certitude where those (negative) experiences originate from but we do know the nature of the relationship we have with important people in our lives dramatically shape our perception of the world and ourselves. If we have felt deep pain from improper or insufficient parenting, despair from romantic breakups or friendship betrayals, bitter disappointment from various life outcomes, there is little doubt that personality development will be significantly affected. Some of us may address issues successfully, adjust well, and be psychologically healthy. Others may have more trouble handling such pains and develop, as a result, a personality that goes round difficulties rather than face them. In other words, some personalities are structured and organized to avoid remembering – at all costs – troublesome feelings and emotional pain. If a person uses this strategy consistently and across the board, they are using a defense mechanism strategy. Let me explain further.
Defense mechanisms are the mind’s powerful ability to protect itself by avoiding feelings of discomfort and anxiety and negative perceptions of self. You may recognize at least one of them: repression. This defense tactic is used to banish from conscious memory something too painful to remember. We hide uncomfortable and hurtful feelings from awareness; they still exist…but we can’t ‘see’ them. Think of it as clothes and belongings (memories, experiences) accumulated over years of life in a large suitcase. At the bottom of the suitcase lies old memories and experiences. If you keep accumulating stuff and pile them up in that suitcase, what lies at the top will begin hiding what is underneath. If you don’t shake the suitcase (i.e., discuss and address difficult memories) they can be forgotten. It is this motivation to bar from conscious awareness that is the defense mechanism.
Sigmund Freud may have had some outlandish ideas about sexuality but his genius was his ability to notice defense mechanisms. He identified many, including repression, which he considered most fundamental. There is also regression (going back to an infantile or younger stage in life to feel safer) and projection (blaming others for our own faults). With regards to Mr. Trump, there is one defense mechanism that fits him like a glove: reaction formation. His comments, behaviors and reactions are remarkably consistent with folks who use this strategy to defend themselves from uncomfortable feelings. So what is reaction formation and what is The Donald trying to defend himself from?? Read on.
Reaction formation is a fascinating strategy because it flies in the face of logic. It is the expression of feelings towards an event, a situation or something about ourselves that is the opposite of what we truly feel. It is the person who condemns the drama on a reality TV shows when they secretly revel in it, it is the person who thinks drug addicts should face the harshest punishment when they are addicted themselves, it is the person vehemently defending heterosexual values because they are afraid of their own homosexuality (think Chris Cooper playing Colonel Frank Fitts in American Beauty and the many priests who used religion as a cover for sexually abusing children). While it is hard to know for certain if one is defending a position sincerely or because of anxiety from expressing the opposite view, there is one characteristic of reaction formation that often gives it away: the excessive need to prove one’s point and the inflexibility of the position. In Mr. Trump’s case, any attack on him results in an immediate reaction from his part to remind everyone how great he is. He is quick to deny his failures, never admits wrongdoings and attacks anyone who criticizes his business record and his….hands. Yes his hands. And if someone says he has small hands (as presidential candidate Marco Rubio commented and insinuating he has a small ‘something else’) then you are attacking his physical greatness or prowess. Now think about it: what political candidate, what person who runs for the highest office in the US feels the need to justify the size of his hands at the very beginning of a political debate? Donald Trump. What person needs to exhibit his steaks, water, magazines and discuss how great they all are at a press conference following a primary win? Donald Trump. What man denies having been bankrupt four times and say ‘he just used what the law allowed him to do?” Donald Trump. His painstaking and excessive need to justify he is an amazing man leads us to wonder: does he really think he is, or is he hiding deep insecurities about his competence?
To answer this question, we get to the most interesting part of Trump’s personality. It is one thing to explain why you think you are ‘the greatest’ and it is another to lie to prove it. Faking reality, unconsciously or otherwise, is the glue of a defense mechanism. Lying is a powerful method to deny personal feelings of weakness, fraudulence or incompetence. In two separate public appearances (once following a primary victory and another at a recent debate) Trump lied.
Lie # 1: He displayed steaks he claimed were his – as you would display a product for an infomercial – to prove his business was thriving. In reality, the steaks he displayed were not his (they belonged to another meat company – Bush Brothers) as Trump Steaks are no longer produced. And when reporters tried to verify the packaging brand Trump’s team quickly put them away.
Lie # 2: He states never having heard anyone say anything negative about the size of his hands. Quoting him: “I never heard this one before…everyone says ‘Donald, you have beautiful hands’.” In reality, Donald’s hands have been ridiculed before. In fact, they have been ridiculed for decades. Here is the story behind lie # 2 and how his attempts to prove he has ‘beautiful hands’ lies at the heart of Mr. Trump’s personality insecurities.
In 1988, a New York-based satirical magazine began publishing a series of articles to poke fun at Mr. Trump. The authors of the articles called him the ‘short-fingered vulgarian.’ Over the course of eight years they published a dozen articles on the short-fingered vulgarian. How do we know Trump knew of them? Over and over again, he sent them pictures of his hands as evidence they were not small. In other words, he was excessive and relentless in proving they were not short – behavior in line with reaction formation. What is remarkable is he has not stopped trying to prove his point, almost 30 years later. The founder of the Magazine Spy, Graydon Carter, is quoted from the website vox.com, commenting on how he continues, to this day, to receive correspondence from Trump: “There is always a photo of him – generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers.”
Power and Dominance
Nothing disturbs Mr. Trump more than someone questioning his power and dominance. This is because there is a deeply hidden part of Trump that doesn’t think he is great. And if we were to imagine, just for the sake of the argument, that he agrees to therapy and receives psychological treatment then we may be able to reach into to the bottom of that suitcase. And based on the arguments set forth in this article, I argue we will find a very insecure child hiding somewhere. It is that Trump you can feel sorry for. But that part is so hidden from his own and anyone’s awareness that it is almost impossible for anyone to see. And when his comments continue to be demeaning, have a disturbing flavor of cruelty, racism, and misogyny, it is no surprise that many despise the man. After all, that is the part he has chosen to expose to the world and himself.
Hope this helps to understand the nut job who will become president in Jan. 2017.
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Coal Miners Who Voted for Trump Are Now Terrified to Lose Obamacare
CNN recently told the story of miners and miners’ widows in eastern Kentucky. They all share three things in common:
They are all affected by black lung, either directly or indirectly.
They all voted for Donald Trump.
They all now fear what is going to happen if Trump follows through on his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare).
All of the voters CNN speaks to said they were inclined to vote for Trump despite their fears, because he said he was going to bring coal-mining jobs back. And now that he won, and they have had time to process his message, they are afraid.
According to the US Department of Labor, the ACA restores benefits and entitlements to both victims and survivors of black lung:
The first amendment mandates a presumption of total disability or death caused by pneumoconiosis for coal miners who worked for at least 15 years in underground (or comparable surface) mining and who suffer or suffered from a totally disabling respiratory impairment. The second amendment provides automatic entitlement for eligible survivors of miners who were themselves entitled to receive benefits as a result of a lifetime claim.
The re-instated amendments are 30 United States Code 921(c)(4) and 30 U.S.C. 932(l); and they are contained in Section 1556 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and apply to claims filed after Jan. 1, 2005, that are pending on or after March 23, 2010.
The final rule addresses the automatic entitlement of certain survivors and the 15-year entitlement presumption as it applies to miners’ and their survivors’ claims. In addition, the rule eliminates several unnecessary or obsolete provisions in accordance with Executive Order 13563.
Stat News also tell the stories of black lung survivors who talk about just how impossible it was to receive benefits, ” ‘You couldn’t ever win back then,’ said Sue Toler, a coal miner’s widow in Huntsville, Tenn., of claims for black lung benefits. ‘It didn’t matter what kind of evidence you had.’ “ Phil Smith, a spokesperson for the United Coal Workers of America said it was “almost impossible . . . The vast majority of people were denied benefits. People would take these cases through the black lung court system and they would be denied because the companies could sow the shadow of a seed of a doubt.”
Stat News goes on to explain how the ACA changed things:
The Affordable Care Act changed that. Under “Miscellaneous Provisions” is a small section sponsored by a self-proclaimed “child of the Appalachian coalfields,” the late West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd.
The Byrd Amendments shifted the burden of proof from the miners onto the mining companies. If a miner has spent 15 years or more underground and can prove respiratory disability, then it is presumed to be black lung related to mine work, unless the company can prove otherwise.
“Often the person whose job it is to do the convincing loses,” said Evan Smith, a lawyer for the nonprofit Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, who represents many miners affected by black lung. That change had a significant impact: In 2009, 19 percent of claims for black lung benefits were successful; in 2015, that percentage had jumped to 28.
And now, faced with the reality of Trump’s dangerous campaign rhetoric, at times at odds with itself, the coal miners of Appalachia are left wondering, “who really has my back?”
I think we all know who doesn’t. And unfortunately – in four years whether or not Trump scammed the hell out of them isn’t going to matter…
How many times must it be said? You Get What You Vote For. No republican ever protected the rights of a working man and conservatives are 10 times worse than regular republicans. If you want to lose everything you have keep on voting for republicans, they will clean your clock. Republicans throw gays and blacks in front of you and rob you while you are distracted and that's your fault. You should be smarter.
Paul Ryan: Poor Kids Who Receive Free Lunch Have “Empty Souls”
Just last week the current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, gave a speech at the largest annual gathering of leaders and activists within the conservative movement at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In this speech, he said one of the most disturbing things ever uttered in the name of politics.
Paul Ryan has become an outspoken critic of the War on Poverty, albeit with facts and figures that have been misrepresented, at best. But in this speech he took aim at the children at the very center of American poverty, those who are innocent and in situations well beyond the realm of their own control. According to Time Magazine, “free lunches provided to children by government programs give kids ‘a full stomach — and an empty soul.’ “
During his speech he recalls a story about a poor family in Wisconsin that was told to him: “She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch — one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”
He goes on to say that “the Left” desires comfort while caring little for dignity. I guess to Republicans, dignity is more important than nourishment.
At one point a transcript of the speech could be found on the webpage of Prosperity Action, of which Paul Ryan is the Honorary Chairman. But all the speeches from this page have been removed. The link to the page is https://www.prosperitypac.com/speeches/cpac/.
Shame on them.
CBS Breaks Trump Tax-Fraud BOMBSHELL, Trump Stunned!
CBS broke a damning story which reveals a pattern of illegal accounting changes, deceit and coverup, all revolving around one hotel in New York City.
IT ALL STARTS with a letter signed by Donald Trump on April 22, 1987, in which he approves a number of changes to the hotel’s accounting. This has since been proven by NYC auditors to have robbed close to $3,000,000.
Ten years earlier Trump was able to secure an arrangement where the hotel, The Grand Hyatt New York, would not have to pay taxes. The agreement instead guaranteed the city a share of profits which they call “rent.” In the years before 1987, that rent payment was generally in the area of $3-4 million. In 1986 the city received $3.7 million. In 1987, a year marked by record profits for the hotel, the payment was $667,155.
The next two years proved to be a fiasco of tax-evading proportions. City auditors were constantly and systematically stonewalled, stalled, and stalemated, as Trump, the Hyatt Corporation, and their legal team lied while presenting a picture of disorganization and sketchy-at-best accounting practices. A baffling amount of paperwork was unable to be produced, even from just the year before, including:
Seven of 12 monthly ledgers
Three of 12 detailed ledgers
25 of 87 income journals
One of five payroll cycles
26 of 84 expense vouchers
In 1989 state officials ordered the Hyatt Corporation to pay New York City about $2.9 million. A month later, in January 1990, a Trump Organization official signed for the ownership partners on a lawsuit against the city and state. The case was finally settled in 2004; the terms of the settlement are not available.
So here we are, thirty years later, with the offending party as the Republican nominee for president. He now claims he is currently under routine audit, presenting the American public that scenario as the reason he won’t release his tax returns.
So you think Trump is a great businessman?
Eduardo Porter in the New York Times uses this construction to ask, "Did the white working class vote its economic interests?" He claims that current data shows white people losing out to blacks and Hispanics in getting their fair share of the new jobs created since 2007:
"Despite accounting for less than 15 percent of the labor force, Hispanics got more than half of the net additional jobs. Blacks and Asians also gained millions more jobs than they lost. But whites, who account for 78 percent of the labor force, lost more than 700,000 net jobs over the nine years."
Porter further argues this is happening because blacks and Hispanics live mostly in the thriving urban areas while most white people live in declining rural areas.
Only 472 counties voted for Hillary Clinton on Election Day. But ... they account for 64 percent of the nation’s economic activity. The 2,584 counties where Mr. Trump won, by contrast, generated only 36 percent of America’s prosperity.
Porter therefore believes that the white working class flocked to Trump as a way to protest their economic decline.
But this conclusion is flawed:
- Neither the studies nor Porter provide a definition of "white working class." Is it all white people? Does it include management? Professionals? We're not told.
- Nor do they provide any evidence that the actual work experiences of white and black working people are starkly different no matter how the class is defined.
- Rural America, also, is not lily white. Hispanics and African Americans make up a total of 17.5% of rural and small town America.
- Further, the research grounding my book Runaway Inequality shows that working people as a whole (defined as the 85 percent of us who are production and non-supervisory employees) have seen their real wages fall since the late 1970s—all shades, all colors.
- Finally, most of the new jobs created are low-wage, part-time service sector jobs—jobs that often pay poverty wages. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015, "More than 40% of the jobs added in just the past year have come in generally lower-paying fields such as food service, retail and temporary help." So getting the lion's share of these jobs is not a pathway to prosperity.
Dog Whistle Whites
What these studies and reports do accomplish however is to sound the latest dog whistle about race in America. They create an image in our minds of a coherent white working class, hunkered down in the declining manufacturing sector—white rural workers who have needs and interests different from black and brown urban workers. In doing so, this image feeds into a long history of white working class creationism that divides working people by race.
An early instance of this process took place in the aftermath of Bacon's rebellion (1675), during which Nathanial Bacon united black slaves, and white indentured servants into a rebellious army against Virginia planter elites. (It was less than a noble enterprise in that Bacon wanted more government attacks against Native Americans.) After the rebellion was put down, plantation owners gave special privileges to poor whites in order to drive a wedge between them and black slaves. It worked.
A dramatic redefinition of "white" took place during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as mass immigration and colonialization expanded. So called race scientists studied cranial size and shapes, skin color, and hair texture to create a biology of race. By 1911, the U.S. Immigration Commission published its Dictionary of Races or Peoples, that listed 29 separate races. The Southern Italian race, for example, is described as "excitable, impulsive, highly imaginative...having little adaptability to highly organized society."
Race science defined "white" as a narrow category that excluded virtually everyone who didn't come from northern Europe. By the First World War, U.S. immigration policy was informed by early IQ tests given to immigrants on Ellis Island thatsupposedly showed that "87% of Russians, 83% of Jews, 80% of Hungarians, and 79% of Italians were feeble-minded."
Management "Race Science"
These race scientists created a vast hierarchy of races seen in the chart below designed for a Pittsburgh steel company in 1926. It is based on the idea that each "race" by its intrinsic nature possesses certain skills and attributes that makes it suitable to certain work tasks.
This "science" provided the rationale for dividing the workforce by ethnic group which had the added virtue of weakening worker solidarity and keeping unions at bay. This became particularly acute after 4 million workers went on strike at the end of WWI. The largest strike involved 350,000 steel workers that finally collapsed after 14 weeks of pitched battles. It is highly likely that the skills chart was designed to prevent such a resurgence.
(One can only speculate why the Jewish "race" was placed at the bottom of the hierarchy. One reason may be because two of the largest unions in the country—the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union were Jewish led and contained hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrant workers. So if you hired Jewish workers into the steel industry, the odds were high they might be predisposed to unionism or be union plants.)
The Whitening of America
A confluence of events rapidly changed the definition of white in the1930s and 40s. The rise of American industrial unionism successfully organized "unskilled" immigrant workers, blacks and Hispanics into broad-based unions. So much for the race chart.
The mobilization for WWII further melded together all the "lower" ethnic groups except for black, brown and yellow. And after the atrocities at the Nazi death camps were revealed, the earlier race science industry was thoroughly discredited.
What causes the definition of race to change?
The definition of "white" and of "race" in general depends on the needs of the most powerful elements of society. To justify slavery and Jim Crow, race science gave Southern elites a justification for denying human rights to millions with darker skin colors.
The "science" of the early 1900s created finely grained racial hierarchies that conveniently justified immigration restrictions and colonialism. Colonial powers argued that since their "race" was at the top of the ladder, they had the right and the duty to rule lesser peoples and their countries.
To successfully mobilize America against the "master race" and the "yellow peril" during WWII, American leaders permitted "white" to be broadened to include most of what previously had been considered lesser races. (However, racist South Democrats and their lock-down control of Congress, made sure that black and brown people were denied New Deal benefits and therefore would continue to suffer as separate races. The Japanese interment camps further heightened the idea of a separate race of "Orientals.")
So what color is Obama?
White mother, black father means you are black? White? Half-black? Half white?
That kind of question leads us to think about race as a biological as well as a sociological category. Skin color is real biology isn't it? And what about sickle-cell anemia?
But folk science is not real science. One in 13 African-American babies is born with a sickle-cell trait. Sickle cell trait can also affect Hispanics, South Asians, Caucasians from southern Europe, and people from Middle Eastern countries.
Similarly, every effort to construct a black or white race through genetics has failed. No one yet has found a gene that signals a separate race.
Here's a fact of life that may startle you. Eighty-five percent of all genetic variation is among people within a population and only 15 percent of the variation among humans is between different populations and continents. This means that any two black people chosen at random will have far more genetic differences from each other than a randomly selected white and a black person. Biologically speaking the old cliché is true: There is only one race—the human race.
What is Race?
Over a century ago, W.E.B. Dubois put forth perhaps the clearest, most exact definition of race: "A Negro is a person who must ride Jim Crow in Georgia"
He understood, as should we, that race always is a social construction, a human invention used to create a hierarchy of power. It is not genetics. It is not biology. And in the case of the "white working class" it's not even accurate sociology.
When we invent the white working class, we whitewash an increasingly diverse manufacturing workforce. Take the workforce at Carrier, which is in the news because of Trump's effort to prevent its jobs from moving to Mexico. Isn't it a perfect example of a beleaguered and declining white working class in Indiana, looking to Trump for help?
No, the Carrier workforce is 50 percent African-American. Half of the assembly line workers are women. Burmese immigrants make up 10 percent of the employees.
Drop the dubious "white working class" construction and we'll see that Porter is asking the wrong question. It's not whether the imagined white working class voted for its own economic interests by voting for Trump.
Rather, the real question is this: Is it even possible for working people of all kinds to vote their economic interests given the corporate orientation of both parties?
What do you think?
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