Sunday, February 5, 2017

Trump the Narcissist

America has been taken on a wild ride from the time presidential candidate Donald Trump first descended that escalator to the first couple weeks of his improbable presidency.
America has never seen a major party candidate and now a president behave so erratically (since perhaps Richard Nixon in his final days in office). Admittedly, his supporters are still doing the happy dance for a president they feel is telling it like it is. But the rest of us see a man with an incredibly inflated opinion of himself who at the same time is often mean-spirited towards others he sees as inferior to him. It is any wonder that many have asked whether there is something wrong with Trump from a mental health standpoint?
By far, the most applied label to Trump by both laypeople and increasingly mental health professionals is that he is a narcissist.
The Wikipedia article on Narcissism lists the following traits power-hungry narcissists typically display:
An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
A lack of psychological awareness
Difficulty with empathy
Problems distinguishing the self from others
Hypersensitivity to any insults or imagined insults
Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt
Haughty body language
Flattery towards people who admire and affirm them (narcissistic supply)
Detesting those who do not admire them (narcissistic abuse)
Using other people without considering the cost of doing so
Pretending to be more important than they actually are
Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating their achievements
Claiming to be an "expert" at many things
Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people
Denial of remorse and gratitude
I will leave it to the reader to decide how many of the above traits apply to our new president. But in the category of Flattery, the mutual admiration between Trump and Vladimir Putin is more than ample evidence.
In fairness, mental health professionals have traditionally cautioned against diagnosing a subject from afar without having performed an examination with the patient's permission. But the ramifications of someone with possible mental health issues as the leader of the free world (who also has access to the nuclear codes) is scary enough for more and more mental health professionals to go public with their concerns.
One article published by Vanity Fair shortly after the election, Is Donald Trump Actually a Narcissist? Therapists Weigh In! has the following interesting observations:
“He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his characteristics,” said clinical psychologist George Simon, who conducts lectures and seminars on manipulative behavior. “Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”
“He’s applying for the greatest job in the land, the greatest task of which is to serve, but there’s nothing about the man that is service-oriented. He’s only serving himself.” 
Since Trump’s inauguration and his erratic behavior in the weeks since, more and more mental health specialists have been speaking out as outlined in this article alleging his ‘malignant narcissism’.
Just after the election, a group called Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism was created, which was joined by thousands of psychologists. They published a manifesto warning of Trump’s psychosis, citing the following as the signs to fear:
“Scapegoating and banishing groups of people who are seen as threats, including immigrants and religious minorities; degrading, ridiculing, and demeaning rivals and critics; fostering a cult of the Strong Man who appeals to fear and anger; promises to solve our problems if we just trust in him; reinvents history and has little concern for truth (and) sees no need for rational persuasion.”
Whether it is phone conversations with world leaders or just speeches in front of various groups, Trump seems to have an obsessive habit of boasting about himself. Perhaps the most egregious example was his speech in front of the hallowed memorial wall at the CIA. Very strange if not outright narcissistic!
In the months during the election campaign, it was apparent to most that along with Trump’s inexperience in government, he was poorly versed on the issues he would have to handle as president. But his standard reply to those with reservations over this is that he would hire some “terrific advisers”. But how has that turned out?
All presidents, no matter how knowledgeable they may be need advisers. Nobody can be a specialist in everything. But in the case of Trump who feels he is always the smartest man in the room wherever he goes, how does he decide who is most worthy to provide him with advice?
If someone is a narcissist, the ready answer is to pick someone who is an ideological soulmate and fawning admirer - like Steve Bannon who ran Trump’s campaign and has now become his top White House strategist. The additional danger with Trump’s inexperience is that he may well unwittingly allow somebody like Bannon to take the reins of office and run with them. The New York Times takes this sobering look at the man they call President Bannon?.
Plenty of presidents have had prominent political advisers, and some of those advisers have been suspected of quietly setting policy behind the scenes (recall Karl Rove or, if your memory stretches back far enough, Dick Morris). But we’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon — nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence.
But a new executive order, politicizing the process for national security decisions, suggests Mr. Bannon is positioning himself not merely as a Svengali but as the de facto president.
So is there a point in calling out what may be some mental health issues with the president? I say the answer is an emphatic yes! While liberal partisans such as myself may indeed criticize Trump on ideological grounds, these pale in importance to the possible dangers to our democracy posed by a mentally unhinged leader.
For example, there is Trump’s bitter hostility towards the media. He has verbally abused them and done his best to delegitimize them labeling any news accounts unfavorable to him as “fake news”. His endless use of Twitter allows him to try and control the narrative when addressing his followers without the media to provide needed context and/or fact checking of what are sometimes his use of  "alternative facts".
Now more than ever, we need a vigilant media to hold President Trump’s feet to the fire. But instead, we have Bannon who has told the media to "keep its mouth shut". We as citizens cannot tolerate this kind of attitude that can only be described as totalitarian if not again, narcissistic.
Most sobering of all is that we have a president who cannot tolerate even the smallest criticism or affront without waging a prolonged and sometimes vicious counterattack. Will this man plunge us into a war if he is provoked or insulted? Did I remember to mention that he now has access to the nuclear codes?
Unless we can be assured that Donald Trump is mentally sound, I say we have to be afraid. Very afraid!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Trying to Understand the Trump Voter

For those of us who didn’t see Donald Trump’s victory coming, many of us are still in shock. How could this have happened? It seemed like Trump said or did one outrageous thing after another that would have killed just about any other candidate’s chances.
But his followers were inspired by him and were not to be denied. What motivated them so much? While we have had ample opportunity to put Trump under the magnifying glass during this election year, those of us in blue state America have no real idea of what makes the Tea Party supporters in those deep red states tick. And while liberals like myself may never agree with their views, perhaps we need to leave our bubbles to at least try to understand them.
It was with this intent that a liberal sociology professor (from Berkeley no less) decided to climb what she called her empathy wall to get to know as many people in deep red Louisiana as possible through a series of interviews spanning several years.  The result was Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right which I read and can recommend to the reader.
The main paradox the author tries to understand is that Louisiana residents have been subjected to incredible amounts of industrial pollution by the oil and petrochemical industries. In addition to the polluted air and water, there have been cancer deaths from the various carcinogens left as manufacturing byproducts. But their disdain for government is so strong that they want no part of any regulations to try to prevent or at least mitigate some of the damage. In fact, many of the people the author interviewed were actually in favor of dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency (which was ironically created by a Nixon Republican administration). So given this, perhaps it helps to explain why President-elect Trump wants to appoint someone hostile to the EPA to lead it.
So while there is lots of anti-government rhetoric spouted by both citizens and politicians, the pollution is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. The oil industry provides jobs. In their minds, pollution is the price they must pay to get those jobs.
The author when interviewing a self-proclaimed partisan Republican, got this gem of a quote on Page 166 when the subject turned to pollution. As Dave Barry would say here, I am not making this up!
"A company has a job to do; it's making things people want and need. Just like people have to go to the bathroom, plants do too. You can't just say ' don't do it.' "
As for the strong anti-government feelings, the author came up with a narrative or as she called it, their “deep story” or their "feels as if" story.
Those in rural America have also been feeling economic pain. Especially among white men, the way to get ahead is to work hard and get in line to make progress towards a better life. But as they see it, other people are cutting in line. Women are getting more access to the career jobs they used to have. Blacks are getting ahead through affirmative action. And in President Obama, they see someone who is helping the line jumpers. As for those getting government aid, shouldn’t those people be working instead?
As the author notes, there is not only sexism in this narrative but also racism. This is difficult for her to write about because these are people she had grown to like. These are people she had never heard using the n word but were racists nonetheless. This is from Page 147:
As I and others use the term, however, racism refers to a belief in a natural hierarchy that places blacks at the bottom, and the tendency of whites to judge their own worth from that distance from that bottom. By that definition, many Americans, north and south are racist. And racism appears not simply in personal attitudes but in structural arrangements - as when polluting industries move closer to black neighborhoods than to white ones.
In these people, there is undeniably an air of frustration. If only the right person who understands them, who talks their language, would offer to lead them out of the wilderness. It was Donald Trump who said that he alone understands what’s wrong with America and he alone can fix it. To most of us, this is little more than authoritarian rhetoric. But to these people, this is the man they wanted to be our next president.
The website Vox published this fascinating article, The rise of American authoritarianism
authoritarianism — not actual dictators, but rather a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.
So when Trump talked about the Mexicans sending their rapists, most of us cringed. But his base voters approved. The same thing happened when Trump announced a proposed ban of Muslims.
Unlike most convention speeches made by their nominees that promise a sunny future for America, Trump’s speech dwelled on all that he felt was wrong with America along with of course, his promise to fix things. And the more uneasy an electorate is, the more an authoritarian can hit home with his message.
So the message of this article was that even before Trump ran for president, there was an authoritarian following waiting for somebody like him. And this following had enough momentum to make Trump a candidate with serious winning chances long before most of us began to take him seriously. And this is from an article posted last March!
Unfortunately, the transition from  Trump’s election to his inauguration has been anything but reassuring. If anything, his authoritarian tendencies have been more on display. This excellent Robert Reich video expresses the fear that Trump’s authoritarian behavior could ultimately be a threat to our democracy if left unchecked for too long. Frankly, I found the video to be a bit disturbing. But I urge the reader to watch it!
The big problem with the authoritarian mindset in my view is its unconditional faith in certain people or ideologies. For example, the people in Louisiana discussed before are suffering horribly from the effects of pollution. But because they believe that all government regulation is bad, they feel they  have little other choice but to endure it.
Although Trump has to be charitable, stretched the truth on countless occasions, his followers seem to believe every word he says as gospel.  When truth takes a beating like this, is it any wonder that fake news and legitimate news can become indistinguishable to many?
The only antidote to authoritarian thinking is critical thinking where logic and the search for the truth rules over fear and closed mindedness. But are enough of us capable of that? I like many others around the country and the world are fearful of what the upcoming months of a Trump administration will bring to our democracy. The only comfort we can take is to remember that America has made it through some really rough times before.  We will do it again!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Can Donald Trump Deliver on His Promises to Rural America?

I was planning on waiting until after the election to do a posting on how America just dodged a bullet by finally sending Donald Trump home so we wouldn’t have to hear his toxic rhetoric anymore. It didn’t work out that way.
As the reader can guess, the results left me stunned and in the state of total despair.
But I tried to cope as best I could. I thought that he at least got the majority of the popular vote which as far as I’m concerned, conveys the will of the people whether I liked it or not. Then I found out that he indeed lost the national popular vote. That didn’t work.
OK, so we just elected an intellectual lightweight. But we’ve done that before. What can possibly happen that is catastrophic? Oh yeah, George W. Bush, who was elected in 2000 (also with a minority of the popular vote) transformed an inherited budget surplus into a massive deficit by needlessly and tragically starting a war with Iraq. That didn’t make me feel better either.
But reaching deep down, maybe – just maybe something good came out of this. Could this all have possibly been a blessing in disguise? Maybe. Just hear me out!
It’s been painfully obvious that America is not only deeply but bitterly divided. Looking at all of those maps on TV during the election returns, it showed states mostly covered with red colored counties with a few blue dots, those representing the urban areas.
It is safe to say that much of this bitter divide is between urban America and rural America. And although rural America commands the overwhelming amount of land area, the overall urban and rural populations are very close to being equal. And by no coincidence, the presidential election results have been cliffhangers in recent years.
So how do we compare the urban and rural American mentalities? That would take a book. And this is not that book. But with the reader’s indulgence, I would like to offer some general observations with the caveat that anything general can have its exceptions.
Urban dwellers live in close proximity to one another. This constant interaction with one another leads to an attitude that we are in this together. Having government to provide a safety net for those in need is the only right thing to do. Urban centers are typically melting pots where different races and ethnicities freely mingle.
On the other hand, rural people tend to live apart from each other or at the least, away from dense population centers. This tends to cultivate self-reliance and independence from what they feel is any form of government intrusion into their lives. For those in need, government is not the answer; charity is. And unlike urban America, rural America is a homogeneous white culture. Admittedly, it is difficult to have empathy for another race where few white people have ever engaged with non-whites.
This rivalry between the two competing worldviews is nothing new. But rural America has been going through some especially tough times lately. Job losses particularly in coal and manufacturing have been accelerating. This naturally has led to more widespread poverty.  These people are mad as hell, but whom to blame for their misery? Maybe it’s foreign immigrants. Or the black people. Or China with the government and their trade agreements that they feel caused much of this. When Hillary Clinton advocated moving away from fossil fuels like coal to renewables, environmentalists applauded but the coal miners were furious at her for wanting to take away their jobs. In short, government became the enemy. In their eyes, President Obama is the face of big government and Hillary Clinton represented continuation of the status quo. It took a demagogue like Donald Trump to harness all of this frustration and hate into a most improbable election victory.
And make no mistake, rural white America contributed greatly to Trump’s victory. While Trump strongly outperformed Mitt Romney in 2012 among rural voters, Clinton underperformed President Obama in 2012 with blacks, Latinos, and even women. With many of the crucial swing states being decided by razor-thin margins, this alone was likely enough to deliver the victory to Trump.
If Hillary had been elected, this bitter divide would have continued to the detriment of our nation. Perhaps the only way to settle this was to give rural America what they wanted. But as they say, be careful what you wish for!
Donald Trump has made what liberals like myself feel are a lot of outrageous promises to get elected that he will never be able to keep. It’s easy to boo and do catcalls at the performer when you are one of the spectators. But soon, he will be on center stage with the world watching him. And now he will be expected to perform.
Where do we start?
He has promised to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with “something terrific”. Will the people with preexisting conditions continue to be insured? The idea of forcing people to buy health insurance may seem wrong to these people. But if only sick people buy health insurance, how does he expect the insurance market to avoid a collapse? Now he can show us.
He promises large tax cuts benefiting mostly the rich along with in his words, making the military great again. And while not touching Social Security or Medicare, he has promised a balanced budget. Previous tax cutters like George W. Bush have given us exploding deficits. Can Trump do better? Let’s find out.
Will the Republican Congress authorize the money to build that wall on the Mexican border? If this somehow happens, will he really be able to get the Mexicans to reimburse us for the cost? This is not to mention the cost and manpower to round up and deport the millions of undocumented immigrants as promised.
He has promised to bring back the jobs that have left America. Coal and steel jobs will return. And to those companies who plan to move jobs outside of America, he promises to impose steep tariffs. How would he explain the likely resulting trade war that could decimate world economies? He has promised repeatedly that through the threat of tariffs, he will prevent Carrier from moving its Indiana manufacturing plant to Mexico.
He claims he can negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep world affairs in order. What will he do if Putin gives him the finger and causes more mayhem elsewhere?
If he can fulfill his promises without harming people, that would prove that the change his voters demanded was the right medicine for what ails America. But if he can’t, maybe it will expose the fallacy of all of these ideas which may result in his supporters turning on him. And while the next presidential election is 4 years away, the Congressional midterm elections are only 2 years away which may result in significant Republican losses if they fail to deliver. And those Carrier workers in Indiana expect action from him to save their jobs from moving to Mexico. Or else.
And only a few days past the election, some fascinating developments are already taking place as the Trump Administration is taking shape. He is already hedging on some of his major pledges including the repeal of Obamacare and the building of the wall with Mexico. He had strongly condemned lobbyists during his campaign. Now they're on his transition team.
As one of Trump’s many skeptics, I can assert that much of what he is advocating for has already been tried and found wanting. But memories are short. Unfortunately, for all too many, the only way to show what works is to conclusively prove what doesn’t work.
And maybe, just maybe if more of us can agree on what works, we can work together to promote the common good instead of prolonging this toxic divide between rural and urban America. At least it’s something to hope for!
I would like to conclude with this NY Times reader comment by Matthew Carnecelli:
...what they fail to understand is that Trump's victory is merely the rope that they will use to hang themselves, and that his presidency will be the final nail in the coffin of their toxic ideology.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The False Equivalency Between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

As the reader can guess, I am a confirmed political junkie. In addition to following newspaper and TV discussions on the issues, I love talking politics with anybody who directly or indirectly brings up an interesting political issue. Then with this being an election year, I gently steer the conversation towards whom they support for president. And yes, I run into plenty of people who support people I don’t support. But that often makes the conversation more interesting. I want to know, why do they feel the way they do?
If somebody supports Hillary, that’s OK. And if somebody supports Trump, that’s OK too – to each their own I say. But all too often, I hear they are both just as bad as each other and that they aren’t going to vote for either one of them.
Although this makes me a bit crazy, I do understand that both of these candidates have low favorability ratings. But to imply that they are equivalent choices is to my mind, pure lunacy.
Allow me to make the case.
Hillary is one of the most experienced candidates ever to run for president. Trump is the least experienced major party candidate we have ever had never having served either in government or the military. No equivalence here.
While both have their opposite party detractors, in Trump, it is impossible to recall any candidate being openly condemned by so many Republican politicians along with conservative commentators. If there are so many Republicans who can’t stand Trump, doesn’t that say something?
When it comes to bigotry and racism, George Wallace may be comparable to Trump. But among major party nominees, nobody can compare to Trump. And has any other major party nominee been so enthusiastically endorsed by hate groups like the KKK? In fairness, we cannot say that all Trump supporters are racists. But l think it’s safe to say that all racists are Trump supporters! Indeed, most observers feel that Trump's so-called ‘birther’ attack on President Obama, charging that he was born in Africa was racially motivated – a charge that he has never recanted.
Also troubling is Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as his campaign's CEO, formerly of Breitbart News a far right (now better known as alt-right) website that is known for its racist and anti-Semitic posts. Indeed, one of Breitbart's staff was barred from Twitter for a vicious attack campaign on Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, presumably for being black and female.
And just for good measure, Trump's latest appointment, David Bossie has made a career out of Clinton hating.
There is no denying that Hillary is a flawed candidate. Her judgment in the way she handled the State Department E-mails is certainly open to criticism. And despite the good works of the Clinton Foundation, the prospect of clients calling on both the Foundation and the State Department is always going to look questionable. And while Bill Clinton has promised to separate from the Foundation if his wife wins, perhaps he should have done this at the beginning of her campaign. But for Trump to encourage his rally supporters to yell “Lock her up!” again has no equivalence to any other presidential campaign at least in modern times.
His allegations of “pay to play” now look pathetic next to his contributions to various prosecutors, most notably Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi apparently in exchange for her agreeing not to prosecute Trump over allegations of fraud by the now defunct Trump University. Once again, does Hillary or has any other presidential candidate ever had an equivalent scandal of a Trump organization being accused of bilking people out of their life savings?
And finally for now, neither Hillary Clinton nor any other major party candidate going back to the 70s (except for Gerald Ford) has ever refused to release his income tax returns like Trump has thus far.
So who deserves the blame for spreading this false equivalence between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Many, including me believe that all too often, the media feels it has a duty to represent both sides of an issue equally even when one side is absurd or has already proven to be wrong. In addition, it appears that Hillary is held to a different standard by the media than Trump which is what happened in the recent Commander-In-Chief Forum where both candidates made separate appearances to answer questions.
But perhaps there is some hope for the media to get its act together. Just recently, the Dallas Morning News, a staunchly conservative newspaper not only condemned Trump as being unfit for office as many other Republicans have done but then also took the bold step of endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. When a Republican candidate forces a newspaper to endorse its first Democratic candidate in 76 years, this perhaps shows best of all that Trump has no equivalence to any other candidate, let alone Hillary. And certainly not in a good way!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Can Donald Trump Really Win This November?

So the conventions are now over and we are finally starting the general election with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump having both officially secured their respective party’s nominations. Now is an interesting time to take a look at this race to try and evaluate where things stand.
Looking at the conventions, most all observers feel that the Democratic Convention's smoothly orchestrated lineup of high impact speakers from Bernie Sanders to Michelle Obama to President Obama, Bill Clinton and finally climaxing with Hillary herself made a much better presentation to the electorate than the Republican Convention which was without many of their stars who opted to stay home rather than be forced to do an endorsement speech for The Donald. In fact, the major anticipated endorsement speech from Ted Cruz surprisingly turned out to be an embarrassing non-endorsement speech. And Clinton has indeed benefited from a post-convention bounce in her poll numbers to open a lead over Trump.
Most political observers are still amazed that Trump has gotten this far in the presidential race considering that his arsenal seems to consist of little more than attracting attention by saying and doing outrageous things. Substance on issues just isn’t his thing.
Although this behavior has led even many Republican politicians and conservative pundits to abandon him, the more outrageous his behavior, the more his followers seem to be inspired. And the media just can’t take its eyes off of him, providing seemingly non stop free coverage of his campaign, wondering what he is going to say or do next.
But being outrageous to attract attention is inherently self-limiting. What used to be shocking loses its punch as we become numb to it all. The only option is to up the ante by being even more outrageous and risk alienating more voters. Indeed, one of his most recent incidents had him publicly inviting the Russians to dig up some of Hillary’s still missing E-mails (although he belatedly claimed this was meant to be sarcasm, this argument doesn't hold water).
Most recently, he belittled the Muslim parents who told their heartbreaking story during the Democratic Convention of their sacrifice in losing their son fighting for America. This exchange between Trump and the parents has been universally condemned and may be inflicting major damage on the campaign. Has he finally gone too far this time? If not this time, will it maybe be next time?
And then there is that ticking time bomb in his tax returns he has so far refused to release despite repeated requests. Does he have something to hide?
While Trump's lack of substance on issues didn’t hurt much in debating his fellow Republicans, Hillary Clinton is a very skilled and experienced debater who not only has a strong command of the issues but may be able to get under The Donald's skin and throw him off his game. The debates start in late September. This will definitely be must see TV!
But finally, and most importantly, his path to obtaining enough electoral votes to secure victory is an increasingly narrow one.
Even as Mr. Trump has ticked up in national polls in recent weeks, senior Republicans say his path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed for election has remained narrow — and may have grown even more precarious. It now looks exceedingly difficult for him to assemble even the barest Electoral College majority without beating Hillary Clinton in a trifecta of the biggest swing states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
This once again demonstrates that because of changing demographics, especially an increasing Latino population, Republicans may be all but shut out of winning any national elections. And this trend will worsen for them in future national elections as more red states become purple on their way to blue.
Can Trump capture the trifecta of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida previously won by Obama? It’s not impossible but pretty unlikely.
Ohio is Trump's best chance to flip a state to his column but Hillary still holds a small edge there. And he will get no help from Republican Governor John Kasich who has refused to endorse him.
Pennsylvania has been designated a swing state in the last several presidential elections only to settle in with a persistent Democratic advantage as Election Day approaches. A good turnout in the Philadelphia area may well seal the deal there for Hillary.
As for Florida, the Latinos know that a Trump loss there will be a back breaker so you can be sure they will be turn out in force come Election Day.
So does Trump have a chance to win this November? Assuming his campaign doesn’t flame out before then, the Electoral College math is not in his favor. This is not to say that he has no chance. It just means that to have any real hope of winning, he will have to flip several states that voted for Obama into his column. Trump seems to believe this can be done but party strategists have their serious doubts.
Even if Trump has a relatively small chance of winning, the fact that he has any chance at all is of great concern to many who feel that Trump is perhaps the most unqualified and even dangerous presidential nominee of a major party in our history. But no matter how favorable Hillary’s chances may eventually look by Election Day, complacency is not an option! Trump has shown incredible resilience in keeping his campaign alive during controversies that would have done in just about any other candidate. We underestimate him at our peril!