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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Dissecting Trump’s failed presidency


If Trump runs in 2020 the Democratic presidential candidate and the party leadership will have more scientific data about Trump and his most zealous supporters than has been available to use against the opposition than in any other election. Trump already has been studied by more mental health professionals than any other still serving president. The most recent article about Trump’s mental health was just published in Rolling Stone: “What happens when the walls finally close in on Donald Trump.”

Generally historians dissect a president after they leave office, or even posthumously. Now they are opining after he’s only been in office for two years. See Is Trump America’s worst-ever president?

Likewise, social scientists have studied the characteristics of Trump’s ardent supporters. One of them endeavored to summarize all their conclusions in one article which I will summarize below. It should be required reading for the Democratic Party establishment.

If Trump runs, he will be the adversary and as Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War,” the classic book which is required reading at all our military academies, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

It behoves Democrats to understand Donald Trump’s psychopathology because it is his Achille’s Heel. He can be lured into revealing how unstable he is and how unfit he is to be president by triggering his irrational anger by refusing to show deference to him. Consider how easy it was for a mere CNN correspondent, Jim Acosta, to get Trump to behave like a six year who is old barely able to contain a tantrum.

Congressional Democrats have already been briefed by Bandy Lee, MD, the editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” In that   best seller, 27 authors, mostly mental health professionals, explained in chapter and verse the elements of the president’s personality that makes him so unstable he is, as the title says, a dangerous case.

If Hillary Clinton had been schooled on how to deal with Trump’s pathological narcissism by being more confrontational she might have handled him more effectively in the debates. For example, when he stalked her on the debate stage nobody will ever know what would have happened if she turned on her heels and got into his personal space, put her hands on her hips, and demanded he return to his podium.

Now Bobby Azarian, a neuroscientist affiliated with George Mason University and a freelance journalist whose research has been published in journals such as “Cognition & Emotion” and “Human Brain Mapping,” and who has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, and Scientific American has published the definitive summary of all the scientific research into the psychology of Trump’s ardent supporters.

I can’t think of any group of voters who have been the subject of more in-depth scientific studies than those members of the MAGA hat wearing crowd, the “lock her up” shouters, the birthers, and many who act more like members of a cult.

In “This neuroscientist details the 14 distinct cognitive flaws that lead people to become hard-core Trump supporters: These supporters would follow Trump off a cliff” in Alernet, Azarian sumarizes and cites numerous scientific studies.

Going back to Sun Tzu, it behoves the effective general not only to know the strengths and weakness of the general he opposes, but to understand the strengths and weakness of the enemy soldiers.

The article analyzing Trump’s fervid followers should be required reading for the Democratic leadership.

Azarian begins by noting that his list “will begin with the more benign reasons for Trump’s intransigent support, and as the list goes on, the explanations become increasingly worrisome, and toward the end, border on the pathological. It should be strongly emphasized that not all Trump supporters are racist, mentally vulnerable, or fundamentally bad people. It can be detrimental to society when those with degrees and platforms try to demonize their political opponents or paint them as mentally ill when they are not. That being said, it is just as harmful to pretend that there are not clear psychological and neural factors that underlie much of Trump supporters’ unbridled allegiance.”

He then goes on to elaborate on these 14 reasons Trump’s devoted acolytes support him. Included are links citing supporting references.

1) Practicality Trumps Morality
2) The Brain’s Attention System Is More Strongly Engaged by Trump
3) America is Obsessed with Entertainment and Celebrities
4) Some men just want to watch the world burn
5) The fear factor – Conservatives are more sensitive to threat
6) The Power of Mortality Reminders and Perceived Existential Threat
7) The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Humans Often Overestimate Their Political Expertise
8) Relative Deprivation — A Misguided Sense of Entitlement
9) Lack of Exposure to Dissimilar Others
10) Trump’s Conspiracy Theories Target the Mentally Vulnerable
11) Trump Taps into the Nation’s Collective Narcissism
12) The Desire to Want to Dominate Others
13) Authoritarian Personality Syndrome
14) Racism and Bigotry


Of course, countering these deeply ingrained personality characteristics, some which are hard-wired into individual brain functioning or crucially important to a person’s self-esteem, like the Dunning-Kruger Effect, may be impossible to change. Others may be changed and people may be persuaded to vote for a Democratic candidate. For example, in well produced advertising Democrats could try using non-condescending education to reduce the anxiety caused by Trump’s fear mongering. Humanizing the people Trump wants to depict as scary and dangerous “others” would help.

Ideally appealing to the better angels of morality in his voters would be effective at least in some people. Perhaps even finding ways to remind voters who want to think of themselves as religious of The Golden Rule would hit home with a few of them.


Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

3 thoughts on “Dissecting Trump’s failed presidency”

  1. Unfortunately this was published on Salon after I submitted this column. Otherwise I would have added a link to it as it is an excellent contribution to the body of psychological literature about Donald Trump.

    Title: Psychiatrist Justin Frank on Trump’s “God complex”: He is “erotically attached to violence”
    Author of “Trump on the Couch” suggests therapy: Trump struggles against “fear of his inner chaos,” and needs help

    LINK: httpss://


    Q: If Donald Trump showed up at your practice and said, “I just want to be a better person. People don’t like me. Give me some advice.” What would you tell him?

    A: The first thing I would say is “Mr. Trump, who loves you? Who do you love? What’s important to you?” I would just get down to basics about life and love, because there’s no other way to deal with him. You have to get through on a deep emotional level and everything else is just noise to him. I would also say to Donald Trump, “Tell me how you broke your heart.”

    Q: He has a lot of internal pain.

    A: Yes. Donald Trump has run away from this pain his whole life, and he’s been successful at doing so. I would directly address that issue very simply, very slowly and very directly. He would have to experience a breakdown because he’s avoided all of those feelings his whole life. This would be the way to help him put things back together in a healthy way.

  2. Trump’s chances in 2020? It would depend on the 6-12 Dem candidates vying for the nomination And in all of the “debates” how much damage they do to the party and the Dem platform all in the name of self-aggrandizement.

  3. I just talked to an old friend in rural Massachusetts where I lived before moving to Portland (Oregon) about this article. She told me a story which illustrates how one person who understands the psychology of Trump voters can sometimes change one individual’s mind.

    On election afternoon she was getting gas at a manned gas station. She knew the 20 year old attendant very well. She asked him if he’d voted and he said he was planning to vote after work. She aksed if he didn’t mind telling who he voted for and he said “sure, I think I’ll vote for the Trump people.”

    My friend asked why and he said “because of all the things he’s done for the people.” When she asked what he did for him he said he really didn’t know.

    My friend, who knew a lot about the young man’s life, how he grew up, and that he was gay said “well, you know that he’s against gay people, and that he wouldn’t like people who grew up in a group home, and doesn’t want to see them get the social security benefits and medicaid they count on.”

    He took this all in and said, “I didn’t know that, thanks for telling me. Now I will vote for the Democrats.”

    Of course, Michigan now has a woman Democrat as governor and Sen. Debbie Stabenow won handily.

    My friend then suggested that he start watching MSNBC instead of Fox News.

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