Trump’s head: don’t go in there, you might not get out

17 Apr
Trump's wisdom? Or trumps wisdom?

Trump’s wisdom? Or trumps wisdom?

Guest post by psychologist Dr Stewart Hase.  Stewart blogs here

Human Irrationality 102: The Trump Phenomenon

As a psychologist, it is difficult to resist exploring the Trump phenomenon. There are two aspects to what is happening in probably the most bizarre presidential race that I have seen in my lifetime. The first is the man himself and the second, probably more important factor is the support that has gathered around him.

Most psychological profiling is undertaken using a mixture of interviews and sophisticated personality testing tools. For me, the well constructed interview is the most effective means to understanding people, if you know what you are looking for and have the right interviewing technique. To construct a profile of someone from just watching them from afar is fraught with risk. You probably wouldn’t do this with most politicians, who show very little of themselves. In the case of Donald Trump, we have a gift that keeps on giving in terms of the showing of himself. Furthermore, there is a consistency to what you see, as well as a fairly well documented history of the man himself. So, I’ll have a go.

Trump is extremely narcissistic. As well as an inflated sense of his own importance, that is at odds with reality, he is quick to anger when criticised. We have seen his angry retorts towards his critics, as well as his tendency towards litigation in his many business failures in which he quickly blames others.

It is pretty clear he lacks empathy and is extremely impulsive. This combination is unfortunate because he fails to understand the behaviour of others, is not concerned about their feelings and does not think before he acts or speaks. Added to this is an obvious, ‘Do what it takes’ attitude to getting what he wants. Ordinary people lost lots of money investing in his ventures that he, without a second thought, abandoned. He sees these people as ‘losers’. Trump just doesn’t care much about people and, gives the impression that he is a bully both at work and elsewhere.

What does Trump believe in? I suspect that he doesn’t much believe in anything, given his about-face on so many issues and his business antics. He has probably never had any long-term goals-in fact he may not be able to set any. Trump has never run for any kind of political office before, has never trained himself. He was trained in the family real estate business but his ventures since then have been impulsive and, mostly ill-conceived. Apart from 4 bankruptcies, that he has been able to personally avoid, he has a string of huge business failures.

On the face of it, Trump is very confident and seems to lack anxiety. While there may be many insecurities in his deep unconscious driving this behaviour (I’ll leave it to Jung to sort this out), we see someone who believes in himself and believes that he is right. This lack of fear along with his impulsivity and inability to plan makes for an interesting combination.

I saw somewhere in the media the question of what is happening in Trump’s mind. I suspect that it is chaotic in there. He is an extreme extrovert, he thinks out loud and has a low attention to detail. There is a lot spinning around in his head and it just has to come out, verbally. Many people in public life are extraverts but Trump is completely off the scale. He just has to process information by speaking. Again this is linked to an inability to plan and to foresee consequences. I think he is probably cognitively intelligent (although I’m not totally convinced of this) but very low on social/emotional intelligence.

The support Trump has gathered is significant. Many commentators have pointed to the fear that the republican machine has gradually built up since the inauguration of Obama. He inherited an economy in a mess, two wars, social systems in chaos, high unemployment and so on, but this was sheeted home to him and his party by a cleverly orchestrated fear campaign. It is also clear that there are a lot of people suffering in the USA from a variety of causes but which can be attributed to long-term middle class policy failure and the darker side of capitalism. In short, capitalism has not delivered on its promises. Trump inherited an environment of fear and has used it to his advantage.

When people, and more so groups of people, become fearful they look around for someone to blame. In Germany in the 1930s it was the Jews and many governments around the world, including the Vatican, turned a blind eye to the systematic abuse of a whole ‘nation’. In the US of A at the moment it is vilification Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, the ‘soft’ government, drug abusers, women, Bernie Sanders and all other democrats, and so on-you’ve heard it all. But this time nations, thanks to social media, are taking notice.

So, we should not be surprised, given it has happened before, that someone like Trump is able to gather people around him. He has been able to appeal to the darker side of human nature-stereotyping, bigotry, racism, misogyny, narrow mindfulness, hatred, and the need to express discontent through violence. If it were France in the late 18th century we would hear the tumbrils clattering along the cobbled streets heading for Madame Guillotine.

Human irrationality is a fascinating phenomenon and we are seeing it in spades in the US of A right now. But, irrationality is around us all the time in everyday life and often has very unfortunate consequences. Perhaps the civilisation of the human species is a fantasy given the current state of our evolution.

28 Responses to “Trump’s head: don’t go in there, you might not get out”

  1. paul walter April 17, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    These people never seem self-reflexive.. To those of us familiar with the impiications of the Freudians relative to the notion of the Conscious Agent, the fault is clear, these people see themselves as determinants rather than determined…they do not grasp that they are subjective creations of conditioning, traits and prejudices; that what they take for granted as “true “can be actually very subjectively arrived at.

    Is the ultimate example Murdoch? If Murdoch thinks its true, its true- why, what else could it be?

    That is lack of self reflexivity, probably drummed out of him during his socialisation. He is conditioned to act, not think, blocked except within a limited range of issues, underlyingly he is a butler not an executive, if he only knew it. But he is as much a subject as the rest of us.

    Trump is as much a goose and as destructive for others since these people are trained to avoid considering their own flaws.

    A conversation at AIM is oddly parallel to this thread, dealing as it does with capitalism and religion, ultmately therefore Weber/Tawney

    Liked by 1 person

  2. doug quixote April 18, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    Trump talks at the level of a third or fourth grader, ie an eight or nine year old.

    This clearly appeals to a mass of Americans (and others) who feel disgruntled with the intelligent and educated leaders who mostly run the country, in Congress, the Courts and the bureaucracy.

    For every person with a IQ of 120, there are two with IQs of 90. And they vote.

    Ultimately this megalomaniac and psychopathic populist will come a cropper; the selection of a US President is a long and arduous process that does not not suit someone who insults and offends just about every minority there is.

    Ultimately, a modern pluralist democracy is a collection of minorities – alliances are made for the purpose at hand, to defeat one’s greatest enemies before moving on to the next battle. They’ll get around to Trump soon enough.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson April 18, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

      The theory is Trump appeals to those who feel they’ve slipped through the cracks and have no voice…

      Liked by 1 person

      • doug quixote April 19, 2016 at 10:46 am #

        Yes, there is truth in that – a protest vote against the perceived upholders of the status quo. Bernie Sanders is the leftist equivalent.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. FA April 18, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    > It is pretty clear he lacks empathy and is extremely impulsive.


    Trump does have a history of not seeking attention for his charity. Surely that’s a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stewarthase April 18, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

      Hitler also had the WHW program that many Germans and others would have conceived as a charitable, empathic act.

      Liked by 2 people

    • paul walter April 18, 2016 at 6:38 pm #

      He is probably a nice man, in his own way…

      Not sure which, but..

      Less noisy when he is asleep, too.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. LSWCHP April 18, 2016 at 11:49 pm #

    I’ve seen a lot of analysis of Trump along these lines. I disagree with it, and think it falls into the trap of underestimating the opponent. I don’t believe that Trump has a “chaotic” mind, I think he has a very sharp mind and he knows exactly what he’s doing. His tactics may not be pretty, but they have been remakably successful, at least to this point.

    Writing him off as a disorganised buffoon is the mistake that the mainstream Republicans have been making all along, to their current discomfort.

    I’m not endorsing Trump, I just think that his success has come from planning and deliberation, rather than dumb luck. It might feel good to mock and scorn him, but such a failure to take him seriously may in the longer term see him waltzing Into the White House.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson April 19, 2016 at 8:58 am #

      On the other hand there’s the trap of overestimating the intelligence of US voters. He’s there because he speaks to ignorance and chaos.


      • FA April 19, 2016 at 9:54 am #

        I disagree that “ignorance” is the right word.

        There is something very off putting about being lectured to by someone like Mark Zukerberg, who lives in a palatial mansion with massive walls in a very exclusive neighbourhood, about how hateful walls are.

        Similarly, John Kerry stating that he’s being inundated by foreign governments and lobbyists about what a possible Trump presidency would mean for their special interests and being completely oblivious that that is exactly the problem.


        • LSWCHP April 19, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

          Some degree of ignorance maybe, but mostly anger.

          I have very close contacts with the USA, and a lot of people over there are very pissed off. The middle and working classes have been smashed by decisions that have greatly enriched the well known 1% and they are angry. These angry people are very likely to make decisions informed by that anger, rather than by rational thought.

          Having said that, the “choices” being offered to them are all shit sandwiches, just with shit of different consistency in each choice. Ted Cruz, for example, is a crazed religious fanatic who makes Tony Abbott look like a reasonable, calm, thoughtful and pleasant man. On the Democrat side there is Hillary, who is simply appalling and Bernie, who will be 75 years old on election day.

          To many people that I know over there, Trump is the least worst option. To others, he represents a chance to upset a very smug and self-serving applecart, and bugger the consequences. Whatever the case, I think he’s playing a remarkably cunning and well thought out game, and he has a good chance of winning the general election. And if he does, well, who knows where we’ll end up?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson April 20, 2016 at 7:10 am #

          Trump doesn’t live in a palatial mansion??!!


          • FA April 20, 2016 at 9:54 am #

            Then I haven’t made my point clear. The problem isn’t Zukerberg’s (or Trump’s) wealth. I certainly don’t begrudge them that. The problem is that Zukerberg doesn’t have to live with the consequences of what he’s advocating, because he already has high walls around where he lives, and a security guards preventing the riff-raff (that includes you and me) from even approaching his neighbourhood.

            This is, incidentally, also why the migrant crisis in Europe will end in tears and bloodshed. Those advocating unrestricted access typically are well off enough that they won’t have to live with the social and economic consequences of having a large number of very culturally different, workplace competitors moving in next door. Further, they have no interest in addressing, or even acknowledging, those social and economic problems, because they only see the benefits. It’s the same privatising of profits and socialisation of the debt that is so terrible in other areas (that right-wingers typically gloss over).


    • doug quixote April 19, 2016 at 10:56 am #

      No chance of being elected. He’ll do a Barry Goldwater if nominated. Cruz would do even worse.

      (Mr Green emoticon)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. paul walter April 19, 2016 at 1:36 am #

    That is aninteresting set of points LSWCHP- a devils advocate is whathas been missing from our conversátion.

    Your assessment of Trump is diametrically opposed to Dr Hase.

    It does run counter to the analysis that Trump is a reactive individual but think you may be erring in conflating intelligence, which operates within personality structure with wht determines how the intelligence is used.

    I do not think a trained social scientist is likely to make that fatal mistake, that conflation of the two. I think within the operation of his condition he is, as you say, crafty and bold,in reference to how he has learned to see the world around him, but it is what determines his final references as to seeing the world in the way he does and his responses to others that is examined, additionally.

    In the end, I think the idea is that he is the product of nature, plus the conditioning that has come from the substance and sequence of his life experiences from the cradle. As with most of us, he is far more “determined”in his responses than he knows, as are most of us.

    I think he is being identified of a type: think also of a patriarchal warlord like Rupert Murdoch or some of the brutes who dominate the US and Europe. Theyare very specific to what they do, which is crashing through, but seldom much use once theyÄrrive”at where they were going.

    Another example would be Tony Abbott, a combatative pitbull with a narrow employ as an opposition leader, but totally inept and devoid of the skills-including (thwarted or naturally missing) empathic skills required to do policy to a point beyond the continuation of his wars against imagined enemies.

    Generals tear down civilisations, but only statesmen and women can build them.

    In short, he likes and is good at a stoush, like agood pug, but I thought Stewart was careful enough to explain why he feels Trump has no idea in the sense we would find reasonable, of what to do once he acheives a goal.

    Liked by 2 people

    • paul walter April 19, 2016 at 5:58 am #

      I’ll say one thing, LSWCHP. You did have me pause for thought. You had me asking myself whether I had made the familiar mistake of condemning Trump prior to investigation.

      I also have to remember he is after all a human being like us and truth is, politics an dlifein generl is top heavy with all sorts of oddballs on all sides.

      I still think his politics are not right for our time, but you reminded me not to dismiss without a bit of thought beforehand.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson April 19, 2016 at 8:59 am #

      That last sentence reminded me of Abbott & Turnbull, and Rudd, actually.


      • paul walter April 19, 2016 at 9:18 am #

        Abbott and Rudd were ruined by religion, as for Turnbull, I just don’t know, except that he appears to have been a preppie.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson April 20, 2016 at 7:10 am #

          He is also religious I think Catholic, tho quieter about it.


          • paul walter April 20, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

            Yes, he saw the light, converted a few years ago.

            “Lord, make me pure, but yet”- St Augustine of Hippo,

            Liked by 1 person

  6. davechaffeyhippie April 20, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    I have a little Trump inside me, as do many others, that can come out to play to get our way and get ahead while subjugating others. I was rewarded in my past life for doing whatever it took to get shit done, including using some of the dark arts like bullying and scape-goating. I’m not particularly proud of it, but it got me promotions and made me a mildly successful capitalist. The narcissisist irrationally believes they are superior and special and therefore more deserving of the spoils of war than others.

    It can be a successful strategy for money and power and a trophy spouse; if that’s what you believe constitutes a good life. Kindness and emotional intelligence is viewed as weakness; but can be faked when required to get ahead; then you can screw them all over when you’re living in the clouds.

    I’d vote for Billary Clinton, then Colonel Sanders, then Mutually Assured Donald, then The Cruz Missile.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson April 20, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

      I think Turnbull et al are about to fake emotional intelligence and concern for the less privileged as an election tactic.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. silkworm May 1, 2016 at 1:23 am #

    All of Trump’s behaviour can be summed up in one word: alcoholic.


    • Labluv August 14, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

      Unfortunately for trump, he can’t hide behind the alcohol brand as he is teetotal


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