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ANALYSIS

Yale Psychiatrist Explains How Devotion to Trump Is Based on Emotional Patterns Most People Grow Out of by Age 5

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President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to heap praise upon his ally Roger Stone, who continues to maintain his refusal to flip—even as Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, who once said he’d take a bullet for the president, begged federal prosecutors to not serve jail time.

Stone might be Trump’s most famous supporter—but there are millions of Americans who refuse to abandon the president regardless of the chaotic news cycle. A poll conducted over the summer found that many Trump supporters trust the President more than their own friends and family.

Raw Story spoke with Yale psychiatry professor Bandy X. Lee on why the president’s supporters show such undying devotion to a man who’s repeatedly reneged on promises and whose tumultuous first term has been filled with shake-ups.

Raw Story: In your opinion, what are the emotions driving Donald Trump’s base?

Bandy X. Lee: The sense of grandiose omnipotence that he displays seems especially appealing to his emotionally-needy followers. No matter what the world says, he fights back against criticism, continues to lie in the face of truth, and above all is still president. What matters is that he is winning, not whether he is honest or law-abiding. This may seem puzzling to the rest of us, but when you are overcome with feelings of powerlessness, this type of cartoonish, exaggerated force is often more important than true ability. This is the more primitive morality, as we call it, of “might makes right,” which in normal development you grow out of by age five.

But, in this case, Trump appeals to that childlike degree of emotional development? Why?

Strongman-type personalities are very appealing in times of socioeconomic or political crisis, as the population is less able to think rationally but is rather overcome with fear, or desire to draw strength from fantastical ideas. This happens to normal people in times of stress, or to people whose development has been stunted because of emotional injury. The problem is, the person who promises the impossible and states, “I alone can fix it,” and gives himself an A+ on his performance, is not a strong person who can deliver but the opposite. So Mr. Trump’s “base“ looks for someone to rescue them and their intense yearning does not allow them to see through his deception, while Mr. Trump senses better than anyone their needs (they are his) and makes use of them for his own benefit—even as he disdains his supporters for being so gullible. In this manner, they fulfill each other’s emotional needs in a mutually unhealthy way.

What’s your biggest concern?

One concern I have, in my 20 years of studying this personality structure while treating violent offenders, is the disturbing societal trend. More and more of this personality type are taking on leadership positions, including of corporations, whereas 20 years ago one would mostly find them in jails and prisons. This also means there are a growing number of people who emulate them in the general culture, who become deprived from the structures that they create, and who become emotionally traumatized as a result of any of these consequences. People who are wounded this way continue to seek omnipotent parental figures as adults, and the vicious circle continues. Unable to find outer satisfaction for their inner needs, some keep pursuing ever greater power until they reach the highest positions, but since this is the opposite of proper treatment, their conditions only grow worse while society suffers a trail of carnage. It is actually a tragedy that Mr. Trump cannot receive proper care, even as his disorder is on display for the world to see, but is rather surrounded by those who enable his illness and make use of his weaknesses to their own destructive ends.

On the one hand, different demographics that have tended to support Trump in the past—let’s white women and neo-Nazis—don’t have much in common. Are there psychological factors that unite them?

Well, he unites them through a common, mythological past that they can all be nostalgic for, and that might be his “talent.” We know from the former Yugoslavia that this past can be hundreds of years ago, not just decades, and is really a metaphor for discontent with the self in the present. Mr. Trump’s behavioral pattern is not that of leaders at all but rather of obsequious followers, as we have seen Mr. Trump become in the presence of even more successful strongmen, such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, or Rodrigo Duterte. We find in him a pattern of following exactly what his base is looking for—he has no intrinsic philosophy or ideology but is responding to an emotional need for adulation and approval, and so he will try anything that gets as many people on board as possible. He will also sense keenly those who will never go along with his pathological methods—that is, healthy people—and drop them instantly. That is why we see him desperately clinging to an ever narrower base with increasingly fringe ideas.

He also has to scapegoat groups in order to distract from his billionaire cabinet, tax breaks for the rich, and trade wars that hurt his base the most, and so his demonizing of other helpless groups will only increase with time. We were worried that he might lead us into a devastating war or stage a terrorist attack, but he actually managed to turn a humanitarian crisis of people fleeing violence into an invading army that required thousands of troops at the Mexican border. If this “feigned war” fails to distract, then he may yet stage a real war. With the special counsel’s investigations about to be released, after devastating midterm elections for him and in a vulnerable economy, he will experience loss of popularity as a terrifying threat to his inflated self-image. There will likely be no limit to the violence he is capable of, since destroying the world would be nothing compared to the shame and humiliation he might suffer.

By the way, I think we need to include a very different demographic group among his supporters, which is the richest one percent. This will be the more calculating, pragmatic group. How is such a minority able to control politics and to keep convincing 99 percent of the population to give up what it has so that it can grow richer still? It is by distracting and manipulating the 99 percent through advertising, hot-button issues such as abortion, Fox News, and reality TV, which explicitly employ psychological techniques to make the population more impulsive, irrational, and ill-informed. So when the federally-funded American Psychiatric Association, which heavily depends on the pharmaceutical industry, says that psychiatrists should not comment on the president’s mental instability, we have to question: is it protecting the psychological methods that are being used to manipulate the public so as to make it more unhealthy, while blocking information that might restore its health? If mental health professionals were allowed to educate and inform the public more about psychological matters, then the population would be empowered, and healing could start replacing the damage.

How does Donald Trump mirror and communicate with his base?

A big part of this is through Twitter. This is why Mr. Trump will not stop, no matter how undignified people said it was of a president from the beginning. He knows it is his psychological lifeline. I was recently asked in an interview to comment on Twitter’s hateful conduct policy, which I read for the first time, and it was clear that he violated it from the first line, but they were not able to deactivate his account, since they know the backlash would be severe. But the only way to manage someone with his condition is to set severe limits, restrain, and remove from access to weapons—and tweets are his psychological weapon, which he “shoots” in order to exert his power.

And the rallies?

Another way he communicates with his base is through his numerous rallies. He projects a lot. Projection is a psychological term for displacing thoughts or qualities in yourself you cannot tolerate onto someone else. He does this when he calls legitimate news “fake” and news agencies “the enemy of the people.” He is unconsciously telling us that he is himself “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” He also made up the clever slogan, “Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs.”

And that is not accurate because … 

But if you look at the statistics, the majority of the “angry mobs” that commit violence and terrorism are right-wing, while Democratic policies almost always lower unemployment rates. And when he calls Hillary Clinton “crooked” and that we should “lock her up,” he is trying to disown his fraudulent tendencies and to block thoughts of seeing himself as someone we need to lock up. The extreme exaggeration, the inability to consider the possibility that it could apply to him, and the failure to test against obvious reality give away the fact that the opposite is true, but his obedient base is predisposed to believing his defenses more than their own observations.

Trump seems to have intuited how to communicate with his base, evading the filter of the media. What do you think about that?

You are right in that it is all intuitive, not rational or logical, which would have less emotional force. Emotional power can be helpful when healthy, but when unhealthy, it can overcome all healthy approaches. As mental health professionals, we have to watch the media continue to get played, and it still has not managed to catch up. There is a phenomenon called “shared psychosis” (also called “folie à deux”) that happens when an untreated sick person is in close proximity to, say, other family members within a household. In such a situation, normal people grow increasingly out of touch with reality and take on symptoms of the person who is unwell. It can also happen with an impaired president—once in power, he becomes not only the most urgent problem that needs to be addressed but a cause of widespread deterioration of health in a way that can become a “folie à millions.” Treatment involves removing the sick individual from the others, and very quickly, the others return to normal. It shows how powerful mental sickness is: the otherwise normal person becomes sick and not the other way around. His unfettered access to the people through Twitter is as dangerous as his unfettered access to the nuclear codes, since he is laying the groundwork for a culture of violence that can unleash epidemics of violence. This is why waiting for the next decision of voters in 2020 is itself dangerous and reckless in its lack of understanding of the present danger the president poses.

 

Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr and a CC license

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ANALYSIS

Watergate Prosecutor Explains Why It’s Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions Who Are Lying About Trump’s Spying

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Former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks explained on MSNBC Sunday that there’s no way that Attorneys General Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions didn’t know about the warrants to spy on reporters, Democratic members of Congress, their staff and families, and of his own White House counsel.

Barr, Sessions and former Justice Department deputy Rod Rosenstein have all denied they knew of the subpoenas to spy, but Wine-Banks explained that’s impossible because something like this would go all the way to the top.

“It may be that the person that they were investigating, had a legitimate predication for the search warrants and that they had some reason to do this,” she told MSNBC. “It could have been that he got called by somebody that they were already investigating. It doesn’t mean this is normal. It is not normal, and I think the investigation is absolutely critical, holding someone accountable is important to stop this from ever happening again. We can’t have members of Congress, the press, and the White House counsel subjected to this. And the reason Don McGahn, of course, is of concern is because he was cooperating with Mueller which made him an enemy of Donald Trump. Donald Trump was calling out [Adam] Schiff, he was calling out [Eric] Swalwell, people who were subject to this search warrant, and he certainly must have felt uncomfortable with his own White House counsel who was cooperating and telling the truth to Mueller. So, that’s why it’s of concern.”

Sessions said that he was never briefed on this seizure of records. Barr played fast and loose with the language, saying that he never discussed the leak cases with Trump. That was similar language to Barr’s refusal to answer when then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) questioned him about Trump or anybody else who “asked or suggested” that he open an investigation into his political foes. Barr pretended not to know what the word “suggested” meant and refused to answer.

Host Alicia Menendez asked Wine-Banks if it was possible they didn’t have any idea what was going on.

“In my opinion, no, and let me tell you why,” said Wine-Banks. “First of all, we had [Osmar] Benvenuto, who was brought in at the recommendation of the U.S. Attorney from New Jersey, who was put in by Barr to replace the New York attorney who he was pushing out. He recommended Benvenuto who came in, and Benvenuto has said — in a recording, that he briefed Barr at least every other week. So, it is not credible. And if Barr didn’t know about this, then Barr is the worst manager, the worst Attorney General ever, because that is his job. The Department of Justice policy requires that there be notice and approval from a higher source. So, it’s not something that you can just subpoena a member of Congress’ records or a reporter’s records without something much more. So, it doesn’t pass what I call the ‘red face test.’ It’s like, could I stand up before a jury and say this in front of them without blushing or giggling? The answer is, no, I couldn’t.”

Apple said in a statement that the DOJ request provided “no information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts.”

Presumably, the court documents would have detailed who appeared in court for the warrant and there should be enough of a paper trail that some of the Justice Department officials involved were named. Barr hasn’t actually denied that he played any role in renewing the requests or that he didn’t know of the investigation. He’s only said he didn’t discuss it with Trump. It’s unclear why he would have discussed it given he wasn’t there when the investigation was launched. The gag order against Apple was renewed over and over again, which would have also required a lot of paperwork.

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ANALYSIS

Critics Blast Manchin Over Two Facts That Decimate Why He Says He Opposes the ‘For the People’ Voting Rights Bill

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U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is working hard to make sure everyone know he opposes the “For the People Act,” a large piece of legislation that protects the rights of voters, makes it easier to vote, reduces the influence of dark money in political campaigns, limits partisan gerrymandering, and installs rules of ethics for elected officials. But two critical data points make his arguments useless.

“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act,” Manchin said in a now-infamous op-ed in a West Virginia newspaper.

He offered zero criticisms of the legislation itself, just that no Republican supports it. And that it is 800 pages, if that is even a criticism.

That’s it.

But as Business Insider reports, “Joe Manchin cosponsored the voting-rights bill in 2019 that he’s now blocking on the grounds that the GOP doesn’t like it.”

That’s one problem. Here’s the second, or, as MSNBC Opinion Columnist Hayes Brown writes, “the real kicker“:

“Unless the senator’s office has some private polling that they’d like to share, Manchin’s assumptions about what West Virginians want are wrong. According to a poll released last month — commissioned by End Citizens United and Let America Vote Action Fund and conducted by Global Strategy Group and ALG Research — the For the People Act is wildly popular among likely voters in West Virginia. Like ’76 percent of Republicans are in favor’ levels of popularity, to say nothing of the 79 percent of independents and 81 percent of Democrats.”

Here’s MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Monday night explaining this second critical fact. She says the “For the People Act” legislation “is more popular than the infrastructure bill, it is more popular than COVID relief.”

So why is Senator Manchin really against legislation that he supported two years ago and that eight in 10 of his constituents support?

Judd Legum, the ThinkProgress co-founder and the founder of Popular Information calls Manchin’s publicly-stated reasons for opposing the For the People Act “very strange.”

“On an entirely partisan basis, Republicans in the states are taking steps that Manchin himself acknowledges ‘needlessly restrict voting.’ But Manchin says he will only agree to stop this partisan power grab if Republicans agree to join him.”

“This is the exact same argument the Chamber used in talking points it sent to Senators in April opposing the legislation,” Legum writes, offering up the Chamber of Commerce’s own words (bolding his):

The Chamber believes the ability of Americans to exercise their right to vote in accessible and secure elections and to be able to trust in a free and fair outcome is fundamental to who we are as a nation. The Chamber is deeply troubled by efforts at the state and federal level to enact election law changes on a partisan basis. Changes enacted on a partisan basis are the most likely to erode access and security and undermine public confidence and the willingness of the American people to trust and accept future election outcomes.

 

 

 

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ANALYSIS

‘Not a Snowball’s Chance in Hell’: MSNBC Analyst Delivers Devastating News on the Filibuster

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Jake Sherman, one of the top reporters on Capitol Hill right now, strongly disagreed with former GOP strategist Matthew Dowd’s optimistic take on Joe Manchin and the filibuster, telling MSNBC viewers Monday the West Virginia Senator is not the only Democrat who will refuse to end the 60-vote margin that is crippling democracy right now.

Dowd’s claim is that Senator Joe Manchin is taking the heat for several Senate Democrats who do not want to eliminate the filibuster, but if he moved to support ending it, they would move with him.

“Not a snowball’s chance in hell,” Jake Sherman, an MSNBC political analyst and the co-founder of Punchbowl News, told Dowd.

“No way. Not a chance, there’s no, there’s no, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that’s true, it’s just not true,” said Sherman, strongly disagreeing with Dowd, who is now an ABC News political pundit.

“I mean I can tell you from spending five days a week up here that there’s no chance that those that, that if Joe Manchin came out – by the way, Joe Manchin’s not going to come out against the filibuster, just like I’m not going to fly back to my office, just because I want to,” Sherman, fighting to contain himself, told Dowd, as former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) looked on, agreeing with Sherman.

Sherman has what many progressives and pro-democracy Americans will see as depressing news.

“And by the way, there are a lot of Democratic senators who don’t want to do this, and who are, like, just if Joe Manchin somehow folded – which is again not going to happen ever – those senators would still find a way to not be forced to not want to blow up the filibuster,” Sherman added, concluding that “the filibuster is nowhere close to being gone.”

Later, Dowd declared, “Well then, we’re no longer a democracy. We have to just say it. We’re not a democracy.”

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