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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

Experts Are Not Buying Trump’s Claim for Why He Called Off Strike on Iran in Mid-Air

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“These are not strategically sophisticated people”

Many agree President Donald Trump made the right call when he called off the strike on Iran, in retaliation for their downing of a $130 million unarmed, unmanned U.S. Military surveillance drone.

But he is the one who ordered the strike in the first place, so there’s no “credit” there.

Friday morning the President took to Twitter to defend his actions, saying he stopped the assault 10 minutes before the actual strike was about to happen.

Why?

“I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General.”

(The drone was actually downed early Thursday morning, not Monday.)

Many are asking, how was this not a part of the decision-making process before he gave the order to strike?

Others just point-blank don’t believe it wasn’t.

One, a CNN political analyst, says there’s a lot of speculation it was Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s comments that led Trump to back off – Carlson advised against the strike.

Here’s what some others are saying.

Contributor to The Nation:

CNN national security analyst:

NY Times White House correspondent who co-authored the story about Trump calling off the strike in mid-air:

Former Special Counsel at the Dept. of Defense:

CNN Chief National Security Correspondent:

Former Postdoctoral Research Fellow at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on international security and foreign policy, and emerging technologies and urban warfare:

RELATED STORIES:

‘PROJECTION OF INCOMPETENCE’: WHITE HOUSE OUT OF CONTROL, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF NOT IN CHARGE – EXPERTS SPEAK OUT

IN A 12 HOUR SPAN TRUMP THREATENED IRAN, BACKTRACKED, ORDERED A STRIKE OVER DOWNED DRONE, CALLED IT OFF IN MID-AIR

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ANALYSIS

‘Projection of Incompetence’: White House Out of Control, Commander-in-Chief Not in Charge – Experts Speak Out

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Americans and much of the world either went to bed Thursday night or woke up Friday morning to the news that President Donald Trump ordered a strike against Iran over a downed drone, then called it off in progress, mid-air.

Calling off the strike was the fourth critical action he took in the span of less than 12 hours. Ordering the strike was the third action. Saying a rogue Iranian military official probably was to blame was the second, and threatening Iran, possibly with military action was the first.

That was Thursday.

By late Thursday night The New York Times had broken the news of the strike that wasn’t.

But additional reporting reveals many disturbing facts, leading to one unmistakeable conclusion: this is a White House out of control, with a Commander-in-Chief not in charge.

Take a look, for example, at this disturbing report from CNN’s Alexander Marquardt, a Senior National Correspondent focusing on National Security. He makes clear Trump’s not the one calling the shots, and is only making decisions to fend off internal bickering and power plays in his administration.

A Fellow at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center notes that the CIA is not supposed to be in the business of making policy decisions.

A professor at the U.S. Naval War College who is an expert on Russia, nuclear weapons, and national security affairs sums up what’s going on:

Then there’s this warning from former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes:

Former Republican U.S. Congressman David Jolly delivers a breathtaking blow:

Here’s a professor of international relations, political scientist, and journalist:

And if you think this episode is over, Newsweek reports it very well may not be.

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ANALYSIS

Trump Facing ‘Psychic Collapse’ After Mueller’s Report Puts More Pressure on His Unstable Mind: Psychoanalyst

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On Friday, as the full weight of the Mueller report sunk in, proving far more damning that Attorney General William Barr’s memo, Trump dismissed the findings as “total bullish*t.”

That statement seems at odds with Trump’s earlier claim that the Mueller report exonerates him of all wrong-doing.

Raw Story spoke with Howard H. Covitz, Ph.D., a psychologist-psychoanalyst, about the President’s likely state of mind.

Covitz was for many years Director and Training Faculty of the Psychoanalytic Studies Institute and the Institute for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies in Philadelphia, and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. His Oedipal Paradigms in Collision was nominated for the Gradiva Psychoanalytic Book of the Year.

He’s also taught university-level mathematics and psychology in the past. His connectedness to his wife, grown children, and grandchildren motivates his activism.

He contributed his wide-ranging insights to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Professionals Assess a President,” edited by Bandy X. Lee, which was re-released last month alongside a major Washington conference on presidential fitness (dangerouscase.org).

Raw Story: How did you come, as a psychoanalyst to enter public discussion about a public figure? Isn’t there a rule against professionals speaking in psychiatric terms about public figures?

Howard H. Covitz: I am a staunch advocate of that rule in all situations when there is no risk of catastrophic danger to others. I have chosen to speak out because a man was elected President (and given unimaginable powers to do good and evil) who shows the signs of those people who are prone to doing others harm.

For him, if I take his words seriously, life is a zero-sum game, and he must win all the time. The Psalmist said not about Trump but about the God that so many of his followers devoutly worship: “To God belongs the Earth and all that it contains” (Psalm 24). That’s not the way God-complex Trump sees it…. Furthermore, I must say, that any armed person who is not President and who is doing and saying what Donald Trump says often and openly would be whisked off by the gendarmes to a psychiatric facility for testing.

Raw Story: The Mueller report appears to at least legally clear Trump of collusion with Russia, although obstruction is still an open question. How do you explain Trump’s extreme negative reaction?

Howard H. Covitz: Since Donald Trump was a presidential candidate, we in the mental health community noted in him, one, an inability to see others as people in their own right (subjects with their own needs and intentions) but rather to see them as instruments for his use. Two, a splitting of the world into with-me and against-me camps, and three, an apparent lack of impulse control. He also appears to have no respect for extant organizations, laws or accepted wisdom. He’s shown an absence of nuanced thought (in addition to any question of cognitive decline). He’s demonstrated having only one truth, namely what he wishes to be true. The fact that he has nearly unlimited powers that are not being checked by the Senate or anyone else leaves the values of the Republic and the welfare of the world arguably in grave danger.

Raw Story: How do you think this information will land on the President’s supporters, given Trump’s unique relationship with his base?

Howard H. Covitz: We know the power of the mob and its allegiances to tribal beliefs. But beyond this, we know that the Fourth Estate, to a significant extent, has been wittingly or unwittingly complicit in treating many of Trump’s positions AS IF they were reasonable … they have been complicit, that is, in normalizing the pathological as during the rise of authoritarian regimes.

Having said that, it is difficult to believe that there will not be defections from the Trump cult, if room is made for these people who saw in Trump hope for a better day. I expect there to be efforts (either from the Right or from Russian bots) to paint the progressive camp as seeing half or more in the MAGA camp as “deplorables.”

Speaking not as a psychoanalyst but as a citizen, father and grandfather, it is absolutely necessary for us to avoid any further alienation of the right, including the Religious Right.

Raw Story: Do you envision the President doubling down on his agenda, including severely restricting immigration? Plus, today the President called the report “total bullshit” even though he also claimed it exonerated him. Why can’t the President stop while he’s ahead?

Howard H. Covitz: If, indeed, the elected President’s publicly displayed behaviors are indicative of severe pathology (and I have no reason to believe otherwise), the likelihood of his responding to the pressure of being exposed in any constructive manner is essentially zero.

We have made inroads into treating some such people with success, but this is a lengthy process and is not accomplished under the type of duress that the President is being exposed to with the damning pictures in Mueller’s report. We see from even the redacted report that, without the likes of John Kelly and teams of legal consultants, the six characteristics mentioned above would have moved him to even more dangerous and illegal positions.

He is being portrayed in the report as one who can be controlled – the Emperor, in the report, does indeed have small hands, so to speak. How someone like he will be able to integrate the public shaming that this brings forth for him is not predictable but should be a source for grave concern.

That having been said and, again, assuming again that his pathological behaviors are not all a show, we may presume either an increase in these disturbing behaviors (pulling out of NATO, declaring national emergencies for whatever he chooses to do, ramping up tensions with Iran, using the full-force of the executive branch to leash friends and whip foes, … ), or a psychic collapse.

We saw a notable change in his behavior when he left the White House on Thursday for Mar-a-Lago and refused to take any questions. The next days and weeks should clarify which of these paths he chooses and how much and what kind of violence he chooses to promote. It is impossible to precisely predict the future actions of someone who apparently lives under the belief that après moi le deluge.

These are, in my estimation, the most dangerous times thus far in Trump’s presidency … Dangerous for the republic with dangers for the world and dangerous for my grandchildren.

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