As the presidency of Donald Trump winds to an end the way it began with the House of Representatives intent on impeachment, Americans of all political persuasions are left to suffer the legacy of four years that have left few of them better people.
Dr. Robert H. Lustig, an endocrinologist at the University of California San Fransisco, warned the country of this three years ago in a Medpage Today essay titled simply “This is Your Brain on Trump.”
“Everyone is worried about what happened to Trump’s brain,” he wrote there, ” but no one seems to be particularly worried about what’s happening to ours. The Russians hacked the election, but it’s Trump who has hacked our minds….
“Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is ostensibly a mental condition in which persons have been driven effectively ‘insane’ due to their dislike of Donald Trump to the point at which they abandon all logic and reason.”
This the legacy of Trump’s presidency. He hacked the minds of untold numbers of Americans and left them Trump-like.
The one Donald Trump created a nation of Donald Trumps where people are judged not by the value of their ideas but by their party of affiliation, a nation where ideas themselves are no longer subject to discussion but carved into the stone of partisan tablets, a nation where science has anointed itself a religion so that it might turn its back if necessary on the scientific method itself in the interests of some greater good.
And what is perceived as the greater good?
Lustig pretty well nailed the answer to that question: satisfying the primitive emotions of a “lizard brain” held hostage to floods of dopamine and cortisol as the prefrontal cortex races between greed and fear.
“I would argue that Trump has turned our brains reptilian,” he wrote. “These two neurophysiologic phenomena have conspired to change human behavior throughout the millennia, and have previously been harnessed by demagogues in the name of populism. The difference now is that the message can be “weaponized” by the digital targeting of those who are most likely to respond to manipulation. In fact, these two phenomena are now at work on both sides of the aisle.”
But don’t, God forbid, try to tell this to those firmly entrenched on either side of that aisle that it is time to rise above partisan pettiness for they will almost instantly condemn you to hell. Even the atheists among them, who don’t believe in the religious constructs of heaven and hell, and the agnostics, who remain skeptical of an afterlife with such a stark choice between the perpetual comfort of heaven or the perpetual agony of Hades.
Forget about reasoning with them because they’ve bought into, or been driven into, the black and white world of Trump where you are on one side or the other. This is a world where facts are all too often about what you believe rather than what can be documented, and disinformation is always about what those you disagree with believe.
Consider this, many on the left in America have spent four years believing that Trump was elected because the Russians hacked the 2016 election, but somehow cannot except the idea that many on the right now believe some in the vast American bureaucracy might have hacked the election of 2020.
So the Russians could somehow rig the election from outside the country, but it would be impossible for an entrenched fifth element in the vast American bureaucracy to do the same from inside the country? How can you believe one without accepting at least the possibility of the other?
For the record, I didn’t buy the first hack, and I’m not buying the second because both the 2016 election and the 2020 election reflect the same thing – a deeply divided nation.
And it seems to be only getting more so everyday.
Witness the second impeachment of Trump for the crime of doing what he has been doing ever since he got elected, shooting his mouth off with little thought as to the implications.
“Donald Trump, the man who defied every political rule and prevailed to win his party’s nomination, last week took on perhaps the most sacred political rule of all: Never attack a Gold Star family.
“Not just because it alienates a vital constituency but because it reveals a shocking absence of elementary decency and of natural empathy for the most profound of human sorrows – parental grief.
“Why did Trump do it? It wasn’t a mistake. It was a revelation. It’s that he can’t help himself. His governing rule in life is to strike back when attacked, disrespected or even slighted.”
Trump at least had an excuse. He pretty clearly suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, which the the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines “as comprising a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a constant need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.”
Many U.S. presidents, possibly most, were narcissists. An oversized belief in oneself is something of an asset when trying to secure that job. The late President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was famous for it.
He led the list of narcissistic presidents a team of psychologists published in the journal Psychological Science in 2013. Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Chester A. Arthur, Andrew Johnson and Woodrow Wilson rounded out the top 10 in that order.
But all but Teddy Roosevelt and Jackson were pikers compared to Johnson, who scored 1.652 points on a scale developed by the psychologists. Every president after Jackson scored less than 1.0.
“Finishing squarely in the middle – not too humble, not too big-headed, just about right – were some of America’s nice-guy presidents: Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George Washington. (Barack Obama was not rated.),” the Pew Research Center reported in summarizing the study.
“These researchers also found that, on average, presidents are more narcissistic than the average American. Moreover, the level of grandiose narcissism in presidents has increased in recent decades.”
Trump took it to a whole new level, going from LBJ’s barely controllable narcissism to out-of-control NPD. It is in some ways sad.
“I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully,” Krauthammer wrote. “I was off by about 10 years. His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied. He lives in a cocoon of solipsism where the world outside himself has value – indeed exists – only insofar as it sustains and inflates him.”
Tough to watch
I have had some personal experience with this disorder. My old boss at the Alaska Dispatch News – Alice Rogoff – suffered from it. She promised her once best friend Tony Hopfinger $1 million to satisfy her infantile hunger for approval and praise by turning her into the Katharine Graham of Alaska newspaper publishers.
Unfortunately for her, she put that promise in writing in the form of a contract to buy the Alaska Dispatch, an online news entity that had been started by Hopfinger and ex-wife Amanda Coyne on their kitchen table in Anchorage. No one in their right mind would have judged the website worth $1 million, but Rogoff did.
Hopfinger’s relationship with her, unfortunately, lasted longer than a White House chief of staff under Trump (none stayed more than a year and a half), but ended badly. He left the newspaper. She refused to pay the money she’d contractually promised.
He sued. She spent far more money battling in court than it would have cost to settle the suit and then lost.
Along the way, she managed into bankruptcy the newspaper that was supposed to make her an iconic Alaska figure, and she became famous in the wrong way. If Graham was the Superman of newspaper publishers – she risked the family business on principal in order to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971 – Rogoff was the Bizarro Superman of newspaper publishers.
Trump may be destined to a similar status in the annals of history although only time will tell. Many of his policy decisions have been politically sound – one might even say sensible at the risk of getting Twitter slammed by the anti-Trump Twitterati or getting booted off Facebook for violating “community standards.”
Because Donald Trump has succeeded in remaking a goodly segment of America in his image. It is, in many ways, a staggering accomplishment.
Yes, there were the roots of this in American society before Trump. Sarah Palin – Alaska’s short-term governor and later national polebrity – paved Trumps “don’t retreat, reload” path to the White House. And long before Trump, some newspaper columnists and TV pundits made their fortunes in name-calling and an earlier version of what is now called “trolling” in social media.
Trump trolled Twitter like a world-class fishermen, which only encouraged others to troll Twitter. And now, having become the cesspool of social media, Twitter has banned Trump for inciting violence.
“‘The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!’
“Shortly thereafter, the President Tweeted:
“‘To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.’
“Due to the ongoing tensions in the United States, and an uptick in the global conversation in regards to the people who violently stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, these two Tweets must be read in the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilized by different audiences, including to incite violence, as well as in the context of the pattern of behavior from this account in recent weeks. After assessing the language in these Tweets against our Glorification of Violence policy, we have determined that these Tweets are in violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy and the user @realDonaldTrump should be immediately permanently suspended from the service.”
Hello Doublethink. This is the best excuse Twitter could come up with for banning Trump? Somewhere out there, George Orwell is mumbling, “I told you so.”
These Tweets, unlike many others written by Trump, were at least accurate or close to accurate. He surely isn’t going to the inauguration, and the 74.2 million Americans – about 47 percent of all voters – did cast a ballot for him. To call the number 75 million is a rounding error, but one of the sort you see journalists make all too often these days.
And suffice to say, the 4.5 percent difference between the votes for Trump and those for President-elect Joe Biden isn’t enough to start a Thanksgiving day argument over who got the biggest piece of pumpkin pie. The 4.5 percent bigger piece doesn’t look much different from any other piece.
The Trump-Biden race was close. It was a reflection of a deeply divided nation with a heavy streak of Republican red cutting through the midsection the elites on the coasts refer to as “fly over country.”
Did Trump help heal the divide? Hell no.
Will the House’s decision to impeach him for a second time help? See the answer above.
We are locked in a cultural “war,” and what people do in wars is fight. Gen. George S. Patton defined the rules simply:
Patton was arguably the country’s best-ever battlefield commander. He was not a peacemaker. And you do not win the peace in a democracy by killing the enemy, by wading into them to spill their blood, by shooting them in the gut or ripping open their belly.
You win the peace with accommodation. You win the peace by finding ways to work with those with whom you disagree. You win the peace by recognizing the world has far more grays than blacks and whites. You win the peace by accepting that even if you are the smartest guy in the room, others might still come up with ideas better than yours.
Trump was suited to none of that. He came from a world of business where he gave orders and other people followed them. One can only hope that Biden better understands how to win the peace and has the fortitude to stay the course.
It will not be easy. The tribes on both sides are angry as America witnessed in the invasion of the Capitol. A lot of Biden supporters – too many by any count – believe the Capitol invaders are representative of the 74.2-million-strong “basket of deplorables” who voted for Trump.
There is a nasty stripe of I’m-better-than-you, I’m-smarter-than-you, and you-best-not-forget-it that permeates a segment of the left in this country. Biden has his work cut out for him if he hopes to find middle ground between those folks and Trump supporters.
If he wants to find middle ground, one can only wish him luck.