Many people have written many things about Donald J. Trump. For some reason we have been forced to take seriously a character who, if written into a movie, would be a comedic exaggeration. But here we are.
And here he is– one seriously flawed, embattled opponent away from the White House. Amazing.
More amazing to me are the Republican leaders who lend their support for the sake of “unity,” then renounce 90% of what comes out of his mouth. Unity of what?
This phony support boils down to wanting votes from his supporters and wanting to stay on Trump’s nice side. Either explanation is soulless.
I can forgive and try to understand how the media and certain voting blocs might get mesmerized by Trump’s bravado shtick. I can’t forgive the cowardice of an elected leader sworn to uphold the constitution, for which Trump has shown no regard.
One of the more different articles I’ve read examines the psychology of Trump. Indeed, Trump’s behavior would more likely be found in a psychology textbook than standing on a debate stage. But here we are.
The Atlantic cover story The Mind of Donald Trump was written by personality psychologist Dan McAdams, who has also written a book in the psycho-biographical genre about George W. Bush.
Now, any casual observer of Trump will be able to pinpoint the main take-away from this article. No big surprise: McAdams believes Trump a narcissist, someone totally concerned about himself. Oh, and he thinks Trump is disagreeable.
How McAdams arrives here, though, is worth the read. He provides a detailed portrait of Trump’s life as pieced together through biographies and articles and Trump’s own writings and interviews. McAdams examines the presumptive nominee through the lens of a widely used personality trait analysis, and then compares the dominant traits of Trump with other presidents we have seen. (The most liken to Trump? Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon. More on this in a little bit.)
Another draw to the article is the analysis he provides for the appeal of Trump. Questions like, “How are Evangelical Christians able to vote for such a morally depraved person?” are answered in depth. (For the Evangelical question, he turns to modern research on authoritarianism.)
If any redemptive quality offering a fresh interpretation of Trump could surface, in this thorough analysis, it would have. And it doesn’t. Apparently, even speaking at his own father’s funeral, Trump took to bragging about himself.
McAdams concedes that personality traits can’t predict the type of president one will make, or exactly what they will do. He offers, however, that disposition can predict the type of decisions someone is likely to make. In Trump’s case, this points to a willingness to make confident decisions in a high-risk, high-reward type of situation. (Think: Iraq War.) Although his “openness” trait (in political terms, read: lack of conviction) may leave him a pragmatic dealmaker, his extreme disagreeableness and disregard for the truth are more likely recipes for something more “explosive.”
As the article shifts focus toward mental-set, worldview and motivation, there are also no surprises to be found. Trump thinks in competitive terms and views himself in a “dog-eat-dog” world. He wants to win and be seen as the top dog this vicious world. His anti-trade and anti-immigrant rhetoric fits right into his personal narrative.
The most insightful, and most disturbing, opinion in this piece is what McAdams believes drives the entire Trump persona– anger. I’ll quote the article here:
“Indeed, anger may be the operative emotion behind Trump’s high extroversion as well as his low agreeableness. Anger can fuel malice, but it can also motivate social dominance, stoking a desire to win the adoration of others. Combined with a considerable gift for humor (which may also be aggressive), anger lies at the heart of Trump’s charisma. And anger permeates his political rhetoric.”
So Trump is an angry, self-centered, disagreeable person. Hasn’t that been the case with other presidents?
McAdams compares Trump’s anger to Jackson, and his disagreeableness with Nixon. Both of these presidents have done very regrettable things. Jackson expanded the powers of the presidency and wrought the deaths of thousands of Natives Americans. Nixon’s abuse of office and deception caused him to resign in disgrace. But there are reasons to distinguish Trump even from these extreme examples.
First, McAdams reminds us that Jackson’s populist anger was harnessed in a functional way, and his story at least served to inspire the “common man” of his time. It’s yet to be seen whether any part of Trump’s explosive personality can be harnessed or function within our democracy, and nothing seems to be inspired more by Trump’s rise than violence and bigotry.
Second– and I am making this observation myself– Nixon was paranoid and harsh and calculating, but when his back was finally against the wall, his deception fully revealed, he stepped down and flew off into the sunset. In his resignation speech he said that “the interests of the nation must always come before any personal considerations.” He claimed to have been looking out for the good of the nation, and by stepping down instead of chugging through an impeachment trial, you can try to believe him.
How would a President Trump respond, with his back against the wall? From what I’ve seen and read, even in the face of plain truth, there would be no backing down. There would be incessant manipulation, attacks on attacks, with the full force of his office, beyond what we can imagine. Nothing comes before Trump’s personal considerations.
Every part of his life story, his observed behavior, and McAdams’ analysis point to this unnerving reality: Trump would destroy this country before he would humble himself.