Saturday, April 01, 2017

Worse Than Insane

Keith Olbermann displayed impressive understanding of foreign policy when after President Trump recently presented to German chancellor Angela Merkel a bill for NATO expenses, he remarked

Geographically, Germany is essential to American security. It is our symbolic front against Russia and Russia's primary geo-poitical goal since 1945 has been to break up the German-American alliance.  Politically, Germany is essential to American security because the last time we pushed it away, after World War I, when it rose up again it was powerful enough to start World War II.If we help it with its self-defense, even if we pay a little more of the freight tahn it does, we are in effect paying for our self-defense.

Olbermann's argument about Donald Trump, however, is less persuasive when he cites a "twenty question screening test for psychopaths" in which the maximu score is forty points." He states "the threshold for probably being a psychopath is thirty points. Trump's words and actions got him thirty-two points."

Psychoanalyst Steven Reisner would not agree. Alluding to what we lay people might recognize as a variant of self-fulfilling  prophecy, he explains

the real problem with diagnosing Trump as mentally ill based on deviation from the norm is that Trump himself is a master at determining what counts as normal. Especially in our brave new world of reality television, Trump has an outsize influence—he is such a virtuoso of media-made reality that media coverage itself often helps turn his wildest statements into fact sooner than fact checkers can convince Americans otherwise. Let’s not forget that immigrants may not have been rioting in Sweden when Trump made his mysterious claim, but they actually did begin rioting soon afterward. And Trumps’ far-fetched statements about a deep state and rampant immigrant terrorism may actually help bring these about, strengthening Trump’s hand. And now, even his outlandish claim of being wiretapped is being given some credence.

Though regrettably (favorably) quoting Freud (Reisner is an analyst, after all), Reisner recognizes that Trump is (italics his)

a reality artist, one who is adept at the strategies that turn his biggest whoppers into reality. It is reminiscent of Charles Foster Kane, in Orson Welles’ classic film, who, when informed by the war reporter he dispatched to Cuba that there was no war to be found but only delightful girls and beautiful scenery worthy of prose poems, famously replied, “Dear Wheeler, you provide the prose poems, I’ll provide the war.”

When last July Olbermann contended that Trump could not pass a "sanity test," he nonetheless recounted an episode lending credence to the idea that Trump is less unbalanced than canny operator. He recalled that he

had interviewed Trump as long ago as 1983 and always thought him a horse’s ass, but after running into him when we both worked at NBC, and then in the lobby of one of his apartment buildings in which I lived, I was stunned to encounter a quiet, succinct, seemingly sincere co-worker and (in essence) landlord. In one role he described himself as an anti-Bush, pro-Obama liberal; in the other, he urged me to contact him personally with any problems or suggestions about the building. Then he got on the campaign stage and, boom! He was America’s newest Mussolini Impersonator.

Ever the mental health professional, Reisner does not explicitly label Trump a con man but explains

By the sheer force of his personality, power, bullying tendencies, and money, Trump can bend reality to his perspective, which he does using a simple technique: He simply shifts the evidence for what is real from facts to feelings.

Thus he employs to great effect his strategy of appearing insane, impulsive, vengeful, and unpredictable—frightening his opponents with “American carnage” at one moment and taking advantage of their relief, the next, when he suddenly appears compassionate, reasonable, and “presidential.” He intensifies his supporters’ feelings, too, when it serves his reality—elevating their pain and suffering into evidence of his own sanity in a world gone mad and mobilizing their aggression at those who can be blamed for their misery. Bobbing and weaving between cruelty and compassion, impulsivity and sobriety, he makes his own definitions of what is real, changing them when they cease to be useful and turning the tables on his critics when challenged significantly.

There may be nothing more characteristic of 21st century American society than the triumph of the heart over the head, emotion over thought, and Reisner maintains

We must understand that Trump thrives in the aftermath of his provocations. Like a looter who instigates a riot, Trump is a master at navigating the chaos he himself provokes. To call Trump’s exaggeration of immigrant criminality delusional is to miss Trump’s real aim of bolstering the emotional evidence for his narrative: that outsiders have stolen Americans’ birthright and only a strong leader can make this right. To make his claim an emotional reality, he plans to create a new police force to crack down on immigrant crime and widely publicize the evidence.

In the same veing, though less scholarly and more succinctly, Steve M. captures the essence of support for the President when he remarks

Trump fans don't want him to be a president -- they want him to be an action-movie hero. They want him to transcend politics. No, that's not quite accurate -- they want him to kick politics' ass. They want him to leave politics bleeding to death in an alley. And many of them, although probably fewer and fewer every day, still think that's possible.

It is probably inaccurate to  consider Trump mentally ill and misleading to maintain that he couldn't pass some sort of "sanity test."  Doing so is, as Reisner points out

playing right into Trump’s preferred reality—no longer holding him to account on the basis of law, politics, and personal responsibility, but rather transferring him, like Brer Rabbit, into the briar patch of feelings, charisma, and threat. And in that particular briar patch, Trump is the professional and the psychiatrists are amateurs. So, like the gangster or outlaw who runs out of bullets when faced with a stronger foe, they stoop to the last resort and throw their gun: He’s crazy! When in reality what they are saying is: He is off-the-charts scary, and I don’t know how to stop him.

"We must abandon the comforting delusion that Trump is delusional," concludes Reisner. Let's not let President Trump off easy when the reality is probably even more dangerous.

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