Donald Trump and The Politics of Narcissism: Mental Illness as Statecraft

January 24, 2017


For anyone who was holding out hope, however faint and desperate, that the gravity of assuming the presidency of the United States would somehow miraculously compel Donald Trump to be someone other than Donald Trump, less than 24 hours on the job was more than enough time to not merely shatter completely all such illusions but confirm one’s worst nightmares.

It took Trump less than one day to show the nation and the world just how deeply, dangerously, eerily and spectacularly unfit he is for the position he now holds. In the process, Trump displayed to all and sundry the horrific and inevitable results of that which compels and controls him: a rampaging, gargantuan, chilling narcissism.

Consider Trump’s behavior during his tour of CIA Headquarters, which was promoted as a major step in reconciling the feud between the intellence agency and their new boss, the head of state.

Standing before the CIA Memorial Wall, commemorating CIA agents who died undercover, addressing some 400 agents who were gathered to hear the new president’s words, Trump sounded for all the world like a pathetic drunk babbling to himself at the end of a dive bar on an early Saturday afternoon after a three day binge.

Except it wasn’t alcohol Trump was drunk on: it was something infinitely more powerful. It was narcissism.

While it is true Trump made a casual reference to the “special wall “ behind him and added a few choice words about destroying “radical Islamic extremism,”
as is his wont (and I would argue, his need) Trump spoke mostly about Trump.
To wit: the president of the United States spent his first visit to a national institution (however dubious an institution it is) babbling about his relationship with media (“They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”), his inaugural speech (“I’ve been given good reviews “) the media lying about the crowd size at the event (“And I think they are going to pay a big price”) ; an uncle “ who was at MIT, (“I know a lot about West Point. I’m a person that very strongly believes in academics. In fact, every time I say I had an uncle who was a great professor at M.I.T. for thirty-five years, who did a fantastic job in so many different ways, academically—was an academic genius—and then they say, Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I’m like a smart person.”) and the number of times he has been featured on the cover of Time Magazine ( “I’ve been on it fifteen times this year. I don’t think that’s a record that can ever be broken.” ).

Let us be blunt: It is not simply wrong for the president of the United States to stand before a memorial wall of people who died in service to the nation he is now leading and babble on incoherently about his speech, his uncle at MIT, how smart he is, and the number of times he was on the cover of Time Magazine and so on. Nor is it simply appalling, though it surely is that. Nor is it a matter of personal style, quirkiness or somehow evidence of some kind of “authenticity.”
It is deranged and need be called deranged. And it must not be allowed , through sheer repetition or a perverse respect for the office of the presidency or outright cowardice on the part on the corporate media, to be made normative and acceptable.
More: It has since been confirmed that Trump brought with him to the CIA a team of shills to cheer on his every syllable.

A few hours later, Trump ordered Sean Spicer, his poor fool of press secretary, to the briefing room in the West Wing to scold reporters, lie about the size of the crowd at
Trump’s inauguration and warn the media that the Trump administration would hold them to account.

It was an astonishing performance and one that, quite naturally, caused an immediate media firestorm. After all, this was blatant bullshit — on a subject of complete irrelevance.
The next day, in a clip that is now infamous for giving the world the unlovely locution “alternative facts,” CNN’s Chuck Todd attempted in vain to fox out of Kelly Anne Conway, counselor to the president, some rationale for Trump’s insane demand on his press secretary to self righteously and angrily utter an absolute lie about something of zero importance.

Predictably, Conway dissembled, changed the subject, and than uttered the line that will live in infamy.

But what interests me is not Conway’s answer but Todd’s question, or rather the presumption behind Todd’s question. Todd assumes that Trump is in control of Trump. Todd appears honestly baffled by Trump’s concerns and actions, asking Conway why the man would risk credulity over the size of a crowd, which Todd characterizes as “the smallest, pettiest thing.”

From the perspective of a relatively healthy psyche, Todd’s question is completely reasonable. From the perspective of a narcissist as completely diseased as Trump, the very idea that his inauguration was not the biggest crowd ever might as well be the size and depth of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a direct threat to his identity. As such it is unbearable.

Todd appears to believe that Trump made a choice to send his press secretary out to lie. Narcissism allows no choices. Whatever threatens must be attacked and, if possible, eradicated from the face of the earth. A full-blown narcissist like Trump is compelled to remove, destroy or defame anyone or anything that threatens to expose the falsity of his identity. The narcissist is incapable of allowing any person, place or thing to outshine his fractured, agonized ego for even a moment.

In other words, seen through the lens of traditional politics, Trump’s behavior is simply appalling and seems inexplicable. Yet seen through the prism of narcissism it makes complete and horrific sense. Indeed, it is inevitable.

That Donald Trump is a hopeless narcissist has been known for decades. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of visiting Trump Tower could feel the palpable power of this affliction like a malevolent force field. But there is all the difference in the world between a nasty narcissist in his garish tower and a nasty narcissist in the Executive Office, who, thanks to the machinations of President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama and the cowardice of the congress, enjoys vastly greater executive powers than did any of their predecessors. The horrible hold that affliction has on it’s victims is something we are witnessing in real time and with the highest conceivable stakes, as one of those victims is now the president of the United States, and one whose actions, statements and decisions are compelled by something completely beyond his control.
And the whole world is watching how this is unfolding.

Needless to say, the size of an inauguration crowd is not a real problem, but nonetheless Trump responded with lies and threats bolstered by the power of the state. Inevitably, real problems will arise and I shudder to think how this wounded and wounding man, invested now with such enormous power, will respond.


Addendum: Here’s a video with more of the same. This time Trump’s “belief” in massive voter fraud for which there is zero evidence.

It is interesting and revealing that the number of Trumps’ ficticious fraudulent voters coincides, more or less, with the number of voters by which Trump lost the popular vote. It is as if, in Trump’s diseased mind, he cannot accept the fact that Hillary Clinton received more votes. Therefore, reality must be altered to fit Trump’s “beliefs.”

Even in the midst of his public downfall and humiliation, with the furies of Watergate hounding him around the clock and from every corner, Richard Nixon did not exhibit this level of public craziness. Indeed, in comparison, Trump makes the paranoid and hounded Nixon look healthy.

I am no fan of Jake Tapper but this video is unlike any I’ve ever seen in my entire life.


Mass Revolt Against Trump in New York and Across America

January 21, 2017


The spectacle of Trump’s ascension to immense power is nothing if not unprecedented. Just as candidate Trump’s presidential campaign, built on lies, ridicule, cruelty, racism, paranoia, revenge fantasies, misogyny and insane messianic promises, was unprecedented in how it completely degraded the electoral process, so too did he degrade the tradition of the inaugural address yesterday by making what was in essence yet another extraordinarily divisive and insulting campaign speech; one which made no attempt whatsoever to even acknowledge the profound concerns of the majority of Americans who did not vote for him. It is as if millions of Americans simply do not exist for this man. Instead, Trump babbled about “transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People, ” and how “America will start winning again, winning like never before,” and othersuch nonsense, even as he fills his cabinet with the most anti labor, pro corporate degenerates in the land. He then balled his hand into a fist as if addressing, not the nation, but a mob.
Indeed, the speech was so degrading that even Ur- conservative George Will called it “the most dreadful inaugural speech in American history.”

My daughter, who attends an excellent public school in the inner city, watched the speech with her class and was astonished to learn that she and her classmates were the victims of “an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

Such unprecedented assaults on any semblance of decency and truth call for unprecedented response, and today, one day after the swearing in of President Trump, such responses came in extraordinary numbers, in the nation’s capital and all over the country.

I marched in New York. It was the most poorly organized march that I’ve ever been to – and I’ve been to many. At the same time it may have been the most inspiring. For some reason, thousands were made to stand almost immobile in penned areas for hours with no idea of what was happening. But so we did. And at last the march began. And then everywhere you looked you saw more people coming. And more and more and more. Hours later, more were marching. And you knew it was worth it.

Nothing like this has ever happened before in American history: one day after the swearing in of a new president, a massive nation wide revolt and rejection.
No American president has ever inspired such a response, but then no American president has so repulsed and frightened and insulted the American people as deeply as does Trump.

But many more such marches will be needed. And much more than marches. We will need to build a true opposition party that is NOT the Democratic party.





A Reading on WBAI About De Vos and Trump

January 18, 2017


This evening I was honored to be broadcast reading my most recent piece on the WBAI Evening News hosted by Linda Perry-Barr. The reading is found in the last seven or so minutes of the show which you can fast forward to but the whole show is well worth listening to.
Hope you enjoy.

It was a big thrill for my daughter.



Thoughts Occasioned By Donald Trump, Betsy De Vos and a Door Knob

December 18, 2016


“Little things are big things, ” said a rhetoric teacher I was fortunate to have studied under at the public university I was fortunate enough to attend before rising tuitions reduced students to indentured servants. My professor was speaking to me of my writing, specifically of both little mistakes I made that lessened the impact of my prose and also of little additions that strengthened it. He was also saying it as a general truth and over the years, at times against my will, I came to understand it as such. At any rate, over the years the words have stayed with me, welling up in my head from time to time, often in unexpected situations, always somehow bearing out the wisdom of the words. One such situation took place Friday when, attending a meeting in a school other than my own, I reached down to open a door and there in my hand was a doorknob bearing the words, “ PUBLIC SCHOOL, CITY OF NEW YORK, surrounded by filigree.

I was, for a moment, taken aback. It seemed so terribly out of place, outside of the psychological climate in which my colleagues and I have labored for years. And this is why: someone, somewhere took time to make this doorknob. And that someone took pride in both the work and the public school system.

I have no idea of the exact provenance of the doorknob but I know it came from a time in which New York City and the rest of America believed in public works, public servants, public institutions and the public good: that is to say, a social contract that was not beholden to “market forces” or the rapacity of morally criminal Wall Street speculators or the whims of billionaires who have been allowed to dictate public policy.

We believed, that is, in the wake of the immense suffering and degradation of war, of the Great Depression, and through the bloody struggle of the union movement, that people had common rights and responsibilities and that it was the duty of the government, as the only institution that could guarantee them, to do so. Such as the right to an education. Believed too, even if it was never explicitly stated, that we had the civic, moral and, yes, spiritual responsibility to look after each other to, at the very least, a small degree; an understanding that we were to help each other through the messy, difficult, sublime thing called life.
Hence the creation of Social Security.
Such public institutions served, however imperfectly, the nation for a period of four decades (from 1945 to 1975) creating the greatest shared prosperity ( though one not shared by all people ) in human history.

A vital component in that unprecedented human as well as economic success, as vital as social security for the elderly, was the American public school system.
After 15 years of ceaseless insidious assault by the richest people in America, greased by bipartisan attacks from statehouses coast to coast, codified by the policies of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and aided by the most well financed and sustained public relations campaign against a legal profession in American history — all bent on privazation as the solution to all human and social problems — it is more and more difficult to remember the vital place of the public school system, never mind believe in it.
Propaganda and perception management, relentlessly and brilliantly implemented, work.
The sight of the old door knob struck me as especially poignant and haunting in light of our own age, not only one of complete corporate hegemony and the concomitant undermining of the social contract at all points, but one suddenly led by a mentally unstable political novice who envisions the presidency as an entry level position and who is attempting to fill his cabinet with persons who seek to
destroy the very institutions they are entrusted with. Public institution, mind you, that will be given over exclusively to private ends. In the process, they seek to finish off, once and for all, the anemic remnants of public life in America, beginning with the public school system.

The destruction of the public school system is unquestionably the mission of Betsy De Vos, Trump’s preposterous selection for Secretary of Education. (Yes, even more preposterous than Arne Duncan. ) It may well happen. If the election of the man-child Trump proves nothing else, it proves that in today’s America, anything, no matter how reckless, insane or suicidal is quite possible. It may well come to pass that in a few years time, that doorknob will be seen as an artifact of an institution gone the way of the tyrannosaurus, replaced by …only God knows what, but you can rest assured that some corporations will be making billions from it and education will be further reduced to some kind of degrading job training.

Little things are big things and we will need both small acts and mass movements to thwart the catastrophe that is surely upon us. Weeks after the election of this disgusting, dangerous and all so divisive figure, he with his teen-age tweets, his obscene “Thank You Tour,” his grotesque cabinet appointees, it grows clearer and clearer that we are, as a nation and as a people, heading into unprecedented darkness, led by an ignorant narcissist who has no idea what he is doing and needs perpetual adoration the way a junkie needs junk.
I am not an historian but I am one who takes history with great seriousness and from what I can see what Trump brings is without precedent. We will either create new forms of resistance and new forms of representation or we will be degraded, soon enough, into silence.

Bill Gates Compares Trump with JFK Revealing to America His Profound Mediocrity

December 13, 2016


Bill Gates’ astoundingly ignorant comparison of the promise of Donald Trump with President John F. Kennedy reveals to America what every conscious educator in the country has learned or unearthed about the man in the past fifteen years or so. To wit, that whatever his talents in building computer operating systems and monopolizing the intellectual property rights of both his predecessors and contemporaries, whatever his cunning in outmaneuvering his business rivals, Bill Gates is an intellectual mediocrity of the most profound order.

That, of course, has not stopped this unelected, unaccountable “philanthropist” from being allowed to impose imbecilic whim upon imbecilic whim on the entire American public school system and to do so in the most insidious ways possible. Galvanic bracelets, Big History (because it is not history) the Common Core, nonsensical teacher evaluation systems and so much more owe their existence to the bottomless billions of the saintly Bill Gates.
Now here’s Bill somehow comparing the promise of the most objectively unprepared, demagogic, clueless, vicious and mentally unstable person ever elevated to the presidency to the deeply flawed but nonetheless enormously inspiring presidency of JFK. It is revealing that Gates, a man who in his own way is as narcissistic as Trump, sees the Kennedy years, not through the sublime struggles of the Civil Rights Movement or the near nuclear apocalypse of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but through Kennedy’s Space Program, which, in the final end bore relatively little fruit, excepting in the world of technology.

At any rate, there is something grotesque about speaking of a vulgar conman like Trump in the same breath as a man like JFK who, despite his failings, had the stuff of grace and greatness. Indeed, Trump is the negation of all JFK stood for. At the same time Gate’s blathering reveals to the rest of America the quality of thought that, thanks to the spinelessness of our political leaders, has degraded American educators and education for years with not only no end in sight but with the utter certainly of greater and greater degradation under the leadership of a person like Trump.