President Donald Trump continues to refuse to release his taxes.
Nevertheless, the New York Times obtained tax documents from the 1980s and early nineties that revealed damning information about his finances. The Times revealed that he’d been broke years before previously known; that he’d bilked corporate heads out of money by feigning hostile takeovers; that he took–and lost–large sums of money from his father, undercutting his claim that he’s self-made; and perhaps most damaging of all, his failure to pay his share of taxes.
Raw Story spoke with Prudence Gourguechon, M.D., a past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, about the impact of the report on Donald Trump and his followers. Following a 35-year career as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, she currently works as a consultant on the psychology of business, advising executives on leader assessment and the psychological underpinnings of business relationships and decisions. A Forbes.com senior contributor on leadership strategy, she can be contacted through her website, www.invantageadvising.com.
She contributed her insights on leadership and fitness to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Professionals Assess a President,” edited by Bandy X. Lee (dangerouscase.org).
Raw Story: The report found that Trump spectacularly floundered financially years earlier than previously assumed. How do you suppose he was able to hide it for so long?
Prudence Gourguechon: I think that Trump is a master illusionist. He has the capacity, like a great magician, to hide what is happening right in front of ours eyes and ears through creating drama, showmanship, emotionally laden messaging and distraction. If you look at his behavior at his rallies, where he seems to really be in his element, his speech has a remarkable quality of performance that is rather riveting, even if you dislike and distrust him. You literally can’t take your eyes off him as he gestures and mugs and makes up memes on the spot. There’s a lot that someone can hide when they are so capable of capturing attention in that way.
Raw Story: Of the many failures detailed in the report is the story of how he faked being a corporate raider and it made him millions until corporate heads realized they were being scammed. How could someone maintain such a ruse?
Gourguechon: How did Bernie Madoff convince his investors, many of whom were very sophisticated, that the returns he was giving them that were clearly too good to be true were legitimate? We are all, at some level, susceptible to being conned by a charismatic person who is skillful at telling a story, intuiting our emotional needs and catering to them. Charisma is an asset for a leader, but extremely charismatic-–and ethical–leaders have to be mindful that their followers may give them more admiration and loyalty than they perhaps deserve.
Raw Story: The story builds on previous reporting by the Times that much of Trump’s money came from his father. In fact, the new report found that Fred Trump was largely a responsible and stable businessman who pretty much lost money when he bet on his son. This belies Trump’s claims to being self-made. What do you make of that?
Gourguechon: I’ve been watching Trump closely over a number of years—-along with a lot of other people of course. There have been numerous instances when he tells a story that in its first iteration seems like a tale he’s using for expedient reasons.
Some of his exaggeration of the dangers of the asylum seekers would be one example. At first, it’s not even convincing that he believes it himself. But as you watch him repeat the story many times, he seems to increasingly believe in his own myth.
After numerous repetitions and challenges he appears as if he has come to believe in his own fabrications. And the more he becomes deeply committed to his own story the more convincing he appears when telling it. Following that line, his constant repletion that he is wildly successful, self-made, enormously rich etc. is a myth he has made about himself that I suspect he truly believes by this time.
Any pesky reality-based details like the money he got from his father, or the money he lost reported in the recent Times story would just be dismissed or incorporated into the myth in some way that doesn’t change his view of himself.
The best myth of all is “fake news.” Anything that threatens his narrative about himself he now, throughconstant repetition, can attribute to his totally fabricated enemy, “fake news.” So any inconvenient fact is by definition assigned the value of “fakeness.”
Another way to put it is that objective reality doesn’t play a big role for him it seems. His subjective needs and personal reality are way more salient.
Raw Story: Perhaps most infuriating is that Trump appears to have avoided taxes. How do you think that might rub some of his followers, who probably just had to pay taxes?
Gourguechon: Sadly, I don’t think it will bother his followers. They are likely to think that he is just very clever and aspire to be that rich and clever themselves. He’s not a chump. Not going to be pushed around. He’s so special, he would be happy to convey, that paying taxes is beneath him. Instead of irritating his followers, this allows them a bit of respite from the drudgery of everyday life, which includes tax paying.
They can at least temporarily identify with his “goldenness” and specialness imagine that some of it could rub off on them. Or at least vicariously enjoy it.
Raw Story: Trump trashed the report. But what do you expect from him now that he’s been revealed to largely be a fraud in many ways?
Gourguechon: I don’t know what I can add to what I’ve said above. He’ll rationalize, distract, re-interpret, re-frame and end up seeing this as another unfair attack by his enemies. He may show some anxiety in his tweets which would be evidenced by his launching various attacks or perseverating on the subject. But he will not admit to any shortcoming or untruthfulness. Additionally, somehow he has managed always to have enough cash to maintain his lavish lifestyle. So it’s possible none of this seems terribly real to him.
One thing we know for certain is that Trump cannot tolerate “looking bad.” Way back in the campaign there was an incident when he totally lost control of himself at a press conference and screamed at a reporter “you made me look bad.”
Ironically, a great leader has to tolerate “looking bad.” Making mistakes, getting in trouble, being revealed as less than perfect, omnipotent or omniscient. If you can’t tolerate those uncomfortable feelings and that less than perfect vision of yourself, you have to distort reality to comply with an impossible vision of your own goodness. So if someone else has a complaint about you, or reveals what could look like a weakness, it has to be because they are wrong, or evil, or out to get you. It can’t be you.