'He's 'a sinister master manipulator': Why Trump's narcissistic bullying energizes his base
President Donald Trump. (AFP/File / Brendan Smialowski)

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump railed against the media on Twitter, accusing reporters of artificially sinking his poll numbers, which have consistently hovered at 43 percent nationwide.

Trump's attacks on the media—which he dubbed the "LameStream Media" in his tweet—have been consistent over the course of his administration. The name-calling also echoes his attacks on other perceived enemies, including lawmakers, ethnicities, immigrants and whole countries.

Raw Story interviewed counselor Rosemary Sword about Trump's name calling and bullying. Sword recently  published an article in Psychology Today: “The Border, The Squad, and The Donald." She's codeveloper of Time Perspective Therapy and coauthor of the books, “The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy” and “Time Perspective Therapy: Transforming Zimbardo’s Temporal Theory into Clinical Practice,” among others. Together with renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, she writes a popular column for Psychology Today  and is developer of Mind Balancing Apps. She and Zimbardo wrote the first chapter in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” edited by Bandy X. Lee.

Raw Story: In your article, you draw some interesting historical parallels to our current moment, particularly the torture at Abu Ghraib prison. What are the similarities and differences that you see?

Rosemary Sword: When it was revealed by the press that some detainment facilities along the border, and more specifically certain guards, were employing what would be considered forms of torture by human rights organizations, like lights on 24 hours a day, poor nourishment, and lack of hygiene for detainees, I was reminded of the torture techniques used at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq sixteen years ago. My coauthor in the article was asked to testify on the conditions there as principal investigator of the infamous Stanford prison experiment. Similarities start with degradation and dehumanization of the victims. Dehumanization - viewing someone or a group of people as less than a whole human being, possibly as an “animal,” enables the torturer or bully to perform cruel acts on their victims.

We’ve all seen how this works on the playground: the bully chooses a target, talks or intimidates their cronies into backing him or her, and begins the bullying cycle by name calling and belittling, which can lead to physical abuse and sometimes the death of the victim. In situations at the border as well as Abu Ghraib, dehumanization and degradation—humiliating another—work together to break the spirit of the detainees.

Raw Story: How do you view his attacks on the Squad?

Sword: In our chapter in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, we explain that Donald Trump displays present hedonistic behaviors—living in the moment without thinking about future consequences—like most pathological narcissists and bullies. Like the schoolyard bully mentioned previously, we see these tendencies manifest each time he lashes out at those who oppose him, such as the Squad—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-OH) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)—all women of color.

Further evidence of this bullying are his degrading statements about Congresswoman Maxine Waters  (D-CA) -- (“low IQ”) -- a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and his attacks on Congressman Elijah Cummings  (D-MD) -- (“Really bad news! The Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad!”). It’s worth noting that Cummings chairs the House Oversight Committee, which is among several congressional panels investigating Trump and his administration.

All of these attacks are on lawmakers who are highly capable, likely exceeding him, which is always a bully’s fear.

Raw Story: Does Trump’s rhetoric inspire violence? How?

Sword: We don’t have to be master detectives to connect the dots from mass shootings that have taken place in the last few weeks in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, to Trump’s dehumanizing statements about Mexicans, Muslims, and people of African heritage. He’s spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy drilling into the nation’s consciousness that he considers non-white people as “others.” He made it clear last year in a meeting in the Oval Office with lawmakers when he referred to Haiti and countries in Africa as “shithole countries” and called for more immigrants from places like Norway, which is considered one of the “whitest” nations. Most recently, he was filmed using an “Asian accent” when describing conversations with leaders of China and Korea. This further indicates he lacks the necessary cultural sensitivity required of his office.

Trump displays the ability of a sinister master manipulator. The bully in him appeals to a segment of the population that may consciously or unconsciously feel uncomfortable with the fact that the United States will become a nation with an “others” majority in the coming decades. When he broadcasts dehumanizing, demeaning statements about people—be they individuals or entire ethnicities—he opens the door to violent actions by some of his followers who believe they are acting on his implied messages.

Raw Story: What can we do?

Sword: The national unrest and division stoked by President Trump can cause people to feel depressed, as if there’s nothing that can be done to change the retrograde course he has set for our country. But we can each take small steps in our personal lives by being an everyday hero—starting locally and then expanding our focus. Here’s how.

First, make somebody feel special every day. For example, learn their name, look them in the eye, shake their hand, or give them a justifiable compliment. Don’t let the bullies topple your sense of human goodness and decency.

Second, ask questions. Never follow the rules blindly. We teach our children to obey authority, but let’s teach them also to distinguish and defy “unjust” authority.

Third, always ask yourself, what is my ripple effect? What have I done today that will influence other people in a positive way? Every gesture counts.

Fourth, get active in our collective self-governance. With the 2020 election around the corner, it’s not too soon to participate in every way you can, and demand that mental health experts speak for you where relevant.

Heroes are sociocentric. The enemy of heroism is egocentrism. In other words, when I think about me I'm never focused on you. Let’s consider our new job in life, every day, wherever we go, to make a small difference in our big world. Transform your compassion into socially engaged actions to help others, and change our perspective from me to we, just as our Founding Fathers intended. The time is ripe for equal inclusion to supplant exclusionary doctrines—regardless of who advocates them.