Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” reveals that Donald Trump has been purposefully lying to the American people about the coronavirus pandemic. Trump admits he knew that COVID was “deadly stuff” but he did not want the public “to panic.” Instead, he fiercely denied the severity of the pandemic by acting as a “cheerleader” for the country. Sadly, William Haseltine, PhD, a world-renowned scientist, told CNN that we could have saved as many as 180,000 lives had Trump not lied to the public and had developed a proactive national strategy.
Erich Fromm, PhD, originated the term malignant narcissism. Otto Kernberg, MD, further defined malignant narcissism as including a grandiose self-image, antisocial features, paranoid traits, and sadism. Sadism is the deriving of pleasure from inflicting harm, humiliation, and destruction onto others. It can also include emotional cruelty, manipulation of others through fear, and glorification of violence.
Donald Trump is a malignant narcissist whose sadism is front and center. It dominates his life. It is instinctual. Trump is not able to reign it in because it is deeply entrenched in his psyche. It is the destructive part of his psychological make-up.
Trump’s sadism underlies his unthinkable response to our coronavirus pandemic. So far, he has killed 195,000 Americans because of his denial, his inaction, his lies, his false conspiracy theories, his childlike magical thinking, and his reckless medical cure-alls. He seems completely comfortable with the idea that thousands of Americans are dying each week under his direction; comfort he creates through the design of his alternate reality in which he operates. His alternate reality, in turn, is maintained by his sycophants, his loyal White House circle, his de facto state TV in Fox News, and a complicit Congress.
Having Americans die is acceptable and even preferable for a man who is compelled by sadistic urges. According to John Gartner, PhD, Trump is engaging in “democidal” behavior. It is the willful and purposeful killing of people by a political leader. In this case, President Trump seems to get intense pleasure from knowing that his actions—or inactions—are causing tens of thousands of deaths throughout the country. Put in more alarming terms, individuals with the qualities displayed by Trump are elated at the thought of going down in history as a “record-breaking” villain. Trump is locked into a deeply dysfunctional relationship with the American people and enjoys causing them pain and suffering. It rings true when you consider that the United States far outnumbers all other countries in the world in our deaths from the coronavirus. And it is all due to Trump’s intentional inaction to prevent death.
Make no mistake about it: Donald Trump has the power to contain and defeat this pandemic. He has chosen not to. He is an accessory to mass murder, at the very least.
Despite knowing that the coronavirus is five times more deadly than the flu, Trump continues to hold campaign pep rallies where face masks and social distancing are not required. He is hosting these “super-spreader” events where illness and death are not even considered. Putting others—even his followers—in harm’s way shows his utter disregard for human life, other than his own.
Trump’s emotional cruelty has been exposed. Trump thrives on degrading and humiliating political foes. He is especially cruel to Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. He has said that “Sleepy Joe” Biden will “hurt God” and will “destroy the suburbs.” He has said we would have a world “without any form of animals” under Biden. He has also said that “people in dark shadows” are controlling Biden. Similarly, Trump has called fallen military members “losers” and “suckers.” He has said that Senator John McCain was “not a war hero.” It is now reported that Trump told his trade adviser, “My fucking generals are a bunch of pussies.” Trump’s contempt and belittling of political figures and military personnel comes from his sadistic need to undermine the authority or praise or respect of others, especially those who threaten his sense of superiority and entitlement.
Trump’s cruel racism has been revealed as well. When asked by Bob Woodward if he thought it was important to understand the pain and anger of black people, Trump responded, “No. You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Wow. I don’t feel that way at all.” This one quote speaks volumes.
Dozens of major wildfires are burning throughout the U.S. West Coast, destroying hundreds of homes and wiping out entire neighborhoods in Oregon. About 500,000 people are under evacuation orders in Oregon, which is nearly 10% of the state’s population. Trump’s response to the wildfires has shown his cruelty, his unresponsiveness, his pettiness, and his lack of care. In the past, he has criticized the fire management team in California. Up until three days ago, his silence about the Oregon wildfires was deafening. Trump seems oblivious to the pain and suffering of others. But he is not oblivious, since his past behavior and public statements suggest that he is willfully punishing the citizens of Oregon and the others because they reside in “Democrat” states.
Donald Trump’s sadism is pervasive. His hostility is palpable throughout the country. We are the most divided and tribal we have been since the 1960’s. Trump’s sadism is creating a sense of collective anguish among all of us. And it is because he is a master of cruelty and ruthlessness.
The Office of the Presidency is traditionally regarded in a paternalistic, albeit flawed, manner. The American people have historically turned to the president at times of national crisis or tragedy, such as Pearl Harbor, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, and the shooting of children in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. But what if the national “paternal” figure is cruel? What if Americans cannot turn to the White House at troubling times? Even worse, what if the paternal figure is not just devoid of empathy but is destructive and evil? That is exactly what we are facing today with Donald Trump. Our president seeks not to comfort but to harm, not to unite but to divide, not to build up but to tear down. The psychological toll of this on most Americans is enormous, especially when you add in the compounding factors of food insecurity, inaccessibility to healthcare, job loss, income shortages, social isolation, increased suicide, and rising substance abuse.
We cannot have a president who is guided by his sadism. He is destructive. He is dangerous. He is not capable of ensuring the safety and welfare of the public. In fact, Americans are dying today under Donald Trump’s direction. Even after his lies and false denials have been exposed, Trump is doubling down on his cruelty and recklessness by continuing to “play down” the pandemic. Estimates are that we could reach up to 410,000 deaths in the U.S. by January 1, 2021.
Donald Trump is a sadist. The cruel and destructive part of his disordered psyche rules him. It is at the core of his malignant narcissism.
“Now I can be really vicious,” Trump announced Saturday at his pep rally in Nevada.
It is who he is.
Alan D. Blotcky, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama. He is Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Seth D. Norrholm, PhD, is Scientific Director of the Neuroscience Center for Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma in the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan.