For most of his adult life and most especially during the past 5 years, Donald Trump has created a false self, a façade, a public facing veneer. He created an image of himself as a strong and successful businessman, a “stable genius,” and, most recently, as a “perfect physical specimen.” This false self has been propped up by a sycophantic inner circle, a complicit Congress, and a steady blockade made up of non-disclosure agreements, ignored subpoenas, a flouting of Presidential ethics and norms – as well as “mainstream media” that has ranged from intentionally to cluelessly complicit, reinforced by the increasing power of social media. The creation and maintenance of this façade has been fueled by a pathological narcissism that includes behaviors mental health professionals have described as “antisocial,” “sociopathic,” “psychopathic,” and “sadistic.”
Behind the false public self, originated by Trump at some point during his early years, lies a frightened and vulnerable “child” who desperately seeks approval, adulation, and praise.
This has been a common underlying theme for all Trump’s Presidential activities, including his responses to natural disasters, domestic terrorism and violence, as well as developing foreign policy, addressing the U.S. and world economic conditions, and engaging in any management of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet the most significant calculation that the child-like psyche of this man attends to almost always boils down to:
“Do they like me?” – and if they don’t, “How do I exact punishment and retribution?”
When considering U.S. relations with foreign nations and entities, Trump has conflated himself (i.e., is own self-image) with the entity of the United States of America. For example:
On U.S. relations with China which have economic, military, and national security implications, Trump says, “We love each other” of Chinese President Xi.
In response to Russia’s confirmed interference in our elections and other acts of aggression toward the U.S., Trump’s most fervent responses to Putin have been laudatory and a form of “I like Putin. He likes me.”
On his coordination with states that have Democratic governors, which by Trump reasoning means they don’t like him, Trump informed Vice President Mike Pence,
On his criticism and victim shaming of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes, Trump said, “That’s Puerto Rico. They don’t like me.”
When asked about his thoughts on the QAnon conspiracy movement, Trump downplayed the potential danger of this radically mis-informed and dangerous group by saying, “I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much.”
Now as the November Presidential election approaches, the false self, this veneer that Trump has created, is cracking. On the possibility that he loses to Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump recently said, ”Biden’s going to be your President because some people don’t love me, maybe.”
Then, finally, Tuesday night at a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump pleaded, “Suburban women, will you please like me?!”
That’s it. It’s that simple and yet so very dangerous – and even deadly. Trump’s decisions are emotionally based and not grounded in logic, or foresight, or outcomes.
Yes, he faces a multitude of legal and financial consequences if he is not re-elected.
But it is likely that is not what has him most desperate and frightened. Rather:
It’s the humiliating rejection of losing.
The humiliation of wearing the label he has so often plastered on others from military leaders to politicians to governors and to activists alike: Loser.
If we allow our Country to be nothing more than a projection of Trump’s pathetically immature self (in essence, “Narcissus’ image in the mirror”) then we are all destined to be “losers” – and in Trump’s own words, “Like no one has ever seen before…”
Seth D. Norrholm, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Alan D. Blotcky, PhD is a clinical psychologist in practice in Birmingham, Alabama.
David M. Reiss, MD is a practicing psychiatrist specializing in “front-line” adult and adolescent psychiatry based in California and New England.