Trump's malignant narcissism is making him more and more dangerous as his power slips away: clinical psychologists
Donald Trump knows he is losing, and that should make us all very afraid, regardless of our political views
On May 31st, The New York Times reported that Trump had been “rushed” into the White House bunker as protestors massed outside the White House in Lafayette Park. Trump was humiliated. It looked like he ran, like a coward, from the BLM protesters. To the jeers of comedians and Tweeters, he claimed he was only “inspecting” the bunker while demanding the leaker who revealed his bunker trip be criminally prosecuted.
With Trump that can only mean one thing. He had to strike back viciously.
“This isn’t going to stop until the good guys are willing to use overwhelming force against the bad guys,” Trump retweeted that day.
The next day, June 1, in a conference call with the nation’s governors about civil unrest around BLM protests, most were seeking a path to de-escalation. Trump was contemptuous and disgusted: “Most of you are weak. If you don't dominate…You're going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate."
That same afternoon, Trump followed his own advice. Unmarked federal agents violently cleared peaceful protestors from the park with tear gas. The tables had been turned. Instead of Trump hiding in his bunker, it was his enemies who had to run for cover in a panic. Trump walked triumphantly, military leaders in tow, from the White House to St James Church for a photo op where he awkwardly held an upside down Bible over his head, and grinned. He showed them who was boss.
We would like to suggest this timeline is no coincidence. We think there may be a cause and effect relationship between the two events. The clearing of Lafayette Square was triggered by Trump’s humiliation in the bunker.
We have argued before that Trump is a malignant narcissist, a diagnosis introduced by the famed analyst Erich Fromm, a refugee from Nazi Germany, to explain the psychology of Hitler, Stalin and other grandiose destructive dictators throughout history. It has four components: narcissism, paranoia, psychopathy and sadism. Malignant narcissists enjoy destroying their real and imagined enemies. It makes them feel powerful, they enjoy inflicting pain, and it is an effective gangster’s tool to intimidate others to do their bidding. If they have been publicly humiliated, made to look weak, they must exact revenge viciously, fiercely, dramatically and preferably publicly. Trump’s philosophy: “When somebody screws you, you screw them back in spades. …You’ve gotta hit people hard. And it’s not so much for that person. It’s other people watch.”
Since June 1, Trump’s polls have plummeted, he has been widely mocked and jeered for his dishonest and ineffective response to the pandemic, protestors have continued in the streets, and his humiliation has continued. His response has been to bring Lafayette Park to scale. Unmarked military have abducted protestors off the streets of Portland despite the outrage of local and state officials. Trump has signaled an intent to send troops to Albuquerque, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Baltimore—none of whom want them--arguing he must “dominate” US cities.
When a malignant narcissist like Trump says “Make America Great Again,” what he really means is make ME great--or else. Malignant narcissists will demonize and destroy anyone who gets in their way, and the list of enemies always grows both because they are paranoid, and because their behavior provokes real opposition. Staffs are purged over and over for disloyalty. And the categories of people in the population who are enemies grows. First, we were defending the border from “infestations” by immigrants, sadistically taking away their children and putting them into concentration camps in the desert. Now those same Border Patrol agents—who have shown their willingness to commit crimes against humanity for Trump-- are being drafted into service as Trump’s personal Republican Guard to attack our citizens in our streets.
On July 22, Trump announced Operation Legend, a plan to invade multiple large Democratic-led US cities, starting with Chicago, on the flimsy premise that they have had a recent rise in street crime. That night the mayor of Portland was tear gassed in his own streets.
There appears to be a strategy behind this escalation: provoke the protestors to violence, then use that as an excuse for an even more repressive military response. Some have wondered if this is Trump’s “Reichstag moment.” Hitler used a fire at the Reichstag Parliament building as his convenient excuse for imposing martial law. Many historians believe that the arson planned and ordered by the Nazis as a false flag operation to justify their putting troops in the streets.
Only with Trump, we have a Reichstag fire every night, as we watch a similar process take place in slow motion.
How bad can it get if Trump feels power slipping away? When Hitler knew his war was lost, he too went into a bunker. Before he committed suicide, he issued an order known as the “Nero Decree” calling for “scorched earth.” “All military transport and communication facilities, industrial establishments and supply depots, as well as anything else of value within Reich territory…will be destroyed.” Hitler told Speers, “It is not necessary to worry about what the German people will need for elemental survival...it is best for us to destroy even these things” because “only those who are inferior will remain after this struggle, for the good have already been killed.”
In other words, they failed to make Hitler great, and so the surviving Germans deserved to perish alongside him. Like a homicidal abusive spouse, he was determined that if he couldn’t have Germany then nobody would.
Trump is not Hitler. But like Hitler, he is a malignant narcissist. If we don’t make Trump great, he will predictably use his power to punish us. And if we don’t submit--he may just try to destroy us. Tear gas in the streets and one hundred and fifty thousand dead would suggest that he has already begun.
John Gartner Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist. He taught in the dept. of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School for 28 years. He is the founder of Duty to Warn.
Alan Blotcky, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham Alabama.