By Adam Corson-Finnerty
Donald Trump is fascinating and intriguing. Who is he? How does he think? Why does he do the strange things he does? My mind searches for analogies. What historical figure or political archetype does Trump most resemble?
I have not settled on one — or even two — good models. But here are four archetypes that I am currently pondering. They are THE DONALD, KING DONALD, THE DON, AND DONALD TRUMPANOVICH.
This is the person we knew before he became an active politician. The bold, brash, self-promoting New York Real Estate Mogul. The guy who always wanted to see himself in the newspapers and gossip columns. The husband who was always on the prowl, talking tits and ass with Howard Stern, and proclaiming that women over 35 had lost their beauty and sexual appeal. The man who thought of himself as a Brand, and who thought his “brand” would turn any building, steak, golf course, or fly-by-night “University” into a gold mine. The man who we always wondered: is he really rich, or just a con artist?
As long as the specimen DONALD remained in Manhattan, he was pretty well contained and pretty well “understood.” Then he decided to run for President. And he actually won.
So now we have the “let’s make a deal” President. Taking a line from the opening scene in the movie “Splash,” Trump knows that, ultimately, everyone wants bananas at wholesale, no matter how loudly they spout about their principles and their ideals.
Therefore one of the first things he did upon taking office was to start handing out candy. For Wall Street, the promise of the repeal of Dodd-Frank regulations. For the Oil and Gas industry, the scuttling of the Clean Power Plan and damping down of EPA enforcement of current regulations. For School Privatizers, the appointment of Betsy DeVos. For xenophobes, the Travel Ban, and the appointment of anti-immigrant Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. For racists, the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, The Wall, the Travel Ban, and the abandonment of an aggressive Justice Department program of challenging racism in police departments. For Plutocrats — such as himself — the push to repeal Obamacare and the 2% tax on the super-rich that helps pay for it. Plus the promise of a favor-the-rich “Tax Reform.” For the Military, the appointment of a few respected Generals, and the promise of more billions to waste. For them all, the successful appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
This candy helped sweeten the disposition of the Republican Establishment that he had so recently trashed. It hit every button for the Wealth Defense Industry. The Donald was off to a great start.
But there was one exception to this candystore tactic: the Cold Warriors. Ever since the middle of World War II, there has been a consistent foreign policy consensus at the highest level. This policy applies to Europe, from which two horrific World Wars have emerged: Keep America “in,” Keep Russia “out,” and Keep Germany “down.” Over the past 71 years — until January 20, 2017 — this basic policy meant support for NATO, support for the European Union as a way of integrating Germany, and militant resistance to the expansion of the Soviet (now Russian) Empire.
Donald Trump wants to upend this policy, and this has proven to be his Achilles’ Heel. By praising Brexit, trash-talking NATO, sweet-talking Putin — and, as we have recently learned — taking immediate steps to attempt to lift sanctions on Russia, The Donald has undertaken “a deal too far.”
So. The Donald has power. An easy way to understand his first take on playing the role of President is to watch Showtime’s The Tudors. Donald Trump seems to be channeling the ghost of King Henry VIII.
Having been born into money, Donald was already a prince. But unlike Henry, he was not going to amass great wealth and great power simply by waiting for his father to die and showing up for his coronation. If Donald was going to ascend to great power, he would have to struggle for it. Unlike the Henry portrayed in The Tudors, Donald had no reason to think that he deserved the throne — no reason except his own massive ego.
Now that he actually has the throne, Trump has displayed many of the same traits as King Henry VIII. He assumes that he can make pronouncements that will be immediately obeyed. He unashamedly uses and abuses his advisors. For Henry it was Cardinal Wolsey (accused of treason, died on the way to his trial), Thomas Cromwell (tried and beheaded), and Sir Thomas More (convicted of treason and beheaded). For Trump it has been Press Secretary Sean Spicer (repeatedly humiliated), General Michael Flynn (fired), Advisor Paul Manafort (fired), Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (trash talked) and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (currently twisting in the wind).
Unfortunately, King Trump has ascended about 500 years too late. A lot has happened in government since 1509, including the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the still-valid system of “checks and balances.” Henry VIII was outraged that the Pope could overrule him (with his petition to get an annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn), and so he broke with the Roman Catholic Church. Not only was his power undiminished, it grew even stronger. King Donald may be furious that the American Courts can countermand his wishes, but there is nothing he can do about it, except fulminate and play along. Sad.
Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, Middle East expert, and author, has floated the notion that Trump thinks he is the Emir of the “United American Emirate.” Jared is the Crown Prince, and Ivanka is the Crown Princess.
While this is clever — the image of Donald as a Middle East Potentate — I think Henry VIII is a far better figure to ponder.
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson was the Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He recently appeared on the MSNBC program “All In” and told host Chris Hayes “That’s essentially the way I view President Trump now — as the Godfather.” He continued that Trump “expects loyalty, whether it’s honest or otherwise.”
As a New York Real Estate developer, Trump would have been quite familiar with the Mafia. Virtually no major project could be undertaken without dealing directly or indirectly with companies and unions that were mob-controlled. That was just part of “doing business,” not terribly dissimilar from paying bribes to get things done in Moscow, Delhi, or Nairobi. Reporter David Cay Johnson has covered Donald Trump for over 27 years, and in an article in Politico in 2016 he concluded that
The picture shows that Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, [and] corrupt union leaders….
Yet there is a difference between dealing with the mob and operating like a mobster. Now that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is probing Trump’s financial dealings, we will eventually learn quite a bit about shady characters and sleazy deals. Even so, Trump is not The Don.
To be a Don you have to have reliable henchmen. You have to enforce your rule not only through rewards, but also through punishments, including murder. Most of all, to operate like the head of an Organized Crime family, you have to be organized. That’s not Donald Trump.
There is plenty of reason to think of Donald Trump as a Russian-style Oligarch. In fact, we may soon discover that Trump is in fact a Russian Oligarch, as dependent on Vladimir Putin for his good fortune as are any of the rest of them.
At least that is what is being whispered, hinted at, and even joked about in political circles. The best example so far: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was secretly recorded in a private meeting with Paul Ryan and other House leaders on June 15, 2016. He joked that “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” This comment was verified by a reporter at The Washington Post and the transcript is available online.
The Post noted that “Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.” The Post also noted that after McCarthy got some nervous laughs, he said “Swear to God.” Ryan immediately interjected “This is an off the record…NO LEAKS…alright?” He added “This is how we know we’re a real family here. What’s said in the family stays in the family.”
MSNBC host Rachael Maddow has made it her business to follow Trump’s Russia ties. From Cox Newspapers Alexandra Clough and John Pacenti, she has repeatedly pointed out The most blatant example so far: In 2004 Trump buys an unoccupied mansion in Palm Beach for $41 million. In 2008, Oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev buys the mansion for $95 million. That’s a nice profit. So nice that some might regard it as a bribe. Not a bribe bribe, of course, but a sweetheart deal to cement ties, a gesture of friendship from one of Putin’s favored few; perhaps a welcome-to-the-club, perhaps a setting of the hook.
Trump has done very well by the Russians. When the Trump organization desperately needed money, Russian-backed resources were available. When he had condos to sell, Russians lined up to buy. His licensed-deal Florida projects in Hollywood and Sunny Isles have turned the neighborhood into “little Russia.” Russian Oligarchs appreciate Trumps gold-plated nouveau-riche style, and as his son Eric notes “they can buy apartments with cash.”
In 2013, Trump was treated to a special dinner in Moscow. He was there to bask in the glow of the Russian-business-sponsored Miss Universe Contest. Oligarch Aras Agalarov and Oligarch Herman Gref hosted the event at Agalarov’s Nobu restaurant, closed for the occasion. Donald Trumpanovich was the guest of honor. At least 10 of Russia’s richest men were there to wine and dine. “The Russian market is attracted to me,” Trump later reported. “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.”
Unfortunately, for some of the oligarchs, this happy state of affairs was interrupted by the imposition of US sanctions in 2014. Sadly, one of Trump’s friendly hosts, Herman Gref, the chief executive officer of state-controlled Sberbank PJSC, Russia’s biggest bank, had a major crimp placed in its business with both the US and the EU. Bad. Bad for Trump. Bad for the Club.
Despite all this caviar-laden evidence, I am not sure that Donald Trump truly qualifies as a Russian-style Oligarch. Russian Oligarchs use the mechanisms of the state to further enhance their wealth. Donald Trump wouldn’t do that, would he?
In my essay, I have asked the question: what political archetypes or historical figures can best help us understand the mind and the behavior of President Donald Trump? Can we best understand him as The Donald, a crass New York wheeler-dealer? As a divine-right King, like Henry VIII? As a Mafia Don? As Donald Trumpanovich?
Yes. Yes to all of the above. The shoes all fit. And yet we still don’t really know him, nor can we comfortably predict his behavior.
That is because one important piece is still missing: his mental illness.
As I cruised around on the Net to inform and illustrate my profile of President Donald Trump, I came across a Letter to the Editor that spoiled my conclusion.
My conclusion is that one can only understand Donald Trump if you see him as The Poster Child for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. On a scale of one to ten, Donald is a perfect ten. In golf terms, he’s ten under par. In beauty contest terms, he’s drop-dead gorgeous.
Too bad I’m wrong.
The letter was written to the New York Times on February 14, 2017. The author was Professor Emeritus Allen Frances of Duke University Medical College. Professional Frances is a Psychiatrist, and not only that, he chaired the task force that wrote the bible of psychiatry: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Simply put, you cannot label someone as mentally ill unless you can point to chapter and page in the DSM.
Professor Frances wrote:
He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder. Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).
In other words, if Donald Trump is not bothered by his narcissism, then he is not mentally ill. To call him mentally ill is an insult to people with NPD who realize it is a problem in their life and want to change themselves.
OK, so Donald Trump is not crazy. He’s just a world-class Narcissist who makes other people feel crazy.
Another Professor — of Psychology at Northwestern University — penned a portrait of Trump for the The Atlantic. Prof. Dan McAdams agrees that Trump is a Narcissist and adds that Donald’s main goal in life is “to win.” Our President fits the Warrior archetype. Every conflict is a battle; every battle must be won — and you win by never admitting defeat. Karl Rove adds the insight that when this Warrior actually appears to lose, he still triumphs by proclaiming “It’s not my fault, it’s your fault.” (Fox Business, June 6, 2017)
The American Psychiatric Association (whose members write and revise the DSM) tells us that there are 10 different “personality disorders.” These disorders can be grouped into clusters. Cluster A includes people who mainly manifest “odd or eccentric behavior.” Cluster B covers those with “dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior.” Cluster C picks up those with “anxious or fearful behavior.”
I believe that Donald Trump is so unique that he deserves his own cluster: Cluster D. Here are the hallmarks of Cluster D:
· Greatly admires himself
· Expects and requires constant admiration from others
· Regularly exaggerates his accomplishments
· Lies, lies about lying
· Insults or undermines anyone who challenges or criticizes him
· Is jealous of others, and thinks that people are jealous of him
· Has no compunction about cynically using others to achieve his goals
· Rewards others only when it serves his own self-interest, or when compelled by a judge
· Lacks empathy, but occasionally pretends to be empathetic or sympathetic
· Has no other long-term goal beyond self-aggrandizement
· Experiences great anger when frustrated
· Never apologizes, never admits that he might be wrong about any action or statement
· Sees women as ornamental
· Sees men as either potential rivals or inferior minions, but
· Admires a handful of men who appear to have king-like power
Yes, Donald Trump is the quintessential Narcissist, but he is also sui generis, meaning so unique as to defy comparison with anyone or anything else. When Prof. McAdams attempted to write Donald’s “psychological portrait,” the only other person he could imagine as being similar was Steve Jobs. Unsuccessful megalomaniacs are a dime a dozen, but successful ones are exceedingly rare.
Since I love my iPhone, I can appreciate that narcissists can sometimes accomplish great things. This will not be the case with Donald Trump.
Toss the psychiatrists aside. Donald Trump is a very sick man. His thinking is so distorted that, as our President, he is a tremendous threat to every person on the planet.
You cannot understand President Donald Trump unless you realize that he only cares about one person in the entire world: himself. Nothing and nobody else matters. Not even Ivanka, who he sees as an extension of himself. A staggering Narcissist, he is in constant search of “narcissistic supply,” which means constant praise and admiration. This is his addiction, and it must be fed every day, every hour.
The television and the small screen are the pools in which this Narcissist admires himself. If they don’t reflect back with total adulation, he becomes dangerously unsettled. No domestic or global crisis means as much to him as the crisis caused by personal criticism and perceived failure.
It has been said that no one truly knows Donald Trump. This may include Donald Trump himself. To begin to understand himself, Donald would have to adopt the mental trick of standing outside himself, of being self-observant. Not Happening.
One person who stood a very good chance of understanding Donald Trump is Tony Schwartz, the man who spent a year hanging out with him in his office and in the field. He wrote The Art of the Deal by jotting down what Trump said to others and said about himself. Trump got the final cut, and took out anything that might unburnish his image, so it is fairly reasonable to allow Trump to claim to be the author.
For a period of time, Schwartz spent more time with Trump than anyone else, including family. His recently-published takeaway on Trump is devastating:
Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.
The Trump I got to know had no deep ideological beliefs, nor any passionate feeling about anything but his immediate self-interest. He derives his sense of significance from conquests and accomplishments.
Trump can devolve into survival mode on a moment’s notice. Look no further than the thousands of tweets he has written attacking his perceived enemies over the past year. In neurochemical terms, when he feels threatened or thwarted, Trump moves into a fight-or-flight state.
No importuning by his advisers stands a chance of constraining him when he is this deeply triggered. The more he feels at the mercy of forces he cannot control — and he is surely feeling that now — the more resentful, desperate and impulsive he becomes.
So there you have it. None of the historical figures or archetypes can encompass Donald Trump. He is a unique person on the world stage, and we have to try to understand him in order to restrict — and hopefully end — his period of political power.
June 27, 2017, by Adam Corson-Finnerty
Adam Corson-Finnerty is a writer and Democratic activist. He lives with his wife and six cats in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.