What we can expect now that we all suffer from Trump Personality Disorder
There is an ultimate, foundational lesson to America’s swift lurch from ailing democracy to Trascist dictatorship. It is invisible, unseen, but of such importance in shaping this moment in history that it successfully explains and describes these otherwise bewildering times.
Highly complex systems are those in which huge numbers of variables inter-relate over long time periods. Order in such systems can only arise from within, from the relationships that the parts of the system make with each other, limited only by their own natures. Such systems can be highly orderly and productive, as ours has been; but both order and productivity will decline with any attempt to impose order on such systems. They can be highly orderly – but they can’t be ordered.
When complex systems are treated like simple systems, those complex systems collapse into disorder. There’s no avoiding this; treating a complex system as if it were a simple one, or composed of simple parts, ensures the collapse of that system. That’s what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and we’re doing it for only the best of reasons – our inherent decency.
The attempts of Left and Right to perfect our culture through the force of Law have been the force that has driven the disorder that we have seen, and will see with increasing speed and violence, focused on either supporting or opposing the Great Orange Pimp – the new GOP.
The central, shaping point of this is that, though Trump as the particular clown show of the moment was not predictable, the conceptual mistakes of our shifting political system over the last half century have been predictable – and I know this because I predicted it.
It was in the cards that the Republicans, having adopted since the Nixon administration increasingly fascist viewpoints and methodologies, would have found some clown to nominate as their fuhrer, their Peerless Leader. Trump may be a hideous joke we’ve played on ourselves, but I think we can consider ourselves lucky that Ted Cruz is such a revolting person; Trump may be a buffoon, but far worse is great evil with intelligence. Every other candidate was running for President. Cruz and Trump were bidding for Emperor, which was just what the Republican voters were looking for.
That’s the disorder that I have seen over my lifetime; that good and decent people of all political stripes, out of their own goodness and decency, have come to accept the seductive, dangerous idea that very real problems that they wish to solve because they are good and decent people can be solved – increasingly they believed can only be solved – by the ordering of government. The good people only saw the laws, the regulating of behaviors, the programs, and went away thinking the problems had been solved. They didn’t see the problems were still there, that problems like poverty and addiction can only be relieved on the purely local level by the efforts of individuals; and they certainly didn’t see the little pool of resentment, disengagement and finally fury that each new law created. Speedbump by speedbump, the culture has been limited, contained, curbed; as the robots on MST3K so brilliantly put it, with guard rails around the guard rails.
But the anger was there to see. The good people were blind to it, because it didn’t make sense to them – we’re right about the ordering, so who that we need to respect can possibly object, because we’re right? – but it was there, the little pool that one law created adding to the little pool of the next, until there were puddles, and ponds, and streams, and rivers, and lakes of it. Now an ocean of resentment and anger has brought the disconnected to vote for someone that many of them know is not up to the job. Their anger, their detachment from any sense of community, has led them to the unwise but irresistible conclusion that it’s better to knock the whole structure to the ground rather than support more imposed structure, more external ordering.
So what’s next?
Since Trump is not so much a human being as a collection of automatic, defensive behaviors – as described by psychology as Narcissistic Personality Disorder – there will be a churning of aides and assistants in and out of the White House. They will be bewildered by his behavior; but eventually, either from study or just by accident, one or another of them will discover how to deal with his disorder.
The key to working with a personality disordered individual is to learn a very odd three-step approach – something you must do, something you must not do, and something you must do. And you have to do these three things calmly, with both warmth and certainty in your voice. So many stimuli that you or I might not notice at all are, to the PD, intolerable; their reaction is strongly emotional, and the result is what strikes us as a childish temper tantrum, and it is. Psychologists call this ‘infantile omnipotence’.
When this happens, an individual with some authority in the sufferer’s life must immediately make a calm, reassuring statement of sympathy not with the things the sufferer has said but to the emotion behind it, such as:
“Nobody likes to be misunderstood.” Or: “Anybody would be angry at being treated that way.”
This has the effect of reassuring the sufferer that his emotions are okay to feel. Part of what creates a personality disorder is that the sufferer has an emotional reaction far more powerful than the rest of us feel, even as his developmental insufficiency makes it harder for him to deal with even normal emotions. His lizard brain, which is where our emotions reside, creates a much stronger fight-or-flight reaction than others, and furthermore throws it into a personality much less sure of itself. The immediate need, therefore, is for reassurance, not that the behavior is acceptable but that the emotions that lead to it are.
The second part of this three-step is very important, but is the hardest for us to understand; there must not be a connector. No ‘but’ or ‘although’. The first and the third parts must be assured and unconnected.
The third part has to be stated completely devoid of judgment or criticism. The infantile behavior must not be permitted. You have to state quite clearly but non-judgmentally that it’s not acceptable to act out in the infantile manner so automatic to PDs. The sufferer has attempted to gain control – omnipotence – over others through means of tantrums – infantile behavior. This cannot be tolerated. Thus:
“It’s not okay to abuse those around you.”
And so the wise handler will wait until the tantrum is over, but not one second more, and say something like this:
“It’s perfectly understandable that you, or anyone, would be angry at being disrespected. It’s not okay to abuse the people around you.”
Why no connection – no ‘but’ or ‘although’? Personality disorders bring with them great difficulty at holding two opposing ideas in mind at once; in fact, both short and long-term memory are damaged by their developmental instability. The sufferer is in a turmoil of emotion, and that emotion is so strong that it frightens him; that’s the only really significant thing about the tantrum to the sufferer, that his emotions are so strong and so scary. So first the reassurance that the emotion itself is understandable. After all, your emotions are things over which you have no control; you only control what you do with them. Telling the sufferer first that his emotions are okay to feel, and particularly that they are a thing that everyone feels and so are not some foreign, inhuman thing – which is what they feel like to the PD – is the first order of business.
But if you connect them to the last part – the firm but loving and non-judgmental statement that the emotion is understandable but the behavior is not – that ‘but’ serves in the PD’s tortured mind to erase the comfort of the understanding. If you connect them with a neutralizing word like ‘although’, the last part wipes from the sufferer’s mind the first. And all of this in as calm and firm a voice as possible. The emotion, and by implication the sufferer, is all right. The behavior is not. Any connector, any ‘although’s, makes the first part disappear, and the PD feels only judgment and censure, which in the presence of the un-comforted emotional state becomes excruciatingly painful.
Eventually someone in his world will either learn this, or stumble across it. That would be very bad news for the rest of us. As long as Trump continues to bumble along in that pressure cooker of a job, his essential unfitness for his position will eventually destroy him. But put some personality, some intelligence and ability, behind him, someone who knows how to guide him, to use him – and we’re all in trouble.
As for the rest, it’s a story easily foretold. All fascist governments have been alike in their essentials; the slow erosion of rights, the calls to mindless nationalism, the imputation of disloyalty to any opposition, the manipulation of fear of the ‘other’; racism, sexism, regressive propaganda. Trump has already done what Hitler did in his first few days as German chancellor – rid the foreign service (in our system, the State Department) of all expertise so he can fill it with his own followers, the ‘true believers’.
And progressives will do all they can to help. They will make a great noise, take over the opposition – in our case, the Democratic Party – and become the most visible face of the anti-Trump forces.
All in ignorance of the single greatest lesson that Trascism has to teach us – that the American public fears the command, the sneer, the shaming, the condescension, the rules and regulations reaching deep into their lives of the Progressive movement more than they care about the problems Progressives imagine they are solving but aren’t, and more even than the possibilities of inept governance. Trump may be awful, but his awfulness can be seen and resisted; Progressives simply cannot imagine that the rest of us are not thrilled at their snide bossiness, that anyone would be so lost in evil as not to instantly see their good. Trump’s dictatorship will be obvious to all, and resistible; but from the relentless, humorless dictation of Progressivism, there is no appeal. ‘We’re here to help – so give us your lives’.
And please note; this is being said by someone who has great sympathy for the goals of the Left. In fact, I think that a convincing argument can be made based on complexity that the just, loving, caring, nurturing society the Progressives are striving for is the only way we can survive our technological advancement. We need that future – we’ll devolve into inhumanity and greed without it. But we cannot get there on the path Progressives insist we go down – that of giving control of our behavior over to Centralized Authority. The only difference between them and me is that I know, as they do not, this essential, Complexity Science-driven fact of advanced cultures of sentient beings –
You can’t get to a better society by force of law.