As I was writing this post, I happened to receive an email message that began this way:
From: Committee to Restore America’s Greatness
To: Mark Draughn (Windypundit)
Subject: Donald Trump Needs Your Help
DONALD TRUMP NEEDS YOUR HELP
THE WASHINGTON DC INSIDERS, SPECIAL INTERESTS, LOBBYISTS AND A HANDFUL OF SELF-INTERESTED BILLIONAIRES PLAN AN ALL-OUT PAID MEDIA ASSAULT TO DESTROY THE CANDIDACY OF DONALD TRUMP. WILL YOU HELP US STOP THEM?
The short answer is fuck no. Or if you prefer, FUCK NO. The long answer is the rest of this post.
I don’t believe we have a general duty to denounce all evils. Yet for some reason, I feel I should say something about Donald Trump. Maybe it’s because I tend to like non-establishment candidates, and I don’t want you to mistakenly think I’m a Trump supporter. Or maybe I should just blame it on a couple of recent Facebook posts by D.C.-area criminal lawyer Mirriam Seddiq. In the first one, she wrote:
The other day my Yonas came home from his Bibi’s house and said “Mama, I watched Donald Trump on TV and I almost started crying. I was thinking of Matthew and my other friends and how I would never see them again if he kicks me out of the country. I don’t want to leave.”
Mirriam is just about the only Muslim person I know. I’m sure there are others, but it seems inappropriate to ask. Mirriam, on the other hand, talks about her background all the time. So when I think of American Muslims, I think of Mirriam. She and her lovely family were the first people I thought of when when Trump started talking about banning Muslims from entering the country, and it makes me angry that Trump is upsetting her children.
I initially dismissed Trump’s popularity as one of those flash-in-the-pan political phenomena that appears out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly. The polls have proven me wrong, but I’ve still been ignoring most of the Trump phenomenon, except to enjoy some of the terrific comedy material he’s inspired. Then a couple of days ago Mirriam posted this:
I honestly wonder right now how many Germans thought Hitler was brave and doing what no one else had the balls to do. I mean he wasn’t entirely PC either was he? This isn’t something I would normally say, but when a potential leader has the power to instill fear of losing a homeland into millions of people, maybe you white folks should stop and think that this isn’t as funny to us as it is to you.
Mirriam was exaggerating for effect, but she’s got a point. So let me take some time to explain why I think Donald Trump is a bad person and would make a bad President. In no particular order:
- Start with where I first remember hearing of Trump, when he tried to use eminent domain to force an elderly widow out of her home so he could expand one of his casinos. His justification is typical Trump: “Cities have the right to condemn for the good of the city. Everybody coming into Atlantic City sees this terrible house instead of staring at beautiful fountains and beautiful other things that would be good.” He has consistently advocated the use of eminent domain to take properties from private owners and turn it over to developers. People like it that Trump builds things, but also wants to steal them.
- In the fall of 2014, when Dr. Kent Brantly and his assistant Nancy Writebol were infected with Ebola while fighting the epidemic in Africa, Trump opposed letting these heroic Americas return here for treatment, saying things like “People that go to far away places to help out are great — but must suffer the consequences!” That’s not the kind of thinking that will ever make America great. That’s not the kind of thinking we want in a commander who will send soldiers into battle. Speaking of which…
- Trump mocked Senator John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam, saying “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured,” Thus Trump showed that not only is he an asshole, but he also doesn’t understand why McCain is considered a war hero.
- During his official announcement that he was running for president, Trump made a point of trashing Mexican immigrants, saying “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. […] They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” It’s hard to tell if he’s only talking about illegal immigrants, as some contend, but it’s pretty insulting either way. And does he think Mexico actually sends people?
- In that same speech he also claimed that Japan and China were somehow “beating us” economically, and that our last quarter GDP was “below zero” which is impossible. (He probably meant the GDP growth rate, but this is typical of his economic idiocy.) The American economy is better off than either of those countries.
- Speaking of economic idiocy, he once proposed a plan to pay off the national debt with a one-time confiscation of 14.25% of the assets of rich people, an idea so awful that government leaders just talking about it could harm the U.S. economy by discouraging investment.
- Trump stuck to his nonsense claim that he saw thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating after 9/11, and he wants the U.S. government to block future Muslim travel to this country, track all Muslims already here, and forcibly close some mosques.
- Not only does Trump want to build the wall at the border with Mexico, he also wants to deport millions illegal residents and their American-born children.
- He wants to close parts of the internet…somehow…because “We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet” or something. It doesn’t actually make any kind of sense.
- Donald trump is a birther.
- There’s his frequent denigration of women he doesn’t like or that simply annoy him, not to mention the creepy way he talks about his daughter.
If you’re like me, you’ve got to wonder what the hell is wrong with this guy. Is there anything that ties all this craziness together? Is he for real? Or is he just trolling us? I can’t help but think of this pair of quotes:
“A lot of people sit down and discuss their lives, things like are they happy, but it’s not like that with me. I don’t think positively, I don’t think negatively, I just think about the goal. But it’s not like I sit down and write goals. I just do things.”
— Donald Trump, Master Apprentice, 2005 (source).
“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just…do things.”
— The Joker, The Dark Knight, 2008 (source).
Trump isn’t just a guy with bad policy ideas, he’s an awful human being with bad policy ideas. Pete Suderman discusses that in a recent piece at Reason:
Trump frequently declines to propose anything that resembles what most would call a policy to resolve the problems he identifies, but even when he does, the legal and practical mechanisms by which he would implement those policies are almost always left unstated. He describes the effect he hopes to produce, but not the path by which he would get there […]
One reason for this is that Trump often seems to have no idea what he is talking about, and frequently appears to be making it all up on the spot. […]
Indeed, most of his answer is just rambling, in which he lobs insults, vaguely insists that the solution merely requires identifying the right people (the best, most brilliant individuals that only Donald Trump knows about) and putting them in charge, and dismisses out of hand any concerns about freedom of speech and other individual liberties. Trump’s answer does not tell us much about his plans for the Internet, but it does tell us something about Trump, and how his mind works.
He clearly has no idea what he is talking about, yet even in his incoherence, he gravitates toward insults and power grabs while insisting that anyone concerned about freedom must be ignored.
In other words, Trump’s response when he does not know what he is talking about, which is often, is to engage in a kind of brainfart fascism.
I think those “fascist brainfarts” are a symptom of the kind of person Donald Trump is. Consider some of Trump’s personality traits:
- glib and superficial
- egocentric and grandiose
- lack of remorse or guilt
- lack of empathy
- deceitful and manipulative
- shallow emotions
That’s not my attempt to describe Trump’s personality. It’s a list of the emotional and interpersonal traits displayed by psychopaths, according to Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Dr. Robert D. Hare, a leading expert on psychopathy.
The book goes on to list six more social deviance symptoms of psychopathy, some of which also seem to apply to Trump:
- poor behavior controls
- need for excitement
- lack of responsibility
- early behavior problems
- adult antisocial behavior
Trump certainly seems impulsive and he doesn’t seem to be able to behave himself. Although his golfing hobby isn’t very exciting, I think his reality TV show and series of Presidential campaigns probably count as a need for excitement, and I think multiple corporate bankruptcies indicate a lack of responsibility. His father described him as “a pretty rough fellow when he was small” and sent him off to a military academy, so I think counts as early behavior problems. And I think much of the way he conducts business counts as adult antisocial behavior.
Dr. Hare points out that psychopathy is a mental health diagnosis, and even trained mental health professionals can’t diagnosis someone on television. So I can’t say that Trump is a psychopath in the clinical sense. But that’s okay, because I’m not planning his treatment or committing him to an institution. I’m just some guy on the internet expressing an opinion about a candidate for public office. And my opinion is that Donald Trump is at least a little psychopathish.
(In the unlikely event that Trump discovers this post, he’s welcome to prove me wrong by releasing the results of a PCL-R assessment done by a qualified and neutral mental health professional who’s not a paid hack like his doctor. I was going to suggest prominent forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy, but it turns out he may not be unbiased when it comes to Trump. In any case, normal people tend to score between 3 and 6 on the 40-point PCL-R scale, and you have to score at least 30 to be diagnosed as a psychopath. I’ll bet Trump scores closer to 30 than 6.)
Psychopaths have no conscience. They don’t feel bad about people being harmed, not even if they’re the ones doing the harm. In the worst case, they are shockingly violent criminals, committing despicable acts for money, sexual gratification, or personal amusement. They also have poor impulse control, hurting other people (or even themselves) on a whim. A psychopath will stab a guy to death in a bar over an insult, get out of jail fifteen years later, and promptly day stab another guy to death in a bar.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are “successful” psychopaths who avoid a life of violent crime and choose instead to pursue careers in business or politics. One of the reasons they can do this is because (unlike many criminal psychopaths) they learn from their mistakes. And one of the things they learn is how to fake it as a normal human being. Psychopaths are spectacular liars.
They aren’t good liars in the technical sense: They often tell implausible stories that are relatively easy to disprove, and they make little effort to keep their stories consistent when lying to different people. But they make up for that by being very good at selling their lies. They are very good at figuring out what people want to hear and telling them things they want to believe, which seems to be Trump’s campaign strategy.
Psychopaths have no empathy. They don’t feel your pain, and they certainly don’t care about your happiness. At best, they’ll pretend to like you for exactly as long as you are useful to them. Every person in their lives is a means to an end, every interaction a manipulation. They want you to like them because that’s another way they can control you. We may wonder whether Trump sincerely believes the crazy stuff he says, or whether he’s just trolling us, but I don’t think he worries about the difference. He’s just saying whatever helps him manipulate people.
The psychopath’s lack of empathy cuts both ways. Because they don’t care for other people, they focus instead on physical sensation and material wealth, on status and power. They keep score by money and fame, and they see women only as sources of sexual pleasure. Again, who does this remind you of? Trump loves to boast how rich he is, and he talks about women like they’re only valuable if they’re sexy.
As Suderman points out, Trump talks a lot about the problems he’s going to fix to “make America great again” but he can’t explain how he’ll implement his ideas because he doesn’t think he needs to. Trump offers his followers “buttfart fascism” because buttfarts are all he thinks he needs to get what he wants, and “fascism” it just another way of saying he wans to be in control.
Psychopaths can seem like normal people, but they are aliens among us. Their disguise is often excellent — good enough to fool teachers, girlfriends, investors, judges, mental health professionals, and corrections officers. However, they lack the instinctive empathy that normal people have, so they slip up in situations where they haven’t yet learned to fake normality. Trump says terrible things, and then he’s genuinely surprised that people are shocked.
(You might think I’m overstating the degree to which psychopaths are different from normal people, but I’m trying to counter the usual mistake people make with psychopaths, which is to assume they can’t really be that bad, they’d never do something so nakedly awful, that this time you’ve gotten through to them, and this time they’re really trying to do better…)
It’s no defense of Trump to point out that other politicians have done the same things Trump is doing. That just means a lot of other politicians also have psychopathic tendencies, which doesn’t surprise me. A lot of business people have those tendencies too. It turns out that focusing on your own goals with utter disregard for the welfare of others is a common route to some forms of success. From a distance, it can even look a lot like confident leadership.
Which brings me to the thing about Trump’s campaign that is perhaps most disturbing, the thing that I suspect worries my friend Mirriam the most: What if Trump is right? If he’s so successful because he’s telling people what they want to hear, then why do so many of my fellow Americans want to hear such awful things? If Donald Trump is appealing to, in words of Fox host Shepard Smith, “the worst, darkest part of all that is America,” then shouldn’t we be worried that polls say he appeals to so many Americans?
I’m inclined to say we shouldn’t be too worried. I think I still buy Nate Silver’s basic argument that at this point most voters aren’t really paying attention to politics yet, so the people being polled are basing their poll answers on random bits of information about the candidates that they picked up in passing. Trump goes off lots of different directions — promising to stop terrorism, attacking Hillary Clinton, railing at the media — and so he’s appealing to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons, but I don’t think they know that much about him, and I don’t think they represent a cohesive force in politics.
Further evidence of this comes from a recent poll showing that a substantial minority of Americans want to bomb the fictional city of Agrabah, including a whopping 41% of Trump supporters. It’s funny to think that this shows how stupid Trump supporters are, but I think you could argue that it shows how little thought people give to answering poll questions from random strangers.
I’d like to think we’re still a country that is more or less (on good days) freedom loving, tolerant, inclusive, and smart enough to reject the awfulness that is Donald Trump. I hope that when it comes down to the election we are no more likely to elect Trump than we are to bomb Agrabah.