Famed liberal pundit Michael Moore stars in a solo show on Broadway, The Terms of My Surrender. Though Moore was one of the few who had predicted Donald Trump’s election, he asks his audience to repeat the mantra “Donald Trump outsmarted us all.” Trump certainly fooled most of us and managed to get elected with fewer popular votes than his opponent had garnered. He did not really win the presidency, to his great dismay, but was able to get elected due to the antiquated rules of the Electoral College and perhaps the influence of Russian computer hackers.
Almost every day, Trump bashes the media as “fake” and “hostile” in his tweets and public appearances. It energizes his most rabid followers, his base. Objective observers, of course, do not agree with his condemnations, but in his battles with print and electronic media, Trump clearly wins. He continues to be a master manipulator of the media. In this area, he is either truly brilliant or simply extraordinarily lucky.
During the presidential primary debates and the campaign, Trump would say something outrageous or patently untrue and the media would always duly report it. The standard 22 minutes of evening news on the ABC, CBS and NBC networks dutifully would spend about half of their broadcasts reporting Trump’s comments of the day. Thus, he received extraordinarily massive amounts of valuable TV time and publicity for free. This left most of his ample campaign funds available for advertising elsewhere and to pay for scripted rallies in key states.
It took a very long time for network anchors to be brave enough to use the word “lie” when referring to Trump’s prevarications. They continually expressed every clichéd euphemism known to linguists and then invented new softening phrases to hide the harsh reality of his plain, clear lies. For example, they referred to Trump’s lying as “mistaken statements,” “played loose with the facts,” “not supported by the evidence,” “no data to support that,” “misstated the truth,” “does not square with reality,” and on and on. Adding to the smokescreen, the White House press secretaries and his administration spokespersons continue the charade.
Trump’s first impulse is to lie. He often lies in consecutive sentences or within the same sentence. Saying two opposites makes one of them a lie. In contrast, Trump’s greatest truth was stated during the campaign, when he said he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and he would not lose any votes. From his base supporters, that statement is certainly believable and likely true.
A recent Backpage Editorial in these pages labeled President Trump as an “oddity” who stomps around angrily “like a petulant toddler.” These descriptions, while accurate, understate his psychopathology in extremis.
Psychiatrists and psychologists have diagnosed Donald Trump from afar. The most common diagnostic label they have applied has been “narcissistic personality disorder.” His uncontrolled lying, his unquenchable thirst for admiration, his demand of unwavering loyalty from government officials he has appointed to his family, friends and voters, his over-the-top self-aggrandizing remarks, his lack of empathy or sympathy, his humorlessness, his shifting of attitudes and political positions, his begrudging the successes and achievements of others, his disparagement of weaknesses in others, thus inflating his own fragile self-esteem (for example, his public humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions), his own sense of entitlement (augmented by his holding the most powerful office in the world), snobbishness and patronizing attitudes, and many more similar personality characteristics.
Donald Trump is not psychotic. Despite his ongoing outlandish comments and being totally unaware of world affairs, denial of scientific findings, and lack of much knowledge of how government works or even the job requirements of a U.S. President, he is not mentally ill in the legal sense of the term. His social and vocational functioning are obviously very much impaired as a result of his narcissistic, near-total focus on his own image and status.
I contend that most Trump voters were unaware of these personal deficiencies when they made their election choice at the time. His masterful manipulation of the media gave him an enormous advantage over his many primary opponents and his one general election foe.
Dr. Franzini is a clinical psychologist, speaker and writer. His new book is Just Kidding: Using Humor Effectively.