There is no dispute that Incivility pours forth from Donald Trump on a daily basis and has for years. Remember his lies and five-year racist campaign to allege that President Obama was born in Kenya? Remember his bragging of sexual assault and calling women “pigs?” Recall during the campaign his endless streams of name calling and defaming of Secretary Clinton, Gold Star families, the handicapped, minorities and journalists? His Twitter feed is a hour-by-hour stream of vitriol. Like any Other-Blamer personality type, Trump immediately “punches back” at anyone who challenges him or disagrees with. Personal attacks are his forte, because he does not have the facts to mount a factual challenge. He has learned by being abusive his whole life, that intimidation and bullying can get many people to cower.
Yet when a restaurant owner tactfully ejects Sarah Huckabee Sanders — the person who is currently the daily face of lies, disrespect and incivility of the Trump White House — Trump followers cry out demanding “civility.” The hypocrisy is mind-boggling, yet it also clearly indicates the double standards and personal attacks employed by narcissistic and sociopathic individuals that I call Other-Blamers.
Other-Blamers, such as Trump, have low self-worth and deep feelings of inadequacy and so they are easily triggered by feelings of unworthiness or shame. That shame can be triggered even with fact-based or very minor challenges. For example, Trump is so emotionally sensitive to the news media merely reporting facts about his policies and words that he cannot tolerate it. He lashes out and labels them “Fake News” and engages in personal attacks on news anchors and reporters.
When I work with victims of narcissistic abuse by Other-Blamers I often hear that the abuser accuses the victim of being “disrespectful.” Typical patterns occur like this: The Other-Blamer does something inappropriate, such as staying out all night drinking. The wife states this fact and her displeasure. Even if she remains completely calm and logical, the husband will begin his manipulations. He will accuse her of being “crazy,” or “emotional” or “out of control.” If she shows any anger or intensity, then he believes he has even more right to push back at her in accusations that she is “unstable” or “mentally ill.”
After repeated treatment like this, some victims begin to wonder if, in fact, they are “crazy” or “too emotional,” merely because they make reasonable demands of their partners.
These personal attacks serve the Other-Blamer very well, because usually the wife will become defensive and argue back, perhaps stating that she is not crazy or unstable. It really doesn’t matter at this point what the wife says, because the Other-Blamer’s objective has already been met: The attention is off him and onto her. The blame has been shifted successfully and she is now the person who has problems that must be addressed.
Personal attacks also attempt to communicate that the person doesn’t have the right to make substantiated, reasonable complaints about the Other-Blamer. They are dismissed and branded as having no standing, because, well, they are not “civil.”
When I work with some couples, I often experience this blame-shifting firsthand. The wife may state a fact calmly, perhaps that he drank 8 beers the night before or ran up $1,000 on the credit card at the casino. But the first thing out of the Other-Blamer’s mouth is not an apology or even an explanation, but an accusation that his wife is “controlling” or “too critical.” The Other-Blamer’s demand that his wife be more “civil,” is an attempt to label her as the problem, to distract from his bad behavior and to keep her submissive and questioning her own behaviors, not his.
I frequently advise victims of narcissistic abuse to be on the lookout for what I call “zig-zag” arguing, in which the Other-Blamer changes the subject to avoid being held accountable for their own bad behaviors. By accusing the owner of the Red Hen Restaurant of behaving inappropriately, the Other-Blaming GOP gets to fool themselves that they are taking the high road and have done nothing wrong. This serves to protect their tender egos.
Trump and the GOP are currently exhibiting at a group or cultural level all of the classic Other-Blaming or abusive behaviors, including this demand that their opponents act with “civility.” Never mind that they, themselves, are completely lacking in any sense of propriety.
Do not be fooled by this strategy that attempts to make Trump’s opponents look like the bad guy.
This strategy has been used throughout history by authoritarian rulers to encourage submission and compliance. Authoritarian personalities, whether in a personal relationship or a relationship with a country, use this same strategy. Interestingly, a historian found articles from 1934 that urged Jews to be “civil” toward Nazis.
Certainly, we should all act with civility when possible. I, for one, do not like the excessive use of swear words when describing Trump and the GOP.
I believe we can hold a discussion about policies and character without sinking to the depths of crass personal attacks. And, just as in an abusive relationship, escalating to anger and vitriol only gives the abuser justification for his accusations that his partner is “out of control and crazy.” When I work with victims of emotional abuse who are staying in the relationship, I urge them to stay calm, so that their partner cannot make these claims. Victims must stick assiduously to the facts so that the abuser cannot generate a claim that the victim is lying or exaggerating.
In the same way, if we are having a calm and reasoned discussion and the GOP accuses the opposition of lacking “civility,” then we can clearly see this lie for what it is — a blame-shifting tactic that is attempting to absolve Trump and his followers of their bad behavior.
I attended the first Women’s March in Washington, DC, an inspiring event in which I witnessed no violence or disrespect, despite hundreds of thousands of protesters being crammed onto the Mall and adjoining streets. Yet when I returned, a Trumpista stated on Facebook that the Women’s Marchers were “immoral and disgusting.” Suddenly, protesters who were marching to oppose to the immoral and disgusting behaviors of misogynistic sexual assaulter in the White House were being labeled as “immoral and disgusting.”
They ability of Other-Blamers to delude themselves about their own behavior and project it onto others is often quite shocking and unbelievable. Do not be fooled. Trump and his followers in the GOP are using very predictable behaviors of abusers who do not want to be held accountable and will engage in all sorts of unethical and immoral behaviors to avoid hearing they are wrong.
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