Every incident involving Trump reveals yet again aspects of his pathological personality and provides examples of his dangerous sociopathic and narcissistic traits.
An excerpt from the new book “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America,” by Carole D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker provides yet another example.
Let’s run through the scenario described in the book and a Washington Post article to show how Trump behaviors are both very predictable, based on his personality and character traits, and also very dangerous in a leader.
As I have written previously, Trump is what I call an Other-Blamer, a personality type that includes narcissists and sociopaths of all severities. Due to low self-worth and insecurities, Other-Blamers have learned to manage feelings of inadequacy or shame by deflecting criticism back onto others. They blame-shift, become angry, or otherwise deny their failures and flaws. They dislike being taught anything, because this triggers feelings of inadequacy. They like to believe they are a “very stable genius” because this bolsters their low self-worth and keeps others from challenging them and invoking feelings of unworthiness. Keep this trait in mind as you read about this incident described in the article and book.
(Trump’s refusal to learn has shown up his entire life. He proudly recalls an incident where he punched a music teacher in the nose. He states this is because he felt the teacher was not competent. How would a young child know this? I guarantee what happened was the teacher instructed young Trump, who felt shame, and lashed out in anger. Trump was known throughout the rest of his academic career as a complete slacker and low performer, yet someone who believed he possessed superior intelligence. This self-aggrandizing based on no factual basis is further evidence that Trump refused to learn and take in information, because it would have threatened his fragile ego. He is proud that he never reads books and refuses to read briefing materials as president.)
Back to the incident in the article … there are soooo many stories about Trump’s personality that it’s hard to stay focused!!
Six months into Trump’s administration “Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had grown alarmed by gaping holes in Trump’s knowledge of history, especially the key alliances forged following World War II. Trump had dismissed allies as worthless, cozied up to authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere, and advocated withdrawing troops from strategic outposts and active theaters alike.”
They decided to have a session in the Joint Chiefs meeting room at the Pentagon, called The Tank, to school Trump on military and political history. The very fact that they had to educate the president on these issues is concerning by itself, of course, because it speaks to his shocking ignorance. But Trump is an extreme Other-Blamer, which causes him refuse to learn. Learning feels shameful, because to learn requires that one admits one does not know something. Trump is also willfully ignorant of his own ignorance, because to admit he didn’t know something would also trigger his shame.
I could have predicted exactly how this session would go — Trump would seethe at being tutored by others, especially these strong, confident military men, possibly because deep down he experiences guilt and shame over his draft dodging in 1968. This would make it particularly difficult for him to be tutored by military personnel. This is exactly the sort of scenario he lives in fear of.
Despite an attempt to educate Trump using real estate language he could understand, Trump became impatient and behaved in a “berating, derisive and dismissive manner.” He interrupted to offer non-sequiturs — a sign he was desperately trying to prove his own intelligence.
“Trump appeared peeved by the schoolhouse vibe but also allergic to the dynamic of his advisers talking at him. His ricocheting attention span led him to repeatedly interrupt the lesson. He heard an adviser say a word or phrase and then seized on that to interject with his take. For instance, the word ‘base’ prompted him to launch in to say how ‘crazy’ and ‘stupid’ it was to pay for bases in some countries.”
As the lesson went on and Trump couldn’t help himself, he began to lash out about unrelated topics. He would rant about the Iran nuclear deal being “the worst deal in history” and how he wanted a win in Afghanistan, calling it a “loser war” in front of a room full of senior military leaders, many of whom had served in Afghanistan.
Despite the looks of disgust on their faces, Trump doubled down: “‘You’re all losers,’ Trump said. ‘You don’t know how to win anymore.’”
“Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn’t taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now. ‘I wouldn’t go to war with you people,’ Trump told the assembled brass. Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, ‘You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.’
“For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called ‘locker room talk,’ this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. The flag officers in the room were shocked. Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room. A few considered walking out. They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. ‘How does the commander in chief say that?’ one thought. ‘What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?’”
It seems too obvious to state, but in this day and age perhaps I must: This behavior by an adult in any job would be unacceptable at the very least and a cause for firing for most employees. Trump’s impulsivity, immaturity, rudeness, disrespect and lack of civility are beyond the pale in any circumstance, and for the president they are completely unacceptable. “The Tank meeting had so thoroughly shocked the conscience of military leaders that they tried to keep it a secret.” It eventually led to Tillerson’s firing, because he stood up to Trump that day, and the resignation of Mattis.
If there were some truth to his comments, perhaps that might be an ameliorating factor. But most of us can see that Trump’s behaviors are entirely driven by his own need to shore up his very weak emotional foundation by insulting others so that he can feel better about himself. Trump, like all Other-Blamers, travels through life with deep feelings of inadequacy. Imagine being elected to the most difficult and powerful job in the world with an extreme feeling of unworthiness. Then Trump is marched into a room filled with intelligent, competent, well-informed people and lectured by them. Rather than use this as an opportunity to learn and improve, Trump felt threatened and lashed out in an infantile rage. The results are very predictable to me.
Sadly, these military personnel did not understand Trump psychological needs. Their need to educate him was exactly the thing that would trigger him to feel weak and ashamed, and lash out in rage. Other-Blamers then stubbornly double down when challenged, because to admit they are wrong, uninformed or ill-informed is not an option for them.
As the article quotes one senior official about the early Trump presidency: “We were starting to get out on the wrong path, and we really needed to have a course correction and needed to educate, to teach, to help him understand the reason and basis for a lot of these things,” said one senior official involved in the planning. “We needed to change how he thinks about this, to course correct. Everybody was on board, 100 percent agreed with that sentiment. [But] they were dismayed and in shock when not only did it not have the intended effect, but he dug in his heels and pushed it even further on the spectrum, further solidifying his views.”
Trump’s willful ignorance and refusal to learn and take advice have always been his downfall, and likely caused the failure of many of his businesses. It is also the cause of the failure of his presidency. Just consider that the day after the Meuller report was released, Trump tried to extort the new Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden. He learned NOTHING from that two-year experience of being investigated.
But his behaviors also drive away competent advisors who grow frustrated at his stubbornness and callousness.
“The Tank meeting was a turning point in Trump’s presidency. Rather than getting him to appreciate America’s traditional role and alliances, Trump began to tune out and eventually push away the experts who believed their duty was to protect the country by restraining his more dangerous impulses.”
I will also note that the book’s title confirms my description of Trump as an abusive personality. All Other-Blamers test others to see how they will respond to their manipulative or abusive behaviors. Other-Blamers start with small, insignificant emotional abuse, maybe withholding of affection or a derogatory “joke”. If that meets with no pushback from the victim, they escalate. Trump has, of course, been testing America his entire life and especially since entering politics. He makes offensive or outrageous statements, watches to see if he will be held to account, then he escalates. Other-Blamers dislike accountability, because it triggers their poor shame tolerance, so they want to be in situations and relationships where they are not held responsible for their behaviors.
As with all Other-Blamers, Trump will cause destruction of the relationships and organizations around him. We can only hope to vote him out in November, hold on until January 2021 and hope he does not destroy us with a nuclear weapon in his vindictiveness.
Excellent insights, Harper. Thank you for speaking out.