There is No There, There…

(WTHIWWDT?!? part 3)


For Trumpanzees, Donald Trump is their monkey with a hand grenade.

Of those people who voted for Donald Trump, there are many folks who don’t actually like him. That’s correct. Many Trump supporters know he is an asshole and want to inflict him upon the politicians in office, whom they hate.

Michael Moore called this  The Jesse Ventura Effect.

Do not discount the electorate’s ability to be mischievous or underestimate how many millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth. It’s one of the few places left in society where there are no security cameras, no listening devices, no spouses, no kids, no boss, no cops, there’s not even a friggin’ time limit. You can take as long as you need in there and no one can make you do anything. You can push the button and vote a straight party line, or you can write in Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. There are no rules.

Because of  the anger so many have toward a broken political system, millions are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him, not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because they can. Just because it will upset the apple cart and make mommy and daddy mad.

And in the same way like when you’re standing on the edge of Niagara Falls and your mind wonders for a moment what would that feel like to go over that thing, a lot of people are going to love being in the position of puppetmaster and plunking down for Trump just to see what that might look like.

Remember back in the ‘90s when the people of Minnesota elected a professional wrestler as their governor? They didn’t do this because they’re stupid or thought Jesse Ventura was some sort of statesman or political intellectual. They did so just because they could. Minnesota is one of the smartest states in the country. It is also filled with people who have a dark sense of humor — and voting for Ventura was their version of a good practical joke on a sick political system.

This is going to happen again with Trump.

Trump ran for president in 2000. And guess who he was hanging out with?

Trump & Ventura Reform Party 2000

I call it monkey with a hand grenade.

You turn the monkey loose with a hand grenade. You don’t care much where he goes because it isn’t your house. It’s the White House. He might blow up the Congress, who knows? Here. Give him a toy car to ride in.

Sure, it’s fun to watch the monkey blow shit up. Sure, we all love seeing politicians insulted, humiliated, and ducking for cover. Schadenfreude. Resentment. They deserve it. They’re all corrupt. Democrats. Republicans. All corrupt.

I’m on board with this plan so far…

Of course, the problem with it is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

The monkey has nuclear missiles. The monkey can start wars with any country he wants. The monkey might get us all killed and take the rest of the world with him.

Two Minutes to Midnight

Trumpets are willing to risk Mr. Crazypants goes to Washington, but I ain’t voting for no poo flinging monkey.

Another population of Trump supporters are rich folks. They don’t listen to what Trump says. They just knew he’ll look out for them. Because Trump is rich too.

The rich folks knew the tax cuts and stock market gains and deregulation was coming. Because Trump is one of them. He’s looking out for himself. He’s doing what they would do. They’re united in greed. This part is predictable.

What does make America great again mean to these people?  

I don’t have to guess, Trump himself told us in his speeches and at his rallies. The wealthy told us what makes America great to them, they do so in TV interviews with famous personalities, they never shut up about it.

They’re terrified that some black gangbanger or some white trash bottom feeder is going to kick in their door and murder their families and steal all their stuff. That’s what the wall and the gates and the security cameras are for. These people, they love the idea of a wall around America, of course they do. They voted for Trump because they’re mad, certain they’re being ripped off, held at gunpoint, paying too much in taxes, forced to support the lowlifes and the freeloaders who live just down the road.

And the changes necessary to lift those shack dwellers permanently up out of their poverty? Education, healthcare, adequate nutrition, decent safe jobs with benefits, equality, access, opportunity, those things almost never benefit the wealthy. The wealthy and privileged have those things already as a birthright and if they were willing to share, well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.


What the hell is wrong with us though? Any regular person who thought billionaire Trump was going to help us financially once he got in office is a blithering idiot. We’re talking the reason the shampoo bottle has directions on it: “Do not drink.”

Why in the blazin’ blue Beelzebub would Trump help anyone on purpose? Especially poor folks or the so-called “middle class?” That is amongst the most stoopidest beliefs ever articulated.

There we have it. The regular folks and rich folks who don’t actually like Trump, yet still voted for him. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, as plenty of folks who don’t like Hillary Clinton voted for her, just because she wasn’t Trump.

In many ways, the 2016 election was all about people voting against the person they hated most. WOO HOO!

What about the cult members though? The ones who believe the gibberish crumbs dropping out of his mouth. The ones who believe in Cheeto Jesus. The Trumpets. The ones – and every article on cults must include this phrase – the ones who drink the Kool-Aid.


Any person who has worked in the field of psychology or psychiatry will tell you Donald Trump is a narcissist. Don’t even ask because it isn’t even debatable. Makes as much sense as asking a surgeon whether Stormy Daniels has fake flotation devices.

Well, what about Obama and HillBillary Clinton? They’re narcissists too!

And they probably are. Most people who think they are “the best” enough to deserve to be president are probably narcissists.

While these ratings are subjective – and all psychiatric diagnoses have a subjective element – the trend is clear. Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump are going to be at the top of our narcissist list. They’re jackasses.

So what separates Donald Trump’s mental hygiene from regular old narcissists, such as HillBillary and Obama? There’s something different about Trump.

What is it? Is it just that Trump doesn’t have enough humility to even try to hide his sociopathy?

Maybe it is! Maybe Trump has what is known as “malignant” narcissism.

What the hell is that?

Eric Fromm coined the term malignant narcissism. He had experienced Nazi Germany and was trying to understand the nature of evil, for obvious reasons.

Fromm used malignant narcissism to describe extreme, exploitative selfishness; the most severe pathology as the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity, which he considered to be the quintessence of evil.

Yikes! Now we’re talking Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

Fromm’s observations were further developed by Otto Kernberg, who described the malignant narcissist as a sadistic psychopath. Otto’s characterization includes 4 distinct features, the combination of which is sometimes called “the dark tetrad.”

How do we measure evil?

Psychopathy: Whereas diagnosticians assess the DSM diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder based mostly on overt antisocial actions, some clinicians find it more useful to look at psychopathy: a pattern defined largely by absence of empathy, lacking the emotional aspects of a conscience.

A psychopath indifferent to the feelings or fates of others might not actively want to inflict harm or control them either. So psychopathy is not, by itself, all-encompassing evil, as most people would see it.

Narcissism: More than mere vanity, the maladaptive form of self-obsession people usually mean by narcissism is epitomized in the DSM’s narcissistic personality disorder. A massively egotistic person could still have a conscience, though, even if shortsighted and self-centered.

A psychopathic narcissist, however, would be super-egotistical without a conscience to hold him or her back.

Machiavellianism: Named for Nicolo Machiavelli, who wrote about the manipulative nature of politics, Machiavellianism refers to a detached, calculating attitude regarding manipulativeness.

The main meausure of this trait, the MACH-IV, identifies attitudes about pragmatism and manipulation rather than manipulative ability itself.

Sadism: Sadists enjoy hurting others. Named for the Marquis Jean Baptiste de Sade, sadism means deriving pleasure from other people’s suffering.

When the manipulative egotist who lacks a conscience gets thrills from making people suffer, when that person enjoys ruining lives and hurts people just for the sheer fun of hurting them, that’s a person most people will call “evil.” If all four of these overlapping qualities are so deeply, persistently  ingrained in the personality the combination defines who that person is, it is difficult to not to call someone with this mixture evil.

In my opinion, Donald Trump displays these four characteristics. At one time, I was convinced Trump would turn out to be a modern version of Hitler.

Then I realized Trump is too incompetent and undisciplined to be a Nazi. Hitler was a sincere, dedicated ideologue. Trump isn’t. He has no known ideology, other than ‘me.’

Malignant Narcissism


Trump may qualify for dyslexia and ADHD as well.

Let’s play guess the syndrome!


As you know, my favorite diagnosis is solipsism. Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf sees it too:

Trump is a Transcendental Solipsist. It is not just that he has a strong sense of self. His view of the universe does not extend a single inch beyond the boundaries of his own interests. That is why normative concepts like truth or commonly held values or the national interest are completely alien to him. There is Trump world, and then there is oblivion.

The Soul-Sucking, Attention-Eating Black Hole of the Trump Presidency

Perhaps all of this psycho-analysis is a waste of our time. Perhaps there is no Theory of Trump.  Perhaps there is no there, there…

There is clearly something wrong with Trump. But exactly what he is — or, if you prefer to medicalize it, what he has — is a matter of some controversy.

We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him. It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next.

But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there’s no there there? What if our attempts to explain Trump have failed not because we haven’t hit on the right one, but because we are, theory-of-mind-wise, overinterpreting the text?

In short, what if Trump is exactly as he appears: a hopeless narcissist with the attention span of a fruit fly, unable to maintain consistent beliefs or commitments from moment to moment, acting on base instinct, entirely situationally, to bolster his terrifyingly fragile ego.

We’re not really prepared to deal with that.

there-is-no-there-thereMy God! It’s full of stars…

So we’ve nailed Trump to the tree, what about his followers? What’s up with them?

Robert Lifton gives us the defining characteristics characteristics of cult formation:

Two main concerns should inform our moral and psychological perspective on cults: the dangers of ideological totalism, or what I would also call fundamentalism; and the need to protect civil liberties.

There is now a worldwide epidemic of totalism and fundamentalism in forms that are political, religious or both. Fundamentalism is a particular danger in this age of nuclear weapons, because it often includes a theology of Armageddon–a final battle between good and evil.

I have studied Chinese thought reform in the 1950s as well as related practices in McCarthyite American politics and in certain training and educational programs. I have also examined these issues in work with Vietnam veterans, who often movingly rejected war related totalism; and more recently in a study of the psychology of Nazi doctors.

Certain psychological themes which recur in these various historical contexts also arise in the study of cults. Cults can be identified by three characteristics:

  1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
  2. a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;
  3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Do Trumpets qualify on these three accounts? Opinions will differ. At first, I thought the followers of Trump could not qualify as a cult because of the sheer numbers of them and the fact Trump himself is not religious. Now, ahem, well, they’re Trumpets.


What makes their merry-go-round?

Perhaps Trumpets are narcissistic too! Narcissism is a spectrum. Just because Trump is at the extreme one-in-a-billion end of this spectrum, doesn’t mean his Trumpets can’t be on the far end too…

Yes, the hallmarks of narcissism are painfully obvious in Donald Trump. The endless projection. The delusion of grandeur masking a paper-thin skin that punctures under the most benign criticisms. The nonstop gaslighting. But you know who else every single one of these attributes describes?

His base.

Trump’s deplorable, unmovable base are cult-like followers who could watch him shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still follow him, who give no shits that he is a serial sexual assaulter and defender of molesters, who get fleeced by his tariffs, by his family of grifters’ blatant disregard for the emoluments clause, and yet continue to vote for him even when it seemingly serves no interest of their own.

They will follow him right to hell and never look back. None of it makes any logical sense, until you realize they are serving their own interests. Because none of the details matter if you see yourself in the narcissist delivering the rhetoric that feeds your own sense of narcissism.

Trump’s base is nothing more than a collection of narcissists, and I find this a lot more interesting than the fact that Trump himself is a narcissist. Trump simply represents the abhorrent qualities of his entire base.

Survey says… ding, ding, ding… RIGHT ANSWER! Trump is just a symptom of the problem. Americans are the problem. Dunning-Kruger is built on over-estimating your own abilities. Being ignorant of how ignorant one is at politics. There you go. I am so important, my opinions are more important than facts. That is the rise of Trump and his Trumpets.


David Dunning’s take:

Many commentators have pointed to the confident missteps as products of Trump’s  narcissism and egotism. My take would be it’s the other way around. Not seeing the mistakes for what they are allows any potential narcissism and egotism to expand unchecked.

The key to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is not that unknowledgeable voters are uninformed; it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship, perhaps some that make them nod in agreement with Trump at his rallies.

Trump himself also exemplifies this exact pattern, showing how the Dunning-Kruger Effect can lead to what seems an indomitable sense of certainty. All it takes is not knowing the point at which the proper application of a sensible idea turns into malpractice.


The Hubris of Ignorance

The simpleminded demand simple causes for complex problems.

The simpleminded demand simple solutions.

To the howling mob it’s clear, it’s us and them. We’re right and they’re wrong and there’s no problem that can’t be solved with the correct application of high explosives. The big stick. Send in the fleet, that’ll scare ‘em. And if it doesn’t, drop enough bombs, kill enough people, sooner later, you win. Right? That’s America, we punched old King George right in the nose, created democracy, and popped open a cold one.  Back then all a man needed to forge freedom from the wilderness was a good horse, a sturdy woman, and his six shooter. That’s how America beat Hitler and the Japs, that’s how Reagan beat the Soviets, you bet.

That’s the myth we tell ourselves, we Americans.

We’re special. Exceptional. We pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps and forged the Republic out of the mud with our own hands.

We’re a nation of amateurs. Bunch of Good Old Boys beat the best army on the planet. Bunch of farmers wrote the Constitution and laid down the foundation for the greatest country in the world. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In America, we’re not ruled over by kings. We don’t owe our allegiance to some hereditary weak-chinned inbred royalty.

No, Sir.

In America, why the people are the government and anybody can be president.


We are a nation of amateurs and damned proud of it, aren’t we?

That’s what this election was about.

That’s why we elected Donald Trump, isn’t it?


Except it turns out it’s not simple and it’s not easy and it’s anything but clear and it didn’t happen that way.

It’s right there, in the news, in your face, obvious to all but the most obtuse.

Trump spent a decade telling everybody who would listen how easy it was. And he ought to know, right? He’s a billionaire. Billionaires got money. Right? That makes him smarter than the professionals. Sure it does. Just ask him.

Except that simplistic view was wrong – as evidenced by Trump’s own words, even if hedoesn’t have the moral courage to admit it.

And being wrong on this scale has consequences.


Collective narcissism explains Trump’s support

A part of the puzzle has to do with various individual inclinations that attracted voters to Trump’s candidacy. Explanations of this sort have focused on economic dissatisfactionauthoritarianism, sexism and racial resentment.
We explored a psychological characteristic that explains some of the support for Trump’s candidacy: collective narcissism, or an exaggerated belief in an in-group’s greatness, which must be continually reinforced from the outside. The Trump campaign repeatedly insinuated that the United States was no longer what it used to be — and promised to “make America great again.” This theme was particularly well tuned to the kinds of concerns and fears that come from collective narcissism.

What is collective narcissism?

Collective narcissism is a lot like individual narcissism in that it involves emotional dependence on others’ admiration. The difference is that collective narcissists seek privilege and recognition for groups they belong to. They constantly monitor their environment for validation and are hypersensitive to threats to the in-group’s image.

Collective narcissists’ default reaction to having the in-group image threatened is intergroup aggression. When the in-group is, in their view, criticized or insufficiently recognized, collective narcissists attack back and rejoice in the out-group’s misfortunes.

Collective narcissism and the Trump candidacy

Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric focused heavily on concerns often expressed by collective narcissists. Consider the slogan mentioned earlier: “Make America great again.” Collective narcissists are likely to be mobilized by calls to restore the in-group’s perceived greatness because they fear others do not recognize it — and because they may doubt the group’s (exaggerated) greatness themselves.

Collective narcissists are prejudiced toward groups they perceive as threatening. Collective narcissists are likely to have been attracted to Trump’s promises of aggressive action against targeted out-groups – such as Muslims, immigrants, African-Americans, and people with disabilities – given that collective narcissism predicts hostility toward minorities.

Collective Narcissism in America


What’s Wrong with Donald Trump and his Voters?

As professionals,  psychiatrists have a kind of optics that may allow them to pick out signs of danger in Trump’s behavior or statements. At the same time, they are analyzing what we all see: his persistent, blatant lies (there is some disagreement among contributors on whether he knows he is lying or is delusional); his contradictory statements; his inability to hold a thought; his aggression; his lack of empathy.

None of this is secret, special knowledge. It is all known to the people who voted for him. We might ask what’s wrong with them rather than what’s wrong with him.

The conversation turns, as it must, from diagnosing the President to diagnosing the people who voted for him. That has the effect of making Trump appear normal—in the sense that, psychologically, he is offering his voters what they want and need.

Knowing what we know about Trump and what psychiatrists know about aggression, impulse control, and predictive behavior, we are all in mortal danger. He is the man with his finger on the nuclear button.

The real question is, “Should democracy allow a plurality of citizens to place the lives of an entire country in the hands of a madman?” Crazy as this idea is, it’s not a question psychiatrists can answer.


Lies, Self Deception, & Malignant Narcissism

What makes the narcissistic personality so irresistibly attractive to certain people? What renders some individuals especially susceptible to the narcissist’s considerable charms? And why do those who fall under the narcissist’s spell support whatever he or she says or does without question?

Pathological or malignant narcissism is something that manifests by a matter of degree, ranging from the relatively harmless narcissism of self-absorption and self-aggrandization to the extreme toxic narcissism of the predatory psychopathic narcissist.

Narcissists, who not unlike psychopaths or sociopaths, know how to effectively manipulate people through flattery, lying, conning, and deception, can be legendarily charming, making them highly attractive to adoring others.

Narcissists desperately need such adulation from others, and go to great lengths to incessantly seek such “narcissistic supplies.” And those that actively adore them, fulfilling and feeding the narcissist’s insatiable appetite for attention and adulation, need the narcissist as much as the narcissist needs them. It is a symbiotic relationship.

So who are they? 

Such fanatic followers suffer from a profound sense of inferiority, frustration, emptiness, meaninglessness, and powerlessness. They feel small and insignificant. In the success, celebrity, and grandiosity of the narcissistic personality, they perceive someone who expresses and embodies the exact opposite of these negative feelings about themselves. 

They need desperately to lionize, admire, and worship the narcissist, which is precisely what makes them so willing to permit themselves to be deceived and manipulated by the narcissist. These individuals live vicariously through the narcissist, reveling in his or her celebrity as if it was their own.

These people need the narcissist in order to feel better about themselves and their own seemingly insignificant existence. For them, the narcissist fulfills the psychological (sometimes spiritual) role of a savior or messiah. 


Cheeto Jesus

What I have done in this piece is dovetail our two open threads and make the trains of thought crash right here, almost as if it was planned that way!

One thread is What the Hell is Wrong with Donald Trump? Solipsism (part 1)
and Trump Playing Trump (part 2)

The second thread is  Are the Trumpets a Cult?

Do this piece is part 3 of the first series and part two of the latter.

This essay is part of our O Society continuing series called “What the Hell is Wrong With Donald Trump?!?” (WTHIWWDT?) – which focuses on the mental, spiritual, and medical illness of Trump. Indeed, as he epitomizes, personifies, and makes manifest the problems rampant in America for all the world to clearly see, these essays are written from the varied viewpoints of expert  authors:

1. Solipsism: Assault on Reality by Robert Jay Lifton

2. Narcissism: Donald Trump Playing Donald Trump by Dan McAdams

3. There is No There, There…

4. Sympathetic Audience Control?!? WTF is That? by Robert Epstein

5. What Happens When the Narcissist Loses Power? He’ll Never Give It Up…

6. Hungry Ghost: The Loneliness of Donald Trump by Rebecca Solnit

17 thoughts on “There is No There, There…

  1. Some things come to mind… Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book /The Culture of Narcissism/ you may have read or heard of already. This has been a couple of generations in the making or longer. There’s also a good series from 1946 – 47 in /Commentary /on “the crisis of the individual” (Waldo Frank’s contribution, “The Central Problem of Modern Man”, is a notable one and is available online).  An important tie-in to Lasch’s thesis is Neal Gabler’s /Life The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality/. This is particularly poignant in relation to Gary Lachman’s just published book/Dark Star Rising/ on the influence of magical thinking and “chaos magick” on Trump and his followers. (You might find Lachman’s book quite shocking).

    There are many other works dealing with this insurgency of magical consciousness today — Stivers/Technology as Magic/, L. W. Bailey’s /The Enchantments of Technology/, or Romanyshyn’s /Technology as Symptom & Dream/, Algis Mikunas’s essay “Magic and Technological Culture”. The insurgency of this magical thinking (the “magic kingdom” meme) with the breakdown of “the mental-rational” or “perspectival consciousness structure” was foreseen decades ago by the cultural philosopher Jean Gebser in his monumental work on the history of “mutations” of consciousness entitled /The Ever-Present Origin/.

    On a related note, the Buddhist sociologist David Loy has written quite a bit on Ego and the Wego, which you refer to as “collective narcissism” here. You can find some of David Loy’s essays on the matter posted on the internet.

    I appreciate the work you’re putting into this, especially probing this problem of cultural narcissism. If you google up the name “Jean Gebser” and “Fundamental Considerations”, you’ll find an interesting piece — an excerpt from his EPO — on this matter.

    Scott Preston

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s quite ironic that instrumental rationality and technology has empowered the magical structure of consciousness in us (as Gebser documents), but not unforeseen even by the Father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener in his *God and Golem, Inc* or *The Human Use of Human Beings* (unfortunate title in my opinion). Of course, anything that can occur in the human brain, even frenzy and fever and disease, is now free to travel the neural network of “the Global Brain”, along with the breakdown of the barrier between the “in-here” and the “out-there” that we are now struggling to come to terms with, for in many respects the “Anthropocene” is also the complete objectification (if not total alienation) of all that is actually or potentially the “in-here”. It is not only a great opportunity for human self-knowledge, but also for incredible self-loathing, perhaps leading even to total nihilism.


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