Addicted to Trump

Trump’s addiction is not a new one and is by no means unique to Trump. It is the addiction that Henry Kissinger alludes to when he says, “power is the greatest aphrodisiac.” And while it is possible to say it is an addiction to power, it is actually an addiction to the biochemical response, the release of serotonin, when engaging in acts of domination over others.

As an addiction, Trump shares this particular vice with some of the people judged least favorably by history, like Hitler and Mussolini. Eric Fromme called this psychological type, a “malignant narcissist.”

I think it is important to understand the denotation of “malignancy” in this regard — to understand that the narcissism seems to exacerbate itself and cause ever greater cruelty. This is the biochemically “addictive quality” of a dynamic psycho-biochemical system which is more to the point.

But I reject the idea of “static type” which I feel is a character assassination, and actually part of the problem. We are not, I feel, talking about “types” or “character.” We are talking about “actions” and habituated biochemical responses to those actions.

So, abuse is first a strategy for a desired outcomes, then a strategic habit that becomes an addiction to abuse.

But I feel we can drill even a little deeper, because what do we mean by “abuse?” Sometimes, we know, the abuser “love bombs” and sometimes they are cruel, seemingly sadistic, and violent. What seems the common denominator is not the nature of the action but the relationship between the abuser and the object of abuse, that they are an “object to be manipulated.”

There is no appreciable difference between “blowing smoke up your ass” ie, flattery, and “cutting you down to size.” In fact, both are just means to a beneficial end for the abuser. Both “strikes” and “strokes” are then forms of abuse and exploitation. This is the core of “the ends justify the means.”

We know that in the mind of the abuser whatever the means, they are seen, and perhaps better expressed as “felt” as “necessary” and “for your own good.” And while this is bad domestically — terrible and tragic — it is particularly bad when it rises to a national scale, and even to the world stage.

An addicted sadistic abuser, for example, is not exactly the kind of person you want to bring into a discussion of climate change — and not for the reason you might think. The main thing the sadistic abuser must avoid is feeling bad about him or herself. This is their greatest fear, and the root cause of the “abuse (positive or negative) response.”

Walter Langer’s “A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler” 1943/4

The sadistic abuser will deny all wrong doing all the time. Walter Langer in his O.S.S. analysis of Adolf Hitler said, “His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong.”

This goes for the individual and, as is the case of Donald Trump, when he “identifies” as synonymous with the nation, then he must also deny all wrong doing for the country. For example, Trump might deny the problems of industrialization, environmental exploitation, and predatory capitalism. There is no possibility to reverse course.

But more than simply denying, he must reenforce his denial with action. He must be absolutely diametrically opposed to the perceived “attack.” In other words, not only can the addicted abuser not “hear” feedback, he must act oppositely in regard to criticism, essentially doubling down on abuse, each and every time.

So the cycle will be, denial of wrong, double down on wrong, with the outcome of feeling good about oneself. Interestingly, we saw the same cycle of violence in William F. Buckley’s “debate” with James Baldwin, essentially setting the tone and strategy of the conservative movement in America, and taken up so successfully by the N.R.A.

Yes, it is “perverse” but it is also an evolutionarily understandable response. Psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski, write about the huge need for “self-esteem” in the individual in their work on “Terror Management Theory.” Self esteem is the active feeling of accomplishment that staves off our terror at death. See also Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death. We can hear the echos of this great need for self-esteem in the white supremacist group’s moniker, “proud boys.”

Feeling good about yourself, having self-esteem, is essential to survival. Some of us can better understand this by examining the opposite effect. Having little self-esteem can push us toward despondency, learned helplessness, and suicide.

There is some evolutionary advantage in our ability to deny criticism and “carry on” regardless — and we all, all of us, have this biochemical ability to feel good and employ it (unless we supplant this neurological response with drugs). I do know this personally. But in so doing, there is also the capacity to cause harm to others. I also know this. There is something in the truism (from a movie, I can’t recall) that “hurt people hurt people.”

The simple fact, it seems to me, is that we all know these biochemical responses. Human neurological systems are human after all. We can “feel bad” about ourselves. And we can all feel good too, and do. We experiecne the emotional rollercoaster. Feelings change and both, and all feelings, help us survive and negotiate the world around us.

And we all, at times, hurt others, usually by thinking only of ourselves, or are hurt by others who are thinking of themselves. And many of us have meaningful relationships with other and feel good through that. We’re not perfect, and ideally, through the course of our lives we find some kind of balance between our needs for self-esteem and others needs for equal self-esteem. What is good for us, we recognize, is also good and necessary for them. The majority of us (I hope) do not become addicted to cruelty.

Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) father of “scientific racism” and arguably also the father of eugenics.

Cruelty toward others is only possible through the dehumanization or objectification of the other. We’re wired, evolutionarily, with at pro-social agenda. (For more on this, look to the evolutionary development of monkeys’ eye placement, which mirrors our own — spoiler alert: we evolved to work together).

So, to engage in acts of cruelty we have to split or suggest difference with our group or species that does not exist, for example territorialism. This also developed in monkeys. And this is why “territorial” possession is a go-to for propagandists like Trump, with “immigration” policy. This is sound psychological manipulation, as it inspires subconscious fears and drives (as he, or at least his PR handlers know).

But even in regard to territory, the deeper go-to is dehumanization, which depends on difference, and returns to ideas of “character,” because why, after all, do we have to keep them out? Why do we have to eradicate those already here?

If we wanted to be really geeky about it, the idea of genetic, static, character, and character “value” starts to become part of the “intellectual canon” with “scientific racism” etched into our cultural fabric by Carl Linnaeus, whose “Linnaeusian classification system” we still use today. It is, in its way, a monetization of character value, which is endemic to capitalism. Some people ARE worth more than others, right? Martin Buber would have called the adoption of this “perception of difference” and “I and it” relationship, one of “I” and an object “it.”

For the self perceived “I”, the object “it” is not a human. It is not another individualizes and internalized “self” as we imagine ourselves, but an external problem to be solved.

There are two things involved in this, which might be looked at separately. There is the “act of solving.” And there is the “benefit of solving in ones favor.” The first is an emotional neurological benefit and the other is a material benefit. We should understand that both take place, so that there is both an emotional and material motivation. It is not all “rational.”

Problematizing others and punishing is a psychological and biochemically addictive habit. Achieving self-esteem (serotonin and endorphin release) through violence toward others is the survival technique of the self-hating bully and sadist and the foundation of war and genocide. As a possible human biochemical mechanism, it is not going away, but it does not have to be further culturally habituated.

Exacerbated domestic sadism, as we see today, is only one of the horrific outcomes of having this psychological type at the top of the media and policy food-chain. We should understand that abuse addicts have an exceptionally knowable psychological mechanism. This means, they are easy to manipulate through their own confirmation bias.

Addictive anti-social behavior also creates a fragile psyche that demands a continuous supply of “self-esteem” but fears psychologically damaging “truth.” This fragility inspires paranoia and necessitates insulating oneself with sycophants. Because the addictive abuser demands a continuous “fix” they must also deny all “buzz kills.” As things get worse, this means they must also double-down on suppressing (through terrorism) and scapegoating critics. We could say that Trump is getting high on his own supply.

Cruelty toward others, the “problematizing of others” creates both a reason for personal difficulty and discomfort and the solution through cruelty and violence that provides a “beneficial” biochemical response in the feeling of self esteem.

Martin Buber, “I and Thou”

The allure of this neurological cocktail is not going away. We’re wired to feel. We are also wired to feel a rush of good feeling in prosocial actions, in establishing human connections, personally or through good works, and by having deeper connections to all aspects of our environment. Martin Buber called these relationships, “I and Thou” relationships, which essentially suggests meeting the world and others in that world as equals.

And there is certainly a two fold danger, in this country, right now: 1. Trump will continue to push his pyramid scheme of violence in order to satisfy his own need for self-esteem, and 2. As a dependent on this particular psychological mechanism, he is exceptionally prone to exploitation himself, particularly by those nations with both access and resources in psychological warfare, namely Russia.

Unfortunately, Trump’s drug, cruelty, violence, made possible by disdain and indifference toward others, is an attractive one. And it works. It works for him and it is clearly attractive to many in the U.S. today.

Trump is a great salesman, perhaps the world’s best, the supreme commander and carnival barker. The more attention we give him, the more he pumps us with this biochemical juice, forcing us to participate in his addiction to abuse in order to feel self-esteem. And as America heads down this horrific path of domestic abuse, the path of abuser among many in the world, is it any wonder that in order to feel good about ourselves, we have to keep doubling back to our supplier, just one more click so we can feel good about ourselves as we slouch on our way toward infamy.

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Stegner Fellow, Stanford University; Spivey and Chancellor Fellow, University of Tennessee. PhD, MFA www.storytheory.org

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Otis Haschemeyer

Otis Haschemeyer

Stegner Fellow, Stanford University; Spivey and Chancellor Fellow, University of Tennessee. PhD, MFA www.storytheory.org

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