Diagnosis Trump

Think of the American electorate as one large collective psychiatrist and the election as an exercise in differential diagnosis. Each candidate presents symptoms – some call that campaigning. The “psychiatrist” has to decide whether they’re quite mad, or quite sane. Hillary is too clever by half, if not devious – or she’s careful and cautious, weighing risks and reward at all times in all things, because she knows exactly how she’s been burned before. That’s rational behavior. That can be repulsive, but it’s rational. Some might find it admirable. A cold and calculating and careful president might be a good thing. There’s a reason we spent eight years in Iraq and we’re still in Afghanistan. George Bush’s impulse was to act, not think so damned much about things. Impulsiveness is madness, but sometimes it’s damned close.

Bush got a pass on that, until things turned sour in Iraq, two years in. The nation had wanted to lash out, and Iraq would do, and then most everyone saw how mad that had been. Now even Republicans say the war in Iraq had been a mistake – it gave us ISIS and other troubles. Bush has fallen silent. He may still be wondering what the hell happened. He was right, wasn’t he? That way lies madness.

Donald Trump is a different case, but not that different. He has anger issues, but at the moment many people do, or think they do. That would be about thirty-five percent of the population, give or take – but if the polling is right, no more than that. They don’t think he’s mad, but for everyone else, he is displaying alarming symptoms. Call it campaigning, but it can seem unhinged:

Donald Trump suggested canceling the election Thursday and granting himself the presidency.

“What a difference. You know, what a difference this is,” Trump said during a rally in Toledo, Ohio, after comparing his tax plan with Hillary Clinton’s.

“And just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right? What are we even having it for? What are we having it for?” he asked. “Her policies are so bad. Boy, do we have a big difference.”

Yes, he really did say that. Perhaps he was kidding. Perhaps he wasn’t. “Just give me the presidency!” That seems quite mad, but this is the context:

Twelve days from Election Day, Trump’s indication that he should be given the White House also comes as he trails Clinton nationally and in a number of key battleground states. Polls also show Clinton is challenging the GOP nominee in Republican strongholds like Arizona, Utah and Texas.

Trump, who has propagated unsubstantiated claims that the election is rigged against him, has also suggested that if he were to lose, he may not concede the election, bucking the tradition of a concession by the loser and a peaceful transfer of power.

He is losing it, and losing the election, but there are other alarming symptoms of madness:

Donald Trump went on the offensive against a military expert and former dean of the Army War College, Jeff McCausland, who said the Republican nominee’s comments this weekend about the battle to reclaim Mosul in Iraq show he doesn’t have a firm grasp of military strategy.

“You can tell your military expert that I’ll sit down and I’ll teach him a couple of things,” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview.

What will he teach him? Trump was digging himself into a hole here:

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the ongoing offensive against the ISIS stronghold of Mosul is turning out to be a “total disaster.”

“We gave them months of notice. U.S. is looking so dumb. VOTE TRUMP and WIN AGAIN!” he tweeted.

Trump doubled down on his assertion that the element of surprise is an important military strategy.

Well, no:

According to The New York Times, some military experts disagree with Trump’s claims that the element of surprise is crucial to win the fight against ISIS.

“What this shows is Trump doesn’t know a damn thing about military strategy,” McCausland told the Times.

McCausland replied to Trump’s comments to Stephanopoulos in a lengthy statement today, saying, “I can’t wait to sit down with Mr. Trump and hear what he has to teach me about military strategy. I’m happy to compare my record of over 45 years working in national security affairs with his any time.”

This fellow was a bit upset:

“When it comes to the question of the Mosul offensive, Mr. Trump doesn’t understand that 99.9 percent of the troops involved are Iraqi,” McCausland continued. “I reassert my statement to The New York Times: Mr. Trump doesn’t know a damn thing about military strategy.”

So there you have it. I have forty-five years of military and intelligence experience! You’re wrong! Yeah, well I’m rich and famous and a genius! And I’m angry! Don’t mess with me!

That’s a bit alarming, but so is this:

Donald Trump responded Tuesday to Vice President Biden’s remark that he would “take him behind the gym” to fight if they were in high school, saying he would welcome such a confrontation.

“He wants to bring me to the back of the barn. Ohhhhhh,” Trump said with mock fear, botching Biden’s quote. “Some things in life you can really love doing.”

Okay, he wants to beat the crap out of Biden, physically. The crowd ate it up, but they weren’t thinking either, and no one knows if Trump was kidding:

At a recent campaign stop for Hillary Clinton, Biden strongly criticized Trump’s recently revealed remarks on a 2005 hot microphone, in which he bragged about forcing himself on women sexually.

“What he said he did and does is a textbook definition of sexual assault,” said Biden.

The vice president said reporters routinely ask him whether he wishes he had the chance to debate Trump.

“No, I wish we were in high school. I could take him behind the gym. That’s what I wish,” said Biden.

Trump, speaking at a rally here, said: “I’d love that.” He called Biden “Mr. Tough Guy.”

“You know when he’s Mr. Tough Guy? When he’s standing behind a microphone by himself,” said Trump.

He was taunting him. Let’s fight it out! Biden smiled. They’re both seventy years old. Biden drove him to madness.

The symptoms are there, and Michael Barbaro has the background on this:

The intense ambitions and undisciplined behaviors of Mr. Trump have confounded even those close to him, especially as his presidential campaign comes to a tumultuous end, and he confronts the possibility of the most stinging defeat of his life. But in the more than five hours of conversations – the last extensive biographical interviews Mr. Trump granted before running for president – a powerful driving force emerges: his deep-seated fear of public embarrassment.

That’s the tentative diagnosis:

The recordings reveal a man who is fixated on his own celebrity, anxious about losing his status and contemptuous of those who fall from grace. They capture the visceral pleasure he derives from fighting, his willful lack of interest in history, his reluctance to reflect on his life and his belief that most people do not deserve his respect.

In the interviews, Mr. Trump makes clear just how difficult it is for him to imagine – let alone accept – defeat.

“I never had a failure,” Mr. Trump said in one of the interviews, despite his repeated corporate bankruptcies and business setbacks, “because I always turned a failure into a success.”

The interviews were conducted in 2014 by Michael D’Antonio, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who later wrote a biography of Mr. Trump called “The Truth about Trump.”

The symptoms were on full display:

In the interviews, which occurred in Mr. Trump’s office and apartment in Trump Tower in Manhattan, he is by turns animated and bored, boastful and stubborn when prodded toward soul-searching. “No, I don’t want to think about it,” he said when Mr. D’Antonio asked him to contemplate the meaning of his life. “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see.”

That, in itself, is a red flag, but there’s more:

Despite his reluctance, Mr. Trump reveals himself over and over, in the stories he tells, in his wide-ranging answers to questions and at times in casual seemingly throwaway lines.

Who does he look up to? “I don’t have heroes,” Mr. Trump said.

Does he examine history to better understand the present? “I don’t like talking about the past,” he said, later adding, “It’s all about the present and the future.”

Who earns his respect? “For the most part,” he said, “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

Most people aren’t worthy of respect – the words of a sociopath – and there’s the anecdote that’s been all over the news:

When Mr. Trump feels he has been made a fool of, his response can be volcanic. Ivana Trump told Mr. D’Antonio about a Colorado ski vacation she took with Mr. Trump soon after they began dating. The future Mrs. Trump had not told her boyfriend that she was an accomplished skier. As she recalls it, Mr. Trump went down the hill first and waited for her at the bottom:

IVANA TRUMP: So he goes and stops, and he says, “Come on, baby. Come on, baby.” I went up. I went two flips up in the air, two flips in front of him. I disappeared. Donald was so angry, he took off his skis, his ski boots, and walked up to the restaurant. … He could not take it. He could not take it.

He had been bested in public. As he stormed off the slope, leaving behind a trail of equipment, she recalled, Mr. Trump could not contain his embarrassment.

“I’m not going to do this,” she recalled him saying, “for anybody, including Ivana.”

That explains a lot about his campaign, and this explains the Biden thing:

On the tapes, Mr. Trump describes a passionate enjoyment of fighting, which started during his adolescence in Queens. It did not matter, he said, whether an altercation was verbal or physical. He loved it all the same.

TRUMP: I was a very rebellious kind of person. I don’t like to talk about it, actually. But I was a very rebellious person and very set in my ways.

INTERVIEWER: In eighth grade?

TRUMP: I loved to fight. I always loved to fight.

INTERVIEWER: Physical fights?

TRUMP: Yeah, all kinds of fights, physical…


TRUMP: All types of fights. Any kind of fight, I loved it, including physical. ..

His behavior was so belligerent that his parents sent him off around age 13 to the all-boys New York Military Academy, a highly regimented school about an hour north of Manhattan. He seemed to revel in the masculine culture of confrontation there.

He used to fight just to fight. He still does, and he always wins. There doesn’t even have to be a reason to fight. Winning is all, and then there’s this:

Of this, however, Mr. Trump is certain: He needs the world’s attention and its embrace, a life force that has sustained him for decades.

He recalled the feeling of walking into a giant room and watching as the crowd surrounded him, as if he were a magnet attracting everything around him.

Mr. D’Antonio asked him when that first started. “Long time ago,” Mr. Trump replied. “It’s always been that way.”

Did it ever unnerve him, the author wondered.

“No,” Mr. Trump said. “I think what would unnerve me is if it didn’t happen.”

There seems to be a pathology here, and Jose DelReal and Sean Sullivan cover where that’s led:

Donald Trump’s claim that the 2016 presidential election is “rigged” against him has become a central part of his closing argument to voters in the final days of the campaign, as the GOP nominee insists that a growing range of “corrupt” public institutions are to blame for his sharply narrowing path the White House.

As he heads into a potential loss on Nov. 8, Trump has expanded the scale and scope of his accusations to include Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, the media, establishment leaders from both parties, and unidentified “global financial powers.”

“When the people who control the political power in our society can rig investigations like [Clinton’s] investigation was rigged, can rig polls, you see the phony polls, and rig the media, they can wield absolute power over your life, your economy and your country and benefit big-time by it,” Trump told a crowd this week in St. Augustine, Fla. “They control what you hear and what you don’t hear, what is covered, how it’s covered, even if it’s covered at all.”

The “power structure” he describes, according to a review of his speeches this week, includes banking institutions, the judiciary, media conglomerates, voting security experts, Democratic tricksters, scientific polling and also perhaps military leaders. He has also accused Clinton of meeting “with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty to enrich these global financial powers, her special-interest friends and her donors.”

That’s not campaigning. Those are symptoms. Those are dangerous symptoms:

Jonathan Greenblatt, director and chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said Trump’s references to the collusion of global banking elites sound as though they are “straight out of the Protocols of Zion,” an infamous anti-Semitic tract. Greenblatt said that he does not know whether Trump has used this language intentionally, but sees similar language and conspiracies circulated on anti-Semitic sites and blogs.

“I’m not saying that the candidate is intentionally doing this, but whether it’s the speechwriters or his supporters, we’re seeing tropes and stereotypes about Jews dominating the global banking system,” Greenblatt said. “It’s impossible for me to ascertain what’s the intent. But what I’m concerned about is the outcome… We know that prejudice tends to flourish in these moments of uncertainty.”

It does not matter what the intent, even if there doesn’t really seem to be one:

Trump’s candidacy has attracted enthusiastic support from white nationalists, neo-Nazi groups and vocal conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones, a fringe conservative radio host who has interviewed Trump on his show and who railed this week against “the Jewish mafia” who are “going to scam you.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment. The candidate has repeatedly dismissed accusations that his campaign has fostered or encouraged such messages and has said he condemns them.

He really doesn’t seem to know what’s actually going on, but there’s more:

Trump has long made a punching bag out of the media, and a large portion of his supporters deeply distrust fact checks of his claims. He alone, he has told supporters in the final days of the election, is speaking the truth.

“The media, the special interests, Wall Street, the career politicians – the system is rigged, and I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Trump said at a campaign stop in Johnstown, Pa., last Saturday night. “And, believe me, I’m right. But with your help, we are going to beat the system and we are going to unrig the system.”

Believe me, I’m right. There are homeless schizophrenics out here on Hollywood Boulevard who shout that to frightened tourists. The police gently take them away, but there’s more:

On Tuesday, Trump insisted that a hacked email revealed by WikiLeaks proved that President Obama knew about Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, despite the president saying he learned about it through media reports. While the emails showed within Clinton’s orbit about the president knowing that she used a nongovernmental email address, they do not prove that Obama knew about the server while Clinton was using it.

Trump has also repeatedly sought to undermine the Justice Department and the FBI in claiming that the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state was unfair because it resulted in no charges against her. “This is our country, in terms of justice, has never reached a lower point than what we’re witnessing today,” he said in Tampa on Monday.

He has also claimed, without proof, that donations to the wife of a top FBI official from the political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) shows the federal probe was favorable to Clinton.

“She never had a chance of being convicted, even though everybody in this audience, and, boy, do we have a lot of people, everybody here knows that she’s 100 percent guilty. Horrible,” Trump said in Tampa.

The toothless guy on Hollywood Boulevard sounds like that. Then add this:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Thursday he might sue NBC over leaked “Access Hollywood” video that caught him bragging about groping and kissing women.

Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that release of the 2005 recording earlier this month was “illegal.” But he stopped short of saying he’d definitely sue the network.

“Well, you’ll see, you’ll see – you’re going to see after the election,” Trump said on “The O’Reilly Factor,” responding to a question asking if he’d sue. “But I will tell you first of all, it shouldn’t have been said, but it was locker room talk. And yeah, I mean you know we’re gonna find out soon enough, I will tell you.”

Trump argued that the release of the clip – a hot-mic recording of his conversation with then-“Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush – was “certainly illegal” because it the conversation was had in a “private dressing room.”

That may not fly, but he knows more about the law than all those damned lawyers, right? He knows more about ISIS than all the generals, right?

The Republicans have a madman on their hands, and Fareed Zakaria discusses the practical problems with that:

As this presidential election draws to its close, I keep wondering: Why has Donald Trump run such an ineffective campaign? Trump began with three big advantages. The Democrats were seeking a third consecutive term in the White House, something that a political party has achieved only twice in the past 80 years. In addition, economic growth and income gains remain sluggish. Plus, the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, a politician from the past with high unfavorable ratings, couldn’t easily represent the desire for change. For these reasons, many models based on “fundamentals” that predict election results favored a generic Republican candidate this year.

Yeah, well, they didn’t nominate one of those, and these are now these issues:

Start with strategy. It was obvious that Trump needed to pivot to the center to grow his base from his core group of supporters to a majority or plurality of Americans. That meant reaching out to Hispanics, Asians, women and college-educated whites. Trump once said that his core supporters would stick with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight. So he had ample scope in which to woo new supporters. Many Republican-minded voters were desperately waiting for the pivot and would have lapped up any small words or gestures. Instead, Trump alienated potential supporters from these new groups even more than he had during the primaries.

And there is how he managed his staff:

In a few months, he went through two teams at the top and is now on his third campaign manager. He has fewer than half as many field offices as Clinton, limited fundraising, and consistently weak and poorly produced ads. The two biggest innovations in campaigning in recent years have been “get out the vote” efforts and big data. Trump’s campaign is underinvested in both. Yale University political scientist Alan Gerber, who has pioneered research in this area, notes that converting potential voters into actual voters requires “volunteer phone banks and face-to-face canvassing, tactics that require planning, supervision and sustained effort to undertake at scale.” The Trump campaign scores very poorly on this front, he said.

Trump has been skeptical that big data mattered – dismissing President Obama’s sophisticated analytics operation and insisting that the president’s personality was the chief reason for his electoral success. This has allowed Trump’s campaign to center entirely around him – turning itself into something that looks more like a celebrity concert tour than a multifaceted electioneering operation. (Trump has spent more money on hats than on polling.) Senior Trump staffers tried to spin their way out of this by letting Bloomberg Businessweek report on its data analytics center in San Antonio. But experts noted to me that the Trump data office appeared to be a small outfit centered on reinforcing Trump’s relationship with his core supporters rather than identifying and persuading new voters. That might be a good way to create a post-election political base or a new online TV platform, but it’s an unlikely path to winning a majority in a general election.

By contrast, Clinton has run a highly effective campaign that has raised massive amounts of money, stayed relentlessly on message, and used data analytics to target and convert voters. Her ads have been clever, well-timed and carefully targeted. Despite the WikiLeaks email dump, the campaign has stayed unified and disciplined.

She’s unpleasantly cold and calculating and careful, but sane. He’s not, and now it shows:

One important test for the White House is the ability to run a modern presidential campaign, a 50-state start-up that requires hundreds of millions of dollars, a clear strategy, great talent and consistent, high-quality execution – all while being scrutinized daily by hundreds of reporters. By now it is indisputable that Trump has run the most poorly resourced, undisciplined, chaotic campaign in modern political history.

That’s what happens when you nominate a madman. The symptoms were all there all along. They were called refreshing authenticity. That led to a misdiagnosis. The “psychiatrist” electorate knows that now. Those few who don’t are just as mad, but there may be hope for a cure for them. Trump, however, is on his own.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Diagnosis Trump

  1. Every two years, around this time of year, at one of the busiest business corners, election campaign signs erupt like mushrooms…and they’re all Republican, local, state, national – the business owner does not entertain others.
    I drove by that corner this morning, and there is not a single campaign sign out – not a single one.
    The same is true about bumper stickers, passionate political conversations and the like, every where I go. Almost none.
    There are Trump signs, but very rare. Clintons are more diminutive, but also more numerous.
    It is like a bad drought has hit us.
    We’re a purple town, two democrats and a republican represent us in the state legislature.
    Less than two weeks to go.

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