“Strangers passing in the street
By chance, two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me.” — Roger Waters
A lot had been made of the president’s mental health. Psychologists and Psychiatrists have weighed in on possible diagnoses and others have offered their observations. I have a masters in School Counseling. That means I can be a school counselor. I can’t legally diagnose anyone, but I probably know enough to levy a few guesses.
The predominant guess as to his normal behavior is one of projection. Any time he levies a charge against someone else it is seen as deflection. He’s doing the same thing and he wants to get suspicion off of himself. The trouble with the definition of projection is that the person exhibiting it would have to know that their behavior is wrong or offensive on some level. I’m not sure that describes the president.
The latest scandal is simply that: another scandal. Someone within the administration fielded an offer of a bribe in exchange for a pardon. We don’t know who made the offer other than the fact that they are an attorney. We only know that someone in the White House fielded the offer. We can assume it was someone with access to the president since the president would be needed to execute the deal. We will know particulars in time because lawyers do not get the protection of attorney/client privilege when participating in illegal activity. Whether the president had any direct knowledge of the scheme is anyone’s best guess.
All that we can say is that this seems to fall in line with behavior we have witnessed over the past five years and probably longer than that if you have been paying attention to Trump. As of now, the Trump administration has had 215 indictments. That’s more indictments than the other 44 presidents combined. In fact, it is nearly twice as much as the other administrations combined.
I say all that to say this. We tend to attribute to others what we see through our moral prism. Projection requires the projector to see their behavior either as wrong or unacceptable to the majority. Whatever we might call the president’s pathology, it runs deeper than that. He sees the world through transactions. He doesn’t really have a moral code. He can’t project something he does not have. He naturally assumes that the rest of the world behaves just as he does. Therefore, of course the election was stolen from him. It isn’t even so much that he is projecting his bad behavior to others, but just simply assumes that what he is doing is what everyone does.
Understanding this pathology requires us to discuss it’s opposite. Mental health professionals call it Pollyanna Syndrome after the famous book. Exceedingly good people can’t fathom a world where anyone would act with sinister motives. They may even acknowledge that evil exists, but they can’t understand it because they have no notion of evil within themselves. So, they won’t recognize it in others and will assume people behave with pure motives.
Fortunately or unfortunately, most of us don’t exist in that world. Most of us are basically good people, but we cut corners here or obfuscate there to gain a little advantage or avoid responsibility. Most of the time, these slights are small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Yet, it allows us to understand that everyone doesn’t come into a situation aiming to do the right thing. Some of us have sinister motives.
The polar opposite of Pollyanna Syndrome would be closer to what the president has. He has no moral code, so he assumes that others don’t as well. So, he accuses the Democrats and Biden of stealing the election. Yes, you could claim he knows that isn’t true, but I’m not sure if he fully acknowledges that. I’m sure part of him assumes others stole the election because that is what he was trying to do.
Out of all of the reporting surrounding the president’s denigration of men and women in uniform, the one that made the most sense was his interaction with General John Kelly. Kelly was standing at his son’s grave site and Trump reportedly said, “I don’t understand. What was in it for them?” More than the supposed insult of calling soldiers “suckers” and “losers”, this question is most telling. He can’t fathom a world where anyone would do anything that doesn’t benefit themselves. He literally can’t understand personal sacrifice.
Some people have said he has narcissistic personality disorder. Others have called him a malignant narcissist. Still others have called him a sociopath. It might all be true or technically none of it could be true. The suggestions are based on a reading of the DSM-V and simply checking the boxes of characteristics for each disorder. It doesn’t take a mental health professional to do that and in some ways minimizes the problem. The president fails to recognize goodness for goodness sake. The whys and what fors may be interesting to some, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
At every turn, some have assumed that defeat in the election or defeat in a particular political battle (say the impeachment) would shame him into stopping the malignant behavior. That presupposes the presence of shame. That presupposes acknowledgment that a certain behavior is wrong. It’s the same problem as those that assumes he practices projection. He doesn’t see right and wrong. He sees what he wants and does what it takes to get what he wants.
You can’t bargain with someone that has no sense of right and wrong. You can’t shame them into falling in line. They don’t learn a lesson. At least they don’t in the traditional sense. What they learn is that they can beat you another way. Trump will leave office and wield power over those that cow tow to him. I am usually against this sort of thing, but he is a special case. He must go to jail and go to jail for a long time. He will never pivot. He can’t.