I’ve thought for a long time that Trump was unique in that he believed his own lies.
I got this impression not only from observing him, but by reading the many books on him by Bolton, Woodward, and Strzok.
They all painted a picture that I could unify only one way—with the understanding that Trump doesn’t actually lie. What he says is often untrue of course, but that’s not the same as lying. He actually what he’s saying at any given moment. This is how he is able to muster so much vitriol.
Then I heard that his niece, Mary Trump, said this about him:
He’s the only person I’ve ever met who can gaslight himself.
I thought to myself, yes, exactly. But just because you’re someone’s family doesn’t mean you know exactly what’s wrong with them. But it turns out she’s also a Clinical Psychologist. And she went on to say:
Probably the most central part of Donald’s psychopathology is the need to deny any reality that paints him as a loser or as somebody who is weak.
This adds up perfectly to me, and there are numerous things to consider if this is true.
First, it’s not effective to treat him as a liar if he’s not lying. It’s a different problem that requires a different solution. And I think we can see this in the fact that none of the attacks on his “deception” have been effective.
Second, it happily tells us that there is much less of a chance of someone similar coming behind him to further harm the planet. If you take other people in the GOP, which you may not like, they are still relatively normal people. Maybe not moral people, but normal people. This means that they won’t be able to say the kinds of things Trump has said and get away with it—or at least not for long periods of time.
Their body language, the fact that the lies will contradict each other, and the growing pressure of this snowball over time will eventually crush a standard-issue lying politician. To survive that pressure, and maintain the constant stream of contradiction, you don’t just have to be a good liar. No. Any liar would have crumbled long ago under the weight of Trump’s garbage.
In order to pull off what Trump has done, while still getting tens of millions of votes, you have to be crazy. In this case, a psychopath. You have to literally be able to compartmentalize your mind so that you can deny reality and fully believe what you’re saying at any given moment.
It’s effective. It’s dangerous. And it grants you immunity to pretty much any attack that targets liars.
I think this is why the media has failed to make anything stick, and it’s also how the GOP got turned into a neutered fan club.
Basically, all the tools of rhetoric and dialectic are inert against someone who lives in their own reality, and that’s exactly the situation with Trump.
When he says the election was stolen, he believes it. When he says Obama tried to frame him, he believes it. When he says he’s done the most for Black people since Lincoln, he believes it. In fact, when he’s in that mode of spewing rhetoric, he believes every single word he says. That’s his superpower.
And if you have half the country with a broken relationship with education, facts, and truth—well now you have a problem. Because on one side you see politicians that are lying, like Clinton and everyone else, and on this side you have someone who is not lying.
People are pretty good at knowing when they’re being lied to, and Trump never lied to his followers. That’s a big part of the reason he’s so powerful.
The problem is when those same followers don’t know enough about the topics in play to know that he’s vomiting garbage nearly every time he speaks. Foreign policy, economic policy, healthcare policy, energy policy. These are not topics of expertise for most of Trump’s followers, so all he has to do is find a simple, specious argument and say it over and over with conviction.
And the genius is that he doesn’t have to fake that conviction, because he actually believes it.
This is why nothing has stuck to Trump in this 4-year hellscape of a presidency. And this is why it will be very hard for someone else in the GOP to follow him.
People are worried about the smart-Hitler type coming behind him, who’s presumably a dumb-Hitler. But that’s not going to work, because a smart manipulator would still be deceiving people, and I don’t think he would stand against both the media and the GOP.
And I don’t see anyone sitting in the dugout with this exact combination of energy and psychopathy that can replace Trump and his immunity from reality.
The biggest threat isn’t someone following Trump in 2024, using the path that Trump’ paved for them. The biggest threat is Trump himself coming back for another round.
The defense against high-energy, reality-denying psychopathy is to separate yourself from the stimuli and to keep your feet firmly planted in reality. This is what America must do, and what the media must do.
I feel like they’ve kind of caught on recently by refusing to show him going on fiction-filled rants, but we need to do more.
The proper answer is to frame him as mentally ill due to his disconnection from reality. The proper answer is to listen to him say something stupid, to look at the actual facts and show them on the screen, and then look directly at the camera and say,
Did you hear what this guy just said? He just said X, and the facts that anyone can look up are Y. This man is legally insane, and he’s a danger to the country.
In other words, you have to stop trying to get him on the lies and the morality, and instead get him on being a dangerous crazy person who doesn’t understand reality.
This is the only path that will work, and if we don’t figure this out soon we might go throught his whole thing again in 2024.
- For the Trump supporters reading this, I’m not claiming everything he did was bad or evil. I think he improved our policy on China, for example, and I think there were other similar stances he took that were beneficial. I also think he’s fundamentally pro-America, and trying to do the right thing (even while putting himself first). But in my opinion, most of the good stuff he did were similar to a broken clock being right twice a day, rather than the result of thoughtful policy.
- I also think Trump was right about much of the left being rotten, and in need of replacement. But again, those few times when he was right served to give his other positions far too much weight.
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