The Shame of Our Time
Perhaps the most notable words in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963 are, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Today, this nation has reached the point where its leader – the one person with the constitutional power to deploy the most formidable military force in the world – has a character with a content that lacks even a trace of human decency. How did this happen to the oldest democracy (more accurately “representative government”) in modern history?
I do not blame the millions of Americans who voted in the 2016 presidential election. I do fault, however, the many more eligible voters who chose not to cast their ballots. I am sorry for the many who could not vote because of strict voting restrictions in many states, and I am sorry that millions of votes did not count, in effect because of the “winner takes all Electoral College votes” rule in nearly every state. Rather, I blame the shamelessly opportunistic Republican Party (a private political organization) for nominating Donald Trump as its standard bearer in the recent presidential election. Had the party properly vetted Mr. Trump prior to his joining the party and filing for the many state primaries, his name never would have made it to the floor at the party convention in Cleveland. Clearly his long and public shady business and personal history should have been enough to stop his campaign dead in its tracks long before July 2016.
I also blame the leading mental health organizations in the United States, namely the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, the latter of which I am a former member. Citing the “Goldwater rule” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldwater_rule ), these professional bodies have for nearly half a century avoided public commentary on public figures in all fields, most notably in politics and government.
But not all psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals agree with this cowardly rule that restricts their free speech and prevents them from pointing out the elephant in the room that threatens our very survival. In the short run, we are closer to a major war than we have been in decades. In the long run, we are on the brink of a climate crisis that nearly every scientist in the world says is imminent – yet Mr. Trump and his minions ignore and deny any human role in climate change.
A recent book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump (St. Martin’s Press, 2017), edited by Bandy Lee, M.D., M.Div., contains articles by 27 mental health professionals who have boldly defied the Goldwater rule. In this volume, Leonard L. Glass, M.D., points out the fallacy of the Goldwater rule: “…it conflates a ‘professional opinion’ (i.e., a clinical assessment that is the basis for the care of a patient) with ‘the opinion of a professional commenting in a nonclinical role (i.e., as a mental health expert offering his opinion in the public square).” The consensus among the authors is that President Trump is a pathological narcissist whose decades of public behaviors reveal numerous symptoms of a disordered personality. In general, these symptoms include persistent grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, and lack of empathy for other people. Over the past two years, Trump has publicly displayed these symptoms on a nearly daily basis in his speech, infamous Tweets, and executive actions. If I were to enumerate these incidents, they would make up a vast multi-media volume of boasts, lies, exaggerations, and personal insults that no longer seem to surprise anyone.
I wrote the above words four months ago as part of a guest column for USA Today; unfortunately, it was not published. If anything, however, it rings as true now as ever – especially after Trump’s astonishing recent performances on international stages in Singapore and Helsinki. Most observers have said that these can be explained as revealing his inexperience, naivety, arrogance, incompetence, laziness, or some combination of all these qualities, but I think the problem runs much deeper into his past and personality.
One can only guess what Trump’s motives were for shifting his interests from real estate development to entertainment to public office, but one thing is crystal clear – he has always craved public attention and adoration. As a native New Yorker who inherited a huge fortune from his realtor father, second-son Donald became a tabloid celebrity through his high-profile real estate projects in Manhattan and relentless self-promotions in local media such as Howard Stern’s popular talk-radio program. Although he did not create the British-born show, he gained national media attention through The Apprentice reality TV game show series in 2004, earning him more than $200 million as its acerbic host for twelve years.
Trump first toyed with the idea of running for president in 1999 as a Reform Party candidate. This splinter party, founded by billionaire H. Ross Perot in 1995, once included conservative writer Pat Buchanan, white supremacist David Duke, author and activist Ralph Nader, and former professional wrestler and Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. In 2012, Trump publicly implied that he might run, but instead endorsed Republican nominee Mitt Romney, now a candidate for Orin Hatch’s (R-Utah) US Senate seat. Three years later, Trump made his famous descent down the gilded escalator in his self-named residence and company headquarters to announce his candidacy for president in 2016 as a Republican. In his opening words, he denounced Mexican immigrants as criminals, drug traffickers, and rapists. During and after the tumultuous campaign and his electoral college victory, he has steadfastly promoted extreme right-wing policies of severe immigration restrictions, tax cuts for the wealthy, an expanded military, eliminating governmental regulations of corporations and financial institutions, restricting women’s reproductive rights, and attacks on liberal and ideologically-neutral “mainstream” news media as the “fake news” (a term first made famous by Canadian comedian Norm Macdonald years ago on Saturday Night Live).
Now, what are we to make of Trump and Russian involvement in his affairs – before, during, and after the 2016 election? The first obstacle to an answer is the private status of the Trump Organization and Trump’s personal income, which he continuously has refused to disclose to the public. Unfortunately, this legal privacy protection prevents us from following the money directly, especially since “dark money” campaign contributions became legal by a recent divided Supreme Court ruling. We know, however, that Trump has long wanted to build resort properties in Russia. We know that American financial institutions have refused to lend to the Trump Organization, given its history of bankruptcy filings and hundreds of past and pending lawsuits as both plaintiff and defendant. We know that the TO has maintained ties with Russian oligarchs who are sycophants and friends with Russian president and autocrat Vladimir Putin, who rose to power from his post as a former high-ranking KGB (Soviet secret police) official. Most important, we know that Russia and the former Soviet Union have always been run by notoriously autocratic, corrupt, and aggressive regimes.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is in jail awaiting trial for his alleged illegal financial operations with Russian and other foreign entities. Will he and others reveal Trump’s connections with Russia? I believe that the truth will come out, perhaps soon. I also like Ockham’s Razor, the philosophical principle that the simplest theory is usually the best. For example, Einstein’s theories of relativity are now accepted as fact: energy and matter are equivalent; gravity and space/time are equivalent. Einstein’s famous equations are elegantly simple – even though it took centuries to discover them but only a few years to prove. There’s no genius needed now, though – we just need to ignore all the political distractions and personal scandals on which the news media have thrived.
So, here’s my theory of Donald Trump’s rise and fall: Donald Trump, wealthy narcissist extraordinaire, has an insatiable appetite for fame and adoration, as per his personality disorder (gleefully exposed at his campaign-style “rallies”). Having neither shame nor empathy, he successfully exploited his large inheritance into an even larger fortune, but he ran into some difficulties when his hubris made him more ambitious and reckless. After alienating American lenders, to stay afloat he borrowed from Russian interests beholden to ruthless opportunist extraordinaire Vladimir Putin. Trump then naively assumed that he could build resort properties in Russia with no strings attached. After deciding to run for president with Russian encouragement, his foreign creditors “forgave” his enormous debts and helped sabotage Hillary Clinton’s stale, complacent effort. That was all that was needed to win the election by an electoral college majority. President Trump now owes Putin and Russian interests untold wealth of unknown kind in exchange for their influence in American politics, the US economy, and beyond.
Such is “The Art of the Deal.” I hope it won’t take long for the American system to prevail, undo it, and bring the monster psychopathic president to justice. In the end, Donald Trump will pay us, perhaps with his remaining years behind bars, but that will not be nearly enough, and much of the damage will remain for a long time.
Ken LeSure, Ph.D., is a freelance writer and retired psychology professor.