Monday, October 17, 2016

Narcissism, The Pre-Moral Mind and Donald J. Trump

Again, we must thank Cheryl Mendelson, former Professor of Ethics and author of 'The Good Life' , who I earlier  (Oct. 11 post) referenced in terms of explaining the  nature of moral capacity and defining the moral character.   In the same work she explores the pathology of the premoral mind and narcissism.  As one reads through her chapter 'Premoral and Moral Culture', it soon becomes evident that Hitler and Trump (both as premoral narcisists) likely had the same childhood development.

Mendelson writes in terms of the parental element (pp. 80-81):

"Narcissistic parents tend to raise narcissistic children and this is one significant means by which premoral thinking achieves cultural dominance. Narcissistic trends have been linked to cold, neglectful cruel and unloving parents  or to tendencies on the part of parents to treat the child as a means of stoking their own narcissism with the child's achievement, beauty or popularity.....

Narcissism in the parent often combines with authoritarianism to create specific failures in child rearing. The parents' own narcissism is bound up in the need for power....and expressed in harsh and cruel punishment"

The classic example is the genesis of Adolf Hitler, for example,  as documented by Robert Payne in his 'The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler'.     Therein we learn how mercilessly the young Adolf was beaten by his father Alois.  See also:

Alois, himself a narcissist at heart, vented his power  on his boy because he deemed him too needy and dependent on his mother. (A "muttersohnchen" or "mama's boy")

In the case of Trump, we've learned he was making special  "all purpose"  switchblades as a young lad that appalled his parents.  According to one site, "By the age of 13, he became a bit more than his parents could handle. They determined the best avenue for the young Donald was to send him to military school, New York Military Academy".  Without a doubt the young kid felt abandoned and probably unloved.

The effect of such treatments has been spelled out by Harvey Hornstein in his book 'Cruelty & Kindness: A New Look At Altruism and Aggression' (p. 41):

"The baggage of their youth is filled with inescapable hates and fears. Mistrusting their own impulses, they are wary of others and the impulses they might possess. Their world becomes a jungle which must be carefully scrutinized because it is filled with human beings who harbor the 'evil' that they painfully learned to deny in themselves."

To cut to the chase, the effect of Alois' projection of his own authoritarianism and narcissism on Adolf created a premoral personality with premoral, narcissistic values.  In like manner,  Trump's parents authoritarian solution  to their little problem spawned the egomaniacal, bombastic presidential candidate we behold today. As Mendelson points out (p. 71):

"In the premoral mind, in place of moral individualism - the individual's capacity to think and act according to conscience - there is mere egoism: the demand or wish, to be allowed to do and have what one wants. The premoral individual who confronts a moral culture must cope with social demands that he regards as illegitimate.

Because of his sense of entitlement, his greed and his demand for superiority feel right to him and are not internally moderated as they are in moral minds. Moral restraints may provoke him to outright rage and hatred."

Thus, we beheld Trump's ravenous rage when held to account (by the still existent moral culture) for his groping and forced kissing of women without their will. (As disclosed in the NY Times, the Palm Beach Post and other sources). In response Trump's rage has turned to  gaslighting his antagonists by resort to claims of managing a "rigged election"  with the women as part of a "conspiracy" driven by "global power elites". In the same manner, Hitler violently reacted when the existing moral culture in Germany looked askance at his attraction to sordid, sadomasochistic pornography. He retaliated by actually instigating a blame game directed at the Jews (for producing it) and then dispatching his S.A. thugs to intimidate them with violent beatings.

Hitler, once he claimed power, then went one step further and began shuttering German newspapers and dispatching journalists to the early concentration camps. (He grew enraged at their constant criticism.) Will Trump do the same if he claims power in this forthcoming U.S. election? We don't know but one can't feel confident that the Constitution will protect us. Recall one former president referred to it as "just  piece of paper".

Mendelson goes on to observe (p.73):

"The moral condemnation of power and wealth gained or used unethically is felt as emasculating and compliance with the moral demand is regarded as effeminate and weak.

In these respects and others, the premoral mind is primitive and childish."

In the above context we beheld Trump fulminating at the media's holding him to moral account for exploiting a $926b write off as means to avoid paying taxes for nearly 20 years. (Trump insisted, consonant with his narcissist nature he was a "genius"). That nearly billion bucks came from the pockets of legitimate  casino franchise owners and ordinary taxpayers. In the case of Hitler, he mocked as "effeminate"  those who held to the Versailles Treaty and showed his scorn by his invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938, and Poland in 1939.

By the same token, Trump's bragging about his ability to just kiss women and "grab their p**sy" exemplifies his primitive and childish mind. Also that he could banter on such degrading issues with glorified frat boy, Billy Bush,  Meanwhile, Hitler was reported to have had a violent sexual relationship with niece Gabi Raubal.  Payne reports how he was obsessed with sadomasochistic (SM) porn and enticed Gabi to actually act out with him, mainly her delivering occasional floggings.  He appeared to require violent stimulation to get off. Most psychologists today would classify such behavior and preoccupations as primitive and childish, in the sense that only a regressed personality (trapped at the "anal stage" of development) would be so obsessed.

After ascension to power Hitler outlawed all pornography which had been produced in abundance during the Weimar Republic.  He also outlawed abortion. But these actions are also characteristic of the narcissist authoritarian. Mendelson again citing a key section from The American Law Institute, 1999  for a Handbook of Jury Research (p..87):

"Narcissistic authoritarians are drawn to sexual material ...but they profess to find the material offensive and seek tp punish those who possess it."

And Hitler did this, dispatching those in possession of the Weimar created material to the early concentration camps.  Mendelson's comment to do with the attitude of the premoral mind is also illuminating and may definitely also have application to the hyper-sexual mores of conservative Catholics (p. 157):

"The premoral mind confuses the disgusting with the wrong and retains an infantile fear of things sexual. Its rationality is overcome by emotion, fantasy, wish and projection.."

Some may think that this controverts Trump's groping behavior and sexual innuendo but they may forget the dynamic of reaction formation. That is, adopting a mechanism by which "emotions and impulses which are anxiety-producing or perceived to be unacceptable are mastered by exaggeration of the directly opposing tendency."  In other words, any sexual contact with women is actually anxiety producing for Trump (as it was for Hitler) but that anxiety is resolved by exaggerated behavior in the opposite sense.

But a far more serious matter than sexual distortion concerns how the authoritarian narcissist and authoritarian can draw minds of similar nature to himself..  In most cases those drawn to such figures are both "fanatical" and likewise narcissistic. One primary trait (p. 76) is the yen for retaliation to "return evil for evil" or just to get even. We see this trait with almost every move Trump makes, e.g. to use tweets to get back at one target or another, whether the media, the women now accusing him of groping, Alicia Machado, or trashing a 'Gold Star' family,  the Khans. He always wants the last 'punch'. It is impossible for him to "turn the other cheek" or  for his followers to do the same.

This reinforces the worst traits of the narcissist's followers, as Mendelson notes (p. 82):

"In any fanatical group, charismatic, narcissistic figures easily assume positions of power.  They  are idealized and worshipped by followers whose narcissistic hungers are satisfied by the identification with the idealized leader or the group he leads."

We see this with the Trumpies too. They identify with fellow Trumpies by their hatred of  political correctness (which is also the manifestation of a form of social moral capacity)  and the "establishment elites"  Their narcissistic hungers also compel them to identify with Trump and when he says "punch 'em out" they feel enabled to do it to the nearest anti-Trump protestor, as we've seen.  In a similar vein, Hitler's S.A. fanatics had no problem beating up socialists, Jews or labor leaders if they protested at Hitler's rallies.  Hitler had only to cast an eye in the direction of trouble makers for them to feel the blows from dozens of Nazi  (S.A.) clubs.

Trump's most vile recent transgression against the commonweal and polity is his repeated claim of a "rigged election".  At a rally on Saturday he blabbered at a rally to star struck groupies:

"The election is being rigged by corrupt media pushing false allegations and outright lies in an effort to elect Hillary Clinton President".

Increasingly, Trump issues this gibberish in the context that it is part of a "conspiracy" to take him down. (See also previous post).  Indeed, in the past 48 hours Trump has claimed this tommyrot at least 20 times and even insisted.....wait for it....."Saturday Night Live" is in on it.

Any other person, say an ordinary bloke, would be locked up at Bellevue in a secure straitjacket and given ECT  and thorazine every three hours. But Trump can walk about at will spewing his balderdash.

Make no mistake that Trump's claim for rigging is an exculpatory move designed to seed rage in his more unhinged and gullible followers if he loses the election - which he is very likely to do and in a landslide. Never mind that Trump's election loss on November 8th will be entirely due to his unhinged, bombastic, disreputable campaign. In a similar way, Hitler's toxic narcissism led him to blame "those traitorous generals" for the failure of Operation Barbarossa and specifically the Wehrmacht's failure of will at the Battle of Stalingrad. Never mind it was Hitler's own fault for over extending his forces and also his failure to keep them resupplied during a Russian winter.

But Trump followers believing his bollocks that the election is rigged has hugely negative repercussions for the democratic process - namely the sowing of widespread distrust among a large portion of the populace.  This, in turn, destabilizes the political fabric and leads to loss of civility and dramatic increase in polarization.

Why do so many latch onto this nonsense, including some of the more educated, with degrees from Harvard? Mendelson offers a  clue (p. 82):

Most narcissistic followers "only mouth the ideas and mimic the behaviors required for membership in the group"

In other words, a herd syndrome - - with compliance dictated by the narcissistic leader who determines their identity in the "You're either with us or against us!" mode. Trump evangelical backers have even gone so far in their support rationalizations that they've cited "a Bible abounding in useful scoundrels". (TIME,  Oct. 24, p. 22). .  That is, trying to show that even the Old Testament God made use of "scoundrels" and vagabonds for his purposes. So why not the Donald?

Given "irrationality is also a prominent characteristic of premoral thinking" then it follows that the more irrational conspiracy claims Trump comes out with the more his most steadfast followers will cling to them. Again, they must be viewed en masse as a premoral, narcissist entity for which leader and followers find a mutual,  self-reinforcing basis in identity. This identity pushes Trump to ever wilder, more unhinged claims as it pushes his most devout followers to accept them.  Each new outrageous claim is then integrated into the ongoing Trumpist "identity" matrix. That includes that the election is rigged despite the fact general elections are not run by the federal government but by the states. And the fact of the matter is that the plurality of states (31)  have Republican governors who control the ballot boxes in a very real sense, e.g. access hours, locations, type of machines used etc.

The real danger is that the millions of people driven by resentment to follow Trump are unlikely to change their minds after he loses the election. Rather, they will very likely have their paranoid ideations reinforced by his loss and make trouble where their "rageful feelings" find expression. Who knows what might transpire? We can only hope it is not as bad as after Obama won in 2012 when numerous Obama voters were waylaid and beaten up,  campaign posters defaced with Nazi swastikas and KKK.

Mendelson, for her part, shows that the premoral mind (and narcissism) in this country is now ascendant, e.g. p. 76:

"The prevalence of the premoral psychology of revenge is obvious when we consider how common are the endless incidents of road rage, air rage, horrendous murder-suicides and shootings at schools, workplaces and public events. These incidents are so familiar that they are now cultural memes in the United States."

Sadly, even the defeat of Trump will not quell these tendencies and one can only hope the Republic is strong enough to survive them.

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