Understanding the Perversity of Trump and his Acolytes

A wonderful article by Bill Curry does an excellent job of describing Donald Trump as “in constant need of approbation; lacking impulse control, self-awareness or awareness of others.” Trump throws public tantrums, lies continually, never admits a mistake, and rages over every slight, no matter how trivial. He is clearly narcissistic, and his dysfunctional behavior continues unabated. “Trump is the Chuck Yeager of lying, a shatterer of records thought untouchable. That he is frozen in pathological, crotch-grabbing adolescence is well documented; that his judgment is often deranged by rage is self-evident.”

“This week the world watched two men of obvious, serious emotional impairment in control of ungodly nuclear weapons trade puerile taunts while threatening to incinerate millions of innocent human beings. Donald Trump, having made war on Mitch McConnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nordstrom, China, Mexico, Australia and the cast of ‘Hamilton,’ baiting a man who idolizes Dennis Rodman and just murdered his own brother.”

“In 2016 Trump’s real vulnerabilities were his mental health and personal finances. We can now add his proto-fascism and his possible or intended treason to the list. Trump was lucky in the draw. His defects were so monumental, so toxic, we had no protocol for talking about them. There are effective and responsible ways to talk about all such things, but first our media and political elites must find the courage to name them. “

Another aspect of what explains the psychology of Trump and his followers is provided by Dr Bob Altemeyer, Univ of Manitoba. Dr. Altemeyer has done more than 40 years of research on authoritarian personalities. Most of trump’s devoted disciples seem to be authoritarians.

Authoritarian followers submit readily to an established authority, are willing to be aggressive in defense of their leader, and are very conventional in their social outlook. They are highly prejudiced against anyone outside their social group – women, Blacks, homosexuals, foreigners, Muslims, atheists, etc.; they believe strongly in vigorous law enforcement and severe punishments for offenders; they view the world as more dangerous and are more afraid than the average person; they are highly self-righteous and “holier-than-thou; and they are much less willing to admit mistakes or flaws. They are much more ethnocentric than most people, and they consider loyalty to their in group to be one of the highest virtues. Authoritarian followers will eagerly be obedient even to a malevolent leader, and their fear of a dangerous world makes them likely to be aggressive, brutal and even violent to their leader’s designated “enemies.”

They are more prone to illogical thinking than most people. If they agree with a conclusion, logic is irrelevant to them. They have difficulty figuring out that a statement is wrong or whether evidence proves something or not. Authoritarians in a religious setting often become religious fundamentalists. They remain dogmatically ignorant because they maintain beliefs with unchangeable, unjustified certainty. Authoritarians easily endorse inconsistent and contradictory ideas when those ideas come from a source they respect. They hold double standards and are frequently hypocritical. They distrust science because they don’t understand scientific principles of self-correction and lack of absolute certainty. Evangelicals, for example, support dozens of theological seminaries, scores of colleges, and hundreds of radio stations, but not a single research university.

You’ll likely be wasting your time trying to convince authoritarian followers that they are being systematically misinformed and played for dopes by their leaders. However, authoritarian followers want to be “normal,” so changing the norm may be effective. Making diversity and acceptance of minorities the norm and showing minorities and LGBTQ people as mainstream may change some minds. Authoritarians don’t want to be in the minority, so speak up when you see something wrong being done. Authoritarians believe in law and order, so change laws to be more progressive.

Violence feeds authoritarian fear and prejudices. Be active and protest non-violently. Hold rallies and demonstrations away from right-wing groups, either at different locations or at different times to avoid direct confrontation. The best response to pro-Nazi, white supremacist, skin head, and KKK groups is for no one to show up at their rallies and to have larger, separate rallies.

Trump is a special type of authoritarian that Dr. Altemeyer calls a Social Dominator. Social Dominators want all the power they can get. They do not have loyalty to any group, but they require loyalty from their acolytes. They believe in gaining power by any means necessary. They will say whatever will get them ahead in the moment. They define “right” as whatever benefits them. They are not empathic. They do not care what harm they cause to others. They are not highly religious but they are willing to fake it. Socially Dominant leaders feel a certain contempt for their followers. Their followers are the suckers, the “marks,” the fools that social dominators find so easy to manipulate. Many Social Dominators learned early in life that deceit and cheating worked for them. They were rewarded when they cheated, took advantage of others, made people afraid of them, overpowered others, got away with doing something wrong, or beat somebody to the punch.

Remember that authoritarian thinking and behavior is the lowest level of moral development. It occurs in children between the ages of two and six when they are impulsive and emotional and do not recognize the consequences of their behaviors. Young children believe relationships are controlled only by power. Most people mature from this elementary beginning through several stages until some understand universal humanity and universal principles of justice, love, and compassion. A few become aware of the profound unity in the universe. The simplicity and immaturity of children can be endearing, but it is not appealing in adults and is unsuitable in a president.

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