Humans develop morals as they grow older, but some stop developing at various times. We can tell at approximately what age and what developmental stage someone is by the person’s behavior. I believe President Trump operates partly at the level of a 2-6 year old and stopped developing by age 7.
Many thought President Trump’s impulsive, hostile, irrational, narcissistic actions would diminish when he became a presidential candidate, or when he became president, or after a few months in office, or after the Senate Impeachment Trial. None of that happened. He still personally belittles, denigrates, demonizes, and tries to verbally destroy anyone he views as oppositional or disloyal to him.
He fired Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Ambassador Sondland, Lt Col Vindman, and dozens of officials before that. He called Adam Schiff “a corrupt politician” and “a very sick man.” He called Nancy Pelosi “crazy” and a “horrible person.” He called Mitt Romney a “pompous ass,” who “ran one of the worst campaigns in the history of the presidency.” At a traditionally bipartisan and conciliatory “Prayer Breakfast,” he was harsh, contemptuous and acrimonious, even admitting “I apologize, I’m trying to learn. . . . I’m doing my best.” Where does that consistent, inherent, flawed character put Trump’s moral development?
(Level 1) From ages two to six, children have magical thinking. They blur fantasy and reality and behave impulsively and emotionally. They do not recognize that others have different points of view from their own, nor do they recognize the consequences of their own actions. They feel betrayed when someone they trust disappoints them. That certainly describes Trump’s emotional, impulsive reactions and precipitous feelings of betrayal.
(Level 2) During ages six and seven, children begin to learn that other people have different points of view. They relate to others primarily through reciprocity – I’ll help you if you help me. Their idea of justice is retribution – do to others whatever is done to you. They believe in authority and power and try to please others if it gets them what they want. What is right is what benefits me. This stage describes most of Trump’s narcissistic retribution.
(Level 3) At ages 11 or 12, children begin to understand cultural norms and group loyalty. Most begin to learn empathy and concern for the feelings of others and the group. They incorporate respect, gratitude and the golden rule. They can put aside personal needs for the benefit of the group. Laws and playing by the rules become very important. They identify strongly with groups defined by age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sports teams, etc., and have a strong sense of group superiority. They become susceptible to manipulation by advertisers, propagandists, and demagogues.
Trump shows little sense of true empathy. He understands and pretends group identity to curry favor and support. He considers himself above playing by the rules. He greatly admires demagogues and is easily manipulated by them.
(Level 4) The next stage of moral development occurs in adulthood, but not everyone attains it. Those who do attain it begin to recognize that norms, laws, rules, and justice are social contracts and human choices. Group differences are no longer automatically seen as threatening.
(Level 5) Very few people attain the final stage and become active co-creators of principles of justice, love and compassion. Morals are based on reasoning. Restorative justice replaces retribution. People at this level are misperceived by others because they transcend conventional norms.
Trump shows no indications of the last two stages. We need moral leaders. While few people attain Level 5, we should seek leaders who attain at least Level 4.