The psychology of Donald Trump

While doing some research on Friedrich Engels in Bremen, Germany, last year I stumbled upon an account of Donald Trump’s Grandad, Frederick Trump.

This account begins from Grandad Trump’s own journey from Bremen to New York, starting on October 17, 1885: “a thin gangly sixteen-year-old boy watched from the rail of the SS Eider as it approached the island of Manhattan. He had traveled alone to America, leaving behind his obligation to enter into his country’s military service. He did not intend to return. He had jammed every scrap of his past life behind. If he had second thoughts, they did not show”.

The young man was not leaving home, “so much as fleeing three centuries of barbaric European history”. After leaving the southwestern German region of Pfalz, he went in search of prospects he knew his homeland couldn’t offer him. Like many immigrants he wanted to escape hopelessness and find dignity and purpose in more affluent and tolerant countries.

But as with many immigrants, finding this dignity did not come easy. After a couple of years in America, the boy, now a man, settled in a crowded unsanitary apartment with other family members. Soon later arrived a baby that the man would often look after in the spare moments he wasn’t off working. Another occupant with whom he shared accommodation suddenly caught meningitis and passed it swiftly on to the child. Sadly the child died. Soon the man would move out of the family dwellings to find somewhere to live in a mostly German immigrant neighbourhood.

Poverty was not the only thing to concern new arrival Germans, or immigrants of any nationality. Discrimination in the US became rife, too. German, Irish and Italian immigrants arriving in America often faced prejudice, particularly the religious mistrust of Catholics, as well as commonplace language barriers. Many German immigrants in particular became craftsmen and tradesmen and were resented by Americans who didn’t like the competition.

This prompted the rise of politicised immigrant-bashing in the late 1800s, including the Native Americans party, also referred to as the ‘Know Nothings’ on account of the fact that whenever anyone asked members of their political allegiances, they would answer by saying they know nothing about the party.

It was irony not lost on me when Donald Trump, last year in June, tweeted the following:

“So many people who know nothing about me are commenting all over T.V. and the media as though they have great D.J.T. [Donald J. Trump] insight. Know NOTHING!”

People will also notice the irony that Grandfather Trump was on the receiving end of foreigner bashing, the same which Donald Trump carries out himself to Mexicans and Muslims.

All this made me think as I was reading an interesting account by Martin Jacques of neoliberalism in the Guardian today, in which he says:

Almost from nowhere, Donald Trump rose to capture the Republican nomination and confound virtually all the pundits and not least his own party. His message was straightforwardly anti-globalisation. He believes that the interests of the working class have been sacrificed in favour of the big corporations that have been encouraged to invest around the world and thereby deprive American workers of their jobs. Further, he argues that large-scale immigration has weakened the bargaining power of American workers and served to lower their wages.
He proposes that US corporations should be required to invest their cash reserves in the US. He believes that the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) has had the effect of exporting American jobs to Mexico. On similar grounds, he is opposed to the TPP and the TTIP. And he also accuses China of stealing American jobs, threatening to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports.
To globalisation Trump counterposes economic nationalism: “Put America first”.

It dawned on me that Donald Trump suffers from a serious superiority complex. His Grandfather refused to be downtrodden, instead succeeding where other ultra-nationalists wanted him to fail. He made a lot of money and probably slept well at night knowing that he proved the racists wrong.

Donald Trump has never done anything like that. He succeeded in showing that inherited wealth begets wealth. His only real innovation is to put his name to steaks and hotels. He’s not intelligent, but he’s quick to call people lazy (including blacks). He’s as Walter Mosley recently called him: “spoilt”. Everything his Grandfather wasn’t.

Looking at his Grandather’s own success and hardship, it probably grates Donald Trump at some level. But I’d stop short of saying it’s humbling. Instead I think Donald Trump has internalised his Grandfather’s success by slapping him in the face with his politics; by blaming foreigners and carefully constructed trade agreements for working class disengagement. A kind of weird Oedipus Complex where he wants to kill his Grandfather’s legacy.

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