The October Surprise: What Donald Trump can learn from the Chicago Cubs

Why does Donald Trump continue to claim the 2016 Presidential Election is rigged?

Sitting here in my armchair, Wikipedia tells me his claim is a classic example of “Negative Psychological Projection”. This occurs when “humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.”

In other words, “Blame Shifting”.

Shifting blame from the self to an external cause, the page states, may help a fragile ego “reduce anxiety”. It also “tends to come to the fore at times of personal or political crisis”, and “is commonly found in those with narcissistic personality disorder.”

Basically, the information causing your psychological grief (like losing the 2016 election due to your personal shortcomings) gets rejected by your fragile ego, and blame is turned towards an external “other”, like, a rigged system.

Donald Trump must be feeling a great deal of anxiety over the very real chance he will lose the 2016 election. He’s worried sick his reputation and the Trump brand will suffer great damage. Trump’s unconscious impulse is that he will lose but his sizable ego can’t accept that this loss will somehow be due to his own flaws, words or actions. So he says the flaws are with the system.

Shifting blame to a rigged election, may seem like it will soften the blow in the short term, but history tells us this type of projection doesn’t turn out well.

Another classic example of psychological projection and blame shifting belongs to the fan base of the Chicago Cubs.

In 2016, the Cubs are on a roll. Best record in baseball. Currently tied 1–1 in the NLCS vs the Dodgers, the Cubs have already shown a lot of postseason moxie and courageous late-game efforts to get where they are.

But whether they will admit it, the “Curse of the Billy Goat” is stewing in minds everywhere in Cub Nation. For the last time the Cubs made it this deep in the playoffs, The Steve Bartman Incident during Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS was a massive , public example of blame shifting.

In 2003, I watched the playoffs with a group of close friends who are all diehard Cubs fans. We gathered to watch all the games at the same house, so close to Wrigley we could hear the roar of the crowd before the tape delay caught up to the TV. I observed the level of nervousness climb with each game of the playoffs, win or lose.

The pressure increased in the room as the Cubs moved closer to winning the World Series. The nearness of both the dream, and the failure. That tension literally became too much for some of my friends. The anxiety in the room had increased to such a high level in the moments just prior to the Bartman Incident, that a few friends actually left the room, physically unable to watch the game unfold.

All Playoff games come with a dose of anxiety. And rightly so for the Cubs, the franchise hasn’t won a World Series since 1908 and is known throughout sports as “Lovable Losers”. Cubs fans want it so bad they taste it in their Old Styles. But actually Winning the World Series is something they have no frame of reference on, no confidence with.

Phil Mickelson, who seemingly couldn’t win a Major Tournament early in his career is quoted as saying, “I think it’s a lot easier to win it a second time than it is the first,” he says. “I mean, the first time you just don’t know, and don’t have the belief, and the second time you have already done it. It takes pressure off. You already have the confidence and knowledge to do it again.”

After you win the first Championship, the scaffolding remains intact to win the Championship again. I would argue that’s part of the reason the San Francisco Giants kept winning the World Series’ with mediocre teams.

The unknown is scary.

When Cubs fans look deep into the playoffs, it’s all grey area, one giant scary abyss, with nothing but defeat and a curse to reference this time of year. I find Cubs fans an understandably skittish group. Despite having an amazing team with a great regular season, the yearning for a Championship and the fear that they won’t get it, lies just beneath the surface. In conversation, they are cautiously optimistic, at best. Usually when asked a second time, they’ll say they’re shitting their pants.

My hope, for my Cubs Fan friends and family, is that when the 2016 playoff anxiety reaches it’s pinnacle, they fight the urge to accept relief from the crushing pressure of the moment by shifting blame to something non-baseball related.

Avoid what happened in 2003. It all could have been different. If you want to blame something, blame Moises Alou’s reaction. If he had acted like an unfazed professional in the moment, his starting pitcher Mark Prior, his teammates and all of Cub Nation would have followed his lead. Instead of remaining confident that the out would come on the next pitch, Alou acted outraged and influenced the reaction of others. The dominoes began to fall, the 8th inning unraveled in shocking fashion, and the Cubs barely showed up in Game 7.

If these playoffs go sideways, avoid what happened in the years immediately following the Bartman incident. The trauma inflicted in 2003 only grew more profound while the attempts of Cubs Nation to kill the curse proved shockingly unsuccessful. Two attempts to destroy what the Bartman ball represented couldn’t have turned out worse for the Cubs.

In February of 2004 Cubs Nation blew up the Bartman ball with M-40’s inside a glass case at Harey Carey’s, only to watch the Red Sox kill the Curse of the Bambino and end their 86-year championship drought in heroic fashion.

In February of 2005 Cubs Nation cooked the remnants of the Bartman ball pieces into a pasta sauce at Harey Carey’s, and to their horror watched as the Chicago White Sox, their bastard southside kick-around brothers, killed the Ghosts of the 1919 Black Sox and ended their own 86-year championship drought.

From my armchair, the Wikipedia psychological projection page goes on to explain, the risk of shifting blame is that your sense of ownership and sense of identity and personality “can become dissociated”.

If all you can control in life is your attitude, prolonged and compounded blame-shifting compels a certain loss of even that.

In extreme cases of projection-induced dissociation, “a slow rebuilding of the personality through the “taking back” of such projections” must be undertaken in order to regain psychological fitness.

And here-in lies the reason for hope, and what I would build the scaffolding of my confidence around, if I was a member of Cubs Nation.

“The rebuilding process” is a familiar Sports term. Everyone is aware of the rebuilding process the Cubs undertook in 2011 when they hired the one guy with the perfect frame of reference for what they want to accomplish.

It was Theo Epstein and his staff that put together the Red Sox team that killed the curse of the Bambino.

Under the Ricketts-Epstein regime, the Cubs completely gutted the Team and Wrigley Field. They took a long view and invested in youth, with a small number of veterans who already have World Series rings. They’ve incorporated technological savvy along with old-school scouting in their player development. They brought in the best Manager they could find. They gutted Wrigley, and converted the worst clubhouse in baseball to one of the best. They reduced the intensity inside Wrigley by adding distracting and instant replaying Jumbotrons.

All of this can form the type of confidence-scaffolding which allows for genuine breakthroughs. With no previous history of success, your scaffolding is what carries you out into the unknown with any level of confidence and creates the conditions for breakthroughs and victories to happen.

From a high level, this is tactically how you bring about positive change in your life. Take a hard look, take the long view. Gut the tired ways of doing things that don’t work. Find new ways that do work. Then start building new scaffolding one step at a time.

It’s too late for Trump this election, but there’s still time for Cubs Nation. Trump can learn from the failure of the Cubs’ past blame shifting, and might use their template as he starts the rebuilding process in December.

As for Cubs Nation, when that moment comes during these playoffs and the temptation to shift blame arises, set your jaw, keep the faith, hold on, and tether yourself to this mantra, the Wilco lyric, “Happiness depends on who you blame.”

And after the Cubs time has come, the Curse dead, the slate clean. Then remember, you can stare into the abyss, but it’s staring right back.