A Dunce in the Dark
I have been giving a lot of thought to the possibility that the mental health community needs to take a leadership role on exposing the extent of the dangers of Trump. There are so many ways to assess, at this point, how he is unfit for president. We know that there are the ethical entanglements with his business, we know that he uses nepotism when choosing staff, we know that he has been seduced or blackmailed by Russia, we know that many of the decisions he is making are to benefit his own stock holdings. We know how racist and misogynistic he is. And, we know that he is completely at ease lying and that his narcissism is both malignant and metastatic.
But nothing seems to be adequate for us to begin to figure out how to undo this presidency.
This calls to mind to the 25th amendment of the constitution, which is an incredibly obscure and long amendment. The central, recent focus of the 25th amendment has been on article 4, which instructs the country on how to handle it when a president is “unfit” or “incapacitated” in some way. There is no obvious reference to mental health. The article basically says that if the Vice President, along with the majority of the President’s cabinet, agree that the president is unfit for office, the vice president can take over. However, if within 21 days after this amendment is invoked, the president can reasonably argue in favor of his own sanity/clarity/fitness, he can override it. Which given Trump’s unabashed grandiosity, he would of course do.
This is a long shot, clearly. An impossibility, in fact. Pence isn’t going to do this, neither will Trump’s cabinet. And if they did, we know Trump would come out swinging. Nonetheless, he is frighteningly unwell and his staff knows it and we know it. The staff leaked more information in the first week of his presidency, than was leaked for the duration of Obama’s.
Even if it has no repercussions, though, I am desperate to understand the psyche of this man. It is not because I am fascinated by him. Instead, I am astounded by the power he currently has over our sense of well-being. This is, clearly, because he is that dangerous. And yes, the danger is imminent.
I have felt like I have spent the week in some zombie like state, trying to clear my eyes and see with any clarity or precision at all. My clients have almost unilaterally complained of feeling sick; confused by not having a fever. We wonder, all of us, if there is something going around. And, yes, in fact there is certainly something going around. His mental illness, and the level of unconscious functioning that he is dwelling in, is a downright contagion and we are all being zapped by it. All that he disavows, we hold and are becoming poisoned by. This is classic projective identification: for his limpness, we feel weak, for his self hatred, we feel helpless and immobile, and for his psychological incontinence, we are leaking all over.
The roots of Trump’s fears of illegitimacy and failure run deep. Trump’s grandfather, Freidrich Drumpf (the world Drumpf has no translation in German and therefore means nothing), came to America in the late 1880’s. He came from Germany to avoid military service and immediately became a barber, cutting hair. Perhaps the roots of Donald’s hair obsession run quite intergenerationally. Freidrich was fervently ashamed of his work, which was a six year apprenticeship in NYC. He got word of the gold rush and headed west. While many where striking it rich with entrepreneurship, Freidrich, who changed his name to Fred Trump, was running brothels. He watched more powerful and successful men come and go from his salons and restaurants, serving them alcohol and sex and food. The food he was serving was the horse meat of thousands of dead horses that died on a steep trail right by his brothel. He profited off this mass, tragic death. He profited off lost wandering souls, in search of something bigger and better than the lives they were leaving behind. Lives bigger and better than his own.
Though Trump’s family changed the Wikipedia page to say that he was a successful hotel manager, the story according to several papers in the UK is much more complicated than that. The family history is fraught with lies. Freidrich said that his mother suggested that he escape to America to stay safe, but in fact he disappeared in the middle of the night (at the age of 16). Her concerns about his safety were a mere fiction about a mythological warm and loving attachment. He tried to go home but Germany refused to have him back due to his tax and military evasion from the German government and army. He spun this tale too and said he wanted to return to America to pursue further wealth. Spinning tales of rejection into tales of success, is a well-worn Trump pathway.
Themes of tax evasion, dodge drafting, exaggerated success and the exploitation of women run deep. Further, themes of who gets to stay in a country and why, are also long running themes for the Trumps.
Fred, or Friedrich the 1st, returned to NYC with his wife and had Donald Trump’s father in 1905, Fred the 2nd. At this point Fred the 1st did amass a small fortune. It was not a shocking amount, but it was enough that it could grow. Fred I. died at 49, from the Spanish Flu (read into this what you will about Trump’s fear of Latinx communities), leaving behind a small, but lucrative real estate business his wife Elizabeth and his son Fred. So, Fred II became business partners with his mother. This sort of Oedipal pairing (little Fred and his mom) has of become mirrored by the Electra pairing of Donald and Ivanka. Spouses be damned, mother and sons and fathers and daughters belong together.
Donald, was the fourth born of five kids. He was the second boy, so he didn’t get the name Fred. From the beginning, this wounded him because he knew that he was not seen as the heir apparent. Being the second son, in this lineage, was a shameful fact.
His mother, Mary, was always the center of attention. At any social gathering, she histrionically occupied all of the space and bragged about the way in which her husband spoiled her with riches. Her histrionics are well documented. Her counterpart, Trump’s father was stern, perfectionistic, cold and withholding. He was a vicious authoritarian who insisted on only being spoken to in English by anyone he came into contact with. He comfortably allowed himself to get arrested as a Klan member in 1927; fighting for a racial purity that was fading from his beloved Queens neighborhood. I believe that even his two pristine Cadillacs were white.
It seems that Donald was born with a difficult and impulsive temperament. His struggle to self sooth was inflamed by the pressure his father put on him to succeed, yet never eyeing him as the rightful successor of his fortune. His life, in other words, was a moving target; with his father creating traps for baby Donald’s Tantalus archetype.
Stories of his acting out and underdeveloped conscience date back quite to his toddlerhood. He had a babysitter when he was 5 who took him to explore the underground NYC sewers. The babysitter noticed that he was never scared. He never even looked back during their descent. He seemed completely at peace in the underground, growing darkness.
When his younger brother Robert was born, his mother almost died. She was hospitalized for several weeks. There was a day that her death seemed quite likely, but his father sent him to school anyway. Attachment, grief and affect be damned; study now, focus.
Around this age, a neighbor said that she left her young son in a playpen outside and found Donald throwing rocks at the baby as “target practice”. Neighborhood kids knew to stay away from him if they didn’t want to get hurt. Teachers were intimidated by the way he folded his arms over his chest and dared them to approach him. He assaulted his second grade music teacher because he didn’t believe that he knew enough about music to educate him; the incident resulted in a severe black eye. He played baseball and every time he got an out, he either broke his bat or attacked a kid with it. He was known for his broken bats. He focused a lot of aggressive attention on girls, starting as early as kindergarten, frequently pulling their hair and throwing spitballs at them. Imitating the play West Side Story, he would bike through NYC streets with a switchblade and would flick it at strangers to scare them.
Because of the knives, Trump’s father snapped, and sent him to a military boarding school. It was in the middle of seventh grade. He did not get a chance to say goodbye to any of his friends. His siblings were all allowed to stay home. This was a rejection specifically targeted at him. The conditionality of his family’s love was confirmed.
Once at military school, nearly 70 miles from home, he was routinely physically threatened and hurt by his teachers. His headmaster was a WWI vet who saw Mussolini’s hanging. The teacher, hardened by his own trauma, routinely slapped his students. The students with the poorest grades, were forced fight each other in a boxing ring for entertainment. By senior year, Donald had adjusted to these demands and became obsessively rigid and neat in response. He got perfect grades, was a perfect athlete, his bed was always perfectly made. When someone criticized how his sheets were messily tucked, he nearly threw the person out of a second floor window.
Somehow he had taken his fathers’ rejection, the endless assaults by teachers and developed a sense of self that mirrored their aggression. In other words, he began to identify with the aggressor to survive the aggressor. His sense of safety was measured by his capacity for ferocity and victimization. He was aggressive before, but not in a way that modeled his father’s or teacher’s ability to truly destroy someone. He realized his power had been sloppy, and now he was going to make it cutting and clean.
He returned from boarding school to find that Fred, his brother, had become a horrible alcoholic, all while Donald had succeeded in becoming his father’s dream child. Fred was not interested in real estate, but in flying planes. This was a huge embarrassment to the family and Donald was only too happy to make good on it.
He became like a dog with a bone when it came to pleasing his father and punishing his brother, Fred. Freddy Jr’s alcoholism killed him when he was 43. This was before Donald’s father died. His father had dementia at the time. It is said that Donald coerced his father into cutting out Freddy’s family from the will. Based on the suspicion of coercion Freddy’s kids sued Trump’s family for some of the fortune.
Amidst this feuding, Freddy Jr’s grandson was born with a seizure disorder. Donald refused health coverage to the infant because the family had sued his father’s estate for money. An infant was dying in a hospital and Trump said “Why should we give him medical coverage?”. He added, “They sued my father, essentially. I’m not thrilled when someone sues my father.”
Donald, on some level, always wanted Freddy to die. But this wish was supposed to remained symbolic, like many childhood wishes are. When the wish came true, it was a form of psychic destruction and victory for Donald. He essentially learned that his homicidal wishes could become reality, while he sat on the sidelines looking innocent.
He used this power, this toxic power, to keep building his business. From the minute Trump became a leader in the business he still runs, he learned how to exploit cheap labor. He typically relied on Polish (always White) immigrants to do his construction. He would let them sleep in the building, but never paid them when the work was done. He unscrupulously met their most basic human need (for housing) and kicked them out as soon as they met his.
I am assuming that between the self-centeredness of his mother, the harshness of his father, the grief over his brother, the rupture in his attachment to his community and the lies that his family legacy has been founded upon, that Trump has a very weak sense of himself; only solidified by the domination of others. The crowd size and voter fraud obsessions clearly demonstrate that. If he is not surrounded by worshippers, he feels violently alone and abandoned.
I cannot fully get my head around the extent of his racism. It does not exactly feel like xenophobia, because it is so specifically targeted to people of color: African Americans, Mexicans, Muslims. I know that it is largely a tribute to his father’s tradition of only renting to white people while systemically refusing to rent to any people of color. And I assume that his grandfather’s inability to return to Germany, essentially calling the family’s ethnic purity into question, plays some psychic role.
But, ultimately, I wonder: why so mean? Why so vindictive? Why so misogynistic and racist? I know that Trump recently blocked a ban on a painful form of treatment for show horses. I found this striking, considering how his grandfather also benefited off the mistreatment of horses. I know that he is trying to take away health care (though he says that he is trying to replace it) and that this was the obvious way to punish his brother for dying. Maybe he hates his mother for almost dying while giving birth to his brother. Maybe he wishes she did die. Maybe he wants to finally see women dying this way, because of his unfulfilled wish. Unfulfilled wishes aren’t easy for him.
But why the sexual objectification? And rape? His grandfather clearly found success this way, through it probably also left him feeling fraudulent. For Trump, the obsession with owning women feels much deeper than just that what his grandfather did or that his mother almost died during childbirth. The identification with his mother is something we could all use a deeper understanding of. I am attaching a picture of her here (below), with her hair. It is sort of funny, but also it isn’t. Look at this pic of Trump with Ivanka (below). It is so creepy and proprietary .
Perhaps the nationalism has to do with the fact that his grandfather was welcome only in America and he worships it for that. But he doesn’t worship America, he hates it, just like he hates himself and everything else. Maybe he is trying to turn us into Germany, the country that refused his ancestors, but still feels to him like his rightful birthplace.
He felt at home in that sewer, because that is what the inside of his mind looks like. He is underground, with rats, in dirty water, all the time. This is where he dwells. Maybe that is all his parents let him feel like he was worth. Or maybe his mom crawled in bed with him late at night while Fred was out with other woman and Freddy Jr. had drunk himself to sleep and Robert was left alone to sleep peacefully because his awakening/birth was nearly fatal to her.
We are all in that sewer now.
We have a rock throwing, baseball bat breaking, Klansman son, knife wielding, pussy grabbing president who has only been rewarded more and more as he has refined his capacity for bullying. Bullying sloppily, bullying tidily and now bullying chaotically. First for his dad, the perfectionist, and now for Putin, the perfectionist. And I keep trying to figure him out, but I can’t because I don’t know what really went to down to make him as fragmented and sick as he is. But really, what does it matter? The better question is: what is wrong with this country that we allowed him to become our protector? How did this shadow of a dunce become what so many saw themselves in and wanted to celebrate?
Maybe to be American is to bully and enough of us were sick of pretending otherwise. Or maybe we all feel like rats in a sewer because we are so ashamed of our own disavowed history, a history our colonization, rape, and exploitation. And now we have someone down here with us, unashamed and ready to set up shop.
Horowitz, Jason (January 2, 2016). “For Donald Trump, Lessons From a Brother’s Suffering”. The New York Times. Retrieved January 24, 2016
Jan, Tracy (October 14, 2016). “More women accuse Trump of aggressive sexual behavior”. Boston Globe. Trump has been confronted with a slew of allegations of sexual misconduct over the past week, starting with a report in The Washington Post of a 2005 tape featuring him bragging about forcibly kissing women and grabbing them by the genitals.
Panetta, Alexander (September 19, 2015). “Donald Trump’s grandfather ran Canadian brothel during gold rush”. CBC News. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
Rozhon, Tracie (June 26, 1999). “Fred C. Trump, Postwar Master Builder of Housing for Middle Class, Dies at 93”. The New York Times. Retrieved January 23, 2017.