King of DARVO
It is well-established that Donald Trump is a habitual liar. There’s no need to run through the many things he’s said in the past year or so that were proven untrue — or the long list of his own statements that Trump has contradicted just days after making them. Even his most ardent supporters have begun to take notice that he will habitually say something, and then do something else entirely, making no effort to reconcile his words with his actions.
Because Trump’s shameless and pervasive lying was key to acquiring a seat in the Oval Office, we have all now been forced to deal with these remarkably overt and offensive actions, as they now directly affect us all. We have also been forced to try to understand how a man could lie so comfortably even when everybody knows he is lying.
We have all known for some time that successful and long-careered politicians tend to dabble in self-preservative double speak, truth-stretching, and empty but soothing promises. But here is our new president, with his administration full of borderline-respectable looking bootlicks, outright bullshitting us, and doing it with unnervingly smug smiles on their faces. The average citizen is rightly baffled by this: an unsuccessful politician — and businessperson — who compulsively tells obvious lies that are easily disproven.
The most common reaction I witnessed in the months after the election was backwards reeling incredulity. “Liars are supposed to GET IN TROUBLE!” people collectively gasped. They kept looking around as if expecting someone to come and slap cuffs on Trump, announcing his arrest for Lying in the First Degree.
Slowly, these people began to pick up the pieces of their shattered reality — the one in which “the truth” was valued and important — and have begun to piece together a new reality appropriate to the new freewheeling kind of lying that confronted them between Trump’s election and inauguration. A reality which required them to not go insane as they bravely barreled headstrong into a hurricane of maddening and unrelenting lies.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that the situation has advanced considerably since the inauguration, and that we have not caught up. The content, timing, and deliberateness of Trump’s lies have shifted so that they are not so much the defensive reactions of a man convinced he’s going to lose embarrassingly, and more as tactical offensive and preemptory weapons.
There have been several recent articles attempting to wrap their heads around his new modus operandi; one which describes Trump’s evidently “made up claims” as “pernicious diversionary tactics.” Another, states that Trump “is a master practitioner at the politics of distraction;” and notes that he takes a page from Roy Cohn’s playbook with his “always attack, never apologize” approach. These articles are full of claims that Trump is “turning the tables” and “repurposing the attacks against him.” They get very close to the heart of the matter, yet never quite get there.
Item: Donald Trump — like narcissists & psychopaths everywhere — is a practitioner, a devotee, of DARVO.
In October 2016, the Stanford-educated psychologist, Dr. Jennifer J. Freyd, who identified the concept and coined the term DARVO, updated her webpage to single out a (then) presidential candidate. I had been posting links to her work whenever and wherever I could in the six months leading up to the general election, so I immediately noticed that she agreed that Trump had a yuge DARVO problem. So much so that I wondered if Trump would end up becoming the Lou Gehrig of of the tactic.
DARVO refers to the behavior by a wrong-doer after they’ve been called out for their misdeed: “Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.” Basically, it means, whatever an abuser is doing — domestic violence, bullying etc. — once confronted, they will vigorously deny it and claim that they themselves are the actual victim of the accuser, either for a false accusation or (gasp!) because the accuser has been doing the exact same misdeed to them! If it were children playing this psychological game, it would be very simply: “no I’m not… YOU are!”
Now, you’d think that there would be no way on earth this tactic could work outside of a kid’s playground; but it’s shockingly effective, as evidenced by the fact that the same presidential candidate that Dr. Freyd called out as a perpetrator of DARVO, is now, unfortunately, our President.
Before tackling DARVO and what it means to the specifically complex case of Trump, it’s helpful to understand it in a more digestible situation: domestic abuse. A person goes to the police and tells them that they are the victim of spousal violence; their partner counters this by saying that either the accusation is either completely false, or that they are the actual victim of violence by the first person.
This is how I first learned of DARVO: during a vicious custody case involving a habitual liar. It was a textbook case in which the child’s mother was abusing the child’s father (and the child), and yet many people were convinced that the opposite was true. It took years to begin untangling the truth and the case is nowhere near settled; nor have the victims healed emotionally, physically, or in the father’s case, financially.
The precise frequency and prevalence of this behavior is unknown, but one can easily see the disturbing implications it has for our legal system, especially in family court. In an early paper on the subject, Dr. Freyd observed that the “actual abusers threaten, bully and make a nightmare for anyone who holds them accountable;” and that their attack is “intended to chill and terrify, [and] typically includes threats of law suits.”
It is not surprising that the average citizen has never heard of this tactic; I wouldn’t have either had I not been forced into hand-to-hand combat with a diagnosed psychopath. When I first realized that Trump was living the DARVO lifestyle, it was a sickening feeling. I knew that we, as a nation, were in for many, many years of pain and litigation if this horror-show got elected. I tried to spread the word far and wide, especially to those who had never faced such a malignant personality in their own lives and had no clue what it meant in practical terms.
In his lifetime, Trump has DARVOed a lot of people; and that’s because he’s victimized a lot of people, both individually and as groups. What should immediately leap to mind are the sexual assault allegations made by several women up to and during the final months of Trump’s campaign. In response to these credible accusations, he repeatedly said “I am a victim.” Further, he opined that his candidacy was “the greatest movement in the history of our country,” and therefore, something that his enemies would want to destroy.
This was DARVO at its most basic level: an abuser telling a big, fat, ugly, blame-shifting lie. To amp up its “wow factor,” Trump added the ridiculous assertion regarding the importance of his candidacy. This is the kind of grotesque, wavy-stink-lines “big lie” that Hitler himself recommended one make, as the big ones are somehow easier for people to swallow than the little ones.
In other examples, he feigned victimhood and countersued the Justice Department in regards to racial housing discrimination in the ‘70’s, asserting that their original charges were “baseless” and that his corporation was “singled out.” He also claimed through his lawyer that marital rape isn’t a real thing after Ivana Trump accused him of it. Additionally, Trump responded to a series of lawsuits over his wallet-embiggening scam, Trump University, by trying to intimidate plaintiffs and even countersuing one; he also attacked the judge for bias based on his ethnicity. During his campaign, Trump claimed that he may have been the one in danger when his manager, Corey Lewandowski, manhandled reporter Michelle Fields. In another incident, when Tim O’Brien alleged that Trump wasn’t as wealthy as he claimed, Trump sued him for libel (and lost), and used the instance to advance his plans to make such lawsuits easier!
Being reminded of all these instances in which he claimed to be the true victim, and countersued accordingly, it strikes one as odd that a person who works pathologically hard at perpetuating the illusion of himself as powerful and successful, would allow himself to constantly be portrayed as being victimized by all these nobodies.
Except that it apparently works! Trump has DARVOed his way into the ultimate position of power, by tapping into the latent rage of his predominantly white and mostly uneducated supporters, who feel that they, also, are the “victims” of things-n-stuff; and that their victimhood is the only thing that stands between them and the type of super-classy, lavishly gold-leafed success embodied by their hero.
If you ask them by what or whom they’ve been victimized, you’ll hear answers such as equal opportunity, Mexicans, welfare abusers, overly-strict environmental rules regarding coal-mining, and the “war on Christmas.” Never mind that they are likely to be the actual offender, by being racist or anti-Muslim etc. This is a delightful world they’ve constructed for themselves in which being called a racist is worse than actually being a racist. Amazingly, their victimhood even transcends time to include the probability of them becoming casualties of terrorist attacks perpetrated by poorly-screened Syrian refugees.
This is very important: these people now don’t even need for a specific accusation or event to roll in for them to parlay it into the victimhood status they covet so much. Now that they and their man have “won,” they’re just going to go around shouting out things by which they are being victimized, and blow the legs out from under any further nasty accusations about their own behavior.
And Trump, possibly the worst serial DARVOer ever known — the “King of DARVO” as Dr. Freyd has dubbed him — with his multiple twitter accounts and 50 live mics in front of him, is leading by example. He is now deploying lies offensively to preempt or deflect similar accusations against himself.
It makes perfect sense that Trump — who is not really a stupid man, merely a simple one — would realize that people are becoming hip to his shit, and that it wouldn’t hurt for him to go on the offensive instead of constantly being on the defensive.
So, he deploys a barrage of lies about voter fraud and paid protestors. My belief, knowing what we do about DARVO, is that by accusing his opponent of these things (and prior, the “firebombing” of a republican party campaign headquarters in North Carolina), that he’s actually admitting that he or people in his administration did these very things themselves, or attempted them.
Lies about wiretapping and being spied upon? So you’ve been hacking and spying on people, have you, Mr. Trump? “Fake News!” So everything you say is a lie, is it, Mr. Trump? Going back a bit, to what I believe was probably the first attempt at this preemptive strike DARVOing… recall how Trump wanted his opponent tested for drugs? So did Trump basically just admit he’s on drugs? Personally, I believe he did.
Foreign influence on our election? Improper contact with Russia? He’s mostly on the defensive here, but note that one week ago he tweeted out some unproven speculation that the Clintons’ et al behavior regarding Russia was more deserving of an Intelligence Committee investigation, and that the “Trump Russia story is a hoax.”
He ended that tweet with #MAGA!, his “SPRING BREAK! [boat horn]” rallying cry designed to jolt withered brains back into focusing on awesome stuff like those three coal-mining jobs he’s about to create; instead of wasting time trying to sound out big words like kən-grĕsh′ə-nəl ĭ-myo͞o′nĭ-tē.
Dr. Freyd’s research is currently under peer review, but her webpage has this incredibly insightful nugget: “the concept of DARVO is offered as [a] potentially useful term for anticipating the behavior of perpetrators when held accountable, and for making sense of responses that may otherwise be confusing.”
Things “that may otherwise be confusing.” Like being spied on by a microwave. Or the Bowling Green Massacre. Or pathological fixation on inauguration crowd size. In each example, Trump is the victim of Obama, biased press, photography, physics…
We can expect more blame-shifting lying from Trump and his underlings in months ahead; he sees it as a tried and true technique. But also look closely at the paranoid seeming, kooky-sounding, out of left field accusations he unsolicitedly blurts out as well. Those are likely to be admissions by his ego that his id is up to the exact same bad shit.