Forget protesting Trump, protest those around him
I’m sure anyone reading this knows about the massive worldwide protests in favor of women’s rights and against the Trump administration.
This is fantastic. But we have to remember what the goal actually is. Or, better said, what we face.
Trump is a narcissist. Narcissists care deeply about what other people think of them and their own self image, which tends to be very fragile. So it would seem like protesting is a great way to get at him, to change his mind, to give him pause.
But here’s the thing. Because narcissists have such weak egos but are at the same time so ego driven, they are very good at shutting out criticism. Some they can explain away, and make excuses. When that fails, they lash out in anger. When that fails, they simply edit their perception of reality. With someone like Trump, he doesn’t lie about his own accomplishments to impress people, he does it to assuage his own ego. Someone like him feeds off adulation from others, to be sure, but narcissists are also masters at editing reality to make themselves seem good in their own minds.
So Trump will edit out the protests. He will blame the media for reporting on them, downplay the numbers, and claim (falsely) that his own inauguration had the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration” (this last came from his press secretary). Another example: Trump went to military school as a teenager. He was demoted, after someone under his command hazed an incoming student. But even admitting this youthful mistake was unthinkable, with Trump saying that he was actually promoted, which was of course, a lie.
What we have to remember is that he’s not doing this as some sort of political tactic. He’s doing it because he is pathologically incapable of admitting error, and his ego and self-image are so incredibly fragile that he simply cannot handle any kind of criticism or self-evaluation. It is a huge mistake to treat Trump like, say, W, or any other conservative politician. Those people had some basic personality, and while they had their fair share of willful ignorance, it was still a matter of politics rather than who they were.
Let me emphasize this: Trump will not perceive events in a manner that is consistent with reality. He will literally say that a horse is a zebra if he needs to, because in his mind it truly will be. When someone else says the opposite, it will seem just as crazy to him as so many of Trump’s statements are to the rest of us. Because his mind has filtered his perception of outside events to support the narrative he wants. He has seen the sky as green his whole life, so thinks everyone else is crazy for seeing it as blue.
To paraphrase American Psycho (more relevant now than ever):
…there is an idea of a [Donald Trump], some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there. It is hard for me to make sense on any given level. Myself is fabricated, an aberration. I am a noncontingent human being. My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at [Wharton]) if they ever did exist. There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed. Yet I am blameless. Each model of human behavior must be assumed to have some validity. Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do? My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this — and I have countless times, in just about every act I’ve committed — and coming face-to-face with these truths, there is no catharsis. I gain no deeper knowledge about myself, no new understanding can be extracted from my telling. There has been no reason for me to tell you any of this. This confession has meant nothing….
So heed the calls for organization, protest, and resistance. But don’t for a second think you will do anything to change Trump’s mind or affect his decisions in any way. Our only hope is to scare enough of those around him, those who may yet be redeemed, and isolate Trump. Our best case scenario is that he’s an ineffectual, because the alternative is him blundering from one arbitrary decision to the next.
Folks on all parts of the spectrum have said they hope Trump succeeds, and in the abstract so do I. But I’ve had narcissists in my life, and I know what they’re like. What scares me more than anything is how no one seems to understand this about Trump. They see him as an incompetent buffoon, but don’t realize how deep his disconnect from reality goes. He will do literally anything to try to fill the void in himself. Once his self-image needs things to be a certain way, there is absolutely no way to convince him otherwise. If he has to declare martial law to protect himself, he will. If he has to drop nuclear bombs to make himself feel powerful, he will. Trump will do absolutely anything if it serves his ends, and will do so without a hint of remorse.
The only thing we can do is try to keep as much power out of his hands as possible. He will keep lashing out, keep making decisions that have nothing to do with reality. All the rest of us can do is try to push him to the side as much as possible, so that his pathology doesn’t get on the rest of his.
Let’s make Trump our version of Captain Toby from Tristram Shandy. Let him play battles in his house and cause harm to no one. But to accomplish this, we must know who we’re dealing with.