Trump, Dominance Politics, and Impulse Control

Josh Marshall of Talkingpointsmemo had another really insightful piece over the weekend, which I missed until today. As Bill Moyers pointed out in another excellent piece (arguing that the Presidential debates are a functional charade riven by conflicts of interest and rather than educate the public, do a serious disservice to our democracy) quoting from it, Josh has done incredible analysis this election season explaining that Trump’s need for dominance is a driving aspect, if not the driving aspect, of his conduct throughout the campaign. (If you’ve not read these analyses, you’re missing out — check out examples his work here, here and here., though you should be reading him daily.) And James Fallows’s superb discussion of what to look for in the upcoming debates — assuming the format doesn’t change despite Moyers’ persuasive plea — also draws on Josh’s analyses of Trump’s dominance-seeking.

In his piece on Saturday, Josh broke slightly with his past theme of Trump’s drive for dominance, making the following argument:

“The salient fact about Trump isn’t his cruelty or penchant for aggression and violence. It’s his inability to control urges and drives most people gain control over very early in life. There are plenty of sadists and sociopaths in the world. They’re not remarkable. The scariest have a high degree of impulse control (iciness) which allows them to inflict pain on others when no one is looking or when they will pay no price for doing so. What is true with Trump is what every critic has been saying for a year: the most obvious and contrived provocation can goad this thin skinned charlatan into a wild outburst. He’s a seventy year old man with children and grandchildren and he has no self-control.”

It’s hard to quarrel with this. However, I quibble with it in that I think the most salient fact about Trump is his need for dominance, which in turn manifests itself in the form cruelty, violence and aggression. He lacks the ability or desire to rein in the more self-defeating aspects of his need to display his dominance, but I think the dominance-drive is paramount.

Josh says plenty of sadists and sociopaths exist, and they are not remarkable. I’m not sure I agree, but even if that’s so, there are also people who lack impulse control, and their impulses don’t lead them to this type of behavior. For example, all children who lack impulse control do not all behave with violence, cruelty, and aggression, although some certainly do. In other words, I don’t think Trump’s impulse control character flaw can be disaggregated from his need for dominance at all costs to build himself up.

And what no one ever seems to examine is where the need for total dominance comes from. I’ve thought for awhile that it is a function of an utterly pathological insecurity — the mirror image of the bully’s ultimate cowardice — because he has to know what a despicable excuse for a human being he is. Possibly I give him too much credit in assuming that somewhere in the recesses of his narcissist’s mind there is a tiny hint of self-awareness that he tries to insulate himself from. It’s just hard to believe he, or anyone else, could really think he is anything but an execrable fraud.