Part I -- A Grandiose Delusional Disorder
During the presidential campaign I often referred to Donald Trump as a congenital liar, but it is possible that in doing so I made a "category mistake." By definition liars, even chronic ones, belong to a category of people who know that there is truth from which their lies deviate. I am not sure that accurately describes President Trump's state of mind. Perhaps a more accurate way of describing Trump's outlook is that it presents as a grandiose delusional disorder.
People with this sort of disorder seem not to be able to discern what is real from what they want to be real. Their beliefs do not have to be bizarre but can appear as persistent misrepresentations that are either false or gross exaggerations. One sort of delusional disorder is called "grandiose." Here the person has "an over-inflated sense of worth, power, knowledge, or identity." Trump seems to fit this description.
Here are a few of Trump's misrepresentations and exaggerations that appear to underpin his alternate reality.
-- According to the president, the nation was in deep trouble when he took over. He insists that he inherited "a mess." No one challenged this description, although it is plainly an exaggeration. In truth the economy (including job production and employment rates) under his predecessor was doing well and no new foreign wars had been launched by Washington. Civil rights were being extended to more and more minority groups. Where there was dissension it was over such things as police violence (which Trump seems not to see as a problem).
To tackle this exaggerated "mess" Trump claims to have put together a "well oiled machine." This is a misrepresentation. By all evidence his early administration is disorganized, amateurish and plagued by internal dissension. When the situation was reported in the press, Trump got very angry at this challenge to his preferred view of reality and declared that the media is the "enemy of the American people."
--President Trump claims that a key to the safety of the nation is the imposition of his immigration ban blocking immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations. However, the statistical evidence showing a lack of violence on American soil by such immigrants makes Trump's claim insupportable. Just so his grossly exaggerated assertion that immigrants generally hurt the economy by taking jobs away from citizens.
-- He (along with that other deluded leader Benjamin Netanyahu) describes Iran as the greatest terror state in the world, even though, in practice, Iran has been a discreet ally of the U.S. in the "war on terror."
-- And, of course, Trump continues to insist on his overwhelming popularity, as exemplified by claims for his Electoral College numbers and an alleged record inauguration attendance, despite the fact that each claim can easily be shown to be a misrepresentation of reality. Trump's real approval rate now hovers around 40%, lower than every other post-World War II president at this point in their term.
To these instances of misrepresentation and exaggeration can be added other evidence, such as the fact that just about all contrary views appearing in the media are now described by Trump as "fake news." In his own opinion, nothing he says or does is ever wrong or mistaken. If something does go wrong it is because some other person or group has maliciously sabotaged his efforts, while twisting the truth he knows to exist into a maligning falsehood. This is why he can't work with anyone who has previously criticized him or who is likely to do so to his face.
Part II -- Bullshit
There is another way to understand what Trump is doing. This is explained in a 2005 book by Harry Frankfurt entitled On Bullshit. Actually, an older and less crude way of describing this is "humbug." Whatever you call it, this way of relating to the world is, according to Frankfurt, worse than lying because it is "indifferent to the truth." Those who consistently engage in bullshit "quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant." You do this enough and you lose your capacity to tell what is true and what isn't. Frankfurt believes that Trump does often lie, but even more often he just bullshits, and he really cares little about what is actually true. Perhaps he has reached the stage where truth is just whatever comes out of his mouth.
Part III -- The Road to Power
How are we to understand the millions of Americans who respond to Donald Trump with uncritical enthusiasm -- as if these large numbers are following a pied piper into a promised world. I think we have to see them as an archaic subset of any population. In the U.S. case, this is a largely white American subgroup which has been obsessively angry since the 1960s over both economic and cultural changes. In other words the progressive political and social reality that most Americans have created beginning with the Civil Rights movement is anathema to them.
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