Without a Trace of Shame: Looking Back at Trump’s Personality


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Donald Trump told another joke today. Problem is, his jokes frequently include death threats. I recall back in the day when he implied that his 2nd amendment supporters might want to stop Hillary from appointing Supreme Court justices. He played that off as a joke. Today the joke was about how America used to treat spies.

Like most things Donald Trump, what he says is usually half-impulse, half-informed, half-truths, half-ass, but wholly designed to trumpet his dominance.

The focus right now is on Trump’s Mafioso-like negotiation with Ukraine’s President. The press and politicians call it a “quid pro quo.” I think they’re using their fancy Latin to refer to a shake-down, which, if you read the transcript is obviously happening. To be more accurate, the Latin refers to “this for that.” But the Urban Dictionary might put it clearer with, “I want something, you want something. You give me what I want, I’ll give you what you want.” Even better, if you want to really know what’s going on, check out Urban Dictionary’s definition for “Quid pro quo-job” (which, because of my PG-13 rating, I’m unable to share here).

Some people act surprised that Donald Trump’s behaviors are so reminiscent of the Godfather. I’d say Mafioso, but Trump’s not Italian and consequently cannot qualify . . . which is probably at least partly why he’s acting so much like he’s trying to gain Mafioso status without having it. As Alfred Adler would say, that’s the way psychological compensation works.

If you’re a conscious and sentient being, there’s nothing particularly surprising here. Trump was being Trump. To review (which us academics do all the time, mostly because we’re forgetful), let’s look at the personality traits I wrote about in Slate Magazine last year around this time.

The following descriptions are summarized or paraphrased from the famous personality psychologist, Theodore Millon. Millon’s work was immense and immensely interesting. Read the following descriptions and contemplate two things:

  1. Do they fit Trump?
  2. What might the future of a Trump Presidency hold?

As I said last year, Trump has virtually all the qualities of someone with narcissistic personality disorder. But that’s not particularly interesting because most big-time politicians, media personalities, and rock stars have at least some narcissistic qualities. What’s unusual (and dangerous) is that Trump also has antisocial personality traits.

Generally, Millon summarized antisocial personalities as:

“Driven by a need to . . . achieve superiority.” They act “to counter expectation of derogation and disloyalty at the hands of others,” and do this by “actively engaging in clever, duplicitous, or illegal behaviors in which they seek to exploit others for self-gain.”

With that general description as backdrop, here are specifics.

Impulsive Imprudence. Antisocial personalities are “. . . shortsighted, incautious, and imprudent. There is minimal planning, limited consideration of alternative actions, and consequences are rarely examined.”

Blaming Others for Shirked Obligations. Antisocial personalities “frequently fail to meet or intentionally negate obligations of a marital, parental, employment, or financial nature.” This is the equivalent of a personal philosophy in direct opposition to President Harry Truman’s, “The buck stops here.”

Pathological Lying. Millon wrote, “Untroubled by guilt and loyalty, they develop a talent for pathological lying. Unconstrained by honesty and truth, they weave impressive talks of competency and reliability. Many . . . become skillful swindlers and imposters.”

Declarations of Innocence. During times of trouble, antisocial personality types employ an innocence strategy. “When . . . caught in obvious and repeated lies and dishonesties, many will affect an air of total innocence, claiming without a trace of shame that they have been unfairly accused.”

Empathy Deficits. Antisocial personalities are devoid of empathy and compassion. Millon called this “A wide-ranging deficit in social charitability, in human compassion, and in personal remorse and sensitivity.” He added that “many have a seeming disdain for human compassion.”

Counterattacks. Millon noted that antisocial personalities are hyper-alert to criticism. He “sees himself as the victim, an indignant bystander subjected to unjust persecution and hostility” feeling “free to counterattack and gain restitution and vindication.”

Moral Emptiness. Antisocial personalities have no ethical or moral compass. As Millon described, they “are contemptuous of conventional ethics and values” and “right and wrong are irrelevant abstractions.” Antisocials may feign religiosity—when it suits their purpose. But the moral litmus test will always involve whether they stand to gain from a particular behavior, policy, or government action.

Whether you think Donald Trump’s personality is captured in this short list of descriptions probably depends on your politics. I should also add that it’s perfectly possible for someone to have all these qualities and still have positive qualities as well. We’ve known—probably since the beginning of time—that people with antisocial personalities can be quite charming and charismatic. What’s crucial, and also intuitive, is that we the people recognize that despite his intermittent charm and charisma, Donald Trump is not to be trusted . . . which is likely why one of his favorite lines is “Trust me.”

My perspective is precisely the opposite. Please don’t trust me. Do the work, think about Trump’s pattern of behavior. It’s about far more than this latest incident regarding Ukraine. Take a look at the long list of behaviors that are consistent with Millon’s criteria. And then decide where you stand on a future with Donald Trump.

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The views expressed here are my own. They’re not representative of anyone else. They’re also not part of a quid pro quo.

For the whole long version of the Millon and Trump’s personality article, go here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2018/09/03/the-long-version-of-the-trump-personality-slate-magazine-article/

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