The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump

On the 3rd October, there will be an important event in American publishing. That is the day when a book entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump is published. It is the work of 27 psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts who have cooperated to assess President Trump’s mental health. This book is thus not one individual sounding off with his pet theory about the president. It is the psychological community coming together to express a consensus about what they see in their president and why it is they are fearful for the future.

The full contents of the book have obviously yet to be revealed. But, one of the contributors is a distinguished academic who has been writing for 55 years on such things as brain-washing, cults and the behaviour of groups. His ideas have influenced many other writers and researchers who have come after him. His name is Robert Lifton and long-term readers of this blog will know that that I have discussed his ideas before. In describing something about the book, The Dangerous Case, Lifton gives us a statement of what appears to him to be the fundamental problem with the psychological functioning of the president. It is this short summing up of the problem of Trump’s mental health which I want to share with my readers. I do this, not least because it describes a pathology sometimes found in religious circles and among church leaders.

Lifton uses a word which I have to confess was unfamiliar to me until I looked it up on an on-line dictionary a month ago. The word is solipsistic. It means focusing only on things and people that protect and work for the interests of the self. This reality that is created by concentrating on the self and its needs is described by Lifton as the solipsistic reality. In every decision made there is the same question. ‘What is in this for me? How can I gain something from this?’ If the reality presented has nothing to offer to one’s advantage, then it is ignored or pushed aside. Solipsism is perhaps a normal part of being a business man when you make rapid calculations as to whether a deal will profit the company or firm. But, as Lifton points out, it is a disastrous position to hold when you are running a huge country and have responsibilities for the whole world.

I thought about the accusation against Trump and realised that a lot of people think in the same way. The ‘what’s in this for me?’ question is likely to dominate the awareness of many people, from small infants onwards. Nevertheless, the hope of Christian education is that when love comes to be internalised, the possibility of true altruism becomes actualised in the individual. Developing altruistic motives for our actions is a gradual process. All too often we find ourselves slipping back into making decisions that ultimately benefit only ourselves. But even if we fail the solipsism test from time to time, I think it is true for most of us that we have at least the imagination to know what an utterly unselfish action might look like. We can normally imagine what another person is thinking or feeling. Our response towards them, at least sometimes, is conducted in such a way that our own feelings or interests are put firmly to one side. In short, the solipsistic reality is not the only or even the dominant reality in our lives.

According to Lifton, every decision made by Donald Trump seems always to involve something calculated to benefit him. Sometimes the benefits are financial; on other occasions, the reward is emotional. A speech given in a political rally seems to be about making Trump feel loved by his supporters rather than serving any serious purpose. Even his recent consorting with Democratic politicians seems to have been effort to curry favour with his liberal critics. But the point of this post is not really to be talking about Trump. His name comes up once more because he reminds us of a type of leadership which we find among religious leaders who exploit power for selfish ends. Lifton’s category of people living in a ‘solipsistic reality’ seems to embrace this band of leaders as well.

I have been recently once more studying the Langlois report on Peniel Church and ministry of Michael Reid and I see solipsism as a key reality there too. Without laying out in detail all the crimes of which Reid and his henchmen stand accused, the naked examples of abuse of power in that church over a long period of time are classic examples of self-serving behaviour. Imaginative altruistic care of others became impossible when there was so much concentration on the amassing of wealth and gaining power. We might speculate that when the possession of a power which cannot be challenged is achieved, those who wield this power adopt a solipsistic personality disorder. It will always be highly dangerous for those around. Lifton’s conclusion is that Trump’s ‘solipsistic reality will be the source of his removal from the presidency.’

We will see whether the book due out on October 3rd will have any impact on the political scene in the States. Meanwhile I have acquired a new word to describe a temperament which has utter contempt for the true feelings or needs of another person. When such behaviour creeps into the church we find that we are in a dark place. Evoking the power of God to prop up human solipsistic tendencies is a hard thing to battle against. The person we face may well have lost his or her connection to any altruism they may once have possessed. In the place of human love, we may see the dark face of an utterly inflexible exercise of power. This is the power which seeks to do nothing more than to serve the emotional needs of the bully.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

9 thoughts on “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump

  1. As a point of information can someone explain what Mr Trump has done that is so different to George Bush junior?

    As far as I understand it Mr Trump has questioned the integrity of the American media? Put in cash terms he has said that, The New York times and the Washington post are corrupt and only work for the in crowd?

    Very similar I would suggest to the English media. Was it not the English media that called Arthur Scargill a corrupt liar? After 30 years when the information was finally put into the public domain it was discovered that everything he said was true.

    I have worked in Psychiatric care and have never known two psychiatrists to agree about anything. Strange how in this case they are singing from the same hymn sheet??

  2. I think that the problem that Trump represents for most is first of all that his disregard for truth in public life (accusations of fake news) has so lowered the tone of civility in society that many people in the States have become divided and afraid.
    Secondly he has shown in his speeches a level of support for murderous racists groups and ultra-right wing causes and this has brought out of the woodwork some extremely unpleasant and dangerous people. Violence against minority groups has become daily more common. The dangers to American society are real and present. We have gone beyond a party political debate into a world marked increasingly by fear, paranoia and hate. These are the sort of things you find in extreme religious groups which some readers of this blog are familiar with. The really dangerous thing is that these same cultic realities are set to engulf an entire society. Bush never wanted for psychological reasons to tip an entire country into a state of dependency to feed his psychological needs. That is what Hitler did. The situation in America is extremely serious. I have been subscribing to an American newspaper for the past six months and the Americans take the situation extremely seriously. The writers of the forthcoming book do know what they are talking about!

  3. Thanks Stephen,

    You make your point very well. My confusion rests upon how we decide, “What is truth?”
    In the past journalists like John Pilger and academics like Fred Halliday have exposed vast corruption in American business and politics. How can we trust the American media to print anything near uninhibited truth?

    Scandals like Irangate, Watergate, rocked America in the past and even to this day the information as to what really went on is challenged.

    The scandals mentioned above have some evidential support but, it seems the attacks on Mr. Trump are nearly all personal?

    President Trump has a lot of support from the American underclass, does this not show that if you ignore people for long enough they will eventually bite you hand?
    The Poet Charlie Moon once said,” If you go down to the riverbank and sit there for long enough, sooner or later you will see the bodies of your enemies float past”

    It seems to me that the awful tragic quote from Pontius Pilate in the New Testament, “What is truth?’ is still screaming in the silent corridors of power in
    America.

    1. Well, Chris, Donald Trump insisted that he had the biggest ever crowds for his inauguration. There were photographs. He didn’t.

  4. Thanks E A

    Well was he lying mistaken or making it subject to hyperbole?
    How many Presidents have done that?
    These are still personal attacks about his personality not his policies (I’m not claiming to know what his policies are!)
    Many years ago Tom Paxton wrote this song about President Lyndon Johnson. President John presided over a incomprehensible Hell, will President Trump, or when his term is gone, will it be same …. Different day?

    ‘I got a letter from L.B.J
    It said, “This is your lucky day”
    It’s time to put your khaki trousers on
    Though it may seem very queer
    We’ve got no jobs to give you here
    So we are sending you to Vietnam
    Lyndon Johnson told the nation
    Have no fear of escalation
    I am trying everyone to please
    Though it isn’t really war
    We’re sending fifty thousand more
    To help save Vietnam from the Vietnamese’

    1. When Trump mocked the disabled journalist he was mocking me and all my fellow disableds. He is like a spiteful child in the school playground.
      You say that we are writing about his personality rather than his policies, but would you trust the policies of such a personality?

  5. Thanks Hare,

    I have never trusted any ‘Policies’ (In that I’m an agnostic)

    However, The right wing Evangelicals in America and in this country (See Revelation TV)
    Support Trump. Among them are thousands of disabled people, like some of my best friends.
    I have just retired after working for 38 years with the disabled so I have a little insight.And yes, I still say it is personal.I have no partisan position on this, I am a Catholic member of the christian faith (Please note I do not call myself a Christian) I will not comment on this further.

  6. “Kingdom of Self” by Earl Jabay one of the best reads on this subject as well as “God Players”! I was visiting a church recently where the speaker (pastor) of the church but would NOT considered him a shepherd kept saying “world gone mad, world gone crazy” with what’s going on and I wanted to say: “as the church goes, so goes the world” per Leonard Ravenhill awesome written works and I’m sorry to add if the world is corrupt it’s because the church is! Why Revival Tarries-1959 & America is Too Young to Die-1979 sequel by awesome Leonard Ravenhill. WE AS A PEOPLE, AND CHURCH STILL NOT PRAYING. Humility is key and Proverbs 9:10 if there is NO fear of the Lord, there is NO wisdom. WE REALLY NEED Spiritual Wisdom, Spiritual Knowledge, Spiritual Discernment, Spiritual Understanding to Discern what is Good, Evil, Satanic and Lies and Truth. So many entities have become tools in the hand of satan look at what’s written in Battle Hymn by John Scura/Dane Phillips and or The Planned Destruction of America by Dr. James W. Wardner.

  7. P.S. News is so Propaganda-ed out; you have to know truth from lie! Always research a matter. Whose really controlling items, one example: who controls media?

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