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writing for godot

The President's Psyche

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Written by Carl Peterson   
Monday, 07 August 2017 13:47

The President's Psyche

 

Maybe you are among those of us who will be satisfied if we all get past this without becoming personally, if very briefly, acquainted with a mushroom cloud?

I am among that number.  I admit it.  It's not that I ordinarily have low expectations, it's just that I like to have expectations that are not likely to widely deviate from actual outcomes.  Because I have been thinking about the president's psychology, admittedly as an amateur--but that is all I have really since it seems that professional psychologists have decided to remain mum on the topic beyond the usual observations that the president appears to share many of the traits of the narcissist--I am preparing for things to get much worse from here.  Let me explain:

Let us begin with what seems to be most certainly true about the president:  He lies a lot.  This seems to me to be so self-evidently true that I am not interested in entertaining any discussion about it.  If you do not believe that the president lies a lot, then here is where you can get off the bus, sorry to have inconvenienced you.

Yes, the president lies a lot.  Everyone still here I assume agrees with that.  He lies a lot.  We have all known big liars in our lives, but I don't remember ever knowing anyone who lied as early and as often as our president.  In grade school we all enjoyed some good lying and the entertainment offered by our schoolmates who lied particularly well.  But eventually we grew out of that, most of us, and in general, although none of us ever stopped lying altogether, through the years most of us winnowed down our reasons for lying, so that general dishonesty fell within reasonable limits, and we could believe that we were not betraying our duty of honesty to our fellow human beings.  Don't get me wrong, there is still a hell of a lot of lying going on out there, particularly in the areas of politics, the Supreme court, commerce, addiction and romance, yet there survives a generalized norm in civil society that all things being equal, telling the truth is better than lying.  Most of us believe that to be true, especially when we anticipate being on the receiving end of a lie.

But, our president lies a lot.  Since I hesitate to use the word "constant," in describing anything about this president, I will not say that he lies constantly, so let us say that when he opens his mouth to do anything other than eat, he is probably lying.  It seems that he lies to everyone.  He lies no doubt to himself; he probably lies to himself even in his dreams--his dreams could never be deciphered for the purpose of self-enlightenment because they have been encrypted not just by symbolism, but also by self-lying.  He lies, as proved by the time stamps on his tweets, first thing after waking in the morning, and sometimes even when he wakes in the middle of the night.  If that call comes at 3 AM he will be ready to lie, whether or not it is called for.

Ok, so the president lies a lot.  What can we build from this basic but reliable piece of knowledge?  The record suggests that the president's habitual lying goes back at least as far as there are any media accounts of his activities, which is several decades.  Those accounts indicate that he was already a fluent liar when newspapers began to take note of him, so we will assume that he was lying a lot in early adulthood, and, since he has stated that he has not changed much since he was eight years old, we will assume that he lied a lot as a child.  Mendacity is an integral aspect of this president's fabric.  Mendacity is a large part of who this president is, and if we take away the lies, it is not clear how much would be left of this president's identity.  Even now I hesitate to continue to pull on this thread of analysis for worry that when I'm done there will only be a pile of thread on the floor where once the commander-in-chief used to stand.

Ok, so we now have that the president lies a lot, and has been lying a lot probably since about the time he learned to talk.  The question raised by these predicates is why, as he grew older, the president never, as most people do, winnowed down his reasons for lying.

In trying to understand this president, I have tried to understand the things that, apart from DNA, reveal human individuality, that show us in action, to ourselves and to the world, that show, in the most important way, who we are.  I have assumed that life is a challenge that confronts every human.  A human life--considered as a whole and not in its various moments--is not easy for anyone to live.  The most fortunate human life ever lived in the history of the world, was, I am saying, a challenge to the very core of the human who lived it.  That is in the nature of human existence.  We are human.  Existence as a human is the challenge.  We must cope with this existence.  In this we are alike.  What makes us different, and what is revelatory, is how we cope with what we see as our challenges.  The actions we take to cope-- formulated inside of us, and nowhere else--show who we are.  When we admire another person's character, we are really admiring the way that person has coped with what we intuitively know is the profound challenge of existence.

Regarding the president, the discussion leading up to this point has shown that the president is an inveterate liar who must have devoted, in his lifetime, a mountain of time and energy to lying.  Watching him now, lying with such ease, you might think that the president's lying comes to him so naturally that it exacts no price from the president.  But think of a virtuoso performer you admire, maybe a musician, a singer, an actor, who creates such beauty without the slightest appearance of effort or strain.  In the moment, the performer may experience nothing of the difficulty required to bring beauty.  But know, when you are lucky enough to be present at that moment, that behind it, in another dimension so to speak, are the years of labor required to build virtuosity.  The virtuoso has painstakingly built the skill necessary to cope with her need for that particular excellence of self-expression, and building it has exacted expenses paid with a portion of the virtuoso's life.  Because it is funded with human life, it is serious, this business of coping, and revelatory of the coper's psyche.

I did not by any means mean to say that one beholds beauty when watching the president lie, or even that the president is a virtuoso liar, but only to make the point that to have lied for so long the president has had to make a major lifetime investment in lying.  He has paid handsomely--not in cash, but with a substantial portion of his life--for his inveterate lying.  Such a large investment is evidence that lying is vital to the president as his major mode of coping.

But what does this particular mode of coping say about the president?  Note that, in general, the president lies to challenge reality itself.  In particular instances he is lying for what appear to be the typical reasons for lying that apply all that way back to school days:  He wants to avoid responsibility for what he has done; he wants to make himself seem larger and better than he really is; he wants to harm the reputation of others to make himself feel better about himself, or to divert attention from his own faults, or to gain some objective advantage.  Etc., etc.  But these are just examples of the tactical uses of the president's lying.  His overall strategy has been to displace public reality with his private brand of reality, a brand he has created with endless, inveterate lying.  Every statement reality makes that the president perceives to compete with his private brand of reality, the president counters with a lie.  This has no doubt been part of his strategy at least since early adulthood, and, as we will see below, probably long before that.  That is why he has never winnowed down his reasons for lying.  Lying--and lawyers--are almost his only answers to the challenge of his existence.

But why would his coping strategy not attempt to adapt to reality as most successful coping strategies do, but instead attempt to adapt reality to himself by creating his personal brand of reality?  It seems a mighty and daunting undertaking to attempt to do it that way, which means that he probably began to create his personal brand of reality when he was a child and hadn't been around long enough to understand the gargantuan task he was assigning to himself.  I have attempted not to speculate too much about the president's psychology and have tried to have some reasonable evidence for everything I have said so far, but here I wonder if the president, as a child, found no place in reality that he believed to be favorable to him, and so set about creating his own reality, not just a private reality that he could enjoy in solace, but an alternative public reality, that he could through lying and other encouragements induce other people to share with him.  It would be truly touching if his journey to the presidency began this way: a little boy trying to cope with the challenge of his existence, and--dreaming big--setting out to create his personal yet public reality to overcome the public reality generally shared by most other people, but that for some reason he finds deeply unsatisfactory.

This strategy must have worked reasonably well in the president's business life, although because the president lies a lot we cannot be sure how well it has worked, and where he has not lied about his business history, he is secretive, so we do not really know how successful the president has been in business, or the reasons for whatever success he had.  Since it is hard to imagine a coping strategy like the president's working in the long run for anyone but a prophet or a person of great wealth, it seems probable that the president's life-long wealth smoothed out the bumps that he must have encountered when early on his personal brand of reality came out on the losing end of a confrontation with reality.  In other words, since the president is not a prophet, (though he would love to be revered as a god) great wealth was necessary for the-young-man-who-somehow-eventually-became- president('s) coping strategy to be at all viable.  Wealth was a sine qua non of the young man's coping strategy, but so was his ignorance of much of the reality he sought to displace.

It seems that the president was happier before he became president, which suggests that lying all the time to create a personal brand of reality worked better for the president before he became president.  But now, alternate reality creation is no longer working well for him as a mode of coping with the challenge of his existence.  You sense--with the president--that the world, and his existence, is closing in on him.  What worked at least reasonably well in the past, in fact right up to his inauguration, is working less well every day.  The president feels it:  The very reality that he has long refused to meet on its terms, is coming to get him.  It is not just Robert Mueller's footsteps he hears.  But when he first heard those footsteps he tried to cope with them in his accustomed way: lying, getting other people to lie for him, smearing his perceived adversary, then, clumsily, because he knows nothing of men like Mueller or the way the government works (other than the quid pro quo system he use to use in his own interactions with the politically powerful) the president attempted to scare Mueller off with the threat of firing, and then he really wanted to fire Mueller, and would have fired him, but someone told him something that frightened him, for the moment, even more than he fears Mueller.  But because he remains frightened of what Mueller represents--his own doom--the question will arise again, and he may fire Mueller, or resign in a pyrotechnic shower of lies designed to maintain his personal brand of reality to the very end of his presidency.

At the level he has ascended to, the president's personal brand of reality has not fared well in its antagonism to the reality that most people more or less subscribe to.  About 40% of the electorate still claims to approve of the president, but the polls do not reveal the emotional complexities that must underlie that 40%.  If some of that 40% no longer really share the president's personal brand of reality, they may formerly have been too hopeful to admit now that they no longer believe.  You can see how, if you awakened from the president's personal brand of reality, you might be a little embarrassed.

He can hear the footsteps.  It is not just that the president fears the truth coming out about his business dealings, or his Russian connection, or any of the mess he has made, though of course that is all part of what the president fears, but the essence of what frightens the president is worse than all of that put together:  The essential challenge of human existence is coming back to get the president at the age of 71.  The challenge of human existence that he thought he had long ago learned to cope with has now come back full force to get the president, and his personal brand of reality is just not working anymore.  It too has become his enemy.

Some mornings he feels like a child again, and not in a good way.  Some mornings he feels like a motherless child who needs to be protected, but it's too late now to learn to protect himself, as he did 60 years or so ago.  He wouldn't know how to do it again, and anyway the world of the presidency is so different from the world he learned to cope with, he is at a near-complete loss.  He feels the world is closing in on him most days, but sometimes there are still moments when he lives in his personal brand of reality, but the moments are brief and when they end the doggedness of reality surprises and frightens him.

It might be bad for us all if the president indeed has no other means of coping than he has shown so far.  Lately, it seems that he has begun to shift more to a "strong man strategy," --no not himself as the strong man--but people like Scaramucci (yes he might have perceived Scaramucci as a tough guy who would help protect him), and John Kelly.  Scaramucci, who claims to love the president, and maybe really does in a way, seemed to me to be terrified in his brief try-out as communications director, and I could not understand why except that in Scaramucci's recent meetings with the president he may have intuited the president's own terror, and this in turn terrified him.  The New Yorker affair sure looked like Scaramucci might have been consciously or unconsciously committing career suicide-by-journalist.

It might be bad for us all if the president has no other means of coping than he has shown so far, but the very method of coping that the president has used makes it difficult to find evidence that the president might have some yet unrevealed sophistication and flexibility to his coping strategy.  Many people have noted that the president seems childish.  Those observations provide corroborating empirical evidence for a predictable logical result of a coping strategy that did not involve adjusting to reality, but that instead created an alternate reality that fit the boy just as he was, and did not require him to adapt and grow personally, but merely to continue to grow his personal brand of reality.  The president's coping strategy froze him in time, arresting his development, and because it was never a healthy coping strategy, he did not remain forever young, but only forever immature.

It might be bad for us all if the president has no other means of coping than he has shown so far, but as I have contemplated the president's psyche I think I see some hope, at least regarding the mushroom cloud, and although I am preparing for things to get much worse, my sense of foreboding is lightened by the sense that this president really wants to survive, both psychologically and biologically and has never invested himself in any ideas beyond himself, the way for example Hitler was invested in the idea of the Third Reich, and ended his own life when that dream ended.

Some of those of us who wonder about the mushroom cloud see that it could come from the president's comprehensive unfitness for foreign policy activity, or through the president's supreme narcissism.  In the first scenario, which is not improbable enough to treat lightly, the president's inexperience, ignorance and proclivity for impulsive behavior plus nuclear weapons on both sides could get out of hand before any mature person with sufficient power and ability could intervene to prevent the escalation to nuclear war.  In the second scenario, which admittedly seems a little theatrical, the president, feeling himself trapped as events begin to destroy his personal brand of reality, and--as he experiences it--himself--sees no way out, and, in a last mad attempt to maintain control of reality to the end of his life--a life that was always the Sun God of his private universe--the president takes everyone else's life along with his own, and proves his point that all along his private brand of reality was the real one, and when it ended everything else did too.

As I sit here now I doubt that either of these scenarios will play out in reality, and, although that is not a lot of comfort, it is better than arriving at the conclusion, after careful consideration, that one of them probably will play out.  Still, in a world full of nuclear weapons, you never feel that we are all as safe as we ought to be, and as we would be if there were no nuclear weapons.  Having this president as commander-in-chief just makes the existence of nuclear weapons that much more worrisome.  That is one of the prices we pay for having elected him.

But even aside from the question of the mushroom cloud, things appear bound to get worse and worse for the president as his personal brand of reality has proved to be less and less efficacious the longer he has been president.  The president seems to be all tapped out, and trapped, and although that might be good news for those who want to see him gone as president, it looks bad for the interim period between now and the time he leaves office.  Even setting aside the possibility that some of his bad ideas are actually his own--he is an ignorant person, and, distracted by his self-made personal problems, is being exploited at a mad pace by those who are now bending the government not on behalf of the American people, but for their own narrow concerns, inimical to the American people.  I feel near certainty that nothing good will come from this administration in whatever time it has remaining. That's why I'll be satisfied if none of us has to meet a mushroom cloud before this presidency ends.

 

 

 

 

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