One thing about Donald Trump’s candidacy–his obvious psychological problems have triggered all sorts of armchair diagnoses, most centering on “classical narcissism.” I recently came across a different theory, one that will be familiar to those of us who remember male teenage classmates who constantly boasted about their “conquests.”
According to Steven Marche, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times,
The most popular candidate among white American men is a parody of American manhood. By now, we have become used to the frat-boy performance that defines Donald Trump’s candidacy: the sexual boasting, the condescending or outright insulting treatment of women, the open discussion about the size of his penis. As we approach the general election, it becomes ever more clear that Trump’s flagrant and empty machismo is not a distraction from his campaign but its substance…
The theory of masculine overcompensation has been well-established for decades, going back to Sigmund Freud’s notions of “reaction formation” and “defense mechanisms:” When men think their masculinity is in doubt, they respond by emphasizing traditional masculine traits.
This new parlor game of “Guess Trump’s diagnosis” may be fun (or in the case of James Patterson’s analysis, both persuasive and terrifying) but what this man-child’s primary success suggests for our democracy is anything but entertaining. That issue was more soberly–and insightfully–analyzed by David Frum in a recent article for the Atlantic. Frum, as you will recall, was a speechwriter for George W. Bush, but he has refused to be a “team player” more loyal to his party than to his country. The article is long, but well worth reading. One paragraph:
The television networks that promoted Trump; the primary voters who elevated him; the politicians who eventually surrendered to him; the intellectuals who argued for him, and the donors who, however grudgingly, wrote checks to him—all of them knew, by the time they made their decisions, that Trump lied all the time, about everything. They knew that Trump was ignorant, and coarse, and boastful, and cruel. They knew he habitually sympathized with dictators and kleptocrats—and that his instinct when confronted with criticism of himself was to attack, vilify, and suppress. They knew his disrespect for women, the disabled, and ethnic and religious minorities. They knew that he wished to unravel NATO and other U.S.-led alliances, and that he speculated aloud about partial default on American financial obligations. None of that dissuaded or deterred them.
Thomas Friedman in the New York Times takes on the false equivalence of those who insist that Hillary and The Donald are equally distasteful/dangerous:
All lying in politics is not created equal…. What is grating about Hillary is that her prevarications seem so unnecessary and often insult our intelligence. But they are not about existential issues. As for Trump, his lies are industrial size and often contradict each other. But there is no theory behind his lies, except what will advance him, which is why Trump is only scary if he wins. Otherwise, his candidacy will leave no ideas behind. It will just be a reality TV show that got canceled.
Trump without power is easily dismissed; there is no “there” there.
What isn’t so easily dismissed, as Frum writes in his essay, is the fact that he won the Republican primary. What should give every thinking American pause is the existence of voters willing to support a blustering and cartoonish empty suit.
That is the condition that requires a diagnosis.