Of the ten or eleven defense mechanisms known to psychology the one that concerns us here for the moment is the one known as “projection.” Projection is the mechanism used for disposing unwanted feelings or character traits onto others. A person who is a bad listener, for example, might unjustly accuse others of being bad listeners. It is not always the case that a person uses projection when criticizing others, of course. A very good listener might accuse someone of being a bad listener, to continue with the example. But projection is a common defense mechanism associated with early arrested development. Most adults will rightly recognize it in children commonly employing the primitive, “no I’m not, you are!” mode in conflict. That is a tendency that healthy adults usually quickly outgrow.
But for a man like Donald Trump, who never reads, is a poor listener, has a short attention span and little impulse control, projection is virtually all that is available to him. Trump’s world is almost exclusively internal because he has learned very little about the external world since he was a student, and only the minimum amount necessary even then to get by and graduate. His privileged world of money and power rendered such social and academic negligence possible, because there were virtually no consequences for his behavior. It is quite possible that Donald Trump has never read an entire book in his life. He exhibits no real empathy for anyone but himself, employing counterfeit empathy when he absolutely has to, so he has little interest in what others think or how they feel, and hence it is almost impossible for him to appreciate anyone else but himself. His self-regard is shockingly exaggerated and far beyond social norms. It is quite rare for Trump to go longer than five minutes without bragging, and even when delivering a carefully prepared speech he will deviate from the printed materials and say something embarrassingly self-promoting. Trump also earnestly thinks everyone else should feel the same way he does about himself, and is startled and dismayed when reality does not accommodate his expectations. He employs other defense mechanisms in order to dismiss these abhorrent feelings, probably the less healthy ones such as denial or repression.
Donald Trump cannot process rejection and criticism so he instead turns on his critics, sometimes with a degree of vitriol that is inappropriate for the occasion and far beyond social norms. For example, when he was recently meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the NATO summit in London, he offered the opinion, in a desultory, inarticulate way, that the majority of the Isis fighters in Syria were from Europe, including from France. At that point Trump turned to Macron and said, “Would you like some nice Isis fighters? You can take every one you want.” To this nonsense Macron replied, “Let’s be serious, a very large number of fighters on the ground are fighters coming from Syria and Iraq and the region. It is true that we have fighters coming from Europe, but this is a tiny minority.” Macron went on to emphasize that Isis is far from defeated and there was much work still to be done. When he’d finished Trump responded, “This is why he’s a great politician because that is one of the greatest non-answers I have ever heard.” This proclamation was coming from the emperor of non-answers.
Trump’s reply was a bizarre non sequitur, and classic projection, of course. Macron’s comment was beautifully and elegantly stated, but more to the point, it very much needed to be said by way of clarification after Trump’s idiotic word salad ramble. Recall that Macron was out-thinking and out-speaking Trump in his second language. Trump couldn’t keep up with him in his first language. All the while Macron spoke Trump looked miserable, like a man trying to convert pounds to kilograms while his house was burning to the ground.
When meeting with Angela Merkle at the same NATO summit, Trump was asked about the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff. Trump referred to Schiff as a “deranged human being” saying that he “grew up with a complex for lots of reasons that are obvious,” adding, “I think he’s a very sick man, and he lies.” That, of course, was pure Trumpian projection.
Psychiatrist Lance Dodes of the Harvard Medical School puts it like this: “Everything is about him … he doesn’t have actual knowledge so he just says what feels right to him, and especially what is for him, what is in his personal interest … It doesn’t matter that he’s a sociopath, it doesn’t matter that he has no conscience, it doesn’t even matter that he commits crimes against humanity, which he did when he locked up children in cages on the border. As long as they think he represents what they love, they will support him.” Dr. Dodes added ominously, “he will certainly get worse the more he’s challenged.”
In short, Donald Trump is a very deranged, psychotic and evil man. He has millions of supporters who don’t care. Today he is being challenged by impeachment, a process that could very likely ultimately see him in prison. He’s backed into a corner. And he’s getting worse.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.