Loving or Hating Bush, the Binary Man

In their ominously titled Truthout essay What is He Capable Of? The Presidential Psychology at the End of Days, Briggs and Briggs describe President George W. Bush as having a personality that operates in a defensive binary mode. That’s fancy shrink talk for someone who sees things in black and white and thus avoids the anxiety that comes with ambiguous shades of gray. It translates to “you either love me or you hate me.”

If binary thinking is psychopathology, it is an illness shared by numerous ordinary people. In fact, it isn’t a psychiatric malady at all. It is a defense mechanism, usually called splitting:

People who are diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder also use splitting as a central defence mechanism. They do this to preserve their self-esteem. They do this by seeing the self as purely good and the others as purely bad. The use of splitting also implies the use of other defence mechanisms, namely devaluation, idealization and denial. (Wikipedia)

Indeed, psychoanalyst Justin Frank, author of “Bush on the Couch” considers Bush as suffering from pathological narcissism among other psychiatric disorders. (Reference)

There are about a dozen psychological defense mechanisms which students of human behavior have identified. Some, like humor and sublimation, are far more healthy than others. Splitting, or what the Briggs’ call binary thinking, is considered a primitive defense which in psychological healthy people is given up in childhood. At an early age children should learn that it doesn’t mean mom or dad hates them when they are denied what they want. ( Read more about psychological defense mechanisms and see which ones you think apply to Bush, to yourself, and people you know.)

To put it simply, psychological defense mechanisms help people deal with the unpleasant feelings, particularly anxiety, that would arise if they confronted certain truths about themselves, their relationships, their mortality, or the world.

Consider George W. Bush as described by the father and son psychotherapists John P Briggs, M.D. and JP Briggs II, Ph.D.:

A person polarizing the world as Bush does is like a small, weak animal that puffs itself up in order to scare off attackers. In Bush’s case, the presidency has frequently led him into the illusion that he actually is his puffed up size. It might help to remember that he’s not.

Polarizing tactics work because they provoke and rely on fear in those at the receiving end – fear of being wrong, fear of what the other guy will do, fear of uncertainty, fear of mistakes. Fear these things less and the tactics will work less. Such fears make us feel like children again. But we’re adults. Binary, absolutist categories are always an inadequate description of the real world, which is, as Lincoln said, an “inseparable compound” of various polarities. As adults, we can think and speak about subtleties and complexities. If we do, fear will go down, not up. Most adults implicitly understand that the real world is, more often than not, nuanced, and an appeal to the truth of shades has its own strong power. ( LINK )

The authors say that Bush’s refusal to admit his failures in so many areas has kept him “truculently binary” which is a dressed up way of saying that he’s stubborn and pig-headed.

George W. Bush protects his self-image using this “binary” defense mechanism and it results in believing that people either admire and agree with him almost to the point of loving or worshiping him, to hating him.

He also views other countries in a similar way, and expresses this in public statements, making it difficult for diplomacy to work to resolve international conflicts.

Considering the “you love me or you hate me” aspect of Bush’s personality, one that is central to his relationships, is it any wonder that many of his critics buy into this out of pure frustration and find themselves feeling and expressing the later emotion?


  1. Hal Brown


    Thank you for the compliment. Now as to your friendly challenge, I would be doing the country and the world a great service (and become famous) if I could suggest a way to mitigate President Bush's personality defects, let alone "cure" him. Whether or not he strictly meets enough criteria to have the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, I think objective observers of his behavior can tick off enough symptoms to say that he certainly has many characteristics of this disorder.

    If you read one of several good articles about how to treat pathological narcissism you will find lots of recommendations (for example from Psych Central ).

    But to apply these approaches and techniques you need to have someone in therapy, and to have someone in therapy (voluntary at least) which means they have at least admited they have a problem.

    Those influencing Bush probably haven't read articles like this, but if they did they would have a manual for manipulating the president just by avoiding doing anything recommended for helping the patient to get better.

    There's a popular book called "Malignant Self-Love: Narcisssim revisted" which is available from Amazon, and as a downloaded ebook.. If someone sent a copy to Laura Bush and she read it, unlikely as that would be, it might help.




  2. SEAL

    A very good explanation, Hal. It should help those new to An interest in what the hell is wrong and how did we get here. The rest of us have always known what we have for a president and VP. We have been shouting about it for the past 3-4 years here at CHB and other places. Unfortunately, we have had little effect upon those who need to be affected, our congress. They have continued to enable Bush in spite of knowing what he is.

    This has been the most psychoanalyzed leader this country has ever had. Dozens have offered their descriptions in a variety of terms, but all coming to the same conclusion. Bush is dangerous and should be removed from power. Cheney is less complicated. He’s simply a psychotic, fixated on his NWO. Together, they are doubly dangerous.

    No offense, but your article, the best I have seen on the subject, is nothing new. I would much rather see an article on how we could arrest their power for the remaining year they have in their term. I have accepted the reality that they will not be impeached by this congress. Therefore, we must find a way to prevent them causing any more damage. Write an article containing that information and you will have my attention. Other than harassing my unresponsive representatives, I’m at a loss as to what to do.

  3. ekaton

    According to all accounts, six nuclear weapons left Minot.
    According to some accounts, five nuclear weapons arrived at Barksdale, and other accounts state that all six arrived. So what does Goat Boy, the ultimate Christian Soldier, have planned for that missing nuke, if there truly is one missing?

    — Kent Shaw

  4. bryan mcclellan

    Barak your last paragraph scares the shit out of me and is right dead on,”The Ultimate Christian Soldier”/Manchurian Candidate/MORON/Puppet Dictator…Far fetched?Not on your life.

  5. barak

    So Bush is a puffer fish and the American Army is his poison… OK, its psychobabble, but it works for me.
    I happen to agree with most of the comments above–the Holy Duo (Rice could have made it a Trinity if she hadn’t been out buying shoes)both sickens and scares me. To think that they could break all the laws they have, and that they could buy congress into changing the laws that didn’t suit their master plan scares me. It means our Constitution and our Bill of Rights are not adequate defenses against two maniacs with money. We cannot restore our laws protecting us if those who make the laws and pass legislation to change them are in cahoots, compliance, or simply in the pocket of those suborning them. A “bought” congressman or senator is every bit as dangerous as the two nutcases in the executive branch, as Nancy P has proven.

    Then there is Iran. Forget the crap about Israel manipulating Bush, or a Jewish lobby (despite Lieberman–the ultimate ‘seller-outer.) That’s just the anti-semites raving and craving another holocaust.
    Iran is simply about the money. The real lobby driving the Iran talk and threats of war with Iran is the Oil Lobby, and they have succeeded in lobbying B & C into at least talking about a war with Iran.

    There are some really big dangers here. First, Iran is not Iraq, and the Iranians are not arabs, they’re Persians. They won’t roll over and play dead so easily and they have been manipulating the USA ever since they took over our Embassy and held the people captive for so long. Second, they probably will, if provoked, attack Israel, prompting a nuclear response from Israel. Third, we do not have the troops to fight Iran. We just don’t have enough bodies.

    A Chinese friend told me that China fears America because of the American’s technical military superiority. Makes sense if you consider the size of the Chinese army vs. the American Army. The Chinese could overrun us in weeks by sheer force of numbers. Our technical superiority stops this, according to this Chinese man. Well, that cuts two ways. Our soldiers don’t gain all that technical knowledge in 6 weeks of basic training, and besides, any real war between us and anyone stupid enough to start a shooting war (OURSELVES included) won’t last 2 months. So, since we are fully committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Europe, and for all I know, East Timor, we do not have the knowledgeable bodies to man our technological weapons and go fight a war in Iran.

    What option does that leave Bush/Cheney? The one that W. cannot pronounce but terrifyingly does have control over–a Nuclear war, wiping Iran off the map of Georgie’s Risk Board. There is a great, unspoken benefit to this–that striking Iran with nuclear weapons will effectively poison their oil supply for one hell of a long time. If talking about a conventional war (no sane person considers nuclear an option, unless it is a last-ditch effort for survival as it would be for Israel)drives oil prices to $100 a barrel, imagine what taking the Iranian oil source out of the market would do. The sky is truly the limit, and $1,000 a barrel oil is probably conservative, depending on the drift of the radioactive clouds.

    It is also the ultimate goal of Crusader George, to seize Jerusalem from the heathens. Now we can include the Jews, because underneath his false smiles lurks a latent anti-semite. If in a number of massive nuclear strikes Bush could “ethnically cleanse” the entire middle east of heretics and heathens, he would gain the mantle of “The Ultimate Christian Soldier.” He would enrich his oil buddies beyond their wildest dreams, and probably get daddy, who works for the Saudis, a huge bonus.

    Farfetched, maybe. Terrifying, you bet your bippy!