If Trump runs in 2020 the Democratic presidential candidate and the party leadership will have more scientific data about Trump and his most zealous supporters than has been available to use against the opposition than in any other election. Trump already has been studied by more mental health professionals than any other still serving president. The most recent article about Trump’s mental health was just published in Rolling Stone: “What happens when the walls finally close in on Donald Trump.”
Generally historians dissect a president after they leave office, or even posthumously. Now they are opining after he’s only been in office for two years. See Is Trump America’s worst-ever president?
Likewise, social scientists have studied the characteristics of Trump’s ardent supporters. One of them endeavored to summarize all their conclusions in one article which I will summarize below. It should be required reading for the Democratic Party establishment.
If Trump runs, he will be the adversary and as Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War,” the classic book which is required reading at all our military academies, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
It behoves Democrats to understand Donald Trump’s psychopathology because it is his Achille’s Heel. He can be lured into revealing how unstable he is and how unfit he is to be president by triggering his irrational anger by refusing to show deference to him. Consider how easy it was for a mere CNN correspondent, Jim Acosta, to get Trump to behave like a six year who is old barely able to contain a tantrum.
Congressional Democrats have already been briefed by Bandy Lee, MD, the editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” In that best seller, 27 authors, mostly mental health professionals, explained in chapter and verse the elements of the president’s personality that makes him so unstable he is, as the title says, a dangerous case.
If Hillary Clinton had been schooled on how to deal with Trump’s pathological narcissism by being more confrontational she might have handled him more effectively in the debates. For example, when he stalked her on the debate stage nobody will ever know what would have happened if she turned on her heels and got into his personal space, put her hands on her hips, and demanded he return to his podium.
Now Bobby Azarian, a neuroscientist affiliated with George Mason University and a freelance journalist whose research has been published in journals such as “Cognition & Emotion” and “Human Brain Mapping,” and who has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, and Scientific American has published the definitive summary of all the scientific research into the psychology of Trump’s ardent supporters.
I can’t think of any group of voters who have been the subject of more in-depth scientific studies than those members of the MAGA hat wearing crowd, the “lock her up” shouters, the birthers, and many who act more like members of a cult.
In “This neuroscientist details the 14 distinct cognitive flaws that lead people to become hard-core Trump supporters: These supporters would follow Trump off a cliff” in Alernet, Azarian sumarizes and cites numerous scientific studies.
Going back to Sun Tzu, it behoves the effective general not only to know the strengths and weakness of the general he opposes, but to understand the strengths and weakness of the enemy soldiers.
The article analyzing Trump’s fervid followers should be required reading for the Democratic leadership.
Azarian begins by noting that his list “will begin with the more benign reasons for Trump’s intransigent support, and as the list goes on, the explanations become increasingly worrisome, and toward the end, border on the pathological. It should be strongly emphasized that not all Trump supporters are racist, mentally vulnerable, or fundamentally bad people. It can be detrimental to society when those with degrees and platforms try to demonize their political opponents or paint them as mentally ill when they are not. That being said, it is just as harmful to pretend that there are not clear psychological and neural factors that underlie much of Trump supporters’ unbridled allegiance.”
He then goes on to elaborate on these 14 reasons Trump’s devoted acolytes support him. Included are links citing supporting references.
Of course, countering these deeply ingrained personality characteristics, some which are hard-wired into individual brain functioning or crucially important to a person’s self-esteem, like the Dunning-Kruger Effect, may be impossible to change. Others may be changed and people may be persuaded to vote for a Democratic candidate. For example, in well produced advertising Democrats could try using non-condescending education to reduce the anxiety caused by Trump’s fear mongering. Humanizing the people Trump wants to depict as scary and dangerous “others” would help.
Ideally appealing to the better angels of morality in his voters would be effective at least in some people. Perhaps even finding ways to remind voters who want to think of themselves as religious of The Golden Rule would hit home with a few of them.
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