Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump

We have here not a psychological evaluation of Donald Trump, which would require access and long-term interaction, but rather a psychologically informed assessment of his character and fitness to carry out the duties of the presidency, as much as can be inferred from what is publicly known of Trump. The question under discussion is not Trump’s mental health but whether or not he is dangerous, how, and to who.
The book is broken into three sections: “The Trump Phenomenon,” about Trump himself; “The Trump Dilemma,” about the question of when mental health professionals may speak out about the character of a public figure; and “The Trump Effect,” about the psychology of Trump supporters, the impact of Trump on the mental health of the public, and Trump’s psychological similarity to historical tyrants.
It is hard for me to assess the book’s scholarship; I have only a lay understanding of psychology. The book is, however, accessible; theories are explained. On the way, there are nuggets of insight that any layman can understand. Three which struck me were Dr. James Gilligan’s comparison with the reaction to Hitler’s rise, the implied point that Trump, by directly threatening millions, has psychologically traumatized millions, and Ms. Elizabeth Mika’s discussion of Trump’s psychology in historical context.

It does not seem to me that the German Psychiatric Association of the 1930s deserves any honor or credit for remaining silent during Hitler’s rise to power. On the contrary, it appears from our perspective today to have been a passive enabler of the worst atrocities he committed—as were most German clergymen, professors, lawyers, judges, physicians, journalists, and other professionals and intellectuals who could have, but did not, speak out when they saw a blatantly obvious psychopath gaining the power to lead their country into the worst disaster in its history. Our current president does not have to be a literal reincarnation of Hitler—and I am not suggesting that he is—in order for the same principles to apply to us today. – Dr. James Gilligan.

In Ms. Mika’s analysis, I was struck that the narcissism of tyrants (and Trump is narcissistic) and its seductions are a known and studied phenomenon with a body of relevant literature.
I suspect the book will repay rereading, both for understanding of our current situation, and as a historical document. Discouragingly, the authors offer little hope for a resolution of the problem. One issue only touched on is that Trump is the speaker for a broader movement, and having Trump gone will not end that movement. An issue not touched at all is that many Congresspeople and Senators are participants more than enablers; they are also dangerous and their psychology deserves attention.
Nonetheless, read this book for insight.

(Also posted at Goodreads.)

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