Sunday, March 29, 2020

The reckless, anti-democratic and pathological rhetoric of President Trump

Given his public symptomatic display of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, we should not be surprised at Trump’s habitual rhetorical reliance in public speeches upon crude, hyperbolic, and often child-like adjectives and metaphors with corresponding homologous and associationist thinking: mistaking bigness for greatness; the quantitative valuation—in monetary or commodity terms—of virtually everything; obsessively tying together competition, size and success; the attraction of novelty (often mistaken for creativity); the thirst for sensationalism; an overweening sense of privilege and superiority (hence the megalomania and related plutocratic and kleptocratic dispositions) rooted in a lifelong fascination with power born of phantasies, illusions, and delusions, the harm of which is exacerbated by mendacious Manichean political propaganda within an overarching ideological framework of racist, xenophobic, and religious (i.e., right-wing evangelical Christian) nationalism. Sycophantic Republican Party politicians act in shameless collaboration with the often rabidly irrational, ill-educated, and authoritarian-minded members of that portion of the electorate that serves to protect and polish the fragile glass-like membrane that constitutes the president’s ego; together they exhibit pathological symptoms of a body politic exemplifying the dark side of the maxim “like attracts like.” As Thomas Singer writes in his contribution to the edited volume by Bandy X. Lee, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2017: 281), “There are ways in which Trump mirrors, even amplifies, our collective attention deficit disorder, our sociopathy, and our narcissism. Therefore, this is less about diagnosing a public figure than about recognizing our own pathology.”* 

Below is a sampling of the President’s language from one of the daily briefings (March 26) on the coronavirus pandemic. But first, a collection of stock adjectives and recent phrases from the President:

fantastic; terrific; great; unprecedented; never been seen before; like you’ve never seen; nothing like this; incredible; wonderful; the biggest; the largest; the best; we’re doing what’s never been done before; we inherited a mess; things will be terrific; it’s big and beautiful; it will be greater than ever before; we have the greatest healthcare system in the world; we have the greatest economy in the world; as I keep saying, it’s a hidden enemy….
  • It’s a great point of leverage; it’s a great negotiating tool”
  • “there’s tremendous spirit from people and tremendous spirit with respect to these companies”
  • “And they’re all working very hard to produce product—different—all different products. We had very little product when we came. We built it up, and we’ve — we give it away as fast as we can to the different states. We’re also, as you know, building numerous hospitals and medical centers throughout certain areas in New York.”
  • “I’m working very hard on New York.”
  • “It’s really, by far, our biggest problem. Maybe it will be; maybe it won’t be.”
  • “We’re also doing some very large testings throughout the country. [….] [T]hey’ve done a very good job on testing, but we now are doing more testing that anybody, by far.”
  • “We do more in eight days than they do in eight weeks. And we go up, on a daily basis, exponentially. So, it’s really good.”
  • “But we have a tremendous paid sick leave provision for workers at no cost at all to the employers. And that’s a big thing: no cost to the employers.”
  • “But this is certainly, in terms of dollars, by far and away the biggest ever, ever done. And that’s a tremendous thing because a lot of this money goes to jobs, jobs, jobs, and families, families, families.”
  • “Nothing like that has ever been done in our country.”
  • “It’s a doubling up. $27 billion to build up the Strategic National Stockpile with critical supplies, including masks, respirators, pharmaceuticals, and everything you can imagine—because it was very depleted, like our military was depleted. Now we have a brand-new military. Never had a military like this. We have equipment either coming or it's already come. For the most part, it's already come. But we have a lot of things that will soon be coming—planes, missiles, rockets, lots of things. But the stockpile was very depleted, like everything else.”
  • “And I don’t think it’s going to end up being such a rough patch. I think it’s going to, when we open—especially, if we can open it—the sooner, the better—it’s going to open up like a rocket ship. I think it’s going to go very good and very quickly.”
  • “But I’ll tell you, the nonprofits have been fantastic; they’ve been great. They’re great people, actually. I know a lot of them.”
  • “We have 150 countries—over 150 countries where you have this virus. And nobody would ever believe a thing like that’s possible.”
  • “Nobody could have ever seen something like this coming….”
  • “It’s been incredible, how we’ve done. Remember this: More tests than anybody, by far.”
  • “And the news, the reporters, the media always likes to bring South Korea—they called me and they told me, ‘It’s amazing. Your testing procedures are amazing.’ Plus, we have a test that’s a very high-level test, and it’s a test that’s very accurate.”
  • “It’s hard not to be happy with the job we’re doing—that, I can tell you.”
  • “So now we will hear from our great Secretary of the Treasury. He has been working rather hard, I will tell you. Steve Mnuchin is a—he’s a fantastic guy and he loves our country, and he’s been dealing with both sides—Republican and Democrat. He, sort of, lived over in that beautiful building. It’s a very beautiful building. To me, one of the most beautiful buildings, actually, in the world. And he’s gotten to know it, Steve, very well.”
* See too, Lene Auestad, ed. Nationalism and the Body Politic: Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia (London: Karnac Books, 2014).  

Suggested Reading:
  • Alford, Ryan. Permanent State of Emergency: Unchecked Executive Power and the Demise of the Rule of Law (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017).
  • Dahl, Robert A. How Democratic Is the American Constitution? (Yale University Press, 2nd ed., 2003).
  • Fontana, Benedetto, Cary J. Nederman, and Gary Remer, eds. Talking Democracy: Historical Perspectives on Rhetoric and Democracy (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004).
  • Garsten, Bryan. Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment (Harvard University Press, 2006).
  • Gilbert, Alan. Democratic Individuality (Cambridge University Press, 1990).
  • Goldberg, Michelle. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (W.W. Norton & Co., 2006).
  • Goodin, Robert E. Reflective Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2003).
  • Gordon, Robert J. The Rise and Fall of American Growth (Princeton University Press, 2016).
  • Greenberg, Karen J. Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State (Crown, 2016).
  • Hedges, Chris. Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Nation Books, 2009).
  • Johnston, David Cay. The Making of Donald Trump (Melville House, 2016).
  • Klein, Naomi. On The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (Simon & Schuster, 2019).
  • Lin, Ken-Hou and Megan Tobias Neely. Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance (Oxford University Press, 2020).
  • MacLean, Nancy. Democracy in Chains (Viking, 2017).
  • Mayer, Jane. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Anchor Books, 2017).
  • Pettigrew, Thomas F. “Social Psychological Perspectives on Trump Supporters,” Journal of Social and Political Psychology, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2017): 107-116.
  • Piketty, Thomas (Arthur Goldhammer, trans.) Capital and Ideology (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020).
  • Seidel, Andrew L. The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American (Sterling, 2019).
  • Therborn, Göran. The Killing Fields of Inequality (Polity Press, 2013).
  • Urbinati, Nadia. Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, Truth, and the People (Harvard University Press, 2014).
  • Wills, Garry. Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (Penguin Press, 2010).


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