American Psyche

American Psyche

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By Jeff Cahlon

“I fully understand why her husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.” “A pathetic figure.” “The lightweight no show senator from Florida.” “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”

The quotes above are all, of course, from Donald Trump, and represent just a small fraction of the insults Trump has lobbed during his presidential run. (The New York Times has catalogued 217 insults Trump has tweeted during his presidential campaign to date.) Trump’s fondness for spouting crude, blunt insults is perhaps second only to his fondness for well, himself, as his defining characteristic.

These two traits are linked. While Trump’s high regard for himself is, in a sense, a manifestation of his sizable ego, his fondness for spewing insults illuminates, in a more direct fashion, another aspect of the Trump psyche—in psychological terms, the id.

Tellingly, Trump has said that he is “basically the same” today, with respect to his “temperament”, as he was as a first grader. One quality that typically distinguishes a child’s temperament from that of an adult, is that children have lower levels of impulse control. For example, most people, as they mature, learn to refrain from expressing negative, potentially hurtful opinions about others. Name-calling, making derogatory comments about others’ appearances, and other forms of insults, are not very nice things to do, so most adults try, to varying degrees, to keep such comments in check.

At times, Trump’s seeming lack of impulse control has manifested itself in ways that extend beyond his fondness for hurling personal insults. An atmosphere of barely contained aggression, which at times has boiled over into outright physical violence, permeates Trump’s rallies, and Trump himself has stoked such sentiments. At one rally, Trump encouraged his supporters to “knock the crap out of” protesters, if they saw protesters getting ready to throw tomatoes. About another protester, Trump said, “I’d like to punch him in the face”, to cheers from the crowd.

While pundits, as well as many of Trump’s opponents and detractors have breathlessly reported the latest “outrageous” Trump statement, they waited in vain for the anti-Trump backlash they were certain would result. Instead of the expected outrage, the response of the voting public has been more like a collective shrug. In a case of famous last words, Jeb Bush insisted, “You can’t insult your way to the presidency”, shortly before Trump dispatched him with another well-placed barb. An ad by an anti-Trump Super PAC, which ran shortly before the critical “Super Tuesday II” primaries, highlighted numerous Trump insults of women. Trump nonetheless went on to win 5 of 6 Super Tuesday II states.

A common theme of such efforts by Trump’s opponents has been: Trump is mean! He calls people names! He makes judgments about women’s looks!

It’s undoubtedly true that Trump says things that are cruel and insensitive (as well as—though many people would hesitate to admit it in polite company–sometimes quite funny). Yet Trump has paid no political price for such supposedly terrible character defects.

It’s well-established that Trump makes relatively little effort to control his more unruly instincts. But he is hardly the only adult to ever indulge his inner jerk–or even feel the desire to throw a punch. Most peoples’ unkind—or “politically incorrect”–remarks and desires simply never make the front page of the New York Times. Viewed in this light, the seeming lack of negative political repercussions over Trump’s remarks isn’t so shocking.

Having disposed of the rest of the Republican field, Trump has turned his insult machine on his likely general election opponent, Hillary Clinton. His efforts appear to be bearing some fruit, as general election polls show a tightening race, while Hillary’s unfavorability ratings scale new heights.

Hillary seems to have learned little from the downfall of Trump’s Republican opponents. Against Trump’s onslaught of pointed attacks, Hillary has responded with treacly banalities like “Love Trumps Hate” and “Make America Whole Again”, which have all the visceral power of a Hallmark greeting card. While Trump promises to “bomb the hell out of” terrorist groups, Hillary refuses to even use the term “radical Islam”.

Trump may seem frighteningly bloodthirsty, but Hillary seems to be something which, politically, may be more damaging: bloodless.

Fundamentally, Hillary’s problems stem from the fact that her campaign seems like the antithesis of Trump’s: overly cautious, calculating, neutered, and shorn of any natural instincts.

Meanwhile, Trump and his campaign embody the great unleashed American id: fueled by economic, social and cultural resentments, finally and blissfully freed from the constraints of “political correctness”, and ready to punch someone in the face.

“Love” doesn’t stand a chance.

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