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“Or,” ink and colored pencil on a page of The Penguin Atlas of the Ancient World, 21 x 17 cm

More about this piece here.

#100days

Eh, I said in my last entry that I’d post a photo of my next piece about ancient and current empires when it was finished, but why wait? Here it is in progress. Source text: The Penguin Atlas of the Ancient World.

#100days

I’ve now been making art every day for over a month. I fell into my current series of projects by accident, as is so often the way, and am now happily spelunking in the caves of altered books, maps, U.S. politics, and white supremacy.

It started when I wanted to find a book to (photocopy and) alter. I poked around on our nonfiction shelves and came upon The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, which I hadn’t even known we had. One of the benefits of living with a partner is that they spent decades accumulating books too, and even after 15 years together, I’m still discovering some. It is full of maps, and I love maps, so I pulled it out, found a couple of intriguing words on one of the text pages, and got to work.

The first word I noticed was “administration,” and another was “Nineveh,” which reminded me of a phrase about our future fate being like that of “Nineveh and Tyre” in some poem or other. Yeats, maybe.

The poem kept echoing in my head, until I had to look it up (ah, bless the internet) and re-discover it: not Yeats, but Rudyard Kipling, who had such a strange talent for reminding empire of its limitations even while proclaiming its glories.

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre! (“Recessional”)

Reading about these ancient cultures, and seeing all the maps showing the dominance of peoples whose names I’d never even heard of, like the Scythians, is like coming across the colossus of Ozymandias (Rameses II) in the desert–another poem that’s rattling around in my head. Some of these nations lasted for millennia. Ours hasn’t made it to its 250th birthday yet, and I’m wondering what shape it will be in when it gets there. So the words I’m highlighting as I draw my maps are about the collapse of our democracy from hostile forces, foreign and domestic.

I’ve also always been moved by the story of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. If an ancient city, one of the great ones of its time, could summon that kind of repentance and return to its ideals, can’t we?

Another theme that emerges without the author’s having intended it is the narrowness of his assumption that the “ancient world” consists of the Mediterranean, with forays as far as England to the north, western India to the east, and Ethiopia to the south: basically, the trading partners of the empires of the Mediterranean. The book was published in 1967. I showed it to my daughter as an example of the kinds of things I was taught in school, where our books were published around that time. It was a quiet, background kind of white supremacy, a constant hum informing us that nothing worth knowing about happened in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, the Americas, or most of Asia until Europeans got there.

I saw with some excitement that there is a New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History: Revised Edition, published in 2002, but alas, it still only covers the same region. A grand opportunity wasted to, if not expand the book, then at least make the title accurate.

I’ll post a picture when I’m done with my new piece.

#100days

Oh, and stop blowing that “anti-Semitic” dog whistle at me, expecting me to wag my tail and join you. I know the difference between being critical of Israel and being anti-Semitic. I’m pretty critical of Israel myself. Two powerful forces in my life taught me that criticism is a crucial part of free, loving engagement: the First Amendment and the Jewish faith.

I don’t take kindly to being manipulated by actual anti-Semites, the kind who put Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon in the White House, or tolerate their presence; who gear their every utterance to what will please The Daily Stormer‘s readership, or smile at the poll numbers that result.

I know who will have my back if you drop the last pretence and come for me, and it won’t be the so-called Christians who sing your praises. It will be the people that you and they are trying, in your cynicism and naivete, to divide me from now.

You and your white nationalist, white supremacist fans sometimes make me feel ashamed to be U.S. American, but the people you keep describing as my enemies?: they restore my pride in my country.

We are united by a force you don’t understand. Because of it, we are stronger than you, and we will never be defeated.

Once again I’m undertaking a daily spiritual practice for several weeks. I’ve called it a Lenten practice in the past, but I’ve become uncomfortable doing so, out of respect for Christians. I don’t take it lightly, but for me it is not a period of repentance, much less preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, so I don’t want to dilute what is, for others, one of the most sacred seasons of their year.

What I want is to engage in a deeper dive into reflection than I usually do, and for a longer period. The theological context aside, I think Lent has staying power as a practice because it’s both intensive and time-limited. It’s like Ramadan or, in the secular realm, 30-day diets: we can better challenge ourselves when we have a set amount of time in which to go deeper. I have seldom made a go of a daily practice, but seven weeks is something I might be able to sustain.

So far this year, I have. My two practices are to do five minutes of art play every day, ideally first thing in the morning, and to read the daily devotion in Resipescence: A Lenten Devotional for Dismantling White Supremacy, edited by Vahisha Hasan and Nichola Torbett. I learned about this wonderful book just as Lent was beginning, so I didn’t have a copy until about ten days in, but I caught up right away and have continued meditating on one per day. And the art has been a joy.

Do you have any spiritual practices, ether connected to Lent or not?

Black History Month, day 10

Whenever research digs up a racist attitude by someone from history who was formerly admired, we rehash the “that was a different time” argument and ask, sometimes rhetorically, whether we can rightly judge people of the past by today’s ethical standards.

I agree that it is important to assess people of the past in the context of their own times, as much as possible. Context is an inseperable part of meaning. Referring to one’s co-worker as a “Negro” today would strongly suggest racism; in 1965, it was the anti-racist term of choice.

However, sometimes we wrongly assume that the context was more different than our own than it actually was. We say “She was a person of her time,” as if to say that she would have had to have been an extremely unusual person to have held views at all like our own. We might even hint that a person’s hypocrisies, so evident to us, were invisible to him.

We can’t claim that about Thomas Jefferson and slavery, because Benjamin Banneker wrote him a letter in 1791, when Jefferson was Secretary of State, lamenting “that [he] should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which [he] professedly detested in others, with respect to [himself].” Banneker, you may know, was an astronomer and surveyor who helped set the boundaries of Washington, D.C. He was best known in his own time for the almanacs he created and published. He wrote to Jefferson the same year he completed the first almanac, and enclosed a copy–as a gift? As proof of his ability? In the flowery style of the time, he expressed his hope that as regarded the conviction that black people were inferior, Jefferson was “far less inflexible in sentiments of this nature, than many others”–and then, naturally, he quoted the Declaration of Independence.

[Y]our abhorrence [of slavery] was so excited, that you publicly held forth this true and invaluable doctrine, which is worthy to be recorded and remembered in all succeeding ages : “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Here was a time, in which your tender feelings for yourselves had engaged you thus to declare, you were then impressed with proper ideas of the great violation of liberty, and the free possession of those blessings, to which you were entitled by nature; but, Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression.

As we know, Jefferson was unmoved. He neither changed his views nor freed the people he had enslaved. And to a friend, he snidely described Banneker’s eloquent letter as proof that he had “a mind of very common stature indeed.” Sadly, it was Jefferson’s mind that was too limited to accept influence, even that of Banneker’s modest manner and logical argument.

Benjamin Banneker’s 1791 letter to Thomas Jefferson

Once upon a time, the National Rifle Association was a leading voice for gun control legislation. Owners and sellers of guns had to register, all receipts had to be available to the police, and the president of the NRA testified to Congress, “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” The argument made by gun control supporters like me, that the Second Amendment was never intended to allow citizens unrestricted access to guns, would have put us right in step with the NRA leadership.

When the NRA Supported Gun Control, Time Magazine

That was in the 1920s and 30s. Many states imposed restrictions on the carrying of weapons, but California was one that did not.

But then the Black Panther Party, concerned about police brutality, started patrolling Oakland with these arms they were legally entitled to carry, and several members of the California state legislature proposed a ban on the open carrying of loaded weapons. The Black Panthers protested the bill by showing up at the Capitol Building in Sacramento, where it so happened that Governor Ronald Reagan was on the lawn. The sight of a couple dozen black people protesting and carrying guns made restrictions on guns very compelling to white Republicans and Democrats alike, the bill passed, and he signed it.

Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

(The Secret History of Guns, Atlantic Magazine)

Between incidents like this, the reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and conservative U. S. Americans’ anxiety about young radicals, the trend toward gun control only strengthened in the 1960s. There was just one problem with gun restrictions as a solution: white people couldn’t carry guns either. And unpleasant things happened, like an NRA member’s waving a gun in response to a raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1971; the ATF shot him, and the NRA responded angrily, likening the ATF to the Gestapo. It was a conundrum.

I don’t know if it was unconscious or a carefully thought-out plan, but around then, the NRA began to change its tactics. It would put its resources into weakening gun laws and rest its argument on the “need” for honest individuals to protect themselves, while promoting the idea that “the honest citizen” was white and the feared predator was black.

By the 2000s, the pattern was set. The NRA’s line was that any kind of restriction was a step onto the “slippery slope” that would end in fascism and the destruction not only of the Second Amendment, but freedom. If police did not respect gun ownership, it would be the beginning of the end.

. . . if the owner was white. If the owner was black, he must be intending violence, and his summary execution by police for the mere possession of a gun would meet with no demur from the NRA. As case after case hit the news of black people who were merely suspected of holding weapons’ being killed by police or self-appointed defenders of public safety, the NRA’s true agenda became clear: not to protect gun owners from an overreaching state, but to protect white people from the black bogeyman they feared.

The Philando Castile case made it clear that even a license for a weapon would not protect a black person who wished to exercise the right the NRA called absolutely fundamental to freedom. In 2016, near St. Paul, Minnesota, Castile was pulled over by police and asked for his driver’s license and registration, at which point he sensibly informed them that he had a gun and a license for it, so that they would not think he was reaching for it in attack. This is surely the correct and cautious thing for a gun owner to do when interacting with the police–if, in the NRA’s view, one should have to explain at all. One of the officers immediately fired four bullets into Castile, killing him; his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter were in the back seat. The NRA responded with a silence that, under pressure, it finally broke to say “The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated,” declining to comment further or even use the victim’s name.

Black people might want to arm themselves in self-defense, especially with killers like Gregory Bush and Dylann Roof gunning for them, but they have to consider the very real possibility that if they are so much as glimpsed carrying a weapon, the police will be called and they will be shot.

But to back up a few years. In the meantime, each mass shooting–now in the hundreds per year–had been met by the NRA’s claim that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And those of us who doubted this wisdom had pointed out that among its many flaws was the question of how police, called to a scene of mayhem, would know that the “good guy with a gun” was a good guy. Wouldn’t they be facing two armed people, with no way of knowing which was the instigator of the crime and which was trying to stop it? Those of us who, furthermore, had been paying attention to the disparity between the NRA’s responses, and police forces’ responses, to black and white gun ownership, thought we knew what the cops would do: if one of the people with a gun were black, they would assume he was the villain, not the hero.

So this week, the killing of security guard Jemel Roberson, taken for a murderer when he tried to stop a crime in the course of his job, was not a surprise. It was the inevitable outcome of the plan that has been unfolding for decades:

(1) arm as many white people as wish to be armed by loosening gun restrictions;

(2) tolerate the summary execution by police (or citizens) of black people who possess a weapon (or a wallet, or a white cellphone, or a hairbrush . . . )

(3) and voila, the Black Panther problem is solved. We now have two categories of US Americans: the “honest citizens” who can–should–go about armed, and the ones for whom bearing arms is certain proof that they are criminals. The armed whites and the disarmed, terrified blacks.

It took a generation for the NRA to solve their conundrum, but they have done it.

Not the battle to win it, I don’t mean. Just the battle to understand it.

I hope we’re going to try again to repeal the Costa Hawkins Act, and when we do, we’re going to make it clear that that’s what we’re doing and what it means. I did a lot of work for Prop 10 and definitely noticed people’s misconception that it would “pass rent control,” but I didn’t realize how widespread it was until I read my FB newsfeed.

Supporters and opponents, I am sorry we didn’t get this across to you before, so I’m trying now: Proposition 10 would NOT have instituted rent control. Not for a single property anywhere in the state.

What it would have done was REMOVE the strict limits on rent control that are currently in place and keep towns and cities from making the decisions that work for them.

The response to its defeat (whether happy or sad) tells me that not only do people not know what Prop 10 was about; they didn’t know how limited their town or city’s choices are made by Costa Hawkins. Single family homes cannot be subject to rent control, which is weird because renters of single family homes have the same needs as renters of apartments. Nothing built since 1995 (the year Costa Hawkins was passed) can be subject to rent control. That’s 23 years ago, in case you’re like me and still think of everything in the 90s as approximately ten years back. (The rule in LA, under Costa Hawkins? 1978. In any building that is less than *40 years old,* there’s no limit on rent increases.)

Rent control is like fire, a powerful tool that can turn destructive if not carefully employed, and Prop 10 was smart about rent control. It would have kept the ban on rent control on new builds, because without that rent control tends to suppress development, but it would have redefined “new” as, well, new. It would have guaranteed landlords a reasonable rate of return, so that people who wanted to be decent landlords wouldn’t just quit the rental business altogether.

I don’t know if these misunderstandings are why it didn’t pass, but I have a guess. Only a minority of the state wanted statewide rent control. But I am pretty sure a much higher number would have been willing to have city-by-city rent control, instead of the statewide restrictions on local decisionmaking that we currently have.

File under: Reasons why ballot propositions are a bad way to make laws.

This very moving piece about Pittsburgh is by the son of my childhood rabbi. The son, Jonathan Berkun, was a very small boy when they left Hamden (CT, my hometown) for Pittsburgh. I did not know until the dreadful news came in from Tree of Life synagogue that that was the shul where Rabbi Alvin Berkun had served, nor that he was now their Rabbi Emeritus. Jonathan is now a rabbi as well, in Florida.

Of all the heartbreaking, soul-inspiring things he writes, the sentence about the waitress is the one that brought tears to my eyes. Shiva is the week of intense mourning that many Jews observe after a death in the family, during which the mourners do not prepare food. Serving a shiva meal in a pizza place: that’s what we will have to do for each other, white for black, non-Jews for Jews, non-Muslims for Muslims, native citizens for immigrants, hetero for LGB, cis for trans, native English speakers for English as a Second Language learners: everyone who has not been the latest salvo’s target for those who have been, because as long as we are united we cannot be defeated.

It makes me double down on my resolve to actively ally with those whose “category” I don’t share, especially African-Americans. I confess my slowness to take up their cause as passionately as my own, to respond as energetically to threats to their children as I do to threats to my own. I ask for their forgiveness, and forbearance as I work to change.

And I have an appeal to other religious leaders. Many of Pittsburgh’s Jewish leaders have told the president that he is not welcome to come to them as long as he is fomenting hate and violence. The murderer’s words were straight out of Trump’s speeches; the vicious, false fantasy of the dangerous refugee is the one Trump stoked and rode to the White House. His presence can do nothing to heal our wounds unless he accepts responsibility for his demagoguery and turns it around 180 degrees. And they are our wounds, not just Jews’ (as they were Saturday in Pittsburgh) or African-Americans’ (as they were on Wednesday in Jeffersontown, Kentucky) or Muslims’ (as they are prevented from traveling) or Mexicans’ and Central Americans’ (as they are in children’s prisons all along the border) or trans* folks’ (as their lives are redefined by the pseudoscience of bigots).

So we should all deliver the same message as those Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh: no politician who is inciting terrorism and enacting fascist policies is welcome in our communities. Trump doesn’t come to the Bay Area anyway, because he only likes to visit cheering crowds, but I’m still drafting a letter from clergy to the White House from my region because it’s what decent people do when others are threatened.

Will you do the same, dear colleagues of all faiths? Will you sign on, dear people of all faiths?

The following is the letter for our region. People of faith of the Bay Area, please “sign” in the comments, and I will compile all the names into a letter, which may be posted online as well as to the press. The names of faith communities and organizations are given for identification purposes only.

To President Trump:

We are faith community leaders and members in the San Francisco Bay Area. Like the leaders in Pittsburgh and tens of thousands of signers who asked you to stay away, we request that you not come to our region until you denounce white nationalism with both your words and your actions.

We have seen the rise of fascism before, and we recognize it in what you are doing and what you are inspiring. Demagogues whip their followers into acts of violence. These leaders need never strike a blow in order to rain down terror upon the people; indeed, many have been less explicit than you. You have urged your followers to beat members of the crowd, “Second Amendment people” to “do something” about Secretary Clinton, and police to slam suspects’ heads into cars. You have hailed as “[your] kind of guy” a thug who assaulted a journalist. Your power is built on scapegoating of the vulnerable.

Furthermore, you spread lies that feed fear and hatred. Your false, frequently-repeated claim that asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate number of crimes was the reason the killer in Pittsburgh gave for his assault upon a synagogue that helps settle refugees.

You have consistently, repeatedly set yourself up as a threat to innocent people, due process, and democracy itself, and you have sought to enlist your followers to put your threatening words into action. When we look at our nation’s history, we see the times fascism has risen and been put down, and we vow to be this generation’s upholders of justice, democracy, and human rights. Until you uphold them as well, please do not come to the Bay Area.

In faith,


Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern
Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto
and (undersigned)

I’m going to give a long answer to a short question: Is Donald J. Trump competent to serve as president? No way. He has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and it renders him incompetent to be president and a danger to us all. That’s not the long answer. Keep reading.

I’m not talking about strategy here, whether it would be wiser to impeach him or invoke the 25th Amendment now, or after the Special Counsel releases his report, or after the midterms, or when. This is long enough without that.

Talking about mental illness is often fraught with misapprehensions and flat-out prejudice, so a few important points are in order before I continue.

  1. When I say Trump has a mental illness, I don’t mean he is unintelligent, immoral, cognitively impaired, erratic, or an asshole. If I want to say those things about him, I’ll say them in those words. What I am saying is that he has a mental illness.
  2. I am not stigmatizing those with mental illnesses. I suffer from one myself, as do many, many people I love and admire. We so often shame people for mental illness, and there is nothing shameful about it. People with mental illness–chronic or occasional, mild or severe–deserve profound respect, and can function very well in all manner of jobs.
  3. Like non-mental illnesses, the difference between being incapacitated by a mental illness or not often rests on treatment. Trump does not appear to be getting effective treatment for NPD, if any. He probably hasn’t sought help, because it’s the cruel nature of the disorder to make its sufferers certain that everyone else is the problem, not themselves. Or, as Psychology Today politely puts it, “Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging because people with this condition present with a great deal of grandiosity and defensiveness, which makes it difficult for them to acknowledge problems and vulnerabilities.”
  4. Having a mental illness should not disqualify one from public office. I don’t doubt that almost all of the previous 43* presidents had mental illnesses at some point during their terms, and many served with excellence just the same. Lincoln almost certainly had depression, and he was probably our greatest president. Having a mental illness whose symptoms interfere with the basic functions of the job, and not getting effective treatment: that’s where the problem enters in.
  5. Saying that someone is mentally ill does not absolve him of all responsibility, nor does compassion require us to allow him to continue in his position.
  6. NPD is not simply “having a big ego” or “thinking a lot of oneself” or speaking highly of one’s own abilities. It’s arguable that one couldn’t survive 24 hours as president without a lot of self-confidence, and even if having higher-than-average self-confidence were a problem, it’s not what I’m saying about Trump.

I am no psychologist, but I can read and reason, and here are the criteria for NPD:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or autonomic compliance with his or her expectations).
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends).
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

(source)

Do I need to quote cases of Trump “requir[ing] excessive admiration”? Or give examples of his being “interpersonally exploitative” and “lack[ing] empathy”? I’m not asking rhetorically. Maybe you have practiced better internet habits than I and haven’t read umpteen statements indicating that Trump “is often envious of others or [I’d say: and] believes that others are envious of him,” in which case, just ask in the comments and I’ll supply the quotes. Likewise, there is abundant evidence that Trump “exaggerates achievements and talents” and “expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements,” and “believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people.”

Two friends of mine who do have the professional credentials I lack–one is a therapist and the other a PhD in psychology whose dissertation was on NPD–both, after the caveat that they can’t diagnose someone at a distance, say that hell yes, this guy has a screaming case of NPD.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that expertise, and so early in the Trump fiasco, progressive folks were giving entirely too much credence to a letter to the New York Times by an expert on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Dr. Allen Frances. In fact, he is not only an expert, he was described in reprint after reprint as “the man who defined NPD.” And he argued that Trump doesn’t have it. However, there are two enormous holes in his argument.

One, it is based on the DSM-IV criteria, because those are the ones he authored (he chaired the group that wrote that section), and he doesn’t accept the DSM-V version. That’s a defensible position, but it can’t just be assumed correct, and he doesn’t make the case in this letter, but instead, disingenuously asserts that he “wrote the criteria that define this disorder.”

Two, Frances claims that Trump is not impaired by the above characteristics. This is important because even the DSM-V says one must experience impairment or distress, noting:

Many highly successful individuals display personality traits that might be considered narcissistic. Only when these traits are inflexible, maladaptive, and persisting and cause significant functional impairment or subjective distress do they constitute narcissistic personality disorder.

Fair enough. But how would Frances support the contention that Trump “does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder” (sic; one needs either distress or impairment, not both); that he “causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy”? Yes, he has reaped many rewards, including the position of president. But one can’t read more than a few tweets without perceiving a deeply distressed person, and as for impairment, I would like to know the name of one person who is a genuine friend of Donald Trump. Descriptions of people such as Tom Barrack, “one of Trump’s closest friends,” “a friend . . . for more than 30 years,” include such chilling asides as this: “Barrack noted that he has been able to maintain a candid and honest relationship with Trump over the years because he ‘was always subservient to him.'”

When your “closest friends” can only maintain the “friendship” by being subservient to you, I have to tell you, friend: you have not experienced friendship. You don’t know what friendship is. And to live without true friends is a deep and tragic functional impairment, made no less so by the sufferer’s illusion that he does have them.

So Dr. Frances’s argument fails to convince. Trump has NPD by the standards of the DSM-V, including being significantly impaired by the disorder.

Which leads to the reasonable question: can’t someone be a good president even with untreated NPD?

Nope. At least, someone who checks off every last criterion, like Trump, certainly can’t. Several examples of how his NPD renders him incompetent and/or dangerous:

  • Because he is so desperate for praise, he is incapable of intelligent diplomacy. Every foreign leader is judged by how much he likes Trump. The foreign leaders, their vision unclouded by narcissism, immediately realize that this requires no more commitment than paying him an insincere compliment. This would be laughable if it were just a matter of foolish, fawning statements about Emmanuel Macron and Shinzo Abe. But his insatiable need for admiration causes him to be unwary when wariness is needed. All an adversary has to do is flatter him and he’s putty in their hands. So when Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador stroked his ego, he divulged classified information, including exposing a confidential source.
  • His envy drives him to foolish, destructive policy decisions. When he isn’t trying to unravel Obama’s policies (regardless of whether they are helping the country), he is trying to win the competition that dominates his own mind. He must win. And so, goaded by Obama’s (undeserved, in my opinion) Nobel Peace Prize and by the idea dangled by right-wing commenters (ludicrously, in my opinion) that Trump could win one as well if he made a deal with North Korea, he rushed into a meeting with Kim Jong Un, made absurd claims of success there, and denied the evidence before, during and since that the summit had had a negligible effect on Kim’s policies.
  • Another factor in the North Korea debacle was his inability to tolerate failure or even a normal level of success. Someone with NPD “exaggerates achievements and talents”; the slow pace of diplomacy is incompatible with his self-image. He has to be able to fix what no one else could fix, faster and more brilliantly than anyone in the past. When that proves impossible, he simply will not perceive it; he puts his fingers in his ears and runs from the room, shouting what a tremendous success he has been.
  • Also notable in the Kim meeting was his lack of preparation. Someone who perceives himself as having “unlimited success, power, brilliance” doesn’t need no stinkin’ prep sessions. For the same reason, Trump has not had serious security briefings in his entire term so far. He won’t read the Presidential Daily Briefing–the short version of intelligence documents–even dumbed down and sprinkled with many mentions of his own name.
  • He can’t grasp a concept as simple as “trade is not a zero-sum game” because to the narcissistic mind, everything is a zero-sum game. Economists from Adam Smith to Milton Erickson know that a trade deficit is not an unfavorable balance of trade. But Trump (aside from intellectual and cognitive difficulties, which may be significant factors as well) cannot even entertain that idea.
  • For that matter, his narcissism won’t permit him to think of trade as a good thing at all (see forthcoming book Fear by Bob Woodward, which reprints a report with a margin note in Trump’s own handwriting, “TRADE IS BAD”). It follows a certain solipsistic logic: nothing outside his country should be taken seriously, unless it can be made to reflect well on him. He has long seen foreign relations the same way he sees personal ones: they are a contest of egos. Nothing about the past 20 months suggests that he has changed since the 1990 Playboy interview in which he said, “I think our country needs more ego, because it is being ripped off so badly by our so-called allies; i.e., Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, etc. They have literally outegotized this country, because they rule the greatest money machine ever assembled and it’s sitting on our backs. . . . We Americans are laughed at around the world for losing $150 billion year after year.” He’s talking about the trade deficit again; he thinks that if you sell $50 billion in products and buy $200 billion, you are losing $150 billion.
  • Likewise, he not only exhibits no loyalty (he only demands it), but he can’t restrain his competitiveness enough to maintain a coalition even with his closest allies. He derides and undermines Congressional leaders in his own party when they are in the act of promoting legislation he wants to see passed. His own arrogance and sense that he is, and must be, special, leave no room for teamwork.
  • He can’t absorb criticism or change course for fear of being seen as weak. Narcissist Personality Disorder does not permit apologies. Hence we have a president who, when he makes a mistake, “doubles down” rather than mitigating it. After getting flak for suggesting that people on “both sides” were to blame for the violence by Nazis in Charlottesville, he reluctantly gave a speech condemning Nazis and white supremacists. Immediately afterwards, rightly recognizing that people saw the speech as a reversal, he railed about it–the criticism of Nazism, not the coddling of it–calling it the “biggest f—ing mistake I’ve made.”

Whatever a president’s policy positions, be they leftist, liberal, conservative, libertarian, the person needs to be able to see through flattery, risk being seen as a failure, absorb new information, work with a team, and change course. Trump’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder is complicated by impulsiveness and cognitive deficits, but even if it were not, it would be as disqualifying an ailment as coma or severe brain damage. A person with untreated, severe NPD cannot be a competent president of the United States, period.

 

 

*Numbers 23 and 25 were the same person–good old Grover Cleveland–so we’ve had 43 presidents prior to Trump.

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