How Donald Trump uses his pathological impulses to manipulate his rivals, according to psychology

"He has all the childhood and adult qualities of someone with a dangerous disorder," one psychologist says of Trump

Published April 16, 2019 1:16PM (EDT)

Donald Trump speaks at the National Republican Congressional Committee's annual spring dinner in Washington, April 2, 2019. (AP/Susan Walsh)
Donald Trump speaks at the National Republican Congressional Committee's annual spring dinner in Washington, April 2, 2019. (AP/Susan Walsh)

This article originally appeared on Raw Story

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump continued his attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) the only immigrant, Muslim, female member of Congress. Trump accused her of taking 9/11 lightly. In fact, the President himself joked that his buildings were the tallest in New York with the collapse of the twin towers.

Raw Story spoke with psychologist Ellyn Uram Kaschak, Ph.D. about why the president continues to attack the freshman representative even though his words have stirred up violent action in the past.

Kaschak, Ph.D., is one of the founders of Feminist Psychology. She has been on the faculties of San Jose State University and the Universidad Nacional and the University for Peace in Costa Rica. Dr. Kaschak is the past Chair of the Feminist Therapy Institute, a Fellow of five American Psychological Association Divisions, and the recipient of numerous awards. She contributed her insights on gender and race matters to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Professionals Assess a President,” edited by Bandy X. Lee, which was recently released alongside a major conference on presidential fitness in Washington, DC (

Raw Story: President Donald Trump continues to ramp up his attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). In the past, Trump supporters have been driven to violence, like Cesar Sayoc, who made bomb threats to Trump’s perceived enemies. Why does the President continue stirring up such high emotions?

Ellyn Uram Kaschak: President Trump is different from all other recent presidents of the United States in that he does not lead by logic or strategic planning. He does not have experience in the matters with which he is dealing nor does he value or attempt learning.

He does not depend on experts for sage advice, which he could then weigh seriously. Instead he leads by manipulating emotions, particularly the darker ones such as hatred and bigotry. He does not even lead but “stirs up” and excites his crowds of admirers. He stirs up what is already extant, although perhaps dormant, in most of them and offers them ready targets for their discontent.

Whether his comments and stories even resemble the truth is of little import in his scheme of things. The truth is not what matters but his own power, control and the unquestioning admiration of his followers. What matters is getting the best of those he sees as opponents or targets. What matters is the end goal and not the means of getting there. The end goal in this case is to have the focus move from his misdeeds to those of an opponent. It is he who is attacking Rep. Omar, but he has successfully shifted the focus of the mainstream media to Nancy Pelosi’s so-called tepid support of Omar.

As he is known to have said, he feels that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and get away with it. Taken metaphorically, he has proven this to be the case and is two years into a presidency that should have been long ago interrupted. Without repeating the expert opinions of the authors of our public-service book, his behavior is entirely in keeping with his psychological profile and not a surprise to any seasoned professional.

He has all the childhood and adult qualities of someone with a dangerous disorder. This proclivity begins in childhood with callous and cruel behaviors. “He was Trump in miniature, an embryonic version of the bombastic, flamboyant candidate who has dominated the 2016 presidential race, more than three dozen of his childhood friends, classmates and neighbors said in interviews” (Miller, Paul and Schwartzman, M. (June 22, 2016), Confident. Incorrigible. Bully: Little Donny Was A Lot Like Candidate Trump, Washington Post). In ‘The Art of the Deal,’ Trump wrote proudly that he … “ ‘actually’ gave his music teacher a black eye because ‘I didn’t think he knew anything about music, and I almost got expelled.’”

Raw Story: Are you worried someone might get the wrong message?

Ellyn Uram Kaschak: I am more worried that they get the intended message, which is a cruel and violent one. I am extremely concerned about the danger that his approach fulminates, not only the irrational hatred, but the potential and actual violence that it can incite.

Raw Story: The Democrats, meanwhile, have mostly stopped short of defending Omar. What do you make of that?

Ellyn Uram Kaschak: The Democrats have defended Omar’s right to speak without fear of violence. Many of them do not agree with her position or agree in part and are not called upon to defend the content of her statements, but her right to make them. They are ultimately in a no-win position as long as the media follows the focus that Trump dictates. This story was about Trump’s dishonest aggression against Rep. Omar and it has now seamlessly evolved into Nancy Pelosi’s inability to defend her correctly.

Raw Story: Trump criticized Omar for apparently taking 9/11 lightly. Yet the President himself famously joked about how his buildings were tallest post 911. And of course his infamous lie about watching Muslims in New Jersey celebrate.

Ellyn Uram Kaschak: A clear pattern with this president is that he accuses others of what he himself does, and it is one of the things that he does with great consistency. Far from tolerating hypocrisy, he revels in it. He should not be expected to tell the truth, as it is not even in the realm of his imagination to do so. In this case, Mr. Trump has first managed to accuse Rep. Omar of not being outraged enough about the 9/11 attack, when it was he himself who lied about what he saw in New Jersey and bragged about the consequences for himself and his buildings.

Additionally, he managed to turn his own lying and bullying of her into a problem for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. He has managed his most skillful trick, a psychological sleight of hand, moving the focus of the mainstream media from his dishonest aggression to the inability of the Democrats to defend her properly.

What is of concern to him is how any incident reflects on him and can be used to enhance his own image and power. The more his strategies are successful, as they have been, the more potentially dangerous he becomes. It is crucially important for this last point to be understood by as many citizens as possible. He is playing games with their emotions, deadly games that might lead to something unimaginably disastrous.

Raw Story: How can the President tolerate such hypocrisy?

He is not at all tolerating it. He is reveling in it, as serious sadistic impulses of his are being gratified. This is not a man who is opposed to hypocrisy, lying or evil. He is instead a practitioner of these “dark arts.” A more appropriate question is “How can the rest of us tolerate these increasingly obvious behaviors?”

Raw Story: How can his followers?

Ellyn Uram Kaschak: A better question might be “How can he have any followers?” His followers do not care about the presence of these qualities in their hero. They care about having a hero, and they do.

You don’t have to divide people if you are not interested in conquering them. You don’t have to stir up violent emotions if you are not trying to incite violence. You do not have to prey upon others’ freedom of speech if you are not trying to destroy that very right.

By Tana Geneva

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