Donald Trump’s pathology of victimhood: It's dangerous for his own party — and the rest of us

As a clinical psychologist, what I see in Donald Trump is a classic and destructive pattern of malignant narcissism

Published August 30, 2020 6:00AM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump (C) reacts as he stands with his family members after delivering his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump gave the speech in front of 1500 invited guests. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) reacts as he stands with his family members after delivering his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump gave the speech in front of 1500 invited guests. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Donald Trump uses victimhood as a means of manipulating and exploiting others. Whenever he fails or is caught in a lie or does something corrupt, he reflexively twists it around and blames others. Not only that, he then claims he is the victim. That is the classic pattern of a malignant narcissist.

Trump has tweeted the phrase "Presidential harassment" 37 times in the past 2 years. In March 2019, he tweeted that he had faced "the most vicious and corrupt mainstream media that any president has ever had to endure." In July 2020, Trump asserted that he was the victim of "political prosecution" by the U.S. Supreme Court after he lost his tax returns case.

Trump's constant victimhood is a byproduct of his psychiatric disorder. It is false. It is distorted. It is manufactured in his mind. Trump feels victimized as a way of protecting his self-image of superiority and grandiosity. Otherwise, if he accepts blame for his thoughts or actions, his self-image will crumble and wither away. That is totally unacceptable to him; his grandiose self-image must be maintained at all cost.

Trump's victimhood has been used throughout his presidency. In his mind, he is the victim of the pandemic, of the economic collapse, of our racial problems. He is the victim of the protests in the cities, of the Russia probe, of his own impeachment, of his associates' criminal activities — and the list goes on and on.

Trump talks and tweets excessively about being the victim. The aggressors have been Jim Comey, Robert Mueller, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, CNN and many others. Trump's victimhood tweets have a number of predictable and recurring themes: the 2020 election will be "rigged," he is the target of a "witch hunt," the media is spreading "fake news," all negative perceptions of him "unfair," he is "misunderstood" and "persecuted."

At the Republican National Convention last week, Trump and other speakers invoked victimhood through their excessive fear-mongering, telling supporters that they are the victims of Black people, gangs, riots, radical liberals, unpatriotic malcontents, the deep state, the free press, immigrants and others.

No matter the facts or reality, Trump instinctively sees himself as the victim. He lives in an alternate universe of victimhood. And everything around him — political party and country — is negatively affected by his victimhood.

In truth, Donald Trump is rarely, if ever, the victim. He is always the aggressor. He is always the offender.

Trump has botched our pandemic response, leading to 183,000 deaths so far, with the numbers increasing daily. The crashing of the economy is the result of his pandemic mishandling. Racial problems have been incited by his comments and gestures. Many protests in the cities have been provoked by his actions. He clearly did conspire with Russian agents. His Impeachment was based on his corrupt behavior with Ukraine. Several of associates and cronies have been convicted of crimes committed with his tacit blessing and under his watch.  

Consistent with being a malignant narcissist, Trump is using his pathology of victimhood to transform the Republican Party. He is obsessed with convincing his supporters that they are all victims of countervailing forces in the country, and that they must unite together to fend off "total anarchy, madness and chaos."

Trump is making the Republican Party the party of victimhood. It is now in his image. Victimhood is its collective political belief system. It is central to the Republicans' identity. And their primary belief is that Donald Trump is their supreme leader who can take them to the promised land. They cannot define or describe the promised land — as evidenced by the fact that the party has no platform this year — but they believe that united victimhood will bring them sustained power.

What seems clear is that many of Trump's supporters identify with his victimhood persona. People who have felt victimized by government or by society or by economics or by a significant other are prone to ally with Trump. They perceive themselves as having a special and unbreakable bond with a leader who understands them and is like them — victimized and aggrieved. The result is an "agenda" of shared grievances.

The real problem, of course, is that Donald Trump's victimhood is totally false and fake. It is a distortion due to his pathology. It is an upside-down concoction in his mind. In truth, Trump is hostile. He is cruel. He is a bully. He is dark and gloomy. He creates crises. He provokes divisiveness. He has no empathy. He is corrupt. He has all the dangerous features that he projects onto others, and for which he then berates them. After all, he is a malignant narcissist.  

Where does this leave his supporters?  It leaves them out in the cold. Trump does not give a damn about them. He is so self-absorbed and grandiose that he despises the people who claim victimhood with him. His victimhood is a pathological ploy to manipulate and exploit others. Once that is accomplished, he views those people are expendable and dismisses them as dupes. If necessary, Trump will throw all his supporters under the bus, as he has done with many of his loyalists in recent years: Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, just to name a few.

Trump is betting his political fortunes on his victimhood. It is a conniving ruse by a narcissist who wants everyone to believe that his miserably failed presidency is someone else's fault. 

For all of his non-supporters, Trump's pathology of victimhood is deeply disturbing. It has allowed him to be hostile, cruel, bullying, dishonest and corrupt without no sense of guilt or remorse. It is a sad state of affairs when a president of the United States has a governing philosophy predicated on victimhood — because it is essentially self-destructive. 

It is Donald Trump's psychopathology that is playing out in his party and in our country. And victimhood is a perilous foundation for the preservation of our democracy. 

By Alan D. Blotcky

Alan D. Blotcky, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Birmingham, Alabama, and a clinical associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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