Donald Trump is an attention addict — his appearance at CPAC will offer the latest proof

America has indulged one man's attention addiction for far too long. Let's drive him out of politics forever

Published February 26, 2021 5:30AM (EST)

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to supporters following a campaign rally on October 28, 2020 in Bullhead City, Arizona. With less than a week until Election Day, Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are campaigning across the country. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to supporters following a campaign rally on October 28, 2020 in Bullhead City, Arizona. With less than a week until Election Day, Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are campaigning across the country. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

There is no rational or reasonable explanation why Donald Trump is even considering another presidential run in 2024. He has no agenda. He has no real ideology other than his self-aggrandizement and greed. He had a dreadfully inept, contentious and fractious term as president from 2017 to 2021. He is probably facing imminent civil and criminal legal charges. He is in financial dire straits. He lost his last election by 7 million votes.

Trump's upcoming appearance at CPAC this weekend, however, clearly signals that another presidential campaign may be in his sights. A return to private life may not be enough for him. There is a longstanding tradition that ex-presidents retreat into the background so the new president can shine. But that does not fit Donald Trump's psyche. Just the opposite is true: He wants to spoil Joe Biden's time in the sun by stealing as much attention away from him as possible. 

The real explanation is that Donald Trump is an attention addict. He is addicted to the attention that national political life brings him. He is addicted to running for president and to being president. It is all about satiating his needs and wants — and cravings. Attention is his psychic oxygen. He feels like he is dying mentally when attention is not forthcoming. He does not differentiate between positive attention and negative attention — either will do in his jonesing mind. As with an oppositional child, even negative attention makes him feel energized and powerful.

Trump's attention addiction was in full force during his presidential term. He held more than 80 pep rallies so that he could bask in the glow of the attention from the masses. And his almost nonstop tweeting — late into the night and distressingly early in the morning — showed that he was addicted to instant attention. 

The fact that Trump is an attention addict is hardly a reason for us to allow him to run for president again. We would not let a known heroin addict be mayor. We would not let an opioid addict become governor. We would not let a benzodiazepine addict be a senator. So we should not let an attention addict be our president.

Why? Because all elected officials take a sworn oath to protect the public's safety and well-being. An attention addict, by definition, cannot possibly meet that obligation. The public good is of no concern to an addict whose sole mission in life is to consume more and more of the sought-after prize.

Trump has already proven that his addiction interferes with his capacity to be a public servant. His addiction kept him from solving the existential crises that our country faced: a deadly pandemic, a crashed economy, racial and economic inequality, domestic violence, immigration and many others. 

He could not even facilitate the orderly and peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden once he lost the election. He had to incite an insurrection of our government in an attempt to hold onto power — and attention. This just shows you the lengths an addict will go to maintain his addiction. 

Trump needs intervention for his addiction. He needs a treatment plan that includes abstinence from attention, expression of remorse to those he has aggrieved, a concrete plan for his future without attention and ongoing, uninterrupted individual and group therapy. 

The public should not exacerbate his attention addiction. It is not what he needs. Let us not make his attention addiction worse by electing him again. He would fail miserably. After all, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

It is not what we need as a country either. We are a huge, diverse republic that has many challenges ahead. We do not need an addict running our country. We need leadership that is wise, seasoned and serious. Joe Biden seems to fit the bill for the moment — he does not have an attention addiction. We go days without seeing him and hearing him. He is doing his job without fanfare. He is solving problems without the constant need to take credit. He has brilliant people around him and allows them to garner their own attention. He never brags, exaggerates, fabricates or spreads conspiracy theories. 

We need to leave the attention addicts to the entertainment business. Attention addiction there is much more adaptive and rewarding since attention is the "real" currency in that business.

We are exhausted from having an attention addict run our country. He ran us into the ground, all the while just wanting our attention. Why didn't he just ask for it? Why did he have to put us through so much upheaval and tumult? That was his addiction talking. 

Perhaps Trump can reprise "The Apprentice" on a major television network. That would be squarely in his wheelhouse. Had he stayed on that show to begin with, hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died might still be alive.

That is proof enough that we should not have an attention addict in our national leadership. Trump must be disqualified from elected office. We must not subject ourselves to his dangerous and self-destructive addiction again.

Let us hope Trump gets the help he needs. Even more important, let's hope we are smart enough to discourage him from running for another term. We have already fed his addiction for far too long.

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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