If you are a logical person or a reasonable person Mr Trump may be hard to understand. His decisions, the way he treats people, his lies, his tweets may all seem the rantings of a loon.
After 3 years of campaigning and watching him on the stage I have come to some understanding of why he makes the kinds of decisions he makes. While on the surface they make no sense, if you can put yourself in his mind (and there is plenty of room) you may be able to make sense of him.
I was trained as an anthropologist, which is important. What an anthropologist tries to do is understand people who think in ways that are quite different from what we might consider “normal” in our society.
For example, the Yanomami (or Yanamamo) have a ritual they perform when someone dies. They cremate the body and mix the ashes of the deceased into a “stew”. The family then passes around the stew and everyone takes a drink. On the surface this is pretty disgusting and makes no sense.
However, to the Yanomami this action shows the highest regard for the dead. The dead become part of the living.The dead person becomes one with those who are still alive. It is the ultimate spiritual and physical connection. Odd behavior to us, but completely “normal” under their belief system.
So, when we look at Trump’s decisions we should not assume he holds the same values, beliefs, life experiences, etc. as a normal American. We should instead, an an anthropologist, try to understand his motives and beliefs by his actions. We should assume nothing, but rather look for a pattern of behavior to better understand the motives of that behavior.
For example, Trump is obsessed with destroying the ACA, also called Obamacare. Now, this program provides health insurance to millions of Americans. When the GOP tried to destroy it the outrage was so great that they could not do so. People like it. It guarantees health insurance for the working poor and supports the private insurance industry. Yet, Mr Trump insists he wants it ended, with no plan to help the 20-40,000,000 Americans who would lose insurance if he succeeds.
A logical person might ask: Why? Why try to destroy a popular program that is working? Now, if a better alternative was offered there might be a reasonable discussion. But there is no alternative offered, just the end of Obamacare.
Combine this with his other illogical actions concerning the border wall. His call for an investigation of Smollett, the black guy in Chicago, his history of discrimination against African-Americans in housing, etc. and a clear picture emerges.
He is a racist. Anything Obama did, no matter how helpful to the citizens, he is intent on undoing. While he criticizes black Americans and calls for all kinds of “investigations”, he never criticizes white supremacists or calls for investigations of police who kill blacks.
If you look at Mr Trump’s decisions and take the view that he is a racist, they all make perfect sense. His attacks on the people of Puerto Rico , Mexicans, ripping brown children from their parents, saying he wants more folks from Norway, etc. The overall , inevitable controlling factor, from the point of view of an anthropologist, is that this man makes policy decisions based on skin color.
Another area where Mr Trump’s decisions seem incomprehensible is his relationships with various foreign leaders. While he “loves” Kim Jung Un and respects Putin, he criticizes the leaders of democracies.
Why would an American president humiliate himself before Putin. Why kowtow to the dictator of Saudi Arabia? Why talk about his love relationship with Kim Jung Un? All three of these men are vile dictators who murder their political opponents. They kill newsmen. They destroy all critics. All three have raided the wealth of their own people and live like kings while so many in their countries have nothing.
What is the underlying attraction these men have as far as Trump is concerned? What is it about his value system that makes them attractive to him?
The conclusion I have reached is not that they “have anything on him”, like “compromat”. Rather, he admires brutality and physical strength. He sees the way these men “control” their populations with terror and he admires that. He sees that as a positive value. Leaders who are feared and bowed down to. Above questioning.
Why has he gone through so many cabinet members and advisers? He needs “yes men” around him. People who will tell him he is the greatest thing on Earth. Sycophants. Anyone who would disagree with him is put in his place or fired. No opinions other than that the the supreme leader can be allowed.
So, any decisions he makes must be unquestioned. He values complete loyalty to him and a disregard for any legal or normative structures. He losses the battle for the wall, so he simply says he will violate the law and build it anyway. If his political opponents disagree they should be destroyed. The free press must be destroyed, as well. There can be no exchange of ideas, only capitulation. In his world view that is the way a “great leader” acts.
Now, I am not justifying Mr Trump’s actions. Only trying to make sense of them. He does have guiding principles, even though he is probably not even cognizant of them himself.
He believes in strong man rule and the inherent superiority of light skinned people. If you keep in mind those 2 principles all of his actions, tweets, speeches, violations of the law and norms make sense.
It also helps one understand that so many Americans share that world view. After all, Mr Trump has plenty of support. You will never understand Mr Trump unless you understand that fact as well. He is not alone in his core beliefs. Admiration for authoritarian rule and racism. A lethal combination.
5 responses to “Understanding Trump”
I can’t profess even to try to get into trump’s head, and I think we would all be better off if the media spent less time on his every tweet. HIs ascent is the logical progression of trends that have been with us since the founding of the republic; he has simply given people permission to behave badly—to say and do things that they had previously been ashamed of and kept to themselves. And the Republicans who refuse to uphold their Constitutional oaths by opposing him are worrying about their own political futures and nothing else.
We will survive trump, but only if we find a way to listen better to one another—and we have leadership that strikes the right upbeat, unifying tone. I remind myself that a number of those who voted for trump had voted for Obama four and eight years earlier.
I have, through my blog, gotten to know a few trump supporters who defy all the stereotypes. I don’t quite understand them, but I know they are decent and intelligent people. They have taught me that we must not demonize trump’s followers as a whole.
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Thanks for the response. I agree with you that Trump is the natural outcome of the values of the GOP. I would suggest over the last 4 years or so. He is Mitt Romney, only cruder. After all, he follows the policies the GOP has had for years.
I don’t fully agree with you on two points. First, though I think McConnell has done enormous damage since the Obama years and never got sufficient press scrutiny, I think he’s having a tough time dealing with trump, who has no ideology except self-aggrandizement and greed. McConnell didn’t want the shutdown but he made a devil’s bargain with trump because of judges and taxes. And it will be his downfall. He probably won’t run for re-election because he’s so unpopular with every faction in Kentucky. And that’s just what the Steve Bannons of the world were after. But won’t they be surprised if Kentucky goes blue!
The Republican Party under trump is mostly unrecognizable due to his trade policies and isolationism, among other issues. That’s why so many stalwarts have left it. I think the trend really got under way with Gingrich, but the hater strain goes further back than that.
Btw, I see you just started following me, which is very nice, but I’m pretty sure you signed on a few weeks ago; that’s how I found you. Anyway, welcome, welcome!
Trump seems obsessed with any who cross him–HRC, Jeff Sessions, Jim Acosta, Elizabeth Warren, John McCain, Adam Schiff,
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He seems obsessed with anyone who does not kowtow to him.