NOTE: This explains what has not been explained so far. After all the excuses as to why he lied and played down COVID (stock market and panic concerns), one thing has not been explained:
Why Trump is still having rallies and not encouraging the use of masks at events even today?
Woodward’s book caused me to rethink and now I have an answer. The answer is as dark as it is disturbing.
I need to begin by stating that I am not a psychologist but I have been around people like Trump. I have been forced to work with them and it took me a long time to come to terms with who they are and what they are. That said, I see others, even an entire country, going through the same painful process I did. I understand the confusion. I understand the misplaced optimism. I went through it all.
To be clear, I am not judging Trump or others like them. I am explaining their behavior like I would explain that of a crocodile. A crocodile is dangerous — not evil. Removing emotions and labels when dealing with them is difficult and absolutely necessary (to the extent possible). You are dealing with a person void of most of the emotions that many of us have. When we are wrapped up in emotions, we can be manipulated. We don’t see what is really happening. We will hesitate or won’t take the specific actions needed to keep ourselves and others safe.
For that reason, I have found that once I have identified a person like this, I have to flip a switch in my head and remind myself to deal with them differently. Not at all like I would deal with anyone else and I have to try to remove my emotions too because this is combat. It is survival. They will take everything they can from me and others unless they are forced to stop. That said, I found that once I popped them good and extremely hard on the proverbial nose (and know that a miss is not an option) then the person may turn away at least for a little bit which can give people time to regroup and get ready to minimize the risk.
Additionally once I came to terms with who they were, suddenly so much made sense. In a way, I was creating my own confusion because I was expecting them to act and behave like most people. Something that they can not do. They just don’t have the mechanisms in their head it seems.
Once you understand and accept what we are dealing with — a human crocodile with no emotions and cold-blooded — then everything starts to become clear.
But there is more.
Understanding the Significance of Woodward’s Book
Up until the Woodward’s revelations last week, I had pretty much thought that Trump did not know or care what the truth was when it came to the virus. The explanation that I will provide to you soon would still hold.
Others thought that Trump may have known the truth but did not believe it. The bucket explanation would still work.
But now we know that Trump believed what he was being told — and it was a matter of him knowing AND believing what he was told and lying about it.
That is why the revelation was rather ground shaking.
That puts everything he has done and is currently doing into a different context and it demanded that I back up and rethink everything because knowing this, his current behavior and the excuses provided do not make sense.
Inconsistencies and Unexplained Behavior — Excuses That Don’t Work
So far the excuses provided do not really make sense. It seems that people, like I used to do, are grabbing onto something that might seem to make sense but really doesn’t make sense when you think about it.
For example, he said he did not want to create a panic.
He could have easily not created a panic and encouraged the use of masks and social distancing to also minimize the risk and spread to people. This is even more true in the months of April and May. These are relatively simple actions that could have been taken that could have had huge benefits. Nothing stops a panic (if there is one) faster than falling pandemic numbers. Heck, he could have even made money by selling masks! So I think this is rationalization (and not a good one) after the fact.
For example, others have said he was concerned about the stock market.
I would agree with this initially because he did respond quickly when the stock market took a hit but, again, the best thing for the stock market and economy, is to deal with the pandemic, to reduce the spread and the deaths. There is a way to be concerned about the stock market and not wanting it to fall — but the best way is to confidently take the reins and work to reduce the spread. This also seems like a rationalization that sounds good but does not seem to hold water when most of the economic indicators are doing poorly. The economy is taking a huge hit and much of it is unnecessary. Eventually, this will affect the stock market. It seems again like rationalization that can be used until the market crashes.
Both of these examples seem like rationalizations of people trying to apply the reasoning of normal people to someone and a situation that is abnormal. I know. I have done the same thing.
And to understand how abnormal, look at how, at every turn, Trump has done nearly the opposite of what could have been done easily which would have improved the situation.
Notice also how many of his actions hurt his base more than others. This is significant to understanding what is really (probably) going on with him.
For example, he pushed states to open too early.
Trump knew and believed that the virus was airborne and deadly, yet he pushed governors to open up too early — even by the standards of his own health officials.
Governors beholden to Trump were more likely to do this — which would negatively impact them and his base. The impact of carelessness was a greater threat to older people — — and Trump’s base tracks older. And the opening of schools was done more quickly in “red” states so his pushing, without proper preparation, meant that it was going to impact these states and these people disproportionately.
Finally, he is still having rallies and not encouraging the use of masks and socially distancing even when he can blame it on local officials and their requirements.
This makes no sense in the context of Trump knowing and believing that this virus is dangerous and airborne.
So in light of this new information, I had to back up and rethink everything. Since I am not a psychologist, I am not going to use jargon. I am going to explain it in a way it makes sense to me based on what I have seen in him and others. The conclusion is very dark but it seems to be the only one that explains Trump’s behavior completely up to this point.
To do so I had to back up to the beginning.
Understanding Trump and People Like Him
To explain Trump and people like them, I explain human psychology a certain way:
We all have different emotional needs. We want to feel loved, to feel valued, to feel respected, to feel safe, to feel in control, to feel wanted, to feel desired, and the list goes on. It helps to picture these things as buckets that we are trying to fill in the process of living our lives. We are not aware that is what we are doing but basically throughout the day, as we interact with people, we are filling other people’s emotional buckets and they are filling ours. This is why sometimes people say they feel “unfulfilled” in their relationship. The buckets that they need to be filled are not being filled. We all typically have a number of buckets and they may vary in size. Some people have a strong desire to feel loved (and loved a certain way) and most of the time it is not a problem. Friendship, relationships, and misunderstandings happen when people think that they are filling a person’s bucket but they are not. (Think different love languages.)
When someone has a bucket, however, that they are trying to fill at the expense of the other buckets, things get out of whack. For example, a person may need to fill the control bucket so much that it makes it impossible for the love, belonging and other buckets to get filled. When this happens and if on a big scale, then they may need to get psychological help so that they can establish a better balance.
This is a simple way of looking at the situation but it is one that is helpful to understand a person like Trump and how he is fundamentally different from most people because while most of us live our lives with our different buckets, he does not.
He has only one bucket that he is constantly trying to fill and that bucket is power.
This is why loyalty is a big thing to Trump. Think about it.
Loyalty to Trump is the demonstration of complete deference by a person to Trump. Basically, loyalty is a person saying to Trump “I don’t matter. You only matter.” And he tests it all the time with significant consequences as I wrote in Lies: The Tool of Tyrants and Dictators (Part 1) and Lies: Weapons of Mass Destruction (Part 2). Lying is one way Trump demands and tests loyalty to fill his power bucket.
This is counter-intuitive to most of us. We don’t think of loyalty this way because we think of it in terms of filling buckets where loyalty may be reciprocated in different ways. If someone, for example, is loyal to me, I feel an obligation to that person. This reciprocation is not how Trump’s mind is processing the relationship. He demands it to fill his power bucket and there is no return for the person who demonstrates his loyalty.
People have observed this one-sided nature to Trump’s loyalty but this provides a context for why he is doing it and what he is getting out of it.
But there are other characteristics of Trump and his presidency that are a direct result of his constant need to fill his power bucket.
One is chaos. Every day it is something new and he is often the creator of it. In this world, good or bad does not matter as long as you are the center of attention because that is where you can yield power. When the cameras turn off, so does the power. (The reason good or bad does not matter is that he has no other buckets. Shame, guilt, compassion, empathy, etc all involve recognizing other people in a way that would suggest that they are relevant to him and they are relevant only in the way that they are a means to an end for him.)
Closely related to chaos is the lack of a coherent strategy or message. How many times have we seen him undermine public statements of people defending him? How many times have we seen him change his mind seemingly midstream and throw a monkey wrench in everything? (The most infamous time was in December of 2018. Even the GOP controlled Senate thought things were under control and left for the holidays only to be upended by a last-minute change by Trump that resulted in a government shut down over the holidays.)
We get an understanding of this too when people say that he is “transactional” or a “counter-puncher”. None of these have to do with strategies, goals, or policies (or leadership). They do have to do with reacting and power acquisition for one person — Trump. It is a nice way of framing a bad situation. It is like saying a conman is a good persuader or that a pickpocket is good with his hands. They both may technically be true and devastating when this is the sum total of their abilities and they in a position to do severe damage.
Another big one is his flaunting of regulations, norms, and laws. All of them. Frankly, these things mean nothing to him. Remember when I said I would have to bop them on the proverbial nose to get people like Trump to back off? That is because they don’t stop at anything until they are forced to — when someone hits back.
This is also what is missed in what is happening. The flaunting of these things is a feature and not a flaw. That Trump does this and gets away with it allows him to get more power because he has the benefits of breaking the law (he gets to enjoy the spoils without penalty) and in doing so he is also demonstrating to others that he is above the laws and enforcement (while others are not). Both are necessary and add to their power. That said, he will demand that others obey the very laws that he breaks regularly. (The asymmetry is a result of the power imbalance he is trying to impose. If you respect the laws when he doesn’t, it may fill your bucket of integrity but it will also add to his power bucket that is why normal people often lose when engaged with people like Trump unless they understand who they are dealing with and can flip a switch.)
All of these signal that (1) everyone needs to look at Trump always because what he says can change minute by minute and (2) Trump is in charge and (3) power is ultimately demonstrated by what he can get away with. There is no policy or overarching governmental policies and goals other than servicing him and his ego. (The GOP Platform was a public acknowledgment of this.)
While this does not work at all from a leadership standpoint, it does work for Trump because he does not care. That power bucket needs to be filled. Power is not about leadership. It is about power and control over others. This is why he identifies with Putin and other “strong men”. Unfortunately for Trump, however, these men do have more skills and understand leadership and strategy which makes Trump a useful tool to them. Regardless though, they all use power a similar way. Trump is less sophisticated and stupid about it.
Understanding Trump’s COVID Approach & Rallies
This is where things get dark(er).
In this world, now, suddenly Trump continuing to hold huge rallies of mostly maskless people standing shoulder to shoulder cheering him on in a pandemic which he knows is deadly and the virus airborne starts to make sense.
This is not quite the ultimate demonstration of loyalty (and thus his power over them) but it is close.
People at these rallies are demonstrating they are loyal to him over everything. Over the experts. Over their own best interests. They believe HIM over all others. And he can see that loyalty when he walks out. They are there risking their lives — possibly getting what he knows is a deadly airborne virus — for him. Because of him.
That is power.
That is the kind of Jim Jones drink-the-kool-aid kind of power.
This is how his actions are totally consistent and how even hurting his base and most loyalty makes sense even if the actions could be self-defeating in the long run. A person like this does not worry about the long run and is only looking to acquire more power in the “now”.
The Ultimate Demonstration of Power Over Others
I mentioned that this was close to the ultimate demonstration of power but there is one more that is higher and it is quite frankly terrifying to consider in the context of his current rhetoric and his role as commander and chief.
Having people literally risk their lives is one demonstration but having people willing to fight and kill for you is the highest level.
Let that sink in.
Think about his current rhetoric.
That is where he is heading unless he is stopped.
Disclaimer: Right now, based on what I know, this seems to be the most accurate explanation for his behavior. There may be others that may explain the fact pattern. I have not thought of them yet. Perhaps others can. The key though is not to jump to the thing that sounds the most reasonable (like avoiding panic or avoiding stock market issues) because these really don’t explain everything else and even then some of his behavior conflicts with these two things.