Most of the media are ignoring the main factor at play in the phenomenon of Trump. No consultant can polish him. No analyst can predict him. Politics alone cannot explain his resonance with voters, or his ridiculously high polling numbers among women, Hispanics, blacks and other nontraditional Republican voters. Still, almost no one seems to want to talk about the psychology of the matter.
The psychological components at play quickly make sense to any casual observer, and may even lend themselves to predictions about this political phenom going forward. I coined the term “policology” as the nexus of psychology and politics, and wrote about it in my first book, “Ladies and Gentlemen: Why the Survival of Our Republic Depends on the Revival of Honor,” co-authored by Dr. Dathan Paterno.
Dr. Drew and I spoke about the Trump phenomenon twice this week, and I am glad that he is on the forefront of asking the questions burning in the American soul right now about Trump.
The psychology breaks down in three ways:
1) What is Trump’s own psychological profile?
2) What has happened/changed in the mind of the American voter that has facilitated the unusual candidacy of Trump?
3) What will happen going forward?
As a wise student knows, you can’t find answers or make predictions until you ask the right questions. The above questions are easily answered when you look at the five questions the American people are asking about Trump.
1) What is Trump’s true motive?
Jindal, desperate for headlines due to his ever-dwindling polling numbers, called Trump narcissistic and egomaniacal. Both are likely true. Trump is ambitious, narcissistic, driven and egocentric – all great attributes for a true leader, as long as their ultimate ideal is outside self. Some have compared Trump’s patriotism to Hitler’s, and warned of ominous danger. The key difference isn’t mental composition, but rather mental health.
Personality analysts frequently point to specific formulae that lead to extreme success, as well as extreme madness. Many test in that category on psychological inventories, as I did, in the first year of my first master’s degree at St. Louis University. My liberal professors were gleeful to inform me that I had the same personality profile as Hitler, Pol Pot, Mussolini, etc. They neglected to tell me that it is the same profile as Beethoven, Einstein, President George Washington, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. I was devastated until I researched this particular personality profile, and then I realized that it can either be used for extraordinary good or extraordinary evil. I decided to go for the former.
The important distinction here is that those who lead through strength to achieve evil are deranged. Hitler was sociopathological. Trump seems mentally sound. Though mental assessment is impossible without true clinical testing and diagnosis (and is even then, very elusive), I haven’t observed, nor have I heard of any other mental health professionals observing that Trump is in any way unstable.
Were great leaders like Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher just as narcissistic and driven as Trump? Likely yes. Were they better at hiding it? Certainly. Decorum was different then. And that was before political correctness had become the major enemy of the American people. Trump intuitively saw the frustration of Main Street over the tyranny and oppression of political correctness, and he capitalized on it, masterfully.
2) Why is the electorate so tolerant of Trump’s obvious flaws?
As I have repeated at every opportunity this week, “When you don’t pretend to be the perfect, polished, packaged politician, no one expects you to be.”
I think this is the reason Trump gets away with saying things that no candidate has ever said before. He, therefore, buffers candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump takes the hits for the heretofore “unspeakable truths,” while other conservatives in the race have the luxury of looking composed, deliberative, presidential.
Trump has made three commitments to the American people, causing voters to look past his flaws:
1) Destroy the stronghold of the establishment politicians and media
2) Find what works and do it, come hell, high water or political correctness
3) Loyalty matters. It looks like this: If you are loyal to him, he is loyal to you. In the mind of the American voter, that could translate as, “If you are loyal to America, America will be loyal to you. And you want that.”
3) Can a flawed, loose-lipped, reality TV star bomb thrower like Trump actually function as president?
Trump has become infamous for political “gaffes” that many were certain would sink him. After all, far smaller gaffes have sunk candidates for decades. Why do his supporters seem to ignore his shortcomings, celebrate them even, while the rest of the world stands in shock? His supporters don’t mind because of two basic psychological truths that everyone is ignoring.
The first is that everyone is an armchair president. Everyone who pays attention to politics believes they could do a better job. They realize they are flawed, that they misspeak, that they speak out in anger, and suddenly there is a candidate with whom they can relate. Trump’s supporters, if you watch their comments from a psychological perspective alone, not only agree with him, they identify with him. When Megyn Kelly attacks Trump, they aren’t watching it happen, they are experiencing it. This is different and could not have happened without the next psychological truth that many ignore.
Everyone has also been an underdog. When the media attack, Trump supporters experience the attacks on a very personal level. Even self-identified “progressives” like Dr. Drew can relate to biased attacks, and therefore are perhaps more curious about a Trump candidacy than they would be for someone who hasn’t been so attacked, like Dr. Ben Carson or Bobby Jindal. The media and initial GOP attacks effectively handed Trump the one thing he couldn’t self-manufacture: the sympathy effect.
Many knock Trump’s reality TV experience, but I think they are again missing the psychological component in play. Americans aren’t fascinated by the entertainment aspect of reality TV as much as they have become obsessed with reality itself. In an ever more plastic world, people long for raw reality. Even though reality TV is manufactured in most cases (as I well know after I did ABC’s “Wife Swap” reality show), that doesn’t change that Americans are fascinated with it because they are searching for raw and real. Trump is both, however flawed.
4) Why do those who attack him evaporate like mist?
Most Americans feel like they haven’t been heard. As every psychologist knows, when you get a person in therapy who feels like they haven’t been heard, and you merely mirror their statements to let them know you hear them, they open up like an erupting volcano!
There are many people watching Trump who do not yet support him but who still feel they have had no voice in the political arena; therefore, they appreciate his narrative and feel like he is speaking for them. When someone attacks Trump, in their mind, that person is attacking their own voice. They then draw closer to the source that is perceived to be “in their corner,” and that is how Trump has continued to sweep up support.
5) Why has someone who says divisive things produced such unity among nontraditional and minority voters?
Ironically, I believe that is for the same reason that those who attack him dissipate (above). For too long, people have felt voiceless because those who say they speak for them, really don’t. I wrote an entire book for this reason. My co-authors, Ann-Marie Murrell and Morgan Brittany and I were so sick and tired of being “represented” by rabid feminists and groups like the National Organization for Women that we lashed back with our own narrative about what really matters to women in our best-selling book, “What Women Really Want.”
As Rick Warren said, “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
Black people are tired of being told they only get to be represented by the likes of race-baiters like Al Sharpton. They are business leaders, family leaders and much more than their skin color.
Women are tired of being told that their vote can be sold for $10 per month in free birth control, or an organization that sells baby parts and preys on women in their most vulnerable time. Women feel they are much more than their gender.
Despite desperate media attempts to paint Hispanics as single-issue voters (amnesty), more than 35 percent of Hispanics vote Republican, and those numbers are increasing. Those most hurt by illegal immigration are legal immigrants, so many of them are die-hard GOP voters, hoping that Republicans will quell the influx of those who cut in line and come here to commit crime, in some cases.
All Americans are tired of division, and Main Street voters recognize that just because I am pro-life and you are pro-choice, we don’t have to hate each other. Or just because I am pro-traditional marriage, and you are pro-gay marriage, that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends and work together for a better America based upon areas in which we do agree.
The bottom line is that blacks, women and Hispanics are people first. They want it to be known that they are more than their race, more than their body parts and more than their origin. They are screaming for individual recognition in an increasingly progressive tribal culture. Trump unites those groups on that psychological basis, while political analysts scratch their heads.
Trump has eviscerated the predictions of those who have traditionally been good at guessing the rise and fall of presidential candidates. I am going to take a stab anyway. My prediction is this: As long as he is loyal to the three principles he has made clear in his run thus far, his supporters will be loyal to him, and he can win. If he does win, or he is part of a winning team, the world could see a return of Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill.” It has been a rough road back to America’s rugged exceptionalism, but it could come back. And that could be huge.