A person with a poker face reveals nothing. Conversely, a player may blink or sigh or talk or clam up or shift in his chair or touch his ear, and this is called a tell. Watchful players learn to recognize these tells as an unconscious sign that signals a bluff or a winning hand.
After over a year of watching Donald Trump, it has become obvious that he has a kind of tell, though in his case it is more like a confession. If he accuses someone else of something, he’s guilty of it. Examples are on display every time he opens his mouth.
He gives his opponents denigrating nicknames. He called Ted Cruz, Lyin’ Ted, for example. No doubt Cruz is as untrustworthy as any politician, but Trump has become the world record holder in this contest, the winner of more Pinocchios than any previous competitor. Fact checkers regularly discover 60%, 70% or more of what he says is false. Often obviously, embarrassingly, indisputably false.
He calls his Democratic foe Crooked Hillary and says she ought to be in jail. No doubt Mrs. Clinton has sailed a bit close to the wind, and if her party was hunting a first lady to become president Michelle Obama would be a more admirable choice.
But for Trump to accuse anyone of being crooked is hilarious. His entire carer has been a litany of illegalities. Whole books have been written about his transgressions. He and his father were cited by the federal government for violations of civil rights law as discriminating landlords
He hired non-union, illegal alien workers and paid less than minimum wage, reneged on contracts for services rendered and stiffed innumerable tradesmen, not to mention his molesting of women. A trial for rape is working its way through the justice system as we speak. But justice is hard to come by when a very wealthy man and his phalanx of lawyers can delay and obstruct and outlast and smear the damaged parties while loudly asserting his innocence.
And most recently, in reacting to women coming forward to say he sexually molested them, Trump sought to answer an obvious question. If the claims aren’t true, why would eight or more women do it? What could be their motivation? His explanation is that they hoped to become famous, or to make money or because they were involved in a conspiracy to bully him. Just the sorts of things that so clearly motivate him.
What are we to make of such a creature? Well, there is a psychological term for someone who denies “the existence of one’s own impulses or qualities by attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude.” What’s this called? Projection.
And who has a habitual resort to this kind of compulsive denial and projection? Well, people classified as suffering from NPD — that is, narcissistic personality disorder. And how do we recognize such aberrant personalities besides their penchant for denying their own flaws and attributing them to others?
They have exaggerated feelings of self-importance. Sound like anyone we know? They have an excessive need for admiration and a lack of understanding of the feelings of others, like not wanting to be groped by a total stranger. The have an obsessive focus on achieving power or success. And to get their way, they often take advantage of others. Check, check and check.
Narcissists also exaggerate their skills and accomplishments, perhaps claiming their every hotel or golf course is not just okay but the greatest in the world, or that they know about military strategy than all the generals put together, or that they have a higher net worth than they do, or that they are business successes when they have repeatedly crashed and burned, or that they are tough and smart and all other candidates weak and stupid.
They exaggerate their level of intimacy with people they consider to be of higher status. Think of the number of times Trump has claimed some bigwig or sports icon is “ a very good friend of mine,” even Vladimir Putin who he’s never actually met.
They monopolize conversations and are miffed if others try to speak. Remember Trump’s introduction of Mike Pence as his running mate? Trump ran on for a half hour about himself. Pence hardly got a chance to speak. Or take a look at any pubic appearance by Trump. He inevitably seems to be delivering a eulogy for himself and his greatness.
Most frightening in a president, NPD sufferers like Trump can’t bear to be criticized but act as if praise is catnip, making them easy to manipulate. If they are blamed or dissed or have their genius, talent, excellence, or perfection questioned they respond with anger and hostility, by counterattacking and blaming the critic, with denial, rage, defiance or the attempt to get revenge. Thus, the hundreds of lawsuits Trump has launched. And the ease with which Hillary baited him in debate. And his constant denial of things he has already said and admitted to saying, that have been captured on tape.
The final three weeks of this campaign look like they will be aimed at denying he is a serial abuser of women, though obviously a narcissist would assume anyone he meets would want to yield to his devastating, irresistible charm.
So, he has already threatened to sic his lawyers on the New York Times and People Magazine for reporting on his bad behavior. He isn’t at fault. The reporters are. The victims are. They are all liars. They are in a conspiracy against him.
And he will continue to attack Hillary for the sins of her husband. God knows, Bill has got some unsavory pathology of his own going, including an inability to turn down the inevitable groupies that celebrity brings. And obviously Hillary was crazy enough to be his enabler, but many women will understand that sad dynamic. In any case, how does Bill’s past make five charges of molestation (and counting) and one of rape against Trump go away?
Well, it won’t as far as the women, the news media and the voters are concerned. But through the magic of projection, in Trump’s mind he’s not a repulsive sex offender, other people are, his accusers are the villains. His victims are pigs. They are disgusting. They weren’t good looking enough to bother molesting. He is not just America’s savior, but God;s gift to women and those chosen are lucky to have him. Those cheated or defrauded by him are lucky to have been so honored.
And if the voters don’t see it that way, he will be unable to accept their damning judgement at face value. He has already signaled he will claim he was betrayed by the forces of darkness. The game will have been rigged. He will have been undone by a vast conspiracy. How else could a winner like him become a loser?
Since psychologists regard the narcissist as almost impossible to treat since they can’t admit they have a problem, even if Trump loses we may have to put up with endless denial, rage, attempts at revenge and self-justification. One can only pray the media will cease giving him airtime, the Republican party will break free of the folie a deux it seems to be locked into, and his family will throw a net over the loser and confine him to the classiest padded cell in history, atop his tower or in the dungeon of Mar-A-Lago.