Dealing with Trump
James Fallows has a good column on the Trump problem. Here’s just a part of it:
3) Dealing with this kind of man. While I was chronicling Donald Trump’s lies, outbursts, and attention-failures in the Time Capsule series, I received a large amount of mail offering medical hypotheses for why he might behave the way he did. I suspect the same is true of most other reporters who have written about him. And like most other press operations, while the campaign was underway, TheAtlantic deliberately decided not to “medicalize” any discussion of Trump’s behavior. Most of us are not doctors; even the doctors who were writing to us had not dealt with Trump firsthand; and from a civic point of view, the real issue was the behavior itself, not whatever label you might attach to it.
The campaign is now over; Trump is set to assume enormous power; and the world and the country need to understand how to deal with him. A reader with professional expertise in this field has sent a note on how journalism should prepare for Trump, especially in thinking about his nonstop string of lies.
Again, to be clear, this reader is not “medicalizing” Trump’s behavior or recommending that the press do so. But there are common-sense meanings for terms to describe behavior, which we can use without suggesting a medical diagnosis. We can say someone seems cruel without saying he’s a psychopath; that he seems amoral without claiming he’s a sociopath; that he seems moody or depressed without implying a clinical diagnosis. And in common-sense terms, anyone can see that Trump’s behavior is narcissistic, regardless of underlying cause. I turn it over to the reader:
Now that he is poised to assume power, I (and a lot of others) are feeling some urgency around holding his worst tendencies in check and preventing him from following through on his noxious campaign challenges.
It troubles me to observe that so far the news media are having trouble when they deal with him directly. I am seeing good investigative reporting on his conflicts of interest, for instance, but it looked like the NY Times just sort of rolled over when they interviewed him in person.
Nobody seems to realize that normal rules do not apply when you are interviewing a narcissist. You can’t go about this in the way you were trained, because he is an expert at manipulating the very rules you learned. It’s clear to me that reporters (and anyone else) who will deal with DT directly need to take a crash course in handling someone displaying these behaviors.
The Times got in trouble by trying to make sense of his words. It’s an easy mistake for people in a word-saturated medium to make, but anyone who’s dealt with a narcissist knows you never, ever believe what they say—because they will say whatever the person they are talking to wants to hear. DT is a master at phrasing things vaguely enough that multiple listeners will be able to hear exactly what they want. It isn’t word salad; it’s overt deception, which is much more pernicious.
But the Times fell for it. I’m watching the same mistake get made over and over again, but I don’t know how to help journalists get out of the trap. If we are going to survive the days ahead, someone needs to teach reporters the difference between naming narcissism—[JF note: which, to emphasize, there is no point doing]— vs. dealing effectively with a narcissist.
There’s a ton of information out there about how to deal with narcissists. I would really like to see journalists get as interested in the topic—and adept at the strategies—as abused spouses are. We need to somehow widely disseminate ideas for dealing with it.
Nicole Hemmer in the US News & World Report wrote an excellent and specific description of Donald Trump’s verbal style:
This is an intervention.
You have a problem.
He’s gaslighting you.
It’s a technique abusers use: Through manipulation and outright lies, they so disorient their target that the person (or in this case, the country) is left defenseless.
Trump is a toxic blend of Barnum and bully. If you’re a good mark, he’s your best friend. But if you catch on to the con, then he starts to gaslight. Ask him a question and he’ll lie without batting an eye. Call him a liar and he’ll declare himself “truthful to a fault.” Confront him with contradictory evidence and he’ll shrug and repeat the fib. Maybe he’ll change the subject. But he’ll never change the lie.
Evidence? He says he never settles lawsuits. He says he’s polling better than Clinton in New York. He says he never encourages violence at his rallies. He says he’s winning Latinos. He says he’s the first candidate to mention immigration. He says, he says, he says.
But forget all that, because evidence is for losers.
Political journalists have been repeatedly criticized for not confronting Trump on his lies. But of course they have. For political journalists, a politician caught in a lie is chum in the water. But when they confront Trump with his lies, he doesn’t behave like most people. He doesn’t blush or equivocate or argue. He steamrolls. He bullies. He lies some more. And the journalists don’t know what to do. They brought facts to an ego fight, and found them to be worthless weapons.
If it’s hard to wrap your mind around the gaslighting of a nation, just watch the dynamics at work on a single person: Michelle Fields. While covering a Trump rally last Tuesday, Fields was grabbed and pulled toward the ground. Ben Terris of the Washington Post reports seeing Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski do it. Fields has bruises on her forearm and there was audio of the event. Lewandowski himself reportedly told a Breitbart editor he grabbed Fields.
So what happened next?
Lewandowski said Fields was crazy. “Totally delusional,” he tweeted. Trump suggested she made the whole thing up. As my colleague Robert Schlesinger put it, “the Trump campaign pulled straight from the attack-the-victim playbook typically deployed against those who raise accusations of sexual assault – she’s delusional, she’s making things up, why didn’t she tell the police, she has a history of this kind of behavior.”
In other words: gaslighting.
And what does this look like as he does it to an entire nation? Let’s go to Chicago, where Trump cancelled a planned appearance, resulting in a series of scuffles between outraged Trump supporters and cheering protestors.
Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show that night, Trump said law enforcement had advised him to cancel the rally out of safety concerns.
The Chicago Police Department says it never advised Trump to cancel. . .