Yes, I’ve been very preoccupied with the survivor all through my work.
When I was still in my psychiatric residency training in New York City, I was subjected to the doctor draft of that time, during the early fifties, at the time of the Korean War.
The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.
But I spent just two calendar years at Cornell University, though it was covering more than three years of work, and then went to medical school and did become interested in psychiatry, and even helped form a kind of psychiatry club in medical school.
It may sound terrible, but I often say that the military saved me from a conventional life in the United States and I’ve never really thanked them for it, because I haven’t exactly been pro-military in my work.
There’s an all-enveloping destructiveness in Donald Trump’s character and in his psychological tendencies. But I’ve focused on what professionally I call solipsistic reality. Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world. He’s not psychotic, but I think ultimately this solipsistic reality will be the source of his removal from the presidency.
Again, I was influenced by my father, who was very much an atheist and took pride in combating the traditional or orthodox forms of Judaism, which his parents and which my mother’s parents were very steeped in.
For anyone with the traits – of feeling himself victimized, of seeking to be the strongman who resolves everything, yet sees truth only through his own self and negates all other truth outside of it – is bound to become more malignant when he has power. Power then breeds an intensification of all this because the power can never be absolute power – to some extent it’s stymied – but the isolation while in power becomes even more dangerous. Think of it as a vicious circle. The power intensifies these tendencies and the tendencies become more dangerous because of the power.
The other thing that happened was my last military assignment – this was in the air force; I had enlisted in order to avoid being drafted as a private, and of course I only practiced medicine or psychiatry in the air force so I was never in any kind of violent combat.
Sometimes its said that psychiatrists are doctors who are frightened by the sight of blood. I might have fallen into that category.
And I was troubled by the heavy-handed prose of so much psychoanalytic writing, which seemed drowned in its own concepts.
The American president has particular power. This makes Trump the most dangerous man in the world. He’s equally dangerous because of his finger on the nuclear trigger and because of his mind ensconced in solipsistic reality. The two are a dreadful combination.
Donald Trump doesn’t have clear contact with reality, though I’m not sure it qualifies as a bona fide delusion. He needs things to be a certain way even though they aren’t, and that’s one reason he lies. There can also be a conscious manipulative element to it. When he put forward, and politically thrived on, the falsehood of President Obama’s birth in Kenya, outside the United States, he was manipulating that lie as well as undoubtedly believing it in part, at least in a segment of his personality.
And I managed to arrange to get some research support and to stay in Hong Kong for another year and a half, interviewing people coming out of China, both Westerners and Chinese. And that was my first real research study on thought reform or so-called brainwashing.
David Frankfurter’s valuable, well-written study takes us to the far reaches of demonology. In documenting the harm done by labeling others evil, he poses a challenge to those of us who believe, however regretfully, in the necessity of the concept.
The one-sided exploitation of existential guilt is thought reform’s trump card, and perhaps its most important source of emotional influence over its participants. Revolving around it are issues most decisive to thought reform’s outcome.
As a kid I was fascinated with sports, and I loved sports more than anything else. The first books I read were about sports, like books about Baseball Joe, as one baseball hero was called.
I did the first study because I had been exposed to something that I took to be important and interesting – this thought reform process – in the military.
But when I went to Hiroshima and began to study or just listen to people’s descriptions of their work, it was quite clear they were talking about death all the time, about people dying all around them, about their own fear of death.
One reason that I embarked on a study of Nazi doctors was that in this personal journey, I had the feeling increasingly that I did want to do a Holocaust study and that increasingly I wanted it to be of perpetrators, which I thought was more needed.
I don’t have the feeling that as a very young person I read books that absolutely made their mark on my mind.
In sum, doubling is the psychological means by which one invokes the evil potential of the self. That evil is neither inherent in the self nor foreign to it. To live out the doubling and call forth the evil is a moral choice for which one is responsible, whatever the level of consciousness involved.
Donald Trump gives the impression that he would like to govern by decree. He has that impulse in him and he wants to be a savior, so he says, in his famous phrase, "Only I can fix it!" That’s a strange and weird statement for anybody to make, but it’s central to Trump’s sense of self and self-presentation. And I think that has a lot to do with his identification with dictators. No matter how many they kill and no matter what else they do, they have this capacity to rule by decree without any interference by legislators or courts.
I’m a Brooklyn boy. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised there, and spent most of my childhood there.
Every adult in the world has some sense that he or she might be obliterated at any time by these weapons that we have created.
People with what we call mental illness can indeed serve well, and people who have no discernible mental illness – and that may be true of Trump – may not be able to serve, may be quite unfit. So it isn’t always the question of a psychiatric diagnosis. It’s really a question of what psychological and other traits render one unfit or dangerous.
We have a duty to warn on an individual basis if we are treating someone who may be dangerous to herself or to others – a duty to warn people who are in danger from that person. We feel it’s our duty to warn the country about the danger of this president. If we think we have learned something about Donald Trump and his psychology that is dangerous to the country, yes, we have an obligation to say so.
In early psychoanalytic thought, narcissism was – and still, of course, is – self-love. The early psychoanalysts used to talk of libido directed at the self. That now feels a little quaint, that kind of language. But it does include the most fierce and self-displaying form of one’s individual self. And in this way, it can be dangerous. When you look at Donald Trump, you can really see someone who’s destructive to any form of life enhancement in virtually every area. And if that’s what Fromm means by malignant narcissism, then it definitely applies.
There’s more and more recognition that a carbon economy is dangerous to us economically. And there is increasing recognition that renewable fuels have economic value as well as obvious value for our health and our well-being and our survival. In fact, as you know, the economic revolution in renewable fuels has been impressive. It really had not been anticipated.
While Donald Trump doesn’t have any systematic ideology, he does have a narrative, and in that narrative, America was once a great country, it’s been weakened by poor leadership, and only he can make it great again by taking over. And that’s an image of himself as a strongman, a dictator. It isn’t the clear ideology of being a fascist or some other clear-cut ideological figure. Rather, it’s a narrative of himself as being unique and all-powerful. He believes it, though I’m sure he’s got doubts about it.
The scientists who made the atomic bomb are, in my sense, people with a tragic destiny. You know, there was the US race with Nazi Germany and good evidence that the Germans were more advanced in nuclear physics, and we had to get the bomb first. But then there was the use of that dreadful weapon, or instrument of genocide, and many of the more sensitive scientists turned quickly into anti – nuclear people – and very effective ones.
I learned a lot from Vietnam veterans, especially as some of them turned against their own war.
There is a movement of more people recognizing global warming as a danger, recognizing the human contribution to global warming, recognizing the necessity for doing something about it. So there’s a trend in that direction, and that trend is consistent with what a climate swerve – which is, as we’re both saying, a mindset.
I never quite envisioned myself a proper doctor under that white coat, but I was interested in the idea of healing and in the psychological dimension rather early on.
With the nuclear threat we know that if sufficient weapons are used, human civilization – all of humankind – could be extinguished literally by "nuclear winter." So we have to see ourselves as part of the ultimate human group, just as we have to do with global warming.