The Washington Post today reports that President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading statements since he became President and that the pace of these untruths or misleading statements has risen from 5.9 to 16.5 a day between the first and second year of his term. Indeed, so misleading are many of his statements that the Washington Post has had to create a new category – Bottomless Pinocchio’s – so as to be able to rate his statements. These Bottomless Pinocchio’s include the claim that the 2017 tax cuts were the biggest in history (nowhere near), overstatement of the impact and scale of US trade deficits and the idea that the US economy has never been stronger.
What the Post doesn’t understand, and many journalists fall into this trap, is that for Trump they are not lies or untruths. This is because Trump’s world and his understanding of the world are not at all the same as the rest of humanity.
President Trump believes in a different world. One in which trade deficits are like a balance sheet (they are not), a casual comment from Kim Jong Un is equal to a commitment, Putin is a friend, not an enemy and that dictators are not bad, just effective.
He is delusional about his own accomplishments and abilities – just count the number of times he has claimed “no one knows more about…[fill in the blank] than I do!”. He also is delusional about his electoral base – never accepting that he massively lost the popular vote (election fraud is his explanation) or that the base will follow him no matter what he does. His view of the midterm election – “we won” – is another example of delusional thinking in action.
He has always been delusional – it is not a new condition for him – and some have suggested that his mental state is linked to the possibility that he may have neurosyphillis (as did Delius, Schubert and Al Capone and possibly Mussolini, Hitler and Ivan the Terrible). Whether he does or not, it is clear that his delusional thinking and world-view has consequences. For example, this last weekend he praised San Antonio for its handling of immigrants because of its wall – a wall it doesn’t actually have.
The idea that he is a Russian asset – something he has denied – is an attempt by sensible people to make sense of his behaviour. After all, he is achieving many of Putin’s objectives – destabilize the US, NATO, Europe, supported right-wing leaders (Brazil, Hungary, Philippines) and don’t support increasing collaboration with China, pull out of Syria (leaving it as a Russian asset) – without getting much in return. However, as some commentators note, he may be doing this unwittingly (or half-wittedly) rather than intentionally supporting Russian political objectives. Given that he doesn’t read briefings, understand global politics or have any sense of real-politic, I go with the half-wit version of this. He is living in his understanding of the world, not ours.
As a psychologist, I need to make clear that I am offering observations not a diagnosis and am reflecting on what I see in the absence of detailed analysis.