Donald Trump is a one-person Rorschach test


The idea that many of our perceptions of other people are shaped by our own biases and expectations is not new. What is quite extraordinary is how extreme this divergence is when it comes to Donald Trump. Where his critics see ignorance, his supporters see a big picture person who leaves the details to others. Where his critics see someone who cheats and stiffs other people and finagles his taxes, his supporters see a brilliant business mind. Where his critics see a petty, narcissistic, insecure person who lacks self-awareness and cannot acknowledge even the smallest mistake or fault, his supporters see a dominant and inerrant man, who is so sure of himself that he never needs to back down. Where his critics see a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, his supporters see someone who is not afraid of being ‘politically incorrect’. Where his critics see arrogance, his supporters see self-confidence. Where his critics see a lack of empathy, his supporters see a hardheaded realist.

Josh Marshall looked at an instance last week where Trump went on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News and continued to talk about Alicia Machado, five days after her name was mentioned at the debate, and what his comments there reveal about him.

The words amount to what we might term ‘stand-up narcissism’, a demonstration of a personality defect so profound and total that it becomes comedic in a way that makes a decent run at transcending its own awfulness. His self-regard and conscienceless-ness is so total that it is beyond him to realize that his “a good deed never goes unpunished” lament doesn’t make him look like a chauvinist asshole so much as a clownish version of a chauvinist asshole. It so perfectly mirrors Trump’s self-immolation with the Khans that it’s hard to believe the Clinton staffers who planned this could have imagined it would work so well.

Any halfway competent campaign would realize the ‘talking points’ on this issue are quite simple: Don’t talk about it! The ‘charges’ against Trump are nothing more than things he said on video. There are no charges. Just quotes. There is nothing in dispute. It’s just showing people what he said.

But ‘not talking about it’ assumes, actually requires you can get Trump to stop talking about it – especially, stop talking about how overweight she was or what a stand up guy he was for trying to get her to lose weight.

But he can’t. Why? Because he can’t be wrong. Not just ‘can’t be wrong’ but ‘has to be right’. Sounds like the same thing but it’s not. The latter quality forces him to keep talking and keep litigating a case he can’t possibility win.

Now he’s angry at campaign allies and evens staff for saying he didn’t do well in the debate. None of us like criticism. Some of us ‘can’t take criticism’. But Trump can’t take criticism at an entirely different level.

One wonders how the insecure Trump will react to the reports of media commentators who say that, despite his many outright lies (because who cares about the truth anymore?), Mike Pence’s performance in his debate was better than Trump’s in his.

The cartoon strip Doonesbury has been caricaturing Trump on and off for nearly three decades and creator Garry Trudeau has now compiled a retrospective collection of all of them. It is clear that Trudeau saw right through Trump a long time ago as we see in this cartoon from 1999 that seems to implicitly reference the Dunning-Kruger effect that afflicts Trump and that I have written about before here.

doonesbury-trump

John Cleese succinctly explains the Dunning-Kruger effect in less than one minute, though he unfortunately conflates the ignorance and lack of self-awareness that lie at the heart of the effect with stupidity.

Comments

  1. sonofrojblake says

    Good article at the Guardian on how your perception of Donald Trump is strongly correlated with your level of education:
    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/05/trump-brexit-education-gap-tearing-politics-apart

    I’m really interested in the small minority of highly educated people who nevertheless actually support Trump. What on earth is motivating them?

    The lesson of 2016 so far (apart from “if you’re famous, put your affairs in order”) is don’t underestimate the disillusionment of the proles. It’s horrible, and I’m crossing all my digits for a Clinton victory. The polls so far have it too close to call… which is not good news.

  2. Jake Harban says

    Where his critics see ignorance, his supporters see a big picture person who leaves the details to others. Where his critics see someone who cheats and stiffs other people and finagles his taxes, his supporters see a brilliant business mind.

    Or in other words, where Trump’s critics see [glaring defect], his supporters see [glaring defect rephrased to put a half-assed positive spin on it].

    Trump is almost a perfect caricature of a spoiled aristocrat. With him running on the Republican ticket, the Democrats have had to bend over backwards farther than usual to give him a fighting chance.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Donald Trump is a one-person Rorschach test

    Yet another way he displays his uncanny resemblance to Jesus!

  4. John Smith says

    The man is such a buffoon. I’m honestly convinced that he says racist things thinking that they’re completely alright and not at all racist. I don’t know how people like him, but I can understand people who say he’s better than Clinton. He is, unlike her and Kaine and Pence, not instinctively a warmonger. I can also understand people who say she’s better than Trump, although personally I’d advise against gauging a candidate by their rhetoric alone, especially when it differs so greatly from their records.

    That’s how I perceive him – the result of my Rorschach test. He is

    @1 I hope you’re not rooting for Clinton so much as against Trump. Clinton is a Wall St Warhawk who is much more likely to go to war unchallenged. She will continue the Palestinian Genocide and probably escalate a second cold war for profit. When even John Oliver does a shill piece for her, that is a problem in my opinion. Personally, I am rooting against Clinton, because 8 years of Clinton or Clinton then Pence or Clinton then Cruz will be a lot worse than 4 or even (god forbid) 8 years of Trump. Trump has no political clout (though Pence does) and may get a lot of things done that are quite regressive. And Trump can’t just order a nuclear strike (The SoD would need to approve it). Trump will be a terrible president, but Clinton will deregulate and trickle down while so called progressives (perhaps led by a sold out Sanders, perhaps fighting against him) will silence dissent and demand obedience from them. Any primary challenge to Clinton in 2020 will be beaten down. That’s why a legitimate left wing party needs to be formed. If Jill Stein reaches 5%, that means Greens get major party status. If Josh Harris wins Baltimore, that’s also a big step toward legitmizing a third party. If all the major left third parties merged (Vermont Progressives & LU, Working Families, Green and Peace and Freedom) we’d have a real force to be reckoned with. That’s why I hope you can vote for Jill Stein.

  5. Holms says

    @1 I hope you’re not rooting for Clinton so much as against Trump.

    In any practical measure, there is no difference between the two.

  6. says

    @5
    There very much is. Rooting for Clinton implies acceptance of her policies (war, deregulation, and so on).

    Rooting against Trump is a calculation of lesser harm. Her bullshit is not to be embraced, she’s only considered as a choice in the face of worseness personified.

    If most people root against Trump (good), he will lose and Hillary’s policies will be rejected when appropriate (also good).
    If most people root for Hillary, Trump will lose (good) but Hillary will be viewed as harmless by the general public. Her advocacy of war and corporatism will receive no scrutiny (horrible).

  7. sonofrojblake says

    I can’t vote for anyone, I’m in the UK. If I could vote, I’d hold my nose and vote Clinton, but that may be because I’m misunderstanding just how powerless a President Trump might be. As the day approaches, I’m seeing more and more pundits saying things along the lines of “well, IF he wins it won’t be so bad because Congress won’t let him do anything”. Which sounds like whistling in the dark, but on the other hand it is consistent with the excuses offered why, after eight years of an Obama presidency, so little has changed.

  8. Mano Singham says

    sonofrojblake,

    The president does have a lot of power. While Congress can be somewhat of a check on actual legislation, and in the case for much of Obama’s term they have managed to stymie many of his legislative measures, there are many purely executive actions that the president can take that have a real impact on people. I discussed some of these in this post.

    So thinking that Trump will be too boxed in to do anything bad is a mistaken assumption.

  9. John Smith says

    @mano Yes, but Clinton will likely do things as bad as Trump with executive power. “Droning Assange” for example. That is not to excuse Trump, of course. But have no illusions – Clinton can get crony legislation passed AND abuse executive power at the same time. Remember it was Obama’s most significant legacy to provide a legal framework and precedent for all sorts of human rights abuses – “due process, not judicial process” Obama has wreaked more havoc in the middle east than Bush ever could – largely because of his clout with liberals excusing him from many political consequences. Clinton is more hawkish – and although she has less clout, she cares less about the perception of accountability than Obama. Maybe it is that the threat of Trump hasn’t quite set in for me yet, but I find it hard to imagine that Clinton is better than Trump despite the constant stream of liquid vomit that pours from his lips.

  10. John Morales says

    John Smith:

    Yes, but Clinton will likely do things as bad as Trump with executive power.

    Really. How so?

    “Droning Assange” for example.

    What? Neither has (nor is likely to) “Drone Assange”.

    (Adducing a non-example as an example is telling, if futile for the purpose of justifying your assertion)

    But have no illusions – Clinton can get crony legislation passed AND abuse executive power at the same time.

    So, Trump could not similarly do so?

    (So, basically, you’re arguing that both are nasty, but Clinton is more competent and thus the effected nastiness would be worse? Interesting approach!)

    That is not to excuse Trump, of course.

    Excuse Trump from what? You haven’t yet accused him of anything*.

    […]

    Maybe it is that the threat of Trump hasn’t quite set in for me yet, but I find it hard to imagine that Clinton is better than Trump despite the constant stream of liquid vomit that pours from his lips.

    No dispute that your flaws are evident; but yes: that you purportedly find it hard to imagine that Clinton is better than Trump despite the constant stream of liquid vomit that pours from his lips is a huge one.

    (Want some pity? You qualify for it)

    * As I previewed this comment before publishing, I realised you’ve indicated you do not excuse “the constant stream of liquid vomit that pours from his lips”, in your own charming terms.

    (That notwithstanding, I acknowledge you say you “find it hard to imagine that Clinton is better than Trump”)

  11. John Smith says

    @10: You want examples of bad things Clinton’s done? Honduras, Haiti, drones, Syria, Libya, Iraq & Israel. That’s for foreign policy. For domestic and social policy you have: Crime bill, Patriot Act, DOMA, NSA. For climate change you have: Keystone XL – and selling fracking. For economic policy you have: Glass-Stegal, Telecommunications deregulation, Welfare Reform and “Free” Trade. The attempt at Medicare/SS reform. (Thwarted, thank god for Miss Lewinsky). She is proud of supporting that and The Simpson Bowles Commission. When you evaluate actions as well as words, Clinton is just as bad as Trump. For racism and misogyny you have: Juanita Broaddrick, Anita Hill (not her, but your boss David Brock), Kathy Shaw, a child rape victim she shamed as part of her legal career. She slut-shamed her husband’s shags – called Gennifer Flowers the daughter of Willie Horton. You have super-predators. For corruption: you have McCain-Feingold (she fought against it), Panama Trade Deal, Clinton Foundation. Let’s not compare Trump used car salesman-like con foundation to Clinton’s global influence peddling.

    Again, this is not saying that Trump is good. That would be an insane argument to make. But one shouldn’t vote for Clinton out of fear for Trump. Frankly, history will not spare Bernie Sanders as well for his cowardly decision to not run third party.

    Just because she is more reserved doesn’t make her the slightest bit better. Actually it makes her worse, because people aren’t going to challenge her as much, when she is just as dangerous.

    She is in many ways more of the same. In her policy positions and outlook she is the establishment. Where she differs greatly from the establishment is her accountability. Obama cares a lot about public relations. She cares about your vote and nothing more.

  12. says

    @10
    “droning Assange” is (and will likely remain) hearsay. Having said that, there is still plenty of nastiness to Hillary Clinton that you seem to be ignoring. And Democrats in general haven’t been exactly kind to whistleblowers (She wants to put Snowden on trial and didn’t have nice things to say about Chelsea Manning).

    She supported tough-on-crime laws, NAFTA, the TPP, the Patriot Act, building a wall along the border (but Trump’s is worse!!!), the Iraq war and DOMA.

    Is she still for a No-Fly zone in Syria? Such project would require sending ground troops to invade a middle eastern country (and that went soooo well for you last time). Remember how everyone was (justifiably) losing their shit when Trump said he would not take nuclear weapons off the table in potential conflicts? Further involvement in Syria increases the danger of armed conflict with Russia. She accused them (on fuck-all evidence) of hacking the DNC right after saying that she would respond to cyber-attacks with the military. Do you think that nuclear weapons will be off the table in an armed conflict with Russia? Your best case scenario is reigniting the Cold War.

    Is she still pro-fracking? We just crossed the CO2 threshold last month, her half-ass compromised measures will not do shit to change that. She used her Secretary of State position push fracking on other nations, despite all the science linking it to environmental damage, poisoned rivers and motherfucking earthquakes.

    Do you think that national sovereignty is valuable at all? Because her prior history shows a person who will meddle in third world countries’ politics to fight for the wrong team. Every. Damn. Time.
    She got involved in Haiti to keep their starvation *ahem…* minimum wage as low as possible to protect the bottom line of american corporations.
    She kept sending aid to Honduras (despite the law) and helped install the phony government that made it the murder capital of the world. What was Zelaya doing before the coup? Oh yeah, raising the minimum wage.
    She made an exception for South Sudan. The law says that any government using child soldiers mustn’t receive american aid, since it would only incentivize their use. She pushed an exception because her strategic interests in Sudan are clearly more important than the humanitarian crisis going on there.

    She pushed to overthrow the Libyan government because it was a tyrannical dictatorship, like the Saudis. But she won’t touch the saudis (she’ll even arm them) because they keep their oil cheap and are such beautiful, charitable, human beings that they send millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation to help those in need (because they care so much).

    I could go on…

    Do you think any of this is acceptable? Decent, even? Could her past decisions be a reasonable cause of discomfort for potential voters?

    Wouldn’t you have issues supporting her if you:
    …had family in one of the countries she’s helped harm?
    …were in danger of being sent to fight her wars?
    …were paying a ridiculously high college debt and didn’t trust her to do dick about it?
    …had a family member who is ineligible for obamacare and in need for a better plan that (in her words) “will never ever come to pass”?
    …were hit badly by NAFTA and the TPP had the potential of affecting you further?
    …were called a super predator by her in the 90’s and imprisoned by her husband’s insane laws?
    …hate that assholes like Trump are allowed to thrive under the bankruptcy laws she supported?

    Your flaw is a that you just can’t empathize with people who don’t share your level of privilege.
    You won’t listen to them. You won’t care about their problems. You won’t acknowledge that some of this shit could be life or death for millions.

    You’ll just ignore them, gaslight them if you can. Minimize them, pretend they don’t exist, and then scratch your head wondering how could so many people be seriously considering not voting for her.
    They must be fucking stupid, amirite?

  13. John Morales says

    John Smith:

    You want examples of bad things Clinton’s done?

    Nope. I was quite explicit, and unambiguous: What I wrote is “Excuse Trump from what? You haven’t yet accused him of anything.”

    Again, this is not saying that Trump is good.

    And yet again, I acknowledge you say you “find it hard to imagine that Clinton is better than Trump”. But you are saying you can’t imagine how Clinton could be better.

    But one shouldn’t vote for Clinton out of fear for Trump.

    … after all, it’s hard (for you, specifically) to even imagine Clinton might be better than Trump.

    (heh)

    She is in many ways more of the same.

    She is in more ways more progressive than Trump, too… so, what’s your point?

    She cares about your vote and nothing more.

    Such ostensible certitude!

    So, you are weighing in to say that you can’t figure out which is worse.

    (Argumentum ad ignorantiam FTW!)

  14. John Morales says

    A Lurker from mexico, you are amusing.

    Merely listing all the ways A is bad is not a basis for judging B.

    (Are you like the troll, unable to even imagine Clinton might be better than Trump?)

  15. John Morales says

    In passing, John Cleese is on record as claiming that political correctness is going amok and, if unchecked, will lead to 1984.

    (Tsk)

  16. says

    @14
    My judgement of Hillary Clinton is very much separated from my judgement of Donald Trump. And if you read my comment @6 you will notice that I referred to that asshole as “worseness personified”. So yeah, I actually can imagine him being worse.

    John Smith said “…Clinton will likely do things as bad as Trump with executive power”. You asked “How so?”. I think that reviewing a person’s past decisions is a generally accurate way of predicting decisions they may make in the future, don’t you agree?

    This is a comparison between them (since we’re asking who’s worse), so pointing out the monstrosities in her record is not really besides the point.

    I’ve said before that, as long as Clinton is looked closely and attacked when necessary, she’ll be better than Trump. You will notice a caveat there. That is, if she’s not scrutinized, if she’s left alone to pursue the uglier side of her neo-liberalism she will be worse than Trump, if only because she’d be more effective in implementing it (you can’t deny that she’s obviously smarter and more well-conected).

    You don’t understand why people struggle with the question of who is worse. I’ll tell you. It’s in that long-ass list of bullshit she’s pulled inside and out of the US. Maybe you can afford to look the other way and pretend that:
    1) She’s the status quo candidate (nothing status quo about war with Russia)
    2) Status quo is a good thing (even if she were status quo, that state of affairs means death to millions of people)

    The snarky way you respond to the things she’s done only feeds to the fear that people like you don’t really care if syrians, latin americans, whistleblowers, and many others have to die. You don’t think these are serious problems. Their lives being at risk won’t even give you pause when making your decision, let alone change it.

    It’s actually people like you who make others struggle with the question of who’s the worse candidate. You won’t even acknowledge that there is a problem going on, you’ll just jeer at them. You’d be working your ass off to stop Trump from doing anything if he were president. With Clinton? Half the battle would be even convincing you that something’s amiss.

    And since Clinton has all but ensured that the Republicans will keep their majority in congress, no matter who wins the presidency, the only way to conceivably stop her neoliberalism would be to create a strong opposition within the general public. Hope for such opposition is lowered every time a snarky asshole goes around pretending that “nothing’s wrong” or that “she’s not that bad”.

    “A” wants to do evil and is quite capable of doing it. “B” wants to do greater evil but is a bit of a dumbass.

    As of right now I still think she’d be not-as-bad as Trump, since the majority of the american people don’t really trust or like her to begin with. When and if that reverses she will immediately become more dangerous than him.

  17. Sam N says

    As someone who will readily admit Hillary Clinton is better than Trump (and even has some very clear positives), I am so happy to see the polls swinging so that I can comfortably vote Green in California. But John Smith and Lurker are correct that progressives need to hold the fire close to Hillary’s feet. It’s not so much I think she’s evil, but as with most people, she will follow the path of least resistance, and progressives need to challenge her or she will veery awful to the right because the left is in the bag.

    I have true hope that with her election Citizen’s United may be overturned in the Supreme Court, though. Along with all other ridiculous nonsense of according corporation personhood. Fucking idiots, the supreme court.

  18. sonofrojblake says

    I am so happy to see the polls swinging so that I can comfortably vote Green

    Don’t trust the polls. Really, does this still need saying? Don’t trust the polls. The polls confidently predicted a hung parliament in the UK last year. The polls confidently predicted a “Remain” vote in the Euro referendum this year, and everyone was so sure that was going to be the result that NO plan was in place to deal with a “Leave” vote.

    Third party voting almost certainly cost Gore 2000. Don’t give Trump 2016. Unless you want to, obvs.

  19. Dunc says

    Third party voting almost certainly cost Gore 2000.

    Not in California, which I think is the key bit there. California reliably goes deep blue, and the polls this year show Clinton polling nearly double Trump. It’s one of the safest states in the entire country.

  20. sonofrojblake says

    Oh, good, fair enough then. Although I have to say, if I lived there I’d still be holding my nose and voting Clinton, just in case. “Safe” is relative, and temporary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *