Trump’s imaginary phone calls

Donald Trump is such a pathological liar that he lies even when he doesn’t have to or can be easily found out. We have shifted our ideas of normalcy in the president so low that almost none of the outrageous things that he does or says surprises us anymore. But there are some things that make me wonder if he is really unhinged. Take for example these two recent statements by him. They follow the predictable pattern where when he boasts about himself, he ‘quotes’ as ‘evidence’ somebody saying nice things about him. That person has to be someone notable, either named or usually anonymous (“This very successful businessman/farmer/executive… told me …”)

“As you know, the border was a tremendous problem and they’re close to 80 percent stoppage. And even the president of Mexico called me — they said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they’re not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.”

And then there was this:

“I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful.”

Both the president of Mexico and the Boy Scouts have denied that any such calls were made. And of course, everyone believes those other reports because Trump is known to be such a liar. And the White House press secretary now says that there were no such phone calls.

That Trump lies is nothing new. But these lies were trivial and ones that could be easily exposed. It seems just a little too out there to be shrugged off as narcissism and self-aggrandizement. This raises a question that I ask in all seriousness: Is such a level of unnecessary lying a sign of serious delusion or other mental illness, indicating someone who is actually unable to separate wishful thinking from reality?. That would be a lot worse than reckless lying.


  1. cartomancer says

    That’s one alternative -- that he constructs his own false reality around himself. The other is that he knows he’s lying but also trusts firmly in the maxim that a lie will travel halfway round the world before the truth can get its boots on.

    I am more inclined to the second view, since it is a principle well known by con artists and Trump’s professional life has been one long round of con artistry. Lacking all but the most rudimentary artistry of course, but that’s what he does -- he covers things in gold, makes ridiculous claims about how great they are and takes the money of anyone gullible enough to fall for it. Perhaps he makes up such ridiculous lies as a matter of habit now, rather than having to consciously craft them one by one.

  2. RationalismRules says

    At the level of mental illness, delusions are not the result of ‘wishful thinking’, they are an actual misperception of reality. If he were actually delusional it is unlikely the delusions would be consistently in his favor. Also, if they were genuine delusions he would not move on from them so readily -- notice that he doesn’t defend his lies, he simply moves on to the next. That is not characteristic of someone who genuinely believes what they are saying is true.
    Trump’s blatant self-aggrandizing lies are better explained by pathological levels of narcissism.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Probably a very good thing for Trump’s kids that he likely didn’t spend much time with them as youngsters.

    Even if he’s pretty much ruined the rest of their lives in the last twelve months anyway.

  4. says

    Yeah, he’s completely unhinged. Lost the plot. Unglued. Off the rails. Utterly bat-shit. Crazier than a shit-house rat. Or, if we need a polite way to say it, he’s completely out of touch with reality. He’s a Cloudcuckoolander, and not in the funny entertaining way.

  5. Kreator says

    Is such a level of unnecessary lying a sign of serious delusion or other mental illness, indicating someone who is actually unable to separate wishful thinking from reality?. That would be a lot worse than reckless lying.

    I don’t know if mental illness factors in some way, but I certainly know of people that lie excessively and needlessly exactly in the same way as Trump does; in fact, I’ve got a personal acquaintance just like that. Once, I met them on the street and they told me that they and their spouse had gotten a divorce and were not on speaking terms. However, I already knew how much of a liar this person was, so a mutual acquaintance checked out their Facebook page and, sure enough, it turned out that the story was utter rubbish and the couple was actually fine. Other lies I’ve heard this person spout involve everything from being involved in terrible accidents to finding news about a (non-) upcoming video game, never without any hint of what benefit they could possibly gain from telling such stories (they never made me any related requests, at least.) Through anecdotes I also know of another compulsive liar who, when caught, would effortlessly create another lie to adjust their story in a plausible way.
    My guess is that Trump is a person just like those who is being shielded by the luck of being born a millionaire in a country where a rich person’s word is sacrosanct.

  6. lanir says

    I’d have to agree with the narcissism comment by RationalismRules.

    There’s a factor at play here that is foreign to how most people think, which is why he seems unhinged or crazy in a casual conversational sense. Some emotions that everyone feels are different for people like this. They blow up in importance and take over the lives of the people feeling them.

    For example, people who are regularly victims of abuse can feel fear that can affect almost every aspect of their lives. It’s not just when their abusers are near or in the situations the abuse occurred in before. The abuse is disturbing enough they actively try to avoid it even when it isn’t obviously present to anyone else. They don’t feel like they control where and when the abuse shows up so they warp their lives around attempts to regain that control.

    Narcissism feels similar. It’s actually poorly named, while Narcissus in the legends had issues because he was so impressed with himself, a narcissist in reality is someone reacting to fears about their own self-worth. When a narcissist tells lies like the ones about these phonecalls, there are two audiences he’s attempting to influence. Himself primarily, and other people second. The latter is mostly important for how it can later help with the primary audience. The narcissist doesn’t necessarily feel more important than other people, they just have this feeling that they’re worthless that they have to address frequently. When they’re boasting the most, they’re probably either finally feeling like they’ve found some self-worth (for the moment) or they’re desperately hoping you’ll give them some.

    It’s more complex than this of course. Once the narcissist gets some of this self-worth they don’t necessarily stop. They probably gorge on it and that feeds into the impressions people have of them. But it’s still all about fear and a lack of self-worth in the end.

    It’s in that respect that what we’re seeing with Trump is probably one of the more expensive and misguided psychological treatments in history. It’s why he surrounds himself with sycophants but ultimately either stops believing them and pushes them away or they say something contrary and he feels betrayed. It’s why he still holds campaign rallies and fluffs himself up whenever he can.

    Bannon is probably using a simple approach that anyone could get away with: compliment Trump very frequently but also give him a distraction, something else to think about. Trump isn’t entirely stupid, he can tell what people are doing. His priorities are just all out of whack because one overriding concern before which all else is secondary. You can’t do tit for tat and reward him with compliments then ask for something. You have to draw him into your idea, let him be the hero of a story and then you both get what you want.

  7. says

    I think he’s an amphetamine abuser. But that’s based only on personal experience with other amphetamine abusers. On the other hand, people who call him a narcissist are also basing that on personal experience.

    I just wish he’d go away already. It stopped being funny a while back and I just want this show cancelled.

  8. Dunc says

    Marcus, @7: I’ve known more than a few fairly serious amphetamine users, and none of them were anywhere near this bad. Well, OK, maybe one of them, but he was a pathological liar anyway.

  9. kestrel says

    In my experience the lying is very typical of a narcissist. I’m with RationalismRules and lanir, this is what you get when a person has NPD.

    As far as being with an NPD, this is one of the most boggling things about it. You are both sitting there, experience something, and then ten minutes later the NPD will deny that it ever happened. You can even have photos of it, and they’ll claim it never happened and that you made it up. **YOU** end up feeling like you’ve lost your mind. It’s very disconcerting. And yet for some reason it’s hard to believe the NPD is doing this -- I guess that we all think that reality matters at some level, and when someone lies like this, it’s just hard to grasp.

  10. says

    Interesting reference. The cited cocaine abuser Freud described was Freud himself. And the account of the guy jumping out of the window is a fairly common warning tale about LSD as well -- people on alcohol may get that disoriented, but cocaine? Unlikely.

    (I’ve never tried that particular substance)

  11. busterggi says

    Those were all real calls! Won’t someone please think of poor Prince Albert stuck in that can?

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