Trump: How Dark Is His Dark Side?

Trump’s personality perfectly exemplifies narcissistic shamelessness.

Posted Oct 09, 2016

Donald Trump/Wikipedia Commons
Source: Donald Trump/Wikipedia Commons

We all have a dark side. And, in general, it’s no big deal. Earlier, I wrote a piece called “Just How Dark Is Your Dark Side?” (2014) in which I argued that all of us have certain aggressive, illicitly lustful, and antisocial instincts. And when powerfully provoked, we can discover deep within us something approaching homicidal rage.

In short, what, finally, isn’t really “do-able” for the great majority of us can still be quite “thinkable.” And what prevents us from committing that which might be truly heinous (whether it be rape or incest, mutilation or murder, or some act of treachery, sadism, or runaway greed) is our predominant sense of shame. Consequently, even though we may have fantasies of what—if only we could let our amoral id run wild—we might allow ourselves to do, our built-in “shame-restraints” safeguard us (and others, too!). In fact, our errant imaginings perform a useful function: They act as a safety valve, letting out excess steam so we’re not driven to follow any impulse toward rapaciously libidinous, vengeful, or otherwise unethical behavior.

In this “dark side” article, I also contended that ultimately your darkest daydreams hardly warrant being labeled demonic. As I put it: “They can be much more compassionately appreciated as audacious, disinhibited, primitive, grandiose, or hedonistic—as opposed [that is] to, say, degrading, disgraceful, or nefarious.”

All of which brings us to the latest revelation about Donald Trump’s derogatory views toward women, as all-too-vividly illustrated in the past by many of the things he’s on record as having said. For some time now, many pundits have called him a misogynist because of these degrading remarks—one of the harshest of which was his public description of Megyn Kelly after her critical questioning of him in one of the GOP debates: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her . . . wherever.” But then note also that he once told a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice" that “it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.”

Yet Trump’s chauvinistic objectification of the female sex (as just unearthed this past Friday in a 2005 bus conversation with Billy Bush) moves Trump beyond being viewed as misogynistic to being understood as nothing less than a sexual predator—a term currently employed as consonant with Trump’s own words in this so-compromising interview:

I moved on her and I failed. I'll admit it. I did try and f--k her. She was married. . . . I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. . . . I just start kissing them. . . . I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. . . . [I] grab them by the p---y. You can do anything.

Returning to what I described earlier, our darker side emerges far more in fantasy than in actual deed. But what Trump makes clear here is that (presumably, because of his “stardom”), he believes he’s granted the “license” to go beyond his imaginings and—uninvited—“grope” women’s private parts as he pleases. And that, of course, is identifiable as molestation or sexual assault. Moreover, not only does Trump seem to think it’s okay to make such advances on women (even when he himself is married), but he’s proud enough of such exploits to openly, unashamedly, boast about them.

Which brings me to a second article I wrote for Psychology Today that has direct bearing on this piece: namely, “Shameful or Shameless—If You Had To, Which Would You Choose?” (2009). For the big difference between these two kindred words is that if you can be shameful, you must have a sense of shame, a framework of moral values. And possessing a sense of shame, if you do something really dishonorable, or abhorrent, not only do you feel terrible about it, but you definitely want to conceal it from others.

On the contrary, if you’re shameless—if, that is, you lack what I call a healthy sense of shame—you can actually be proud of the disgracefully daring, vengeful, anti-social, or sexually illicit act you’ve committed. You’re actually "free" from normal feelings of guilt and remorse. Here’s an example of such a perverted moral sense offered in my article:

All this [shameless behavior] is similar to pathological narcissism in which the individual, though still saddled with deep feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness, nonetheless displays rampant arrogance and a sense of entitlement. I once worked with a classic narcissist who experienced great difficulty in sustaining healthy relationships. At one point, he proclaimed (and proudly, at that!): "In this world, there are two kinds of people—‘givers' and ‘takers.' And I'm a ‘taker.'" I remember my immediate reaction at the time, thinking: "How can he say this? If I felt this way, I certainly wouldn't want anybody to know about it.

But this is simply how shameless people (many of whom are quite narcissistic) relate to others. In the desperate need to assess themselves positively—and to validate themselves to others—they share (and without any perceptible sense of shame) things that others would typically regard as shameless, and therefore take pains to hide. In their efforts to justify themselves, behavior commonly seen as presumptuous, brash, or outrageous is presented by them as altogether reasonable and defensible—even righteous. In their efforts to overcome old feelings of shame, they've managed (with a success that can be truly alarming!) to subdue any qualms about the responsibility of their behavior. No apologies are necessary, for they don't really feel they've said or done anything wrong.

I must confess that I’m resisting a strong impulse here to quote this shameful/shameless post in its entirety, for it strikes me as constituting an amazingly accurate description of the behaviors we’ve been witnessing from this most unorthodox of presidential candidates. But doubtless, that would be a shameless act in itself(!).

So I’ll stop right here, and close simply by saying that I agree with the vast majority of commentators that Trump’s subsequent (and virtually coerced) “video apology” hardly appeared genuine, sincere, or “full-throated.” Finally, how could it be for someone who really does seem to believe that his (self-alleged) superiority gives him the right to speak of—and be with—others in a way that degrades them. But, as more and more people in the media seem to be recognizing, such behavior ends up degrading Trump far more than it does those he degrades.

To any reader interested in pursuing some of these ideas further, in addition to the two complementary posts already mentioned—“Just How Dark Is Your Dark Side?” and “Shameful or Shameless . . . ?”—I’ve also written a post called "Is Truth in the Eyes of the Beholder?", "Donald Trump: Is He as Unpredictable as He Seems?", as well as a 4-part series on the aberrant phenomenon that is “the Donald.” It’s entitled: “Outrage and Outrageousness: The Secret to Trump’s Popularity” (Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4).

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To check out other posts I’ve done for Psychology Today online—on a broad variety of psychological topics—click here.

© 2016 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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