Who Is the Real Donald J. Trump?

How Trump thinks and what we can expect from him

Posted Mar 21, 2016

The veneer of debate and public life can, indeed, conceal who a person is.  However, through a collage of statements, responses to stressful situations, and past history, it is possible to construct the person behind the mask.  The mask cannot conceal the true character, at least not consistently and for very long.  The real person ultimately does surface.

In the case of Donald Trump, I think there is, by now, enough information to build a cognitive, behavioral, and moral profile of the real person. I did not want to write precipitously because it is all too easy to confuse play acting with the real McCoy.  In the case of Donald J. Trump, the writing is now on the wall.  It is quite clear what the profile is that fits the man and what we could reasonably infer from it should he be voted into the highest office in the land.  I do not take this characterization lightly and I am open to the possibility of being wrong.  But I seriously and with good reason believe that I am right about how this presidential candidate thinks and relates to the world.  As a philosopher, my interest is not in diagnosing him, but rather in clarifying the premises of his behavioral and emotional reasoning, and to point out what some of the logical implications of these premises are if he should become our president.

Trump's Behavioral and Emotional Reasoning

Mr. Trump’s cognitive-emotive-behavioral tendencies seem to follow from a persistent template of thinking based on a self-centered form of demanding perfection.  Generally speaking, the premises of this behavioral and emotional reasoning template are these:

  1. The world must always conform to my desires, values, beliefs, expectations, and preferences (Reality-Master Thinking).
  2. Therefore, if things don’t go the way I want, or others act, speak, or think in ways that I do not accept, it’s terrible, horrible and awful, and the people in question are (totally) bad.
  3. Therefore, I cannot and must not stand these people and things.
  4. Therefore, I must stop them by any means in my power.

Premise 1 makes an unrealistic demand that the world conform to one’s own views.  According to this view, reality is what one says it is.  Instead of basing one’s views on the facts, one bases the facts on one’s views. So, such a person sets himself up as a reality guru. There tends to be little or no evidence that can count against one's view of reality. Where external facts seem to contradict the master view of reality, these facts are “tweaked” or somehow adjusted to fit the master view.  I have seen this form of fallacious thinking play out time and time again in rocky interpersonal relationships, and in divorce. Individuals who harbor this premise do not generally work cooperatively with others where there is a division of labor. When such individuals emerge as managers, the power structure tends to be unilateral, and the working relationship is uncomfortable.  Those who work in this environment are persistently afraid of doing something their boss disapproves of, and of losing their jobs.    

Premise 2 follows logically from premise 1.  Things that do not conform to the reality master’s desires, values, beliefs, expectations, and preferences are awful--disastrous, horrible, or the worst;  and the people who fail to walk lockstep with this “superior” point of view are very bad--stupid, worthless, a failure, weak, sick, or evil.  Here, there is little or no respect for others who disagree.  By virtue of disagreeing, they are out of order.

Premise 3 follows from premise 2.  Because the events, or people, failing to conform to the reality master’s view of reality are inherently flawed, awful, or bad, the master cannot stand or tolerate them.  Here there is an inability to tolerate anything, or almost anything, that does not fit with what the master decrees to be the one true reality.  As such, there is Low Frustration Tolerance, namely the inability to tolerate anything and anyone questioning the reality master’s judgment.

Consequently, conclusion 4 follows from premise 3.  Since opposition must not be tolerated it isn’t, and the reality master does whatever he can to stop it. This is where the emotional reasoning leads to action.  There is no room for disagreement.  The opponents are dealt with in any way that effectively stops them from interfering with, impeding, contradicting, or otherwise challenging the master vision. 

The Trump Master

On this logic, Trump sets the reality that everyone else must follow.  Thus, in a recent phone interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” when asked who his foreign affairs advisor has been, Trump said that he is his own foreign affairs advisor, and although he might bring others on board in the future, he will serve as his “primary” foreign affairs advisor. “I’m speaking with myself,” he stated. “I have a very good brain.” Clearly, advisors are meant to be individuals other than oneself.  However, as reality master, Trump does not think he needs advice from others, unless that advice coheres with his own vision of reality.

Indeed, anyone who challenges Trump’s point of view is out of order.  Thus, he has persistently taken issue with protesters at Trump rallies, degrading them, calling them “bad bad people,” and advocating  stopping them by aggressive means such as beating them up, and destroying their lives by arresting them, thereby branding them as criminals. "You know what they used to do [to protesters] like that when they got out of line?” Trump asked a crowd.  “They'd be carried away on a stretcher, folks." Likewise, journalists who criticize him are “sleaze” and should be stopped. “I hate some of these people, I hate 'em," Trump told another crowd. "I would never kill them. I would never do that."…"Uh, let's see, uh?" he added. "No, I would never do that."  But, when Trump was asked to denounce Russian president Vladimir Putin’s alleged involvement in the assassination of journalists, he refused to do so, stating instead, “Our country does plenty of killing also.”

Trump’s “morality” follows from this ego-oriented reasoning template. It is that which psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg called, “pre-conventional.”  On this level of moral development, the concept of fairness is interpreted in terms of doing and getting what one wants; justice is likewise understood in terms of “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”  From this perspective, a just “deal” is one in which one gets what one wants from the other party to the negotiation.  This looks reasonably acceptable in the context of striking up an agreement that is governed by existing laws; however, don’t forget that Trump’s template is devoid of ethical and legal constraints when these can be circumvented.  Thus, Trump has stated that it would be okay to “change” the laws to permit torture. This is because even law is subject to the reality master’s fiat.  The idea of independent moral standards and precepts of international law that set constraints on the master view are nonexistent, or play only faintly in the background as window dressing.  Winning is “moral” and losing is “evil.”  People become vehicles that can be used (and abused) in order to attain the master vision.  For example, when Kate Steinle was killed by an illegal alien from Mexico, Trump used this woman as a poster child to advance his own political goals.  He did not visit the family of the slain woman, or consider the family’s wishes regarding her privacy.  Such considerations fall outside of Trump’s thinking template and are likely to be discounted. 

Trump’s “morality” does not, as such, factor in caring for other human beings who are in his way; it does not figure in basic human rights such as First Amendment rights to free speech and religious worship, or the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws. Mosques, for example, may be placed under surveillance, and race used as a basis to refuse people admission into the country.  It is what Trump decrees that sets the parameters of reality, even moral reality.  On his way of thinking, even uncontroversial external facts are subject to revision if, indeed, this can support the master vision (for example, exaggerating the number of Muslims who are radicalized or who cheered for the 9-11 bombings). 

Beware The Pied Piper

There appear to be many people who are attracted to Trump’s commanding resoluteness. He promises to make America great again, after all.  He plays on the emotional strings of the masses of frustrated people, like the Pied Piper, assuring them (“Believe me”) that he has the only true vision of reality, which will be their salvation; and that everybody else is “stupid,” “evil,” or “weak,” and their views “disastrous” or “lies.” But empty damning epithets and superlatives like “great” and “incredible” do not substitute for independent evidence.   It is important to keep in mind that what Trump considers “great” or “incredible” (such as having followers so loyal that they would stand by him even if he murdered someone in cold blood) may not be anything close to what most of us would even want.  Unfortunately, it is futile to disagree with or challenge Trump, for he believes that he has the franchise on intellectual prowess and insight into reality.  This is not a picture of the leader of the free world.  Sadly, it is more in line with the likes of a Vladimir Putin, someone whom Trump himself appears to admire.