Friday, January 13, 2017

Three reasons to wonder and worry about Trump's psyche: the hubris-nemesis complex, the scoundrel’s script, and the tribalization of America (1st of 4 posts)

Overview and implications

As I’ve wondered (and been asked) what to make of Donald Trump’s ascension, I’ve noticed much to worry about: not just in his emerging policy positions — some may yet turn out okay — but mainly because of his unusually aggressive psyche. My work on social evolution (TIMN) and cognition (STA:C) indicates three reasons to worry about his psyche as he ascends into having more power than ever:
  1. It looks like he has a “hubris-nemesis complex” — a rare mentality whereby a leader not only has hubris (the pretension to be god-like) but also wants to play Nemesis (the goddess of divine vengeance) against another actor who is accused of greater hubris.
  2. He is very adept at deploying “the scoundrel’s script” — a rhetorical strategy for first denying, then diminishing, and if that doesn't work, ultimately displacing blame for alleged misdeeds or shortcomings that have come to light.
  3. He is prone to behave like a tribalist intent on tribalizing others — look at his rallies where he rails like a tribal chieftain or warlord — in a time when America is already turning evermore tribal to it's detriment.
I'll clarify each point in three separate follow-up posts. But first, a few overview remarks.

Of the three points, Trump is far from unique in deploying the scoundrel's script. Many other political, business, and social leaders have relied on it too. But his usage seems awfully skilled and determined. On the other two counts, he is quite unique: his penchant for tribalism is unusually high among political leaders, and his self-exalting hubris-nemesis complex is terribly distinctive.

This is a potentially dangerous risky combination. To the extent that these three patterns matter, we may have to be wary of a future fraught with political flimflam, economic skim-scam, and strategic whim-wham — a future more about theater than truth. This combination may also make our society even more vulnerable to corruption and cronyism, and to stepped-up efforts at surveillance and censorship. A kind of information-age fascism seems increasingly likely, as I've long worried (even as I know that word "fascism" may not be quite accurate). His psyche seems more conducive to patrimonial corporatism than to liberal democracy.

Many other observations — good, bad, and otherwise — can be and have been made about Trump's psyche. I am focusing on these three simply because they are the ones that emerge from my work on TIMN and STA:C. It remains to be seen how significant they will prove to be.


Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 26, 2016.

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