The Mind of Our Narcissist in Chief

Thom Hartmann: Welcome back. So pleased to have in the studio with us our old friend Dr. Justin Frank, MD, psychoanalyst, clinical professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at George Washington University. He is the author of Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, in fact we talked about this on this very program back a decade ago, it seems.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes, we did, exactly, 11 years.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, and then you wrote Obama on the Couch in 2012 and now in fact is your current website. And now you're I understand working on a book on Trump on the Couch?

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes.

Thom Hartmann: So, as a psychoanalyst and as an expert on these things, what's your analysis of who Donald Trump is and how he got to be basically president-elect of the United States?

Dr. Justin Frank: Well, I think that who he is is harder to figure out then how he got to be president-elect, and so let me do the how he got to be president-elect first.

Thom Hartmann: Okay.

Dr. Justin Frank: Anybody who has been a child of parents who are very narcissistic, who are involved with themselves, not paying much attention to the children, those children have to make a lot of noise in order to get attention. They feel neglected. And mainstream America who voted for Donald Trump as a group of many people who are churchgoers, good people, hard-working, out of work now for a variety of reasons and they feel really neglected and completely ignored by people inside the beltway, whether it's by the Clintons by Obama, even, and I think that Trump, who grew up in a place where he was only paid attention to when he yelled and screamed and then when he did exactly what his father wanted and then when he got out of military school, I think that he and his thin skin allows him to tune into narcissistic loss and pain. And so he can feed his audience and be fed by them.

He's much better in person than he is on TV because in person there is this energy that he communicates. He's sort of like a political version of Judy Garland who would come in and eventually in a few minutes have the audience eating out of her hand. And she would get fed by them and feed them back and forth because of her vulnerability and their vulnerability. And that's how he got so much popularity.

And the second thing he does is he's an expert at externalizing or deflecting blame. So he can get angry outside and a lot of these people didn't know who to get angry at. So he can get angry at the parents, he can get angry at Washington and he can express a lot of anger and rage which justifies people supporting him. And I think that those two things—having been narcissistically injured and in pain and also being able to be really angry at being ignored and not paid attention to and not included—I think is a lot and goes a far way.

Thom Hartmann: That's the kind of psychological / psychiatric psychoanalytical analysis.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes, that's my approach, yeah.

Thom Hartmann: My take on this as a political observer...

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes.

Thom Hartmann: ... is that 35 years of Reaganomics which was, is a completely upside-down form of economics that has never been tried successfully anywhere in the world, basically, this trickle-down economic stuff and destroy organized labor...

Dr. Justin Frank: Right.

Thom Hartmann: ... and all these things. But 35 years of Reaganomics has basically raped the middle class, it's ripped, it's eviscerated, it's ripped the guts out of the middle class and so now more than sixty percent of Americans are not prepared for a one-thousand-dollar emergency in their lives. They couldn't handle a thousand-dollar emergency in their lives.

Dr. Justin Frank: Right.

Thom Hartmann: That's massive, and the Democrats, rather than fighting back against it by going back to LBJ, FDR, Great Society programs, let's strengthen Medicare, let's strengthen Social Security . . . The Democrats to some extent went neoliberal instead and, oh well, you know, we'll become like the Republicans were in the nineteen fifties, you know, kind of the,, you know, nice Main Street guys.

Dr. Justin Frank: Republican light.

Thom Hartmann: Exactly. And that didn't solve the problem. So we're still, we have been in an era of Reaganomics since the eighties. It has not been done away with. Reaganomics, economics and this globalism is added to it, and so that's what creating the vulnerability that you're describing, in my opinion.

Dr. Justin Frank: I agree with that and I don't see why this has to be either/or psychoanalytic or political. I think they really can support each other. For instance, one of the things that Reagan did, and first thing almost when he took over, was to declare ketchup a vegetable. That's not exactly a good thing for school lunches

Thom Hartmann: Right.

Dr. Justin Frank: But the second thing is he was very adamant in breaking down public education. He really wanted to privatize schools. Education suffered tremendously. So the people who were educated from 1980 on, during his reign and after don't have the kind of education [they need] and so they don't really know as much. And the other thing he did right from the beginning was he broke unions and he was very much in favor of breaking unions and he tried to break down and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.

So all of those are related not so much to economics but also to the social compact and to the fact that people should be able to rely on having clean water, should rely on having good air to breathe, should rely on being able to join a union and bargain for their wages, should rely on being able to have vegetables at school. All of those things are about being able to rely on a government that's there for you as opposed to a government that is "the problem." And he always saw government as the problem.

Thom Hartmann: Right.

Dr. Justin Frank: What happened with the Democrats, I think, Clinton, you're right, tried to out-Republican the Republicans, and Obama, I think, was afraid. Partly being the first black president, it was very difficult because he believed so much in logic, reason, compassion and that this is a country of red and blue states.

Thom Hartmann: Collaboration.

Dr. Justin Frank: Collaboration that he kept trying to collaborate with people like Mitch McConnell and Ryan and Boehner, and all those people, They don't want to collaborate with him, they just want to destroy him. And he kept thinking that he could argue with them or work things out with them and he couldn't. And he was afraid. So the only time he's really shown the kind of courage I would have liked in the president was when he was campaigning for Hillary Clinton in the last couple of months before the election, when he essentially talked about how dangerous Trump is, how incompetent he is, how he doesn't know very much or anything and that, and he even said at one point, democracy's on the ballot.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Dr. Justin Frank: Now, all of those things are very powerful things but then he backed down on the second, because he believes in transition, I guess you have to, so he backed down immediately and says, 'oh, right, come over to my house and we'll talk about what to do.'

It's very disturbing. And so I think that one of the things that Trump has shown unconsciously to a lot of people is that the powers-that-be in this country are also afraid. They've always been afraid. Al Gore was afraid when they were banging down the doors in 2000 about hanging chads. He's now afraid again and he's going talking to the Trumps about, you know, he's kissing the ring.

And so one of the senses that I have psychologically of Trump's power is that he really understands how to have power, how to execute power, and how to scare people. He scares people. I've got a lot of texts from people saying, aren't you afraid as a psychiatrist that you're going to be sued by Trump and José Andrés is being sued for taking [Trump's] restaurant out of his hotel because of Trump's racist anti-immigrant remarks. So he's suing him. So aren't I afraid? And I think that that's one of the things that we're struggling with.

As far as Trump's background and who he is and how he got to be this way, he did write and did talk about his father. And his father was a very successful businessman who also scared people and bullied people. And he said the most important thing is to win. Trump competed with his older brother who was the junior actually Fred Trump Jr., and Fred Trump Jr. was just too nice a guy and too easy going to be a killer. And Trump's father wanted somebody who was going to be really tough and Donald turned out to be that kind of kid who was a fighter in school, got into fights, who was very much of a bully and didn't really believe in rules and had to be sent to military academy in order to calm down.

Thom Hartmann: Would you argue that his brother, I mean, his brother kind of famously died from alcoholism...

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes.

Thom Hartmann: ... that that was the consequence of his being basically destroyed by his father and perhaps by his younger brother Donald?

Dr. Justin Frank: I think it was being destroyed by his father and by his younger brother Donald, absolutely. And I think that it was also that his alcoholism, part of the destruction has to do with turning their back on him because he was just a nice guy and that's what narcissistic and sadistic parents do.

And the competitiveness with the brother, Donald, is what is called, and Anna Freud talks about identification with the aggressor. If the father kicks the son, the son kicks the dog. And this is what we've got.

Thom Hartmann: Right. And this is what, I mean, you're telling the story of Mussolini's Italy, you're telling the story of Hitler's Germany.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes. And one difference between Mussolini and Hitler and Trump—one, there are several, but there are two main ones. One is sort of a relief to me which is that Trump is 70 and those guys were in their thirties and early forties, so they had a long life ahead of them to be dictators.

But the second thing that's a difference is that in the modern world, the fact that Trump tweets so much and does all those things on Twitter, he is essentially inviting the people around him close like Kellyanne Conway and other people to say you have to stop doing that, you have to grow up, you have to use a teleprompter. And he's inviting the American people, some of whom were trying to do it even, to set limits on him. So in a way ...

Thom Hartmann: So he's still fighting with his parents!

Dr. Justin Frank: He's still fighting with his parents but he's turned us into his parents. That's what's so strange.

Thom Hartmann: Or some others. He's turned it to his colleagues.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes, but there's never been a president who was not a father figure in this country in some way, whether it's Bush, whether it's Gerald Ford, whether it's certainly Reagan was, Roosevelt was, they all were in one way or another. Clinton was, Obama, both Bushes were in many ways.

We have a child for the first time as a person who is very similar to a ten-year-old child.

Thom Hartmann: Hang on, just hold that thought we've got to hit, we're hitting a break here, we'll e right back

Announcer: This is the Thom Hartmann program.

Thom Hartmann: Dr. Justin Frank, MD is with us. He's the author of "Bush on the Couch" and "Obama on the Couch", working on "Trump on the Couch" We'll be back with Justin Frank, you can tweet him at @JustinFrankMD, by the way.


Thom Hartmann: So, and welcome back and Justin Frank, Dr. Justin Frank is still with us. So, you're watching the cabinet evolve. We are all, you know, the nation watching this spectacle. And, you know, you talked about Reagan and the Department of Education. I was, Bill Bennett, I debated Bill Bennett, the Heritage Foundation back in the day. Bill Bennett was, you know, he ran for president 1980, or was maybe '76, on the platform of eliminating the Education Department. So Reagan put him in charge of it.

And now we're seeing very, very similar placements. Betsy DeVos for Education. I mean, you know, she's like, do away with public education.

Dr. Justin Frank: Right.

Thom Hartmann: Well, not do away with, but replace it with vouchers and stuff. I'm, just keep, I keep saying to my viewers and listeners, I am watching the Reagan and candidacy, presidency and agenda being repeated. Only Reagan did it in a more sophisticated way that was appropriate to the eighties and Trump is doing it in a less sophisticated, more kind of Duck Dynasty way that seems more appropriate to this time and place and Fox News and right-wing hate radio and the American landscape. Do you think that that analysis is off?

Dr. Justin Frank: It's not off at all. I think that one of the things that's important to remember is that the fight to think and to read and to pay attention and to value learning and curiosity is a fight that has to be repeated every generation. Reagan was against curiosity and against learning. Government is the problem. Donald Trump is against curiosity and against learning. Government is the problem. Only in this time it's stupid people in government like NAFTA people.

Thom Hartmann: Right.

Dr. Justin Frank: There is a series of generations where every generation, certain people who have a strong - fancy word, epistemophilic instinct - they love to learn, is always at odds with a part of the population and an inner part of all of us that doesn't want to learn and that doesn't want to think. We're attracted, and I write about this in my book, we're attracted to non thought. There's something appealing about it, just like...

Thom Hartmann: Just safety, right? Just leave me alone.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yeah. I can do the same thing. I can say, well, Trump equals Reagan. I mean, the danger is, you're right, but the danger is we can just turn that into a mantra and not think about it anymore because we've now categorized

Thom Hartmann: Ah.

Dr. Justin Frank: So even the most thoughtful people, let's say you're one of the most thoughtful people, is attracted to non thought, that once you figure it out, you put him in a category and then you don't have to think about it. And then you can respond and react without thinking about it, because he's already locked into a preconception that you have about him.

Thom Hartmann: What I'm looking at...

Dr. Justin Frank: That's the danger that Trump invites because of his bombastic behavior and his incitement to hate.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Dr. Justin Frank:And I do have to say one other thing, which is, if you're a father, you have a super-ego function. You have to help your children learn about the Ten Commandments, learn about right and wrong, learn about not killing, learn about respecting other people, learning about paying attention, not coveting this and that. Trump is not that kind of person. He is not going to be a super-ego leader in this nation. He's going to be a super-ego permission giver.

So just this morning the New York One television station said that there's about a hundred and twenty percent increase in violent crimes since the election.

Thom Hartmann: Hate crimes.

Dr. Justin Frank: Hate crimes, rather, not violent, hate crimes. I mean that's really, that has to do with a permission to hate and a permission to be destructive. And the super-ego big picture and the father figure has to step up and say something so when Mike Pence or somebody else says, 'well he doesn't really like ? and he doesn't like all the Nazi stuff'. Actually, Trump has to say something every day because the real father is there every day.

Thom Hartmann: Remarkable. We'll be right back with Dr. Justin Framk.


Thom Hartmann: Welcome back with Dr. Justin Frank. Dr. Frank we were just talking, you and I, about the parallels between the Reagan administration and the Trump administration. You pointed out that there's a difference in that Reagan played father figure, superego, basically, the father who teaches morality, at some level, anyway.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yeah. Absolutely.

Thom Hartmann: Use moral stories to promote what I thought were immoral ends, but nonetheless they were moral stories.

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes.

Thom Hartmann: Whereas Trump doesn't have that super-ego.

Dr. Justin Frank: No.

Thom Hartmann: He's the child, basically, he's the id.

Dr. Justin Frank: He's without the ? He's without the ? He's the id. And what he's done is he's parentified a lot of us. That the one thing I learned in working in psychiatric wards when I was a resident, the most important thing in order to ever have a patient is that when somebody's in the hospital you have to set limits. especially with teenagers. You have to stop destructive behavior. There is nobody who can do that with him. There is nobody who's willing to stand up to him except for this guy who wrote an article yesterday in the New York Times.

Thom Hartmann: Evan McMullin.

Dr. Justin Frank: Evan McMullin, that you mentioned, there was a guy today who's an elector who's refusing to vote for him and I think that other electors have to realize this. It, you have to set limits with him before he ever takes office, because, and what limit would you set with him? You can't say, 'oh don't tear paper, don't write, you know,

Thom Hartmann: Don't antagonize China.

Dr. Justin Frank: Don't antagonize China. That's not going to work.

Thom Hartmann: Don't start a nuclear war!

Dr. Justin Frank: The only limit you can set with him is, you make a choice: your business or the presidency. And that's the limit. If you want to be President, you have to sell everything, divest everything, and your kids can't run it. It's gone.

Thom Hartmann: Right. He's not going to do that.

Dr. Justin Frank: Well, then, he shouldn't be President. It has to be some group of people who can get together to do that. Because that's how you have to set limits with somebody like this. This is a person who hates reality, who...

Thom Hartmann: That's, that's...

Dr. Justin Frank: It's one of the psychotic aspects, and these are psychotic elements. I'm not saying he's psychotic. But one of the psychotic elements that is very important to pay attention to is the hatred of reality. He hates limits. He hates reality. He is already planning to change where he lives, change all kinds of things for the presidency. He really doesn't believe - and I don't like it - that a window can't be open and shut at the same time. But he refuses to accept it. That's that. I'm going to treat whenever I want wherever I want. It's very disturbing for a president or anybody, but for president...

Thom Hartmann: So if, I mean, it would take basically the Republican Party to enforce that...

Dr. Justin Frank: Yes.

Thom Hartmann: ... you must divest yourself of your business.

Dr. Justin Frank: They won't. They're afraid of him.

Thom Hartmann: Right, so then, there, and I agree with your analysis. So he becomes president. He becomes president and now we have a child king, basically. It's like the boy king in the French court in the 17th century.

Dr. Justin Frank: Right, or King George who was crazy, George the third

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Dr. Justin Frank: In England.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. So what do you do about it?

Dr. Justin Frank: You have to keep talking and you have to push through your fear. I mean, the biggest thing is that Trump knows how to instill fear in other people. He sues them, he scares them, and he can use the government. He's made a whole group of of immigrants afraid, he's made Muslim people afraid, he's made Jews afraid since there's all these new ant-semitic things, he's made blacks afraid, he's made many women afraid. The hard thing is to push through the fear and stand up.

Thom Hartmann: OK.

Dr. Justin Frank: And we all have, were born, the ones in this country, we live under a constitution where everybody supposedly has the same freedoms and the same rights including free speech. And I think the only way to deal with him is to not ever just give in and go along. I don't want to be like Al Gore, I don't want to be kiss the ring, and I don't think it's the right thing to do emotionally, psychologically, politically. It's just wrong.

Thom Hartmann: What if Donald Trump is still malleable enough, I mean he...

Dr. Justin Frank: He's not. He's not. He's not malleable.

Thom Hartmann: OK. That was ? great hope but we're...

Dr. Justin Frank: No, no, that's like deny, look for 8 years Obama thought Mitch McConnell would be malleable. He's not.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Dr. Justin Frank: Trump is even less malleable.

Thom Hartmann: Amazing. Dr. Justin Frank, sir, it is always an honor and a pleasure and I hope you will be back.

Dr. Justin Frank: Thank you.

Thom Hartmann: Thank you for being with us. Bush,, most recent book, you can tweet him at @JustinFrankMD.


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