Clinical psychologist explains how to break the twisted bond between Trump and his supporters

Clinical psychologist explains how to break the twisted bond between Trump and his supporters
President Donald J. Trump shakes hands and poses for photos with supporters Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, upon his arrival to Ocala International Airport in Ocala, Fla., en route to visit The Villages, FL. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Manhattan's district attorney has convened the grand jury that will determine if charges should be brought against former President Donald Trump. The Boston Globe editorial board has stated that Trump should be criminally prosecuted. These developments have caught the country's attention.

Donald Trump's presidency was an abysmal failure. Americans were constantly bombarded with misinformation, propaganda and gaslighting. We were traumatized by the sickness and death of the coronavirus pandemic that he could have contained and defeated. Our crippled economy created widespread depression and anxiety. Trump's racism, xenophobia, misogyny, nativism, white supremacy and violence were all disturbing forces. His grifting and bashing of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution revealed his shameless greed. His politicization of the Department of Justice for his own personal gain was corruption at its core. And his incitement of the insurrection of our democratic election on Jan. 6 was illegal and the behavior of an authoritarian.

But Trump continues to exert a cult-like influence over millions of Americans who are devoted to him in a "collective narcissism." Trump's supporters view him as an all-knowing, charismatic leader who is going to lead them to the promised land of happiness by airing their grievances and marginalizing people of color, Muslims, and immigrants. In return, Trump relishes his supporters because they give him the praise, adulation and unconditional respect he so desires. They fill up his insatiable need for narcissistic supply. He secretly abhors his supporters but uses them to bolster his self-image of greatness and invincibility.

To be sure, Trump and his supporters have a bond that is intense and irrational. How to break their collective narcissism is the critical question we face.

The answer is that Donald Trump must be prosecuted and punished for his crimes, especially the ones committed during his presidency, such as obstruction of justice during the Mueller probe, efforts to tamper with Georgia's secretary of state, his incitement of the insurrection and perhaps even conscious disregard or worse for the more than 500,000 coronavirus deaths under his watch.

Trump supporters will be convinced of his menace if they see him being prosecuted and punished. Being held accountable will chip away at his cult-like reverence. A bright light needs to be cast on the sordid details of his reprehensible behavior. His fall from grace will be hastened if his supporters see him sentenced to incarceration.

Trump's reign of terror on the American public was fueled by his belief that he would not be punished for it — that he could break laws with impunity. This is exactly why his prosecution is so important. He must face firm consequences so that his supporters will finally understand and accept the objective truth: Trump is a con man and greedy opportunist who unleashed his cruelty, corruption and anti-democratic leanings on all of us.

Not prosecuting and punishing Trump would send the unacceptable message that certain politicians who engage in wrongdoing are above the law. In our democracy, no one should be above the law. Politicians are our elected officials who must serve with honor, integrity, and the public's best interest at heart. We cannot condone corrupt politicians by sticking our heads in the sand or turning a blind eye. Democracy is weakened if our president's illegalities and misdeeds go unheeded.

Many other steps need to be taken to purge Trump from our political consciousness. Keeping him permanently off social media outlets is a necessity. Not nominating him to run again for the presidency is a given. And Congress needs to pass new laws that constrain future presidents from breaking norms and laws.

Once Trump begins to lose his supporters, his political clout will melt away. Perhaps then the Republican party will stop its complicity and new, fresh leadership can step forward. Our democracy works best in a two-party system. Unfortunately, the Republican party has been transformed into the ugly image of the former president. It will take outside forces — like the full and transparent prosecution of all charges — for the party to untether itself from the malignancy of Trump himself.

In strong democracies, it is not unheard of to hold politicians accountable for their crimes. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was tried in 2021 for crimes he committed during his 2007 presidential campaign. He was found guilty. Another former French President, Jacques Chirac, was charged with crimes that occurred previously to his presidency, while he was mayor of Paris. In 2011, four years after leaving presidential office, he was tried and found guilty of corruption.

Prosecution and punishment of Donald Trump is the key to unlocking his bond of collective narcissism with his supporters. Nothing short of that will convince millions of Americans of his dangerousness and unfit stature. This major step must happen if America is to move past the unprecedented burden of our criminal ex-president.

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