Hell hath no fury like a malignant narcissist scorned: Trump’s plan upon leaving office is to sabotage the Biden presidency and destroy American democracy in the process
Sometime on or before January 20, 2020, Donald Trump will leave the White House and fly to Florida, where he will live in internal exile at Mar-a-Lago as the self-described wrongfully deposed president of the United States awaiting his rightful and triumphant restoration to the office that was stolen from him. He will wage a war of words on both the substance and legitimacy of the Biden presidency without regard to whether his efforts to undermine the Biden presidency also will damage this country beyond repair.
Trump will use the money that he has amassed in his Save America PAC to hold rallies at which he will urge his supporters to resist Biden’s policies and programs by any means necessary. He will use language that stops just short of explicitly promoting armed insurrection against the “illegitimate” government installed by a rigged election — but his supporters will get the message. Trump wants the country to be wracked by violence and civil disorder when he leaves the White House. The more fear and chaos, the better.
This is not about politics or money — it is about psychopathology
Once again journalists and political pundits largely have missed the boat about what Trump is up to, with most describing Trump’s post-election fundraising as just another grift in which Trump is conning his supporters out of their money. There is some of that, but Trump has bigger and more sinister plans in mind for which he needs the money he is raising. The name of his PAC is ironic because he does not want to “save” America, he wants to destroy it.
Mental health professionals repeatedly warned us that people without training in psychopathology tend to misread Trump because they try to understand his behavior by extrapolating from their own experiences and from their experiences with the behavior of other, more-or-less normal, people. That does not work, because Trump is far from normal.
To understand what he says and does, you have to understand the characteristics of his mental disorder; evaluating his behavior in any other context is pointless. I found it disheartening over the past four years how few journalists and even trained political scientists seemed to grasp that fact, a problem I described in September. Their failure contributed to Trump’s success at controlling the public narrative, and routinely resulted in underestimating the malevolence of his motives, which is dangerous.
For example, he seriously if ineptly pursued what can only be described as a coup d’état by attempting to persuade state legislatures to disregard the popular votes in their states and appoint electors to the Electoral College who would cast their votes for him. In my opinion, the coup never got off the ground only because of Biden’s decisive victory.
The GOP state legislators that he asked to help him pull off the coup were not interested in making themselves casualties in the violent public reaction that their actions would have provoked. Make no mistake about it, however, Trump would have been perfectly content triggering massive violent resistance to the coup and using martial law to put it down. The mainstream media was slow to grasp the gravity of the situation, perhaps because they still are in denial about the extent of Trump’s pathology.
Trump has a severe personality disorder with features that include malignant narcissism and sociopathy so pronounced that he is incapable of empathy or even comprehending the feelings of other people. He is capable of extreme cruelty — in fact, he gets gratification from dominating and hurting others. His attraction to authoritarianism is hard-wired into his personality.
Trump has a tenuous grip on reality and is prone to engage in fantastical thinking that sometimes borders on the delusional. Right now, he appears to be clinging to the fantasy that the election was “stolen” from him.
Once he departs from the White House, he will be filled with rage and preoccupied with revenge, and it will not matter whether or believes in his own mind that he lost or still believes that the election was stolen. In either case, he will want to punish the American people for humiliating him. The only way that he knows how to repair the damage to his fragile ego is by hurting us as much as we hurt him.
Again, psychiatrists and psychologists warned us how dangerous Trump would become if he lost the election, because hell hath no fury like a malignant narcissist scorned. History gives us a frightening example of what they were talking about.
Trump’s Nero Decree
Five months ago, in a widely read post, I described the obvious similarities between Trump and Adolph Hitler, with the obvious caveat that nothing Trump has done or will do is comparable to the Holocaust. The comparison lies in the fact that Trump is a malignant narcissist, as was Hitler.
In the waning days of World War II, Adolph Hitler issued a decree that came to be known as the Nero Decree. Hitler, aware that the war was lost, ordered that Germany’s remaining infrastructure be destroyed rather than fall into Allied hands. The decree applied to all production, communication, and transportation facilities. Railroads, bridges, communication lines, docks, public utilities, factories, and mines were to be demolished.
Albert Speer, Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production, attempted to dissuade Hitler from implementing the decree, pointing out that everything that Germany would need to recover after the war would be destroyed, causing untold hardship on the German people. According to Speer’s memoir, Hitler told him:
“It is not necessary to worry about what the German people will need for elemental survival. On the contrary, it is best for us to destroy even these things. In any case, only those who are inferior will remain after this struggle, for the good have already been killed.”
Speer took personal charge of the Nero Decree, fully intending to thwart its implementation, which he did. Hitler died in his bunker on April 30, 1945, 42 days after issuing the Nero Decree.
Hitler not only wanted nothing left of value in Germany for the allies, he also was willing to desolate the country at the expense of the Germans who survived the war. Indeed, as he explained to Speer, the “inferior” Germans who remained deserved no better. This was a manifestation of the sadism that characterizes a malignant narcissist.
In my July post, I said that Trump’s willingness to let Americans die as a result of his mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic was a manifestation of his own well-documented sadism. In addition to continuing to ignore the pandemic, he will wreak as much havoc as he can in other ways between now and January 20th.
But Trump’s Nero Decree will extend past the end of his term, and he is going to implement it himself. It will include an assault on the Biden presidency that will imperil democracy in the United States. And, in Trump’s sick mind, the American people will deserve any harm that comes to them because of his actions.
Trump’s core supporters will remain loyal and join his crusade to “save America”
For the core of Trump’s supporters, Trump’s candidacy and presidency was never really about his policies and programs — it was about grievances that roused their emotions rather than about policies and programs that appealed to their intellects. Grievances against people of color, grievance against immigrants, grievances against educated elites who look down their noses at them, and vague, generalized grievances about being left out and left behind by society.
Those themes transfer seamlessly to Trump’s post-election crusade to undermine Biden’s presidency. Trump practices grievance politics like no one before him, and now he has an alleged grievance of his own to share with his supporters: Trump, and by association his supporters, have had the presidency stolen from them. They have been victimized once again by the forces aligned against them, and Trump will implore them to fight back. His core followers, the true cultists, will be ready to do battle.
Mitigating the harm
Trump’s post-election campaign of fomenting unrest would do less damage if it were disavowed by other Republicans and relegated to the status of a third-party, white nationalist movement. Given the state of the GOP, that is unlikely to happen. It is more likely that GOP leaders will continue to recognize Trump as the de facto head of the Republican party, with many even unwilling to antagonize Trump or his followers by publicly refuting his stolen election claim. In other words, they will lend legitimacy to his efforts to undermine democracy.
There certainly are other factors that could come to bear and slow Trump down, his age and health being among them. The psychic energy supplied by his rage and the adulation of his followers could burn itself out, especially if he is preoccupied with the legal troubles that he will encounter upon leaving office.
Which brings me to discussions of pardoning Trump for federal crimes that he may have committed while president. In another stunning display of ignorance of psychopathology by a journalist, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby recently recommended that President-elect Joe Biden reconsider his pledge not to pardon Trump.
Trump is not Richard Nixon, who accepted his pardon and then generally faded into oblivion. Trump would interpret a pardon as a sign of weakness by Biden and even feel empowered by it. He certainly would not feel compelled to accept it graciously and retreat from public life. He would exploit it in every way possible — which is how he responds to absolutely every event in his life.
The only effective firewall against Trump’s post-election campaign to tear down this country will be a successful Biden presidency, preferably one that gets off to a strong start through control of the pandemic and recovery of the economy. For that reason, the senatorial run-off elections in Georgia next month take on even more importance — the faster that we can put the effects of the Trump presidency behind us, the better, and control of Congress would be an immense advantage.
And for the same reason, Democrats and others who voted for Biden should keep in mind that the war to save American from Trump and Trumpism is not won. They may want to hold off on the intraparty bickering and focus on getting the Biden presidency off to a solid start that discourages the vultures and hyenas, led by Trump, who will be lying in wait looking for signs of weakness.
I am one of the millions of people in this country and around the world firmly convinced that the United States as it has existed for the past 244 years would not have survived four more years with Trump as president. Better to have him out of the office than in it, but Trump is likely to remain a threat to democracy for the foreseeable future. The divisions and emotions that he exploited to gain the presidency will not go away immediately, and neither will he.