A Psychological Study of Trump Worth Reading

"I esteem biography, as giving us what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use." —Samuel Johnson

Donald Trump inspires almost universal disapproval and scorn among wordsmith professionals in the mental health field.  He has been the target of diagnoses ranging from "pathological narcissism" to "bipolar disorder" to "dementia."  

At last we can be grateful among the torrent of books about the president for one that justifies what Dr. Johnson called the "epidemical conspiracy for the destruction of paper."

Sheldon Roth, M.D. has performed an important  service, not just to history, but to the field of depth psychology.  He has demonstrated ways in which it can illuminate the deep motivational wellsprings of a unique individual like Donald Trump.  His psycho-biography, Psychologically Sound: The Mind of Donald J. Trump, makes real and clear the truth of Wordsworth's observation that "the child is father to the man."

Trump is in the middle of a remarkable first term during which he has disrupted the various myths of our present-day wordsmith Utopians.  Their favored story has been of American decline, a decline well deserved by a racist and sexist country.  Donald Trump utterly dismissed this story, laughing at its politically correct absurdity.  His humor offends them while shattering their belief that presidents should be austere and solemn.  How did he manage to prevail in reviving American optimism, growing the economy while destroying the ISIS caliphate and reversing our appeasement policies toward Iran and China?  And he did all of this under constant siege by the wordsmith graduates of our elite universities and journalism schools.  Laughter and optimism helped.

Dr. Roth has chosen to assume that there are discoverable psychological reasons why Donald Trump beat all rivals to become a disruptive president.  Trump's personal psychology, Roth shows, met the psychological needs of a country that had lost its confident stance toward the future.  It's why his slogan, "Make America Great Again" (MAGA), worked.  His flawed humanity possessed skills that met the historical moment.

Dr. Roth's book does not make a political argument.  Instead, it explores the roles played by Donald Trump's mother, father, siblings, and mentors in shaping his psychological life.  It looks with a unique perspective at the role of fantasies and dreams, through exploration of a movie, Citizen Kane, that sank deeply into the young Trump's psyche.  Movies draw much from dreams and can function as borrowed dreams and fantasies for viewers.  Dr. Roth utilizes dream analysis as applied to Trump's favorite movie to deepen our understanding of his lifelong drive to succeed in shaping his life.  Dr. Roth also notes the psychological strengths Trump gained from exposure to the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale's sermons.  Those sermons shaped not only his conscious ability to sell a positive agenda, but his fundamental unconscious stance toward life and his version of the American dream as a constant striving toward excellence.

Another major psychological influence was the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.  Trump has been intrigued by Jung's ideas for many years.  Jung's theory of archetypes, representatives of universal character types, seems quite relevant to Donald Trump.  Dr. Roth elucidates how identifications with the hero and wise man archetypes provide him with confidence and strength to challenge conventional wisdom.  Roth's perspective stimulates the reader to utilize his own archetypal perspective.

The cartoonist Scott Adams was one of very few who  predicted Donald Trump's win in 2016 based on assessment of his persuasion skills.  He also predicted that Trump's win would "punch a hole in reality" for half the country, whose sense of reality included certainty that Hillary Clinton would be president.  Punch a hole it did; however, people don't readily accept that their sense of reality is wrong in major ways.  This is especially true for wordsmith intellectuals, including psychotherapists.  Number-smiths live in a world of quantitative probability, so they can more easily adjust to blows to their assumptions about reality.

One of the first things clinical practitioners do with patients is assess their sense of  reality.  What happens if the therapist's own sense of reality is broken?  Defensive denial occurs,  reinforced by projection and insistence that the person responsible for undermining conventional "reality" is really deranged.

The response that Donald Trump has elicited from so many in the mental health profession has exposed something profoundly important about the profession: the left utopian political activism that has engulfed it.  It has been overrun by small-minded professionals who think their job is to find a reductionist label from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual so they can collect an insurance fee.  In addition, the individual is now seen as the hapless victim of unjust social forces.  Freud's tragic view of flawed  human nature has been displaced by a Rousseauian view of innocence deformed by unjust society.  Organized psychiatry and psychoanalysis are now issuing formal apologies for the supposed "harm" they have caused to the various certified victim  groups.  Psychiatry and psychoanalysis once focused on the individual.  Now social activism takes precedence.  There is the possibility, admittedly slight, that Donald Trump's disruption of psychiatry can lead to something welcome — the restoration of the individual mind and psyche to the center of clinicians' concerns.

If such a revitalization occurs, Dr, Roth's beautifully written book will be a  milestone.  If no such revitalization takes place, his psycho biography will still rank as a work of art, along with Bate's biography of Samuel Johnson, Leon Edel on Henry James, Erik Erickson on Luther, and Freud on Leonardo.

Dr. Roth's book belongs in the Western humanist tradition.  It demonstrates how artfully depth psychology can enlarge our understanding, rather than reducing, labeling, and demonizing the singular Donald Trump.  It offers hope that the profession can recover from the devastation wrought by political correctness, utopian politics, and pseudo-science.

Long before psychoanalysis discovered methods for understanding depth psychology, Samuel Johnson wrote: "If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shown we should sit down in despondency ... the sacred writers related the vicious as well as the virtuous actions of men; which had this moral effect, that it kept mankind from despair."

Dr. Roth has presented all sides, "the vicious and the virtuous," of Donald Trump — and thereby brought him close to us in his full humanity.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

"I esteem biography, as giving us what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use." —Samuel Johnson

Donald Trump inspires almost universal disapproval and scorn among wordsmith professionals in the mental health field.  He has been the target of diagnoses ranging from "pathological narcissism" to "bipolar disorder" to "dementia."  

At last we can be grateful among the torrent of books about the president for one that justifies what Dr. Johnson called the "epidemical conspiracy for the destruction of paper."

Sheldon Roth, M.D. has performed an important  service, not just to history, but to the field of depth psychology.  He has demonstrated ways in which it can illuminate the deep motivational wellsprings of a unique individual like Donald Trump.  His psycho-biography, Psychologically Sound: The Mind of Donald J. Trump, makes real and clear the truth of Wordsworth's observation that "the child is father to the man."

Trump is in the middle of a remarkable first term during which he has disrupted the various myths of our present-day wordsmith Utopians.  Their favored story has been of American decline, a decline well deserved by a racist and sexist country.  Donald Trump utterly dismissed this story, laughing at its politically correct absurdity.  His humor offends them while shattering their belief that presidents should be austere and solemn.  How did he manage to prevail in reviving American optimism, growing the economy while destroying the ISIS caliphate and reversing our appeasement policies toward Iran and China?  And he did all of this under constant siege by the wordsmith graduates of our elite universities and journalism schools.  Laughter and optimism helped.

Dr. Roth has chosen to assume that there are discoverable psychological reasons why Donald Trump beat all rivals to become a disruptive president.  Trump's personal psychology, Roth shows, met the psychological needs of a country that had lost its confident stance toward the future.  It's why his slogan, "Make America Great Again" (MAGA), worked.  His flawed humanity possessed skills that met the historical moment.

Dr. Roth's book does not make a political argument.  Instead, it explores the roles played by Donald Trump's mother, father, siblings, and mentors in shaping his psychological life.  It looks with a unique perspective at the role of fantasies and dreams, through exploration of a movie, Citizen Kane, that sank deeply into the young Trump's psyche.  Movies draw much from dreams and can function as borrowed dreams and fantasies for viewers.  Dr. Roth utilizes dream analysis as applied to Trump's favorite movie to deepen our understanding of his lifelong drive to succeed in shaping his life.  Dr. Roth also notes the psychological strengths Trump gained from exposure to the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale's sermons.  Those sermons shaped not only his conscious ability to sell a positive agenda, but his fundamental unconscious stance toward life and his version of the American dream as a constant striving toward excellence.

Another major psychological influence was the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.  Trump has been intrigued by Jung's ideas for many years.  Jung's theory of archetypes, representatives of universal character types, seems quite relevant to Donald Trump.  Dr. Roth elucidates how identifications with the hero and wise man archetypes provide him with confidence and strength to challenge conventional wisdom.  Roth's perspective stimulates the reader to utilize his own archetypal perspective.

The cartoonist Scott Adams was one of very few who  predicted Donald Trump's win in 2016 based on assessment of his persuasion skills.  He also predicted that Trump's win would "punch a hole in reality" for half the country, whose sense of reality included certainty that Hillary Clinton would be president.  Punch a hole it did; however, people don't readily accept that their sense of reality is wrong in major ways.  This is especially true for wordsmith intellectuals, including psychotherapists.  Number-smiths live in a world of quantitative probability, so they can more easily adjust to blows to their assumptions about reality.

One of the first things clinical practitioners do with patients is assess their sense of  reality.  What happens if the therapist's own sense of reality is broken?  Defensive denial occurs,  reinforced by projection and insistence that the person responsible for undermining conventional "reality" is really deranged.

The response that Donald Trump has elicited from so many in the mental health profession has exposed something profoundly important about the profession: the left utopian political activism that has engulfed it.  It has been overrun by small-minded professionals who think their job is to find a reductionist label from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual so they can collect an insurance fee.  In addition, the individual is now seen as the hapless victim of unjust social forces.  Freud's tragic view of flawed  human nature has been displaced by a Rousseauian view of innocence deformed by unjust society.  Organized psychiatry and psychoanalysis are now issuing formal apologies for the supposed "harm" they have caused to the various certified victim  groups.  Psychiatry and psychoanalysis once focused on the individual.  Now social activism takes precedence.  There is the possibility, admittedly slight, that Donald Trump's disruption of psychiatry can lead to something welcome — the restoration of the individual mind and psyche to the center of clinicians' concerns.

If such a revitalization occurs, Dr, Roth's beautifully written book will be a  milestone.  If no such revitalization takes place, his psycho biography will still rank as a work of art, along with Bate's biography of Samuel Johnson, Leon Edel on Henry James, Erik Erickson on Luther, and Freud on Leonardo.

Dr. Roth's book belongs in the Western humanist tradition.  It demonstrates how artfully depth psychology can enlarge our understanding, rather than reducing, labeling, and demonizing the singular Donald Trump.  It offers hope that the profession can recover from the devastation wrought by political correctness, utopian politics, and pseudo-science.

Long before psychoanalysis discovered methods for understanding depth psychology, Samuel Johnson wrote: "If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shown we should sit down in despondency ... the sacred writers related the vicious as well as the virtuous actions of men; which had this moral effect, that it kept mankind from despair."

Dr. Roth has presented all sides, "the vicious and the virtuous," of Donald Trump — and thereby brought him close to us in his full humanity.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.