In a quiet professional manner, the psychiatrist bent slightly toward the patient reclined before him and asked the difficult question that promised insight into the man’s character and many problems. Would you be willing to reflect on the interesting surmise my secretary has formed as to the source of your maladies? I will, certainly, what is her view? In a nutshell, she thinks you’re an asshole!
Recalling this scene from a cartoon published more than a half-century ago in a magazine called Realitas, I wonder how today the theory might fly with adults around the world in reference to the spectacular reality show star, Donald J. Trump. This could be the essence of him and the nub of the wild and crazy situations that pop up daily in his presidency. He may just be an asshole!
One of the assumptions shared by the male psychiatrist, his female secretary, and the patient in the cartoon is that everyone knows an asshole when they see one. It’s common knowledge. The psychiatrist blows his professional cover and goes secular. He doesn’t consult the sacred text of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) to locate the disorder. He assumes the type is common knowledge to ordinary people.
A second assumption is that discovering oneself to be an asshole could be therapeutic. No one aspires to the appellation. Shocking discovery could initiate a redemption protocol. Assholes aren’t born. The distinction is earned by habitual self-absorption and nasty, malicious acts. It takes time and effort to become one. The asshole himself might miss the truth for years by wallowing in his narcissism. He may think himself the unfortunate one. He may not notice the resentment he causes and the wreckage he leaves behind. Revealed truth might just shock him from his dream state, thereby making metamorphosis possible.
I’ve been constructing damning characterizations of Donald J. Trump for years, from well before he sought public office, and from well before election day when he became President. Here is one, Dumping on Trump, written in 2012, reporting on Mr. Trump’s atrocious conduct in Scotland when developing his Scottish golf course in Aberdeenshire. Here’s another, List of Trump’s Disqualifications, enumerating conduct and qualities that render him unfit for public office. I’ve written at least six of these negative assessments of Mr. Trump. When he became president, this listing habit of mine morphed into a daily obsession! I can hardly sleep at night worrying about his chicanery and schemes. I consider him a threat to decency, national identity, and democracy. I could use psychiatric help myself.
Still, I can’t stop. I make my lists. Here’s a recent rendition:
- He doesn’t read.
- He doesn’t listen.
- He doesn’t study.
- He doesn’t know history.
- He doesn’t understand government.
- He’s ignorant of the Constitution.
- He has no evident principles.
- He believes in conspiracies.
- He is dictatorial.
- He lies routinely.
- He attacks the press and the courts.
- He admires and cozies up to dictators.
- He’s widely reported to “rage” around the White House like King Lear.
- He castigates critics and calls them vile names.
- He bullies.
- He trashes military heroes,
- He is racist.
- He is misogynist.
- He is nativist.
- He rejects science.
- He rejects factual intelligence.
- He talks exclusively to his base.
- He holds campaigns rallies incessantly.
- He is not interested in music, poetry, art, theater, religion, literature, philosophy, science, or any of the humanities.
- He seems incapable of empathy.
- He is interested only in himself.
I could go on like this for hours.
When I make up lists such as these and mumble them in grim madness, I fantasize that his followers’ rational voices will suddenly awaken and assert themselves, leading to courageous declarations: I see how it is with Trump; he’s a dangerous man; he must be voted out of office in 2020. But, of course, this pipe dream doesn’t materialize. How could it? Not unlike followers of Jim Jones at Jonestown, his beguiled fans remain loyal regardless of his absurd claims and atrocious conduct. Their loyalty, Trump proudly brags, would survive his shooting someone on Fifth Avenue.
It is against this background of delirious list making—which has held my soul hostage so long—that the asshole revelation appeals and satisfies. The incessant list-making stops. New atrocities need not be appended to the President’s resume. Cultists are allowed to be fans. Yet, drum roll, tat-a-tat, a bold and promising hypothesis issues forth: Let’s face it, we just may be dealing with an asshole!
I would be remiss to close this blog essay without noting a peculiar related phenomenon that blew through the Internet like wildfire in the 2016 campaign. Improbably, a serious debate emerged among the literati as to whether Donald J. Trump is better described as a “liar” or a “bullshitter!” Is he, they inquired—at the existential level of “being”—a “liar” or a “bullshitter?” You decide! Google the issue and you’ll find that a substantial literature came out of the debate. I kid you not. The debate actually germinated a few college courses exploring the art of bull-shitting.
I gather that the bullshitter crowd think they won the debate. It remains an open question. But I’ll stay out of the fray, let the contestants argue, and the citizenry decide. I merely suggest that both sides would do well to ponder an interesting sidebar. Lies and bullshit share a distinction. They are high-value, high-use tools in the toolkit of assholes. Maybe the person who is the focus of their studies is just an asshole! Have they considered that possibility?
Stop it Will! Stop that line of thinking. I advise you to continue on with your list making practice. Avoid the labels. I say that as your therapist. We’ll find other ways to attack the obsession and delirium. But Doc, it’s so satisfying! Maybe it is in the short run, but hate will eat you up, just as it has eaten up the soul of Donald Trump. No one, including Donald Trump, can be captured in a single label. We’re many things, not one thing forever. Don’t murder people by turning them into word statues. Respect life. Keep the questions open.
Here’s a therapeutic practice for you to try, a baby step. What’s that? Whenever the thought crosses your mind, as it seems to often, that Trump’s an asshole, replace the idea with an equivalent thought that is more respectful and yet telling. Give me an example. Okay. The President asserts that he’s one of the smartest guys around, top tier. Instead of saying “asshole,” replace it with “genius.”
Thanks Doc. I come in here, pay good money, and you say ‘stay with the list-making,’ and call Trump a ‘genius’ instead of an ‘asshole.’ Yes, I do, and I thank you for your trust and business. Why don’t you restrict your future lists to the President’s most recent offenses, ones within a 30 day window, the current month. That would keep the list fresh. You’d be focusing on offenses that actually affect real people, and you’d be bearing witness to injustice. That could be a real public service.
My lists don’t work. That’s the problem Doc. Nothing changes.
You can’t know that, Will. No one can know the effects of their words on others, or should that be expected. You’re one person only, a citizen living a life. You’re unique; that’s important. You have your distinct story and fund of life experience. You have your own viewpoint, perspective, and insights. But don’t try to play God. Just be yourself.
How much do I owe you for that?
Your account is paid up to date.
Are we going to work on my obsession and delirium next time? Yes, we will. Bring a fresh list, and keep it factual.
Okay, I will. But it’s too easy. Just off the top of my head a flood of Trump’s recent doings pours forth:
- He turns poor desperate asylum seekers into bad people and conjures up a dangerous caravan bent on invading the country.
- He does this as a campaign ploy to get votes.
- He positions troops on the border as if a military invasion is underway and gives them permission to shoot.
- He allows tear gas to be cascaded onto a ragtag crowd of despairing and needy people, hitting women and children.
- He rejects outright the long-awaited and definitive conclusions of the scientists in his own government regarding climate change.
- He blames the fires in California on bad forest management rather than admit that climate change contributed to the disaster.
- He rejects the conclusion of the CIA that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of an American citizen and Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. He sides with the Prince.
- He slanders Special Counsel Mueller hourly and tries to destroy his reputation and good name. Mueller is a former Marine who served his country with distinction and has an impeccable reputation and resume as a public servant.
- He says he’s so smart that he knows climate change is a hoax.
All of this, and much more, happened in the month of November,
Okay, Will, stop it. Take a deep breath and say “genius.”
Fine. “Genius.” But if he’s so smart, he should stop acting like an asshole. I’m just saying. See you next week.
Will Callender, Jr. ©
December 2, 2018
Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good