Politics

Why Trump Represents a ‘Trifecta of Danger’

Brian Klaas, a political scientist at University College London, captures the remarkable nature of the 2024 presidential election in an Oct. 1 essay, “The Case for Amplifying Trump’s Insanity.”

Klaas argues that the presidential contest now pits

against “an 80-year-old with mainstream Democratic Party views who sometimes misspeaks or trips.”

“One of those two candidates,” Klaas notes, “faces relentless newspaper columns and TV pundit ‘takes’ arguing that he should drop out of the race. (Spoiler alert: it’s somehow *not* the racist authoritarian sexual abuse fraudster facing 91 felony charges).”

Klaas asks:

The media, Klaas argues, has adopted a policy in covering Trump of: “Don’t amplify him! You’re just spreading his message.”

In Klaas’s view, newspapers and television have succumbed to what he calls the “banality of crazy,” ignoring “even the most dangerous policy proposals by an authoritarian who is on the cusp of once again becoming the most powerful man in the world — precisely because it happens, like clockwork, almost every day.”

This approach, according to Klaas,

Looking over the eight-and-a-half years during which Trump has been directly engaged in presidential politics, it’s not as if there were no warning signs.

Three months after Trump took office, in April 2017, a conference called “A Duty to Warn” was held at the Yale School of Medicine.

The conference resulted in a best-selling book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” A sampling of the chapter titles gives the flavor:

In a review of the that book, “Twilight of American Sanity: a Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” and “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, a 500-Year History,” Carlos Lozada, now a Times Opinion columnist, wrote in The Washington Post that the political elite in Washington was increasingly concerned about Trump’s mindset:

The warnings that Donald Trump is dangerous and unstable began well before his 2016 election and have become increasingly urgent.

These warnings came during the 2016 primary and general campaigns, continued throughout Trump’s four years in the White House, and remain relentless as he gets older and more delusional about the outcome of the 2020 election.

I asked some of those who first warned about the dangers Trump poses what their views are now.

Leonard L. Glass, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, emailed me:

Glass continued:

In recent months, Trump has continued to add to the portrait Glass paints of him.

In March, he told loyalists in Waco, Texas:

“With you at my side,” Trump went on to say,

At the California Republican Convention on Sept. 29, Trump told the gathering that under his administration shoplifters will be subject to extrajudicial execution: “We will immediately stop all the pillaging and theft. Very simply, if you rob a store, you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store.”

Trump has continued to forge ahead, pledging to a crowd of supporters in Claremont N.H. on Nov. 11: “We will root out the communists, Marxist fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections and will do anything possible, they’ll do anything whether legally or illegally to destroy America and to destroy the American dream.”

Nothing captures Trump’s megalomania and narcissism more vividly than his openly declared agenda, should he win back the White House next year.

On Nov. 6, Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett reported in The Washington Post that Trump “wants the Justice Department to investigate onetime officials and allies who have become critical of his time in office, including his former chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and former attorney general William P. Barr, as well as his ex-attorney Ty Cobb and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley.”

Trump, the Post noted, dismissed federal criminal indictments as “third-world-country stuff, ‘arrest your opponent,’ ” and then claimed that the indictments gave him license, if re-elected, to do the same thing: “I can do that, too.”

A week later, my Times colleagues Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Jonathan Swan, quoted Trump in “How Trump and His Allies Plan to Wield Power in 2025”: “I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family,” adding, “I will totally obliterate the deep state.”

In an earlier story, Haberman, Savage and Swann reported that Trump allies are preparing to reissue an executive order known as Schedule F, which Trump promulgated at the end of his presidency, but that never went into effect.

Schedule F, the reporters wrote,

Schedule F would politicize posts in the senior civil service authorized to oversee the implementation of policy, replacing job security with the empowerment of the administration to hire and fire as it chose, a topic I wrote about in an earlier column.

I asked Joshua D. Miller, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, whether he thought Trump’s “vermin” comment represented a tipping point, an escalation in his willingness to attack opponents. Miller replied by email: “My bet is we’re seeing the same basic traits, but their manifestation has been ratcheted up by the stress of his legal problems and also by some sense of invulnerability in that he has yet to face any dire consequences for his previous behavior.”

Miller wrote that he has

I asked Donald R. Lynam, a professor of psychology at Purdue, the same question, and he emailed his reply: “The escalation is quite consistent with grandiose narcissism. Trump is reacting more and more angrily to what he perceives as his unfair treatment and failure to be admired, appreciated and adored in the way that he believes is his due.”

Grandiose narcissists, Lynam continued, “feel they are special and that normal rules don’t apply to them. They require attention and admiration,” adding “this behavior is also consistent with psychopathy which is pretty much grandiose narcissism plus poor impulse control.”

Most of the specialists I contacted see Trump’s recent behavior and public comments as part of an evolving process.

“Trump is an aging malignant narcissist,” Aaron L. Pincus, a professor of psychology at Penn State, wrote in an email. “As he ages, he appears to be losing impulse control and is slipping cognitively. So we are seeing a more unfiltered version of his pathology. Quite dangerous.”

In addition, Pincus continued, “Trump seems increasingly paranoid, which can also be a reflection of his aging brain and mental decline.”

The result? “Greater hostility and less ability to reflect on the implications and consequences of his behavior.”

Edwin B. Fisher, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, made the case in an email that Trump’s insistence on the validity of his own distorted claims has created a vicious circle, pressuring him to limit his close relations to those willing to confirm his beliefs:

At the same time, Fisher continued, Trump is showing signs of cognitive deterioration,

Fisher noted that he anticipated the movement toward increased isolation in his 2017 contribution to the book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” which I mentioned earlier:

This process of exclusion, Fisher wrote, becomes self-reinforcing:

Craig Malkin, a lecturer in psychology at Harvard Medical School, raised a separate concern in an email responding to my inquiry:

In 2019, leaked memos written by Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, warned British leaders that the Trump presidency could “crash and burn” and “end in disgrace,” adding: “We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept.”

In 2020, Pew Research reported that “Trump Ratings Remain Low Around Globe.” Pew found:

A recent editorial in The Economist, carried the headline: “Donald Trump Poses the Biggest Danger to the World in 2024.” “A second Trump term,” the editorial concludes:

Klaas, who opened this column, concludes that a crucial factor in Trump’s political survival is the failure of the media in this country to recognize that the single most important story in the presidential election, a story that dominates over all others, is the enormous threat Trump poses:

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