Friday, September 7, 2018
Cape Neddick, Maine
Defensiveness As Vulnerability:
Reacting to the Anonymous NYT Op-Ed Article
Once again displaying his unwitting genius for exemplifying psychoanalytic ideas, Donald Trump’s reaction to yesterday’s anonymous New York Times Op-Ed piece shows how guilty, insecure people behave.
The anonymous NYT Op-Ed article intended to reassure Americans that members of the “resistance” work directly within the Trump White House. They trick Trump by removing potentially disruptive orders from his desk, distracting him from his impulsive ire, and otherwise “managing” him. The article reveals the chaotic inner workings of an ineffective White House led by the intellectual equivalent of a “fifth or sixth-grader.”
The unusual, anonymous editorial will prove historical.
It is rare event, reserved only for occasions when authors, if their names were revealed, would face dire consequences—termination from employment, harassment, perhaps even death threats.
Trump’s reaction to the article may ultimately prove more remarkable than the Op-Ed piece itself.
Even if you’re not the US President, the best way to react to a potentially publicly humiliating event like the NYT Op-Ed piece is to keep quiet.
In other words, it’s most prudent to NOT react publicly.
Oddly, we humans live in strange kinds of relationships with ourselves. Originally attributed to the anthropologist George Herbert Mead in the 1930s, we humans relate to ourselves much like we relate to another person.
Therefore, only two possibilities exist when verbally attacked.
We show integrity in our self-relations, or we display self-hatred.
On the one hand, let’s assume the unknown NYT Op-Ed author writes an unabashed lie. Trump would know this. His self-relationship would feature a clean conscience. He’d look inside, see the accusations as baseless, and have no pressing urge to refute them.
On the other hand, if the accusations are accurate, then Trump would be looking inward with self-hatred. He’d feel hurt, disappointed, and furious at being outed. Most importantly, his internal reaction would feel like a case of two-against-one, actually more of a pile-up.
The writer of the article, its readers, and the mass media spreading these embarrassing tales join forces with Trump’s own internal critic, making the self-attack unbearable. In such situations, persons might become depressed or enraged. They’d be flooded with feelings of humiliation. They’d badly want revenge.
Notice how, in either situation, a person behaving in a presidential fashion would remain mum. Showing your emotional vulnerabilities only suggests guilt. After all, if they are fabrications, why become defensive? And, if they are truths, why feel the need to publicly refuting them?
Silence in these situations represents the best possible “messaging.” Experts in rhetoric, politics, or public relations would consistently recommend restraining from any public reaction in this situation.
In contrast, and pathetically, Trump again proved himself incapable of either self-control or of following the advice of his advisors—precisely confirming the viewpoint of the secret NYT Op-Ed writer.
This post would extend to book-length if I described all the key examples. A short survey of Trump’s reactions in the past few days includes calling the writer “gutless” and “guilty of treason,” launching a justice department investigation to determine the author’s identity, describing the NYT as “failing,” proclaiming himself as “doing a great job,” and delineating his many alleged accomplishments.
In the final analysis, Trump’s defensiveness teaches us something about the way the mind’s internal drama works. If you’re feeling vulnerable, you may well judge yourself negatively. This can lead to self-attack; sometimes it can lead to motivation for self-improvement.
On occasion, and what an occasion (!), Trump’s loud, aggressive, immature defensive reaction to the Op-Ed article floridly reveals the extremity of his inner insecurity—an opinion clearly shared by the anonymous author—and slowly becoming commonplace knowledge among most Americans.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP