July 1, 2023

Changing a lie believing brain with psychology, logic, and attempts at rational persuasion may be futile: psychopathology, neuroscience, ingrained cultural metaphors


By Hal Brown, MSW, psychotherapist and mental health center director retired after 40 years of clinical practice.

Yesterday I praised Chauncey DeVaga for his Salon column which featured the opinions of two esteemed psychoanalysts, Justin Frank and Lance Dodes, both of whom have warned of the dangers of Trump's psychopathology for years.

If you missed the blog you can read it here: Dr. Justin Frank, author of "Trump on the Couch" gives us understatement of the decade about Trump's behavior.

I am on the email list for NeuroscienceNew.com and by coincidence was sent the article The Language of Lies: How Hate Speech Engages Our Neural Wiring to Foster Division which I found presented another perspective on what I wrote about yesterday.

The article describes the research described In the book "Politics, Lies and Conspiracy Theories, just released, by Marcel Danesi Ph.D., a professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada. He analyzes the speeches of dictators including Mussolini, Stalin, Putin and Hitler, as well as prominent hate groups.

Here's the summary:

Researchers analyze the language of dictators and hate groups, uncovering a common use of dehumanizing metaphors to fuel hatred. Such metaphors ‘switch on’ neural pathways in the brain, bypassing higher cognitive reasoning centers and steering focus towards certain ideas.

These mental patterns can become entrenched over time, making it challenging for individuals to revise their views even in the face of contradicting evidence.

The research underscores the potential dangers posed by such language, including the escalation of violence and political instability.

Danesi's research shows that such dehumanizing metaphors are powerful "because they tap into and ‘switch on’ existing circuits in the brain that link together important and salient images and ideas. In effect, metaphors bypass higher cognitive reasoning centers, directing our thoughts to focus on certain things whilst ignoring others."

He observes that the more these brain circuits are activated the more hardwired they become. Eventually they.becomes almost impossible to turn off. This can be see with those who believe conspiracy theories. The more the therapies are reinforced the more difficult it becomes to lead these people to rethink their basis of their beliefs and realize they are wrong. 

The conclusion is far from optimistic:

What can be done?

Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves from the power of lies? According to Danesi, the best thing we can do is to understand the metaphors of the other party, and to examine one’s own metaphors.

However, history and science tells us that it is unlikely to work – research shows that once a lie is accepted as believable, the brain becomes more susceptible to subsequent lying.

Those mental health professionals who are attempting to understand the entrenched and erroneous  belief systems of Trump and his hard-core supporters tend to lean toward those who employ an understanding of the way the mind functions based of Freudian, or psychoanalytic theory (the reason for my photo of Freud's couch above).

I count myself among these mental health practitioners who have been trained in psychoanalytical personality theory and either psychoanalysis for them and psychodynamic psychotherapy for me. 

A highly regarded expert explaining the behavior and beliefs of Trump and his cult  is Bobby Azarian, PhD.  He comes from the world of cognitive neuroscience. Unlike Justin Frank, Lance Dodes, John Gartner, Bandy Lee, and far less prominent mental health professionals like me, who have written about Trump's psychology from a psychodynamic perspective, Azarian writes from what I might call simplistically a brain perspective. Another way to put colloquially it is that he writes about the hard wiring of the brain.

Chauncey DeVega interviewed Bobby Azarian in 2019 here:

Racism on the brain: a neuroscientist explains how the world moved right

"The effects of fear and anger [on the brain]" may make us even more polarized, says neuroscientist Bobby Azarian

His "Psychology Today" articles related to Trump and his followers have titles and subtitles like these: 

There's a glitch on the link to his articles, here, so it is temporarily unavailable. Hopefully this will be repaired before long. You can get an idea of what he writes about from the titles and subtitles of his most recent articles related to Trump and his cult.

Bogus conspiracy theories will undoubtedly play a major role in the upcoming presidential election. The question is whether anything can be done about it.

Is the nation's collective narcissism the reason for Trump's popularity and political invincibility? A study suggests a causal link between the phenomena.

This brain quirk makes gaslighting particularly easy.

Research suggests that the president is more intuitive than analytical.

Was Donald Trump sent by God to save America? Some believe so, and that should have us worried.

President Trump’s divisive rhetoric can warp a person’s mind into believing that domestic terrorism is justifiable.

Baffled by Donald Trump's political invincibility? Here are 14 reasons why people continue to support the president despite behavior that would have sunk any other politician.

Trump Is Gaslighting America Again — Here’s How to Fight It Gaslighting refers to a type of psychological manipulation used to get people to question their direct experience of reality. It's also one of the president's favorite techniques.

The president's backers share some consistent and troubling characteristics.

My point is sharing the Neuroscience News article and referencing Bobby Azarian's insights is to emphasize how complex addressing the underlying problem of how, if not insurmountable a task it is, how massive an endeavor it is to alter these deeply held beliefs.

Addendum: There's yet a third aspect to understanding Trump and those in power like him, and the hold they have on their supporters. George Lahoff, retired Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society has written frequently about this subject and Trump in particular. He was writing about his take on "Understanding Trump" (read essay here) as early as 2016.  His focus in on the often incredible power cultural metaphors have on people. 

It is vitally important to grasp how psychodynamics, the wiring of the brain, and ingrained cultural metaphors among certain groups not only influence but shape belief systems and resulting behaviors. These phenomena are interrelated but also must be understood in their own right to gain a complete grasp of why people think and act the way they do for the betterment of society and their own selfish needs to the detriment of society as a whole.


June 30, 2023

Dr. Justin Frank, author of "Trump on the Couch" gives us understatement of the decade about Trump's behavior


By Hal Brown, MSW, Retired psychotherapist

Chauncey DeVega once again has provided a form for some of the nation's top mental health professionals to explain in depth the psychopathology of Donald Trump. Today's Salon column is titled on the main page "Digging his hole: Trump can't shut up" and titled in the article itself 

Why Donald Trump can't simply keep quiet — even when facing prison. 

He shares emails from both Justin Frank, MD, the psychoanalyst who wrote "Trump on the Couch" and Lance Dodes, MD, a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a training and supervising analyst emeritus at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. I recommend you reading the short and to the point Franks and Dodes emails in the Chauncey DeVega column.

Whether one is a distinguished mental health professional like Frank or Dodes or a state university clinical social work graduate who, in a past life ran a small community mental health center, and now blogs about Trump's dangerous psychopathology (like me), we find ourself trying to explain behavior so far beyond the normal abnormal it is difficult to avoid coming across as hyperbolic.

I think I can speak for not only Justin Frank and Lance Dodes, but also for Chauncey DeVega who as far as I'm concerned has earned himself an honorary doctorate in clinical psychology (or Trumplogy, if you will) saying that we don't want to sound like we're exaggerating about how pathological Trump is.

DeVega describes his own frustration, which I share:

For those of us, myself included, who have direct experience with sociopaths and other such dangerous people, living through the Age of Trump and trying to warn the American people about the disaster has been and continues to be remarkably frustrating and exhausting. For most of the Age of Trump, people said we had "Trump Derangement Syndrome" when we were just telling an uncomfortable and unpopular truth.
Psychotherapists and well informed non-therapists like DeVega, and notably George Conway, were accused by Trump supporters of suffering from a made-up mental illness, Trump derangement syndrome. 

In fact, way back in 2017 mental health professionals tried to warn about Trump.

Clinical psychologist John Gartner, founder of Duty To Warn, was (as far as I know) the first expert to publicize the rationale for diagnosing Trump as a malignant narcissist. This was way back in 2017 and was published in USA Today: 

Donald Trump's malignant narcissism is toxic

Mental health professionals have a 'duty to warn' about a leader who may be unfit to serve.

The best seller "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump" edited by forensic psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee, was also published in 2017. The book had essays from 27 mental health professionals including John Gartner. It described the "clear and present danger" that Trump's psychopathology posed to the "nation and individual well being". Read table of contents here.

I don't think any of the warnings published by experts about Trump since 2017 were hyperbolic. 

I don't think I was stretching it to write in February of 2020 about adding a new diagnosis to the psychiatric manual to cover the highly unusual Trump diagnosis (read here). In fact, I think it was a mistake not to include the diagnosis of malignant narcissism when it was originally defined by Erich Fromm and others.

Click above to read my Daily Kos article

In that story, which I posted on Daily Kos, I cited a Chauncey DeVega interview with Justin Frank: "On a fundamental level, Donald Trump does not believe in America" which used one of the well known photos of Trump hugging the American flag.


While I want what I write in a serious vein to be taken seriously, I admit I am sometimes reduced to blogging snarky commentary and pictures of that flag hugging. I found it too hard for me to resist modifying them:

Top caption is "clinging to flag and anchor about
to sink" and bottom goes with this blog.

Further reading:

The Language of Lies: How Hate Speech Engages Our Neural Wiring to Foster Division


Summary: Researchers analyze the language of dictators and hate groups, uncovering a common use of dehumanizing metaphors to fuel hatred. Such metaphors ‘switch on’ neural pathways in the brain, bypassing higher cognitive reasoning centers and steering focus towards certain ideas.

These mental patterns can become entrenched over time, making it challenging for individuals to revise their views even in the face of contradicting evidence.

The research underscores the potential dangers posed by such language, including the escalation of violence and political instability.

Not an optimistic conclusion:

What can be done?

Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves from the power of lies? According to Danesi, the best thing we can do is to understand the metaphors of the other party, and to examine one’s own metaphors.

However, history and science tells us that it is unlikely to work – research shows that once a lie is accepted as believable, the brain becomes more susceptible to subsequent lying.

June 29, 2023

What if Democrats played politics as dirty as Republicans?


By Hal Brown

I was thinking of writing about this last night but thought it was too simplistic an idea to write more than a few sentences. Then first thing this morning I was watching "Morning Joe" and they were discussing how President Biden talked about this story:

Biden mocks Tuberville for touting broadband funding he voted against 

and Joe referred to this story because it was about Alabama:

The United States Supreme Court for the present saved Democracy in rejecting the Independent State Legislature theory, but as this NPR story says, at least for the present time:

Supreme Court rejects Independent State Legislature theory, but leaves door ajar

This is also being discussed on MSNBC as I write this:

What could happen if the Supreme Court ruled the other way?

The panicked progressive pundits presume that this would result in it being almost impossible for a Democrat to win another presidential election in the foreseeable future.

This might be the case if it was based on assuming that all states where Democrats controlled the legislature didn't reverse the results in elections where the Republican candidate for president won.

Call it playing hardball or dirty, this could only happen if the Democrats played the game of politics by bending or outright suspending the rules of democracy. 

What if Democrats played ruthlessly and often without regards to ethics and truth, let alone simple decency and decorum, the way the Republicans (with rare exceptions) do?

A recent example of playing hardball comes from Massachusetts where their lesbian governor, Maura Healey, used state tourism dollars to put up pro-LGBTQ billboards in Florida and Texas (read article here):

Click above to enlarge image

Here in my home state of Oregon, where by coincidence Tina Kotek became the second openly lesbian governor (Maura Healey was the first) our state now allows terminally ill people to come here to take advantage of our death with dignity law (read article).

States where abortions are legal and which are adjacent to states where it isn't or is highly restricted are also moving family planning clinics close to their borders. See 

New Abortion Clinics Are Opening Near Borders and Airports to Stretch Access as Far as It Will Go - Time Magazine

Back to the Ballot Box

How would election night look if state legislators could change the outcome?

For those of you who watch MSNBC on election nights and marvel at how Steve Kornacki (above) explains the voting patterns with his famous "big board" imagine how he'd have to explain what the vote count meant adding in whether the state legislator might overturn the outcome.

If every state legislature was to engage in the practice of making sure that their state cast their Electoral College votes for one party or the other the results of all presidential election would be determined in advance. 

The only more-or-less fair elections in the country would end up being those for candidates running for local office with the most important for how the country is run aside from who represents the state in Congress would be for the state legislature. The states which controlled the most Electoral College votes would determine the outcome of every presidential election.

June 28, 2023

Former president's proof of preening narcissism


By Hal Brown

This is the Raw Story article that brought to mind an aspect of Trump's personality, of his psychopathology, that is probably the most benign. It is the obsession he has with how he looks, his vanity.

Click above to read


Trump is famously vain, to the extent that he reportedly had his official presidential photographer carry a stool so that she could take photos from angles that made him look taller and slimmer.

Here's a reminder of how his vanity made the news when he represented the United States at the 100th anniversary of D-Day remembrance:

Vanity Fair:  “Trump remained in a dark mood during his weekend trip to France to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I… On Saturday morning, Trump skipped attending a rain-soaked ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery to honor the Battle of Belleau Wood. When his absence became a scandal, the White House said the decision had been made because Marine One reportedly could not fly in the rain, and Secret Service did not want Trump traveling by motorcade. One Republican briefed on the internal discussions said the real reason Trump did not want to go was because there would be no tent to stand under.”

Said the source: “He was worried his hair was going to get messed up in the rain. John Bolton and everyone was telling him this was a big mistake.”

I wrote the following on Daily Kos (here) on Mar. 10, 2020. Of the 1700 stories  posted there before I was banned it was my most read and most recommended.


Therapists like me often refer to Trump using terms like malignant narcissism or sociopathic narcissism. Jennifer Senior introduces a non-clinical catchphrase that resonates with me:

Preening Narcissism

Sometimes a writer manages to describe Trump in a way that manages to put his essence into the toxic bottle of a merely one paragraph. This is an example:

That news conference was, to me, the most frightening moment of the Trump presidency. His preening narcissism, his compulsive lying, his vindictiveness, his terror of germs and his terrifying inability to grasp basic science — all of it eclipsed his primary responsibilities to us as Americans, which was to provide urgent care, namely in the form of leadership.

Jennifer Senior, NY Times OpEd “The President is Unfit for This Crisis. Period.”

She concludes: 

This observation jibes with the conversation I had with Nicholas Christakis, author of “Blueprint” and an epidemiologist at Yale, last Friday...

“I’m in the deeply ironic position at the moment of strongly discouraging social connection, despite the fact that it’s the central focus of my book — and my life’s work,” he says. “But it’s going to take us working together in this unnatural way — one that goes so against our evolutionary past — to confront this epidemic.”

and adds:

What’s so frightening — so hideous — is that our president is least equipped to do just that. This crisis has unhelmed and unmasked him. He’s incapable of leading. When it comes to Trump, truth, decency and self-possession have been in quarantine from the start.

After reading this I have nothing else to add.


The last sentence above is from what I wrote in Daily Kos.

I just found this article: Trump preening and sweeping away all guardrails that have protected US democracy: Biden (March, 2020) Biden may have beaten Jennifer Senor to using the word "preening" referring to Trump, but he didn't say he was a preening narcissist. As far as I can tell Senor deserves credit for this.


“Donald Trump isn't interested in doing that work. Instead, he's preening and sweeping away all the guardrails that have long protected our democracy, guardrails that have helped make possible this nation's path to a more perfect union...."

Looking up just the words Trump and preening you'll also find these articles:

Foreign Leaders Look At Donald Trump And See ‘Preening, Clueless Clown’ Says Pulitzer-Winning ‘WaPo’ Columnist

Trump's psychopathology seems to know no bounds. From his being a dangerous demagogic psychopath to the following:

Click above to read

"Aides said he talked about Ivanka Trump's breasts, her backside, and what it might be like to have sex with her, remarks that once led (former Chief of Staff) John Kelly to remind the president that Ivanka was his daughter," Taylor writes.

June 27, 2023

Trump confession tape leads to errie laughter in Yorba Linda


Photo of Nixon from Wiki Commons and of Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum from PresidentsUSA.net. I wanted to share the illustration with the photo that comes up on Wikimedia Commons if you search for "Nixon laughing".

Next blog is about Trump's preening narcissism.

Below are a few of the articles in the news today:

By Hal Brown

If you haven't heard the tape yet it is on Twitter here:

It was a major scoop for CNN to obtain this tape. You can watch the Anderson Cooper broadcast where the entire tape was played here. The discussion on the show about what the tape means for Trump is included in this.

Ironically Trump says "this totally wins my case" when, in fact this tape may totally lose his case.

Lest there's a rare reader who doesn't make the connection in my illustration:

February, 2021 was the 50th anniversary of the first use of the White House taping system installed by Richard Nixon. You can read about this here.

Knowing who Alexander Butterfield  was could score you a point in a trivia game. If you could identify him just by his photo you would deserve 10 points.

Butterfield was questioned by Senate Watergate Committee staff Scott Armstrong, G. Eugene Boyce, Marianne Brazer, and Donald Sanders (deputy minority counsel) on Friday, July 13, 1973, in a background interview prior to his public testimony before the full committee. Butterfield was brought before the committee because he was Haldeman's top deputy and was the only person other than Haldeman who knew as much about the president's day-to-day behavior.

The critical line of questioning was conducted by Donald Sanders. Armstrong had given a copy of Buzhardt's report to Butterfield; now Sanders asked if the quotations in it might have come from notes. Butterfield said no, that the quotations were too detailed. In addition, Butterfield said that neither staff nor the president kept notes of one-on-one private meetings with Nixon. 

When asked where the quotations might have come from, Butterfield said he did not know. Then Sanders asked if there was any validity to John Dean's hypothesis that the White House had taped conversations in the Oval Office. Butterfield replied, "I was wondering if someone would ask that. There is tape in the Oval Office." Butterfield then told the investigators that, while he had hoped that no one would ask about the taping system, he had previously decided he would disclose its existence if asked a direct question. Butterfield then testified extensively about when the taping system was installed and how it worked, telling the staff members, "Everything was taped... as long as the President was in attendance. There was not so much as a hint that something should not be taped." Butterfield later said that he assumed the committee knew about the taping system, since they had already interviewed Haldeman and Higby.

It shouldn't surprise anyone with any sense that Trump is spinning this like a whirling dervrish on (paranoia inducing) meth. This is his Truth Social post:

The Deranged Special Prosecutor, Jack Smith, working in conjunction with the DOJ & FBI, illegally leaked and “spun” a tape and transcript of me which is actually an exoneration, rather than what they would have you believe. This continuing Witch Hunt is another ELECTION INTERFERENCE Scam. They are cheaters and thugs!

This all-caps rant followed about six hours later: "

As if anyone needed anymore proof that Trump lives as an insane Superman in his delusional Bizaro World this should put the case to rest, that is unless he meant to write that the tape is actually an execution or exsanguination (if he knows the meaning of the later word) instead of an exoneration.



Trump lying his ass off and serving it to members of his cult.


“This is so bad for Trump”: Legal experts say leaked audio “even more damning” than indictment

"A picture is worth a thousand words. This audio could be worth a thousand days behind bars," ex-prosecutor says

Compassion doesn't count ballots: Biden does the moral thing on immigration and it will hurt him with many voters. All Trump needs now is his own Willie Horton. by Hal Brown, MSW

In the news today a top story  (read article)  is that President Biden has once again demonstrated that he has a heart and good sense when i...