Original title from before Trump lost the election. "How I think the president may cope with losing." By retired therapist Hal Brown, MSW
This is my speculation as to how Trump will deal psychologically with losing the election. It is not particularly about what he will do to meet his narcissistic need to be the center of attention although I make some guesses. I try to apply what I know about the psychology of loss to what I understand about Trump’s personality.
No doubt you’ve been reading articles in the progressive media and listening to MSNBC and been alarmed by the dire predictions about Trump’s losing the election and using the time left before his term formally ends to wreak havoc on the rule of law and the foundations of American democracy.
As a psychotherapist who is retired after 40 years of clinical practice I have written numerous essays about Trump’s psychopathology here on Daily Kos and previously on the website Capitol Hill Blue. I am not nearly as famous as other mental health professionals who will come up if you do web searches by adding terms like psychology or narcissism to Trump’s name. If you do this you will find a plethora of articles. On Google search of Trump and psychology you have to go to number 26 on page three to find a link to my articles. (These are the only links in this diary. They will each take you numerous references.)
There is something that occurred to me which I haven’t seen addressed. It is that by the time of the election Trump will have been forced to have dealt psychologically, probably unconsciously, with the very real, if not the likelihood, that he is going to lose.
It is true that Donald Trump utilizes the most is also the most primitive psychological defense mechanism, the very most basic one, denial. It is called primitive because according to psychodynamic theory it is the one which is used earliest in life to cope with anxiety and with stress in general.
There is a time when, to put it bluntly, reality bites when someone is about to or actually suffers a loss. In other words, to extend in imagery, reality gets its teeth into a person and try as that person might to dislodge it, reality just won’t let go.
Trump still believes he can manipulate reality and his minions play into this delusional thinking. Like anyone else he believes that if something worked in the past it will work again. He currently seems to believe he can bend the truth to his will. The polls showing Vice President Biden defeating him are a good example. As you’ve probably read he thought he could deny the CNN poll and even threaten a law suit against them. Then the not well-regarded Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll, considered conservative due to the politics of the man whose company conducts it, came out agreeing with the other polls. I haven’t seen a reaction from Trump to this so I assume until he tweets something we can assume he’s in denial.
I don’t think I need a reference to remind readers of the five stages of grief described by Elisabeth Kübler Ross in her writing about death. It has been applied to other kind of loss having nothing to do with dying and found to have validity in how people handle other kinds of loss.
- 1 - Denial.
- 2 - Anger.
- 3 - Bargaining.
- 4 - Depression.
- 5 - Acceptance.
Note that the first stage is also the most primitive psychological defense mechanism
While grief researchers modified the Kübler Ross list as they discovered that the stages don’t always occur in order, and that people go back and forth between stages, the basic model trends to hold true for everyone.
There’s a concept called anticipatory grieving which can help someone face inevitable loss before it occurs, for example if a loved one is terminally ill. However, this won’t work for Trump until it is quite clear from the polls that there is virtually no chance he can win, and even then he may remain in denial until the actual election.
This is when he will become the most dangerous because if he holds true to form he will lash out in anger in any way he can. This coincides with the Kübler Ross model. There is no telling for sure what he will do in the interim between his election loss until Biden is sworn in. There are lots of dire predictions.
My sense is that Trump will not go through the bargaining stage because it generally applies to grief associated with death. For example, for those who are religious it may involve promising God they will reform their lifestyle to stave off death just that much longer.
There are no indications that Trump has ever experienced depression as such. This is a man who has said he has never cried. I would look to him to somaticize his depression. We probably wouldn’t learn about some of the typical physical manifestations of depression such as sleep disturbance or minor aches and pains. However some symptoms like severe digestive problems or chest pain could cause him to take another trip to Walter Reed which he’d claim was the second half of his physical. This is something we should be alert for.
As Biden’s swearing in day approaches I think it is possible if not likely that something will “click” in Trump’s psyche which is akin to a survival mechanism. He would then enter to the acceptance phase albeit with a twist unique to him.
This would be when he realizes in his extreme narcissism that he can turn his loss into a win by parlaying the fact that he still has a huge following and is, in his mind, rightfully one of the most famous people in the world.
This is when I would look for him to go back to what has worked best for him in the past which is to do what he does best: perform. I anticipate that in losing he won't take time to lick his wounds because he won’t allow himself to admit he brought defeat upon himself. Instead I see him taking his act on the road where he will continue to draw large, if not huge, crowds. Whether or not they'd pay to see him, and what I expect would be an actual show with the D list performers he can entice to perform, remains to be seen. Of course there’s always the sale of made in China merchandise as a revenue source.
I think Trump will find ways to be in the limelight and will reconstruct his life in a way that satisfies his needs. He’ll never reach the healthy resolution of the grief stages because this would require true acceptance that he suffered a profound loss.
As time goes on we can speculate that his crowds will be smaller and smaller and his events will stop being covered as newsworthy, but he’s smart enough to make sure that he never books a venue he can’t fill and where he won’t make a profit. After all, if the reports are true that Melania reinitiated the prenup before she agreed to move to Washington, he’ll need the money to pay the alimony.
Keep in mind if you want to comment about your own ideas about what you think Trump will do the following:
- His intense psychological need to be the center of attention
- His practical need to make money
- Note that doing things like starting his own cable network requires investors and sponsors.
- Up until now his rallies were free. (How many MAGA hats to his supporters need to buy”?)
- As a loser he will see deep pocket donors and investors disappear.
- Would Fox News, even if they wanted him to host a show, be willing to pay him enough to make it worth his time? Sean Hannity is the highest paid TV host in all TV news at $40 million annually, runner up at Fox is Tucker Carlson at $6 million.