I have been perplexed by the claims of people who say they know Donald Trump well that he is not at all racist. Some of those have come from people who are not among his obviously obliged apologists. How could this be true?
To understand Donald Trump it’s important not to forget the narcissism that shapes his persona and drives so much of what he says and does.
First, he does not feel for others, and doesn’t care how others feel about him. With a narcissist’s lack of empathy, relationships for him are entirely transactional—how do they benefit him. Other people’s sensibilities are of little importance; mostly they are weaknesses to be exploited. This is not said to be harsh, it’s a normal feature of narcissism.
What is important to him is to be seen and admired by others the way he needs to see himself—as a winner, the smartest, most successful person on the stage. He measures his status, always relative to others, by the amount of recognition he’s getting and whether people around him are showing admiration for and deference to him. Sincerity is not necessary, only that images of his status are being reflected to him at all times. One can only imagine what he would do without Fox News and his non-stop rallies.
Understanding this offers a window into the confounding positions and behaviors that seem to most people irrational. (I would argue most of his ardent supporters don’t ask if he is rational; they like him for the brashness they see as courage and strength.) His repetition of demonstrable falsehoods, for example, from the crowd size at his inauguration to his welcome in El Paso, demonstrates a compulsive need for even false evidence of his superiority. So does undermining the effectiveness of his own administration by dismissing critical appointees when they challenge his positions or draw too much favorable media attention in their own right.
I suspect Trump’s race baiting attacks on brown and black people are calculated manipulations rather than expressions of personal feelings or beliefs. He insults anyone, including his own white male appointees, who upstages him or challenges his opinions. His outrageous statements draw wide media attention and admiration from his tribe for being politically incorrect. This may or may not ultimately work politically, but it serves his immediate, insatiable need for attention.
Donald Trump’s racial insults may not be personal because he is not personal. He can offend people without apology because he is emotionally impervious to guilt, is strengthened by the adulation of those he thinks respect him for it, and because the media storms keep his face in the news 24/7. He admires himself as he stands calm in the storms while others flail and complain uselessly. He can do this because he doesn’t feel the storm, only the bright lights on his face.
Whether motivated by personal racial animus or not, Donald Trump’s words are unleashing racism across the country. This, like his attacks on U.S. intelligence agencies, science, NATO partners, and world economies are damaging the infrastructures of our social and national security. I think Donald Trump is probably not a hate-filled racist; he is something even more dangerous—a president, with enormous power, devoid of feeling for or interest in anything or anyone but himself, compelled to demonstrate his superiority…at any cost…as long as the costs are borne by others.