Is President Trump Racist?

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.

8 thoughts on “Is President Trump Racist?”

  1. Well said, Bob. Perhaps of all the frightening issues you set forth here, the scariest is trump’s removal from the administration of anyone with knowledge or common sense, appointing straw leaders for departments, giving himself complete autonomy (supported by Republicans) to continue his destruction from within. That, combined with his lack of empathy, make for a truly disturbing combination. Since he has no moral or ethical filters, and no one to stop him, all we can do is stand by and watch, in horror.

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  2. Excellent essay. Puts the emphasis on the right issue.

    My questions follow this narcissistic theme. Does Trump lack empathy or does he lack compassion. Lacking empathy would mean he has no felt sense of the inner life or inner pain of another. Is he then morally responsible for decisions that seem uncaring or even inhuman? He seems, on one hand, to be oblivious to many other’s suffering, especially those outside of his political or personal attachments. Does that make him more amoral rather than morally deficient?

    On the other hand, does he have even the slightest empathy for others’ suffering, any felt sense of their pain. Does he then at some inner level decide that another’s suffering is not either important or relevant or even valid. Is there a disconnect between his limited empathy and a fundamental human feeling of compassion? Does this seeming lack of compassion place him back in the darker moral realm?

    In either case Bob’s questioning of his narcissism is even more frightening than Trump’s probable racism. This questioning broadens these personality issues beyond but including racism. Trump’s racism, as Bob points out, is a symptom of a far deeper personality issue that seems resistant to pleas of compassion on any level. That is a frightening thought about someone who holds the power to create or continue pain for many who are most in need.

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    1. Larry, that sounds like an important distinction from a moral discernment perspective. I’m coming at this from the point of view that our moral condemnation of him personally serves no useful purpose. Our outrage has no impact on him and likely strengthens his supporters’ view of him as the target of righteous liberals’ Trump Derangement Syndrome.

      I offer this post not to excuse his behavior or reduce his responsibility for his actions. Whether he is evil or mentally ill, whether it is theoretically possible for him to care, is secondary, in my opinion, to the importance of recognizing that he is driven by narcissistic needs, and will (whether he “must” or not) always act for his own benefit without concern for consequences to the country or others, any others. There is no one he will not throw under the bus if necessary to maintain his image of himself as on top. Watched through that lens, his erratic actions and speeches look more coherent, less amusing, and more disturbing. When a charming sociopath is revealed for what he is, the need to take protective action becomes unequivocal.

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  3. Bob,
    I found this to be a helpful analysis, a. teasing apart of the motivation for Trump’s divisive statements, and the hostile actions of his administration, suggesting perhaps it is his narcissism rather than personal animus that fuels his statements and policies.Does it matter? Can his mental illness, if indeed narcissism can be categorized in this way, be seen as an apology of sorts, despite the fact that his words and actions threaten the very fabric of our democracy? Asking for a friend, seriously, one who read your statement and saw it as such: a “red flag”, so to speak, which would suggest a need for treatment and isolation, in the interest of public safety, rather than a call to political action. My response: Does it matter ?

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    1. Thanks, Bea. I agree it doesn’t matter in one sense: The adverse affects are not increased or decreased by the cause of his antisocial behavior. It could matter, though, in how to most effectively respond.

      The public outrage and social condemnation that can motivate most public figures to change their behavior will not deter him. The barrage of news calling out his lies and cruelty energizes rather than daunts him. Mostly what he sees and hears is his face and name in the news, which he craves.

      More critically, people of normal empathic sensibilities do not naturally assume the president literally has no feelings for anyone, and trust his humanity in the end will keep him from going too far, from doing anything too awful. Many are giving him a pass, thinking his behavior is cleverly strategic, enabled by some strength of character, and are finding his imperviousness to “politically motivated shaming” endearing and even heroic. Understanding something of the distortions and compulsions of narcissism could help disabuse people of that view. They might, for example, take his comments about needing a third and fourth term more as warnings than jokes.

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  4. Bob,
    I see your point. Donald Trump may not be a racist per se, but he personifies the extreme selfishness of narcissistic personality disorder every day. He is indeed dangerous because he only cares that he stays in the spotlight and maintains power. He has designed a presidency which bolsters his ego, his bank accounts, and his future prosperity when he is eventually forced to step down. Immigrants, working class people and the country as a whole suffer daily without relief in sight. Can a Democrat win in 2020? I fear our country will be changed forever if one does not.

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    1. Thank you for the comment, Susan. You actually speak from more expertise on this subject than I have and am grateful for your analysis.

      It worries me that his destructive behaviors and their affects get buried in unending political posturing and bickering. They get credited to or blamed on politics, or attributed to some ideology, when the problem goes so much deeper. Mr. Trump might be serving a political agenda, but I don’t think he has one, nor do I think he has an ideology. Many apparently see that as brave, strong, independence. What I see, painfully, is a lack of capacity to commit to anyone or anything but himself. Hopefully we will all be awakened by our better angels…soon.

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