Well, it’s gotten a bit dicey around here.
I was feeling moderately hopeful right up until yesterday morning, and then things began to happen. I expected they would, though it’s still dizzying to watch them.
I do not count President Trump’s petulant tweets as anything more threatening than usual, since he makes them about everything.
But then the president, looking particularly haggard and wearing more contouring powder than usual, took to the podium and had a particularly undignified name-calling fit. And I mean, particularly even for him. This ended with CNN’s Jim Acosta’s press credentials being suspended. The White House proceed to justify this with a doctored video originally released by a contributor to InfoWars who claims he downloaded it from the alt right site the Daily Wire. I don’t need to tell you that when the government starts revoking press passes and justifying it with fake news, that’s a serious threat to our democracy.
After the press conference episode, the president quickly fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This delighted many and led to jokes about Confederate Dobby, evil Keebler elves and the only confederate monument the president was willing to remove. But when you get down to brass tacks it’s not actually a comforting thing because remember, Jeff Sessions had recused himself from having anything to do with the FBI’s investigation of the president. The acting attorney general or his permanent replacement may not, and then Mueller could be fired, a clear obstruction of justice. Even Senator Graham knew that would be an impeachable offense, once upon a time, though I expect him to conveniently forget now. On top of it all, there are serious questions of whether the appointment of acting Attorney General Whitaker was legal or constitutional, since the president did not run it by the Senate for approval first.
I’m afraid I expect that things will get much worse before they get better.
You see, I’ve lived with someone I believe to be a narcissist. And I’m familiar with the behavior Trump is displaying. I’ve seen it many times.
For those of you who have never seen such a performance, what Trump is doing is something clinicans refer to as “the Monkey Dance.” Picture a silverback gorilla posturing and pounding his chest to intimidate a rival. The monkey dance is a recognized common tactic of an abusive, narcissistic parent or partner; it’s apparently also a term policemen use for the same behavior in a belligerent drunk. A narcissist who feels his authority has been challenged will suddenly go into a rage; they’ll do everything they can to make themselves look powerful and scary. They will stomp, yell, throw things. They’ll name-call and make horrible threats.
Oftentimes, it’s a bluff. And in much simpler cases, ignoring or calling that bluff is enough to make you safer.
Picture that silverback gorilla again. One of the things gorillas do when they’re trying to intimidate rivals is charge straight at them as if they’re going to attack but then stop short suddenly an inch from their target– just to show that they could flatten them, but they’re not going to right now. It takes a lot of energy to kill a rival and the gorilla would rather just scare them off. Narcissists can do that to– especially when they don’t have any power but really want you to think that they do. An angry narcissistic man continuing to scream that he’s going to beat up his girlfriend if he ever gets ahold of her, as the girlfriend is driving away in the safety of her car, doesn’t really have any power at that moment. He might later. But he keeps doing the Monkey Dance as a bluff to scare her. Same for a narcissistic mother who has a fit in the middle of the department store when her adult daughter wants to pick out her own clothes instead of letting Mother pick and make Daughter pay for it. If the daughter calmly refuses to play along, Mother might be forced to calm down and the shopping date might continue fairly amicably, because she can’t really do anything. This is why some clinicians tell their clients who are victims of narcissistic parents to just ignore the Monkey Dance and pretend it isn’t happening, because it spoils the narcissist’s performance. At that point the narcissist will often give up because they can’t really follow through on their threats– or else they’ll go through with the threat, if they can. That’s the danger of assuming it’s a bluff.
And that’s why this is not a simple situation, and it is not going to work to just ignore Trump. Because Trump has quite a bit more power than your average narcissist.
President Trump has made himself the abusive narcissistic boyfriend or stepdad of the whole country, and we can’t drive away in the safety of our cars while he stands in the driveway waving a beer bottle. We can’t calmly ignore his fussing and go on trying on new shoes. We’re stuck here. And on Tuesday, we were naughty and challenged his authority. He really wanted us to maintain the Republican hold on Congress, and instead we flipped the House. At first he tried to pretend this was actually a sort of victory for him, another common narcissistic tactic. Then, he started doing the Monkey Dance.
And the president has way more power than your average narcissistic partner or parent. Living with an abusive narcissistic boyfriend is bad enough. Living with an abusive narcissistic boyfriend who controls the armed forces and the Button is something else altogether. Living with an abusive narcissistic dad who is enabled and coddled by his chosen Golden Child while the other children suffer is horrendous. Living with an abusive narcissistic parent who is enabled and coddled by a third of the country who still think he’s God’s chosen– well, that’s a disaster of a different sort.
Sure, a lot of what he does is posturing and bluffing. And when he bluffs, we should calmly call his bluff, or ignore him. We could even poke fun, though I believe dwelling on poking fun is a mistake that wastes our attention. Because not everything that Trump does is a bluff, and when he’s not bluffing he can inflict serious harm.
Maybe not to you personally, yet, but think of those immigrant children in cages. Think of refugees and DACA kids and everyone who was stranded in the airport a million years ago back in January. Think of all the green card holders, legal residents, who have been deported.
And if that’s not enough for you– look out. While I was editing this draft, the president did something else. I opened a tab and saw it in the news. He’s just announced new immigration rules barring people who enter the country illegally from seeking asylum– which rule is itself probably illegal according to the United States’ laws and a violation of international law as well from what I’ve heard so far. Sure, it’ll be challenged in court, but how long will that take and how many desperate people will be hurt before it’s struck down, if it’s struck down?
And what will he do next?
If you have no empathy for people in worse straits than you– eventually, this abusive and dysfunctional presidency will end up hurting you and me too. It just will. That’s how people like Trump operate.
And what will we do then?
It doesn’t change very much, but I wanted to give a name to the pattern that I’ve been seeing, for any of you who are confused. Trump is doing the Monkey Dance.
(image via Pixabay)