Donald Trump’s Mommy Issues

He may not have bonded successfully with his mother and that made him the adult—and the politician—that he is.

Peter Lovenheim lives in Washington, D.C. His bookThe Attachment Effect: Exploring the Powerful Ways Our Earliest Bond Shapes Our Relationships and Lives will be published by Penguin Random House on June 5.

Donald Trump is easily the most psychoanalyzed president of modern times. His decision-making style and behavior have been hotly debated by journalists, voters, politicians, world leaders and pundits who have bestowed upon him any number of fanciful, grave-sounding mental conditions, calling him, among other things, a narcissist, a sociopath, a psychopath and a paranoiac. Trump has said he distrusts mental health professionals, so we don’t have access to a formal assessment of his psychology. But colloquially speaking, perhaps the best explanation for the president’s behavior dates back to his earliest interactions with his mother.

Although I’m not a psychologist, I have spent years researching a major field of psychology known as attachment theory for a book. According to the science of attachment—developed in the second half of the 20th century by British psychotherapist John Bowlby—we’re hardwired at birth to attach to a competent and reliable caregiver for protection because we are born helpless. The success or failure of this attachment affects all our relationships throughout life—in the workplace, on the athletic field, with loved ones—and yes, even in politics. Children who bond successfully with a primary caregiver—usually this is the mom but it could also be the dad, grandparent, nanny or other adult—grow up with what is termed a “secure” attachment. As adults, they tend to be confident, trusting of others, resilient in the face of setbacks, and able to enjoy long, stable relationships. Children who fail to achieve a successful attachment, on the other hand, may as adults have a lack of comfort with intimacy, difficulty trusting others, a constant need for reassurance from relationship partners, and a lack of resilience when faced with illness, injury or loss.

The biographical record is fairly strong on Trump’s failure to develop a healthy emotional attachment to either of his parents. It may have contributed to his tumultuous personal life, but it also endowed him with some traits that made him well-suited to his late-career entry in politics.

Donald Trump is the fourth of five children of Fred and Mary Trump. Because his father was busy building a real estate business, and it was the mid-20th century when dads didn’t typically do a lot of early child care, his mother cared for the children (with the help of a live-in maid) and was their primary “attachment figure.” What factors may have affected the quality of young Donald’s early care—his own temperament as an infant; the role, if any, of the family’s maid in child care; the demands on his mother’s time and energy of three older children and a subsequent pregnancy—we don’t know. The president’s own writings are largely silent about his early childhood; journalists and biographers fill in only some of the blanks.

But we do know that Mary Trump became seriously ill from complications during labor with her last child. An emergency hysterectomy and subsequent infections and surgeries followed—four in two weeks, one of her oldest daughters once said. As a result, at just two years and two months of age, Trump endured the trauma of the prolonged absence and life-threatening illness of his mother. It’s not clear how long she was incapacitated. Indeed, we don’t know that she ever really re-engaged with her son. According to a Politico Magazine story on Mary Trump, there’s evidence that Mary and her son didn’t interact much during his childhood (more on this later).

Infants who fail to receive that kind of care usually fall into one of two categories as adults. Either they have what’s called attachment anxiety—leading them as adults to crave intimacy but have difficulty trusting others and constantly seeking reassurance—or they have attachment avoidance, where as adults they generally distrust others and convince themselves they don’t need close relationships. The relationships they do have are often unstable. They also tend to be excessively self-reliant and desire a high level of independence. These last two traits—self-reliance and independence—are not necessarily disadvantageous, of course. They might be just the right recipe, for example, for an entrepreneur.

The only way to be certain of President Trump’s attachment style would be for him to take the Adult Attachment Interview, an hour-long, structured interview that is considered the gold standard for assessing attachment in adults. Since that isn’t likely to happen, we’ll have to make an educated guess. While mental health professionals are constrained by ethical standards to avoid diagnosing public figures they haven’t personally examined, I am not bound by those rules. Based on my seven years of research, reading countless academic studies and interviewing leading attachment researchers worldwide, I’m willing to say what they can’t. I would peg President Trump’s attachment style as avoidant. Here are my three reasons:

First, Mary Trump’s major health crisis appears to have compromised her efforts—no matter how well-intentioned—to care reliably for young Donald.

Second, as previously reported in Politico Magazine, Trump has over the years said many flattering things about his mother, calling her “fantastic” and “tremendous.” He’s also described her as “very warm” and “very loving.” And yet, I find no stories or other anecdotes of early childhood that support these sentiments. In fact, friends of the Trump family who knew the Trump kids when they were young have reported they “rarely saw Mrs. Trump” and that Donald, while “in awe” of his father, was “very detached from his mother.” A characteristic of adults with avoidant attachment is the tendency to idolize one’s parents without supporting evidence.

Finally, much of the president’s behavior, both before and since he took office, is clearly consistent with attachment avoidance: His

  • powerful sense of self-reliance and
  • near-inability to acknowledge self-doubt; his
  • bragging about his sexual relations; his
  • almost complete lack of close friends; his
  • multiple marriages; and his
  • unstable relationships with White House staff, Cabinet members and congressional leaders of both parties.

Trump’s almost compulsive need to be in the spotlight might be evidence of attachment anxiety if it were aimed primarily at needing approval. But in the president’s case, it appears to be more about needing admiration. Overt narcissism or grandiose self-regard, the leading attachment researchers Mario Mikulincer and Philip R. Shaver report, is associated with attachment avoidance.

By any number of measures, President Trump may be seen as an anomaly among politicians—after all, how many people have run for precisely one political office and landed directly in the White House?—but if my hunch is correct, in this one trait—attachment avoidance—Trump may, in fact, be rather typical.

Attachment avoidance accounts for about 25 percent of the general population, with about 55 percent of people being secure, 15 percent anxious and 5 percent disorganized (often those who were neglected or maltreated in childhood). But in the course of my research, I asked questions from the Adult Attachment Interview to diverse officials: a former presidential nominee, current and former members of Congress and a mayor. With only one exception, their results indicated attachment avoidance.

Some of this may be because avoidance—though generally not the ideal for anyone—does confer some advantages for the political lifestyle. Avoidant athletes, for example, do well when they compete individually—as politicians do in elections. Avoidant people travel well—think never-ending campaign trail—feeling little need to be near loved ones. And the avoidant person’s general reluctance to trust others can act like protective radar in a field like politics that is rife with betrayal and double-dealing.

Avoidant politicians have one more quality that under the right circumstances can lead to success in office: They are quick to respond to threats and to take action. In a clever study in 2011 where test subjects were exposed to what appeared to be a threatening situation (a room gradually filling with smoke because of a supposedly malfunctioning computer), people high in attachment avoidance—who prize independence and self-reliance—were the first to find a way out to safety for themselves and others.

So is having a president with an avoidant attachment style good or bad? According to attachment theory, human relationships would generally be healthier and more stable if more people had a sensitive and consistent caregiver during infancy—and grew up to have a secure attachment style. So it is likely that leaders with secure attachment—as, for example, Franklin Roosevelt had, according to researchers—can become truly transformational by encouraging the population in times of crisis. And while it’s true that people with attachment avoidance can often be personally successful—in business and other individually focused activities—there are requirements for public office, such as the ability to connect emotionally with constituents or at times to act selflessly—that may be difficult for those with attachment avoidance to muster. While it is too early for history to judge this presidency, understanding President Trump’s likely attachment style—and the attachment styles of all our political leaders—can give us important insights into their behavior and actions in office.

We should keep in mind that as voters, we have attachment styles, too. According to research, these may affect our political leanings and the relationships we have with elected leaders.

Secure voters, for example, tend to be tolerant of ambiguity, flexible in their political views, and thus disinclined to embrace any rigid dogmatism. As such, secure voters are most often found in the political center. Insecure voters, on the other hand, may be attracted to the perceived safety of dogmatism and are more likely to be found on the far-left or far-right. For example, anxious voters—seeking security in a world that feels threatening—may find comfort in a liberal orthodoxy that advocates redistribution of wealth and political power, and aggressively demands “inclusion” and protection in the form of a care-giving government. Avoidant voters, on the other hand, often distrusting others and prizing self-reliance, may embrace a strident conservatism, both economic (the world is a “competitive jungle”) and military (“We can only depend on our own strength”).

So as we think about President Trump, we might consider that his presidency—and our personal reactions to it—may be influenced not only be his attachment style, but also our own.

A New Paean to Progressivism Overlooks Why Americans Lost Trust in Government

David Goldfield’s latest book romanticizes the post-war, pre-Reagan era of liberal government..

He rightly celebrates the 1944 G.I. Bill of Rights, but misses what distinguished it from many subsequent social programs. It was intended as a prophylactic measure against unemployment and political extremism among millions demobilized from the military

.. The bill used liberal means — subsidies for veterans’ education and homebuying — to achieve conservative results: Rather than merely maintaining people as permanent wards of government, it created an educated, property-owning middle class equipped for self-reliant striving.

.. In contrast, much of the Great Society’s liberalism sought to de-moralize policies, deeming repressive those policies that promoted worthy behavior. This liberalism’s political base was in government’s caring professions that served “clients” in populations disorganized by behaviors involving sex and substance abuse.

.. it chose Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater, who was (rightly) viewed as hostile to the New Deal’s legacy. But just 16 years later, the electorate, whose prior preferences Goldfield approves, made an emphatic choice that he considers a sudden eruption of dark impulses that hitherto were dormant. Goldfield does not distinguish, as Ronald Reagan did, between New Deal liberalism — of which the G.I. Bill was a culmination — and liberalism’s subsequent swerve in another direction. And he has no answer as to why the electorate, so receptive for so long to hyperactive government, by 1980 was not.

.. He idealizes government as an “umpire,” a disinterested arbiter ensuring fair play

.. And that the bigger government becomes, the more it is manipulated by those who are sufficiently confident, articulate, and sophisticated to understand government’s complexities, and wealthy enough to hire skillful agents to navigate those complexities on their behalf? This is why big government is invariably regressive, transferring wealth upward.

How Democracies Perish

Everybody agrees society is in a bad way, but what exactly is the main cause of the badness?

Some people emphasize economic issues’

People like me emphasize cultural issues. If you have 60 years of radical individualism and ruthless meritocracy, you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided.

Patrick Deneen ..  new book, “Why Liberalism Failed,”

.. democracy has betrayed its promises.

  • It was supposed to foster equality, but it has led to great inequality and a new aristocracy.
  • It was supposed to give average people control over government, but average people feel alienated from government.
  • It was supposed to foster liberty, but it creates a degraded popular culture in which consumers become slave to their appetites.

.. “Because we view humanity — and thus its institutions — as corrupt and selfish, the only person we can rely upon is our self. The only way we can avoid failure, being let down, and ultimately succumbing to the chaotic world around us, therefore, is to have the means (financial security) to rely only upon ourselves.”

..  Greek and medieval philosophies valued liberty, but they understood that before a person could help govern society, he had to be able to govern himself.

People had to be habituated in virtue by institutions they didn’t choose — family, religion, community, social norms.

.. Machiavelli and Locke, the men who founded our system made two fateful errors.

  1. First, they came to reject the classical and religious idea that people are political and relational creatures. Instead, they placed the autonomous, choosing individual at the center of their view of human nature.
  2. Furthermore, they decided you couldn’t base a system of government on something as unreliable as virtue. But you could base it on something low and steady like selfishness. You could pit interest against interest and create a stable machine. You didn’t have to worry about creating noble citizens; you could get by with rationally self-interested ones.

.. Liberalism claims to be neutral but it’s really anti-culture. It detaches people from nature, community, tradition and place. It detaches people from time. “Gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratification.”

.. Once family and local community erode and social norms dissolve, individuals are left naked and unprotected. They seek solace in the state. They toggle between impersonal systems: globalized capitalism and the distant state. As the social order decays, people grasp for the security of authoritarianism.

“A signal feature of modern totalitarianism was that it arose and came to power through the discontents of people’s isolation and loneliness,” he observes. He urges people to dedicate themselves instead to local community — a sort of Wendell Berry agrarianism.

.. Every time Deneen writes about virtue it tastes like castor oil — self-denial and joylessness.

.. Yes, liberalism sometimes sits in tension with faith, tradition, family and community, which Deneen rightly cherishes. But liberalism is not their murderer.

 

 

Stephen Introduces His Anthony Scaramucci Impression

Now that Stephen has the impression down, the White House’s new communications director can run but he can’t hide.

We are in the midst of an ideological civil war.  One pitting  hope, empowerment, and self-reliance against defeatist attitudes of fear, entitlement, and victimization.

 

I saw this guy win a game of connect 4 with three pieces.

What’s the Matter With Republicans?

Why do working-class conservatives seem to vote so often against their own economic interests?

My stab at an answer would begin in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many Trump supporters live in places that once were on the edge of the American frontier. Life on that frontier was fragile, perilous, lonely and remorseless. If a single slip could produce disaster, then discipline and self-reliance were essential. The basic pattern of life was an underlying condition of peril, warded off by an ethos of self-restraint, temperance, self-control and strictness of conscience.

.. Today these places are no longer frontier towns, but many of them still exist on the same knife’s edge between traditionalist order and extreme dissolution.

.. Many people in these places tend to see their communities the way foreign policy realists see the world: as an unvarnished struggle for resources — as a tough world, a no-illusions world, a world where conflict is built into the fabric of reality.

.. The virtues most admired in such places, then and now, are what Shirley Robin Letwin once called the vigorous virtues: “upright, self-sufficient, energetic, adventurous, independent minded, loyal to friends and robust against foes.”

.. The sins that can cause the most trouble are not the social sins — injustice, incivility, etc. They are the personal sins — laziness, self-indulgence, drinking, sleeping around.

.. Moreover, the forces of social disruption are visible on every street: the slackers taking advantage of the disability programs, the people popping out babies, the drug users, the spouse abusers.

.. In their view, government doesn’t reinforce the vigorous virtues. On the contrary, it undermines them — by fostering initiative-sucking dependency, by letting people get away with their mistakes so they can make more of them and by getting in the way of moral formation.

The only way you build up self-reliant virtues, in this view, is through struggle. Yet faraway government experts want to cushion people from the hardships that are the schools of self-reliance. Compassionate government threatens to turn people into snowflakes.

.. a woman from Louisiana complaining about the childproof lids on medicine and the mandatory seatbelt laws. “We let them throw lawn darts, smoked alongside them,” the woman says of her children. “And they survived. Now it’s like your kid needs a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads to go down the kiddy slide.”

.. they perceive government as a corrupt arm used against the little guy. She argues that these voters may vote against their economic interests, but they vote for their emotional interests, for candidates who share their emotions about problems and groups.

.. I’d say they believe that big government support would provide short-term assistance, but that it would be a long-term poison to the values that are at the core of prosperity.

How to Restore American Self-Reliance

Moynihan understood that politics is downstream from culture, which flows through families. Sasse, a Yale history Ph.D. whose well-furnished mind resembles Moynihan’s, understands this:

.. Sasse’s argument in The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance is not another scolding of the young. Rather, he regrets how the no-longer-young have crippled the rising generation with kindness, flinching from the truth that the good pain of hard physical work produces the “scar tissue of character.”

.. Adolescents spending scores of hours a week on screen time with their devices acquire “a zombie-like passivity” that saps their “agency.”

.. This aligns him against those who believe that schooling should be “a substitute for parents” as life’s “defining formative institution.”

.. Schools should embrace the need of “controlling” students and “the influences by which they are controlled.” Parents must be marginalized lest they interfere with education understood, as Sasse witheringly says, as “not primarily about helping individuals, but rather about molding the collective.”

.. Sasse thinks the generation coming of age “has begun life with far too few problems.”