Sunday, July 28, 2019

How To Play The Political Game Trump Started With The Cummings Tweets

I've been reading on narcissism for a possible future article about the pro-narcissist online culture in places like Twitter.  That culture, aiming to increase participation byyy eliciting anger,  also favors narcissists by supporting the kinds of games they like to play with other people's emotions as the game pieces.

That's the background for seeing why I reacted to Trump's recent hate tweets against Rep. Elijah Cummings (D - MD 7th district) the way I did:

As responses by a narcissist to a narcissistic injury.  

These are the relevant Trump  tweets:

The first question to ask is what caused Trump to go on this rampage?  What did Cummings say to trigger that narcissistic injury (because I believe this IS an example of a narcissistic injury in Trump)?

Most people just take Trump at face value, and assume that he was criticizing Cummings on the latter's strong criticisms about what's happening at the southern border. And perhaps it's those strong words which wounded Trump.

But they were said ten days ago, and that's a long time for Trump's rage to boil over.  More recently Cummings spoke about the Mueller testimony and its implications for the future of democracy in this country.  I believe that it is this later speech which stabbed Trump in his gut, because it triggered his terrible fear that he wasn't, after all, fairly elected.

Whatever the precipitating event was,  it opened the floodgates of Trump's narcissistic rage, and so he retaliated against Cummings.  But he did not do it the way most of us would have: By addressing the issues Cummings raised and by trying to disprove Cummings' arguments.  

Instead, Trump barely touched upon the underlying issue and then shifted the debate to a completely different topic.

That, I believe, can be a narcissistic move.  See how Trump is not addressing the criticisms Cummings has made about the border or about possible Russian influence in future American elections?  Instead, he moves his focus, and the focus of all of us, to debates about Baltimore as a possible hell-hole and to Trump as a racist.

This is what he wants.  We now debate the topics Trump has chosen, not the topics Cummings chose for his criticism. We are now playing a game Trump set up, and narcissists cannot lose the games they set up and direct.

They are the only ones who know the secret rules and once they control the debate they simply will never stop if they don't wish to stop.  You will see how Trump fans the flames of the debate, how that debate moves further and further away from the initial concerns Cummings had, and how it is now Trump alone who decides where that debate will go.

How does he manage to do that?  Partly, it's because he is the president and cannot be ignored, but mostly it's because he chooses to be extremely insulting.  

He always attacks the individuals who have criticized him, not the criticism they made of him.  He attacks their intelligence, their ethics, their morals, their families and their neighborhoods, and he makes these attacks so nasty that journalists and politicians feel they cannot stay silent about them.

But in a narcissistic game Trump wants all that negative attention!  He is winning!  We forget about Mueller's warnings concerning the future of American democracy, we debate the conditions in Baltimore, not on the southern US border!  And Trump's base is utterly unconcerned with Trump's racist utterances.

You may have gathered by now that if Trump truly is a narcissist, then we are all playing the games he sets up, and we cannot win those games, by definition.

So how should we play these games?  What makes the general psychological advice I have gathered less effective is that we probably have a narcissist in a position where his games cannot be ignored, and not playing the games a narcissist sets up is the only truly effective move.

Still, certain general principles may apply.  The most important of those is not to play the narcissistic games thinking that they can be won.  They cannot be won. 

It's better to stay on the initial topics, the ones Cummings addressed in his criticisms, because those are the topics Trump doesn't want us to focus on.  

His first set of hate tweets against Cummings should have been met with a short, firm and calm condemnation of how Trump, again, has attacked a Congressperson of color in an insulting manner, and then the focus should have immediately turned back to the initial topics.  

In other words, we should maintain our own boundaries, and that means we shouldn't let Trump lead us by our noses to whatever topic he picks for the next one.  And then for the one after that, and so on.

And yes, I know those moves in Trump's games are almost impossible, because for them to be truly successful they'd need to be adopted by most journalists and politicians out there, not just by a few.  But even being aware of what the game is Trump is currently playing has been helpful to me.