Recently I was told by an American gentleman that I shouldn’t try to psychoanalyse Donald Trump, because I’m not a psychologist, and because apparently it can never be done at a distance. This individual was of course trying to defend his hero, by the ploy of telling people what they can’t do, using an obscure and controversial paragraph in one medical resource.
I disagree. As Nicholas Humphrey so brilliantly showed in his groundbreaking work The Inner Eye, analysing the behaviour of others “at a distance” is precisely what we do every moment of every day. It’s the foundation of consciousness. We use ourselves as exemplars to understand the behaviour of others, a unique mental trick which has made us what we are today.
In using myself as an exemplar I grasp that Trump is profoundly and malignantly narcissistic. This analysis anyway is generally accepted by professionals and others alike, not least because it is so obvious; it can be elevated from mere hypothesis to theory. But we all do it to one degree or another – we all analyse in order to understand, some less so, some more. Erich Fromm did it to understand the behaviour of Hitler in The Anatomy Of Human Destructiveness. Bruno Bettelheim did it to survive as he spent a year in Ravensbruck concentration camp. And I can do it to understand the behaviour of Trump, just as anybody else can.
But people incapable of achieving insight into their own condition because of narcissism not overcome are handicapped. As Plato (and many others) said: ‘Know thyself.’