Seeing through a glass mirror darkly: the psychology of projection and our USA political dilemma
By Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Associate Professor Emeritus of Humanities, Austin College
Jul 25, 2017

The Babylonian Talmud, composed by Hebrew scholars in exile around 500 BCE, counsels: “Do not taunt your neighbor with the blemish that you yourself have.” The Greek and Roman stories of Narcissus depict a young man of extraordinary stature and beauty who fell in love with his reflection in a nearby river but could not gain the objective of his desire. He died on the river bank from his self-generated sorrow. Modern psychology gives the name “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (NPD) to those who defend themselves against their own impulses or qualities by not only denying their existence but also attributing them to others—also known as blame-shifting.

I disagree with those who call our president a liar, because some of his statements are true—something we expect from most US presidents. But so many of his comments before and after the November elections appear to be more true of himself than of those on whom he is shifting blame: “crooked” Hilary, “lying” Ted, “fake news,” “Obama Care is death,” and numerous exaggerations and spinning of statistics on the elections and on what contacts he and his family/staff had with the Russians. He tries to spin the new healthcare plan so that it will hide the fact that it leans much more toward “wealthcare.”

As an educator at Austin College where the kangaroo is our mascot, I find myself often reflecting on the metaphor “boomerang effect” when observing how often our president’s epithets and descriptions of others quickly return to be more of a definition of him.

As I try to follow the rapid pace of events in Washington, if I follow this Whitehouse spinning pattern, I have to wonder if the newly-created voting integrity commission is more the opposite: an attempt to control the next election while projecting intense insecurity about who won the popular vote in the 2016 election. This insecurity is one reason our president rises early to tweet to his base the “truth” before they receive the “fake news” from the major news networks, whose readership has risen since the elections.

Are there some practical examples of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder)? Psychologists suggest a few: bullying often projects the bully’s personal insecurity or vulnerability. On a personal level, this is easier to deal with than on the national and international level. In the latter case, could this include initiating armed conflict?  In the seventeenth century, “bully” could mean a “fine fellow,” but today it usually means “harasser of the weak.”

Another practical example, already alluded to, is victim blaming, closely related to “blame-shifting,” so that the victim is seen as the cause of bullying. This is closely related to the widespread use of “retaliation” as a reason for violence and/or aggression by all sides of many conflicts.

On PBS News Hour last week, David Brooks quoted a friend who was worried about our president’s focus on winning at any cost: “If losing is a sin; then cheating becomes a sacrament.” This sounds like a religious way of saying that the “end justifies the means.” Of course, one would always define the “end” or “goal” as being righteous, or go with the mantra: “It is not a lie if I truly believe it.” Another way to think of oneself as a winner is to blame any loss on others: not a sign of leadership.

The only goal that our president is more focused on than winning, is on himself. Indeed, if the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the correct diagnosis, then our president is not really committed to “America First,” but to “Donald Trump First!”