“There’s no way we lost Georgia. It’s a rigged election.”
“You win in landslide and they steal it and its rigged.”
“They threw ballots from the military into the river with my name on it.”
Donald Trump, Rally in Georgia, January 4, 2021
I used to wonder whether Trump actually believed his own lies, calculated at over 30,000. He seems so convinced of their truth when effectively persuading his base. People constantly call Trump a liar. I think what he was doing is actually different from lying. I call it Abracadabraism™, a phenomenon I diagnosed years before January 6.
“Abracadabra,” the magicians’ incantation, is derived from Aramaic and/or Hebrew. “Abra” means “I will create.” “C’dabra” means “as I speak,” as in “God said, ‘Let there be light! And there was light.’” (Genesis 1:3). I think Trump is trying to create reality with his words.
This diagnosis clicked for me when Billy Bush, who exposed Trump’s Access Hollywood tape vulgarities, accused Trump of inflating his ratings. Bush claimed that Trump said, “People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you.”
Types of Lies
We can discern types of lies with different purposes. Some comfort and boost one’s ego to compensate for feelings of shame, inferiority and unlovability. Examples are Trump’s lies about his inauguration crowds, his big brain, being a “stable genius,” and his popularity. They are full of superlatives — the best, greatest, smartest, strongest, and “the likes of which you’ve never seen.” Excessive use of superlatives exemplifies an immature level of ego development.
Trump grasps at comforting lies to avoid feeling intolerable humiliation, deriving from childhood. A cruel, demanding, punishing father, a mother absent while giving birth to his younger brother and later with life-threatening illness during his tender years, embarrassment at having ADHD, reading difficulties and behavior problems, all sadly caused young Donald excruciating psychic pain, for which we are paying the price. My sensitive, intuitive 10-year old granddaughter uttered the same sentiment expressed by clinical psychologist and niece, Mary Trump, author of Too Much and Never Enough, that they feel compassion for Donald as a child, but as an adult, he is responsible.
A common, understandable kind of lie is one told to avoid getting in trouble and being punished. Abracadabra lies are deployed to produce the desired reality by force of will, and to draw others into the illusion.
Failure to Adapt
When reality feels intolerable, Trump bends it, warping the world to match his internal mental framework, described by pioneering Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.
From birth, we develop through a dance of continual adjustment to the external environment. In adaptation, we progress through developmental stages, alternating processes of assimilation and accommodation of our cognitive schemas, or mental frameworks.
With assimilation, we transform new information to fit into our existing frameworks. We don’t change our perceptions, beliefs or understanding. We make sense of new information by assimilating it into what we alreadyknow and how we already think. Assimilation can be considered as a cognitive dimension of narcissism.
We reach a point where our existing frameworks no longer work in the face of new situations and information. We must accommodate — change and modify our cognitive structures to adapt to external reality.
An example of assimilation is when a child learns “dog” and calls all four-legged animals “dog.” Later the child accommodates their cognitive ability to differentiate cat, horse, lion, and eventually breeds of dogs. In a relationship, one may demand one’s partner conform to one’s lifestyle, thus assimilating the other, who may be selfless, giving up their goals and habits to accommodate to the assimilator. When out of balance, one-sidedness can manifest in health, psychological or behavior problems.
Trump, assimilates the world into his existing structures, failing to modify his perceptions, beliefs and understanding to accommodate to reality. Most who fail to accommodate don’t bring a significant part of the population along with them. How did Trump extend his inner pathology to incorporate so many others?
Trump used techniques of deception to effectively drive behavior and seduce people into his reality. In “Mystification, Confusion and Conflict.” R.D. Laing elaborates on Marx’s concept of mystification as a “plausible misrepresentation” of reality.
“By representing forms of exploitation as forms of benevolence, the exploiters bemuse the exploited into feeling at one with their exploiters, or into feeling gratitude for what (unrealized by them) is their exploitation, and, not least, into feeling bad or mad even to think of rebellion.”
Mystification, as in manipulating fear by exaggerating threats, maintains power dynamics of stereotyped roles and asymmetric relationships. It induces confusion, masks the truth about what is actually happening and what a conflict is actually about. People may not feel confused. In fact, they may feel quite assured of their position.
“Implicit in Marx’s formulation is that before enlightened action can be taken, the issues have to be demystified.” R.D. Laing
TMT, a body of social psychology research, posits that the awareness of one’s mortality creates existential anxiety. Humans protect themselves by creating anxiety buffering systems.
Social psychology experiments prime people with mortality salience , the awareness of their own death. Mortality salience increases attachment to one’s in-group, fear and suspicion of out-groups, preference for similar others and dislike of dissimilar others, nationalism, prejudice, support for violent solutions to conflicts, military action, retaliation and other forms of escalation and greater attraction to charismatic leaders. This induces submission to an authority whom people believe will protect them.
Manipulation of fear before elections increases support for more militant leaders who ironically use policies that endanger those who believe in their protection. Fear increases the popularity of hardliners on both sides and stimulates authoritarianism.
By infusing the social field with intense emotion, epitomized in Trump’s rallies, he created conditions for manipulating people’s grip on objective reality. In psychology, “reality testing” is a basic ego function involving objective evaluation and judgment of the world beyond the ego or self. In “poor reality testing” perceptions and judgments of factual events are dominated by emotions, fantasies and internal representations. Our cultural environment is saturated with fear, grievance and moral outrage, provoking political hysteria, polarization and psychological regression to lower levels of cognitive function, weakening people’s assessment of objective, factual reality, and increasing susceptibility to Abracadabraism™.
We could fill volumes with examples of Trump’s fabrications — 3 million illegal aliens who voted for Hillary, inauguration crowd size, drawing a map excluding Alabama from Hurricane Dorian’s path, claims the US had the best Covid-19 testing in the world. “
It is painfully palpable how intolerable reality is for Trump. He efforted to control it by firing staff members the instant they burst his bubble, hiring those who support his illusions, frightfully recruiting congressmembers to join his attempts to destroy our democracy, and not least his grandiose effort to organize the overturn of election results.
Trump enlisted collaborators to support his parallel universe including some Fox News anchors, Medal of Freedom award winner Rush Limbaugh, Q Anon, Proud Boys, and more extreme news sites that emerged for disillusioned Fox viewers, especially after FOX called Arizona for Biden.
Trump’s fragility in maintaining his imaginary world as illusions came crashing around him is evident in his hour-long call to Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensberger. Trump desperately, relentlessly tried to manipulate Raffensberger into his game of altering reality saying, “This isn’t social media This is Trump media.” “There’s nothing wrong with you saying you recalculated.” “There’s no way we lost Georgia. It’s a rigged election … I just want to find 11,780 which is one more than we have…. Now do you think it’s possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County?” When Raffensberger denied they moved the Dominion voting machines, Trump asked if they moved the inner parts.
Now Trump refuses to be called “former president,” insisting on being called “the 45th president.”
A Created Illusion
In true Machiavellian fashion, Trump cleverly orchestrated a convincing illusion of winning Pennsylvania. He urged supporters to vote in person on election day. Biden’s supporters voted by mail, taking days to count. On election eve, Trump was ahead by 700,000 votes in PA. After counting the 1.4 million mail-in ballots Biden led with a margin of 80,555 votes. Trump’s followers, especially poorly-educated, low information white voters, had the compelling impression that the election was stolen, along with false claims of dead people voting, under-voting, nonresidents voting, cheating, discarded ballots, and Dominion machine manipulation.
Years of accumulated lies, dirty tricks, and conspiracy theories have shaped consciousness, culminating in the convincing illusion that Trump won the election by a landslide. This set the stage for the January 6 insurgency at the US Capitol where altered collective belief systems, compounded by mass psychology, took a quantum leap. Trump and some close to him took delight as they witnessed his success in actually manifesting the historic insurrection — a testament to the power of his words … up to a point where his reality is now bumping up against the greater reality of our democracy.
Solutions –Dignity and Improving Reality
Trump was able to pull this off because the Dems left a huge void that he easily filled. Trump tunes into people’s pain, grievances, feelings of deprivation, humiliation, loss of status, being cheated and looked down upon. He uses down-to-earth language they understand and instinctively helps them feel better about themselves.
“A riot is the language of the unheard.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Highly educated, sometimes well-meaning, advantaged, condescending, naively psychologically ignorant “elites” are notorious for clueless messaging, to our peril. They fail to recognize how they insult Trump’s base andmisinterpret legitimate grievances, as they pour acid on wounds.
They should listen to Fox anchors and hosts like Mark Levin’s show, “Life, Liberty and Levin,” who is intellectual and very convincing, and Laura Ingraham’s nightly prime time show, “The Ingraham Angle,” who at rare moments, refreshingly tries to find common ground with progressives, and others, like Tucker Carlson. Rather than deride Fox viewers for stupidity, they should try to imagine what their life would have to be like and whom they would have to be for such appeals to be so vivid and compelling and for CNN to feel so false, as with “Russia, Russia, Russia.”
I feel compassion for the profundity of their loss of Trump. His humiliating defeat leaves many feeling bereft and frightened. If Dems truly want unity and healing consider finding healthy, less toxic ways to address their pain and help them feel better about themselves. Don’t take away something without replacing it with something better. Don’t dig a hole you can’t fill. Treat those who experience themselves as forgotten and unheard with respect and dignity. Don’t gloat. Don’t humiliate, ever! (including late night comedians. Can you be funny without being demeaning?) Promote dialogue and inclusion. Hold a “listening tour.” Improve education. Take grievances seriously. Address basic human needs, including dignity. Satisfy legitimate goals. Come up with win-win solutions. Provide face-saving, graceful ways out.
Work to create a better actual reality using compassionate, attuned language and deeds to create a reality more compelling than the one Trump creates with his words.