Donald Trump: The Origin Story of an American Actor, Part 2
Life on Earth is not easy, even for plants. Plants can’t grow just anywhere, of course. In order for a plant to successfully grow to its full potential, certain specific conditions must be in place. At the most basic level, plants need at least three crucial ingredients to live. First, plants need to be grounded in good quality soil. Good quality soil provides nascent plants with the necessary nutrients they will need to transform themselves from a seedling to a fully matured organism. Next, plants need sunlight. Plants don’t grow well in the dark. And while the exact amount of sunlight needed is different depending on the plant, the fundamental need for light is universal. Finally, plants need water. Again, different amounts for different plants to be sure. But nevertheless, water is an inescapable requirement for any plant which seeks to survive.
A seed planted in good quality soil, given adequate access to sunlight and water will grow and perhaps even thrive throughout its lifespan. But a seed planted in poor quality soil will struggle, even if it still has adequate sunlight and water. A seed planted in poor quality soil, that also lacks proper sunlight, even if it has just the right amount of water, will flounder. A seed planted in poor quality soil, lacking both adequate sunlight and adequate water will likely die before it does much of anything else.
Although we scarcely remember it these days, human beings are simply one single manifestation of life on Earth. Plants need the right soil, sun and water to survive and to thrive. Human beings are the same. We need our own versions of soil, sun and water right from the beginning in order to have a chance at survival.
The study of how plants grow is called Botany. We’re still learning more about it all the time. The study of how human beings grow is called Developmental Psychology. We’re still learning more about this all the time as well. Our knowledge on both subjects is still limited, flawed, imperfect. But our willingness to take these subjects seriously is of tremendous consequence to us all, whether we realize it or not.
Just like a vulnerable little seed, human babies need the right kind of soil, sun and water to survive and to grow. And we’re not just talking about growing physically, but growing emotionally and mentally as well. And of course, it’s not just growth in the abstract that we’re talking about. What we all truly want for our babies, what we all truly want for our kids, is for them to grow up to be happy and healthy. We want them to grow up free of the damage that’s done to a vulnerable human baby, when it is raised in the absence of the soil, the sun and the water it desperately needs.
The sharper among you are surely aware that human babies are in fact quite a bit more complex than the seed of a plant. Human babies require many more positive inputs to grow up healthy than do plants. And they require protection from many more negative inputs or threats than do plants. But we’re going to keep it real simple here. We’re going to focus on only three of the most crucial psychological factors that human babies need to grow from birth to adulthood in a healthy fashion.
The needs of a seed begin with good quality soil, soil rich in a diverse array of healthy nutrients. The needs of a human baby are rather similar, beginning with the culture of the home in which the baby is raised. So, what exactly makes for a nutrient-rich environment in which a healthy baby might be raised? Let’s start with the basics. Is the home physically, emotionally and mentally safe for the baby? Are the baby’s caretakers consistent and predictable in their behavior? Does the baby learn it has good reason to trust and rely on its caretakers to provide them with everything they need?
The soil that a human baby needs includes multiple layers of security and safety in the developmental home environment. Now onto the sunlight. Just as a plant needs sunlight to grow up to be healthy, human babies need the unconditional love of their primary caretakers to grow up to be healthy. Does the baby learn early on that its caretakers have their back 100%? Do the caretakers love the baby no matter what it does, even when its behavior may be bad or upsetting?
The water that human babies need is consistent, positive feedback and engagement from their caretakers. When the baby tries to do something and fails, do its caretakers encourage it for trying and urge it to try again? Or do they criticize the baby or belittle it for failing? When the baby does something right, something new and impressive for its age, do its caregivers praise the baby and tell them they did a good job? Are they proud of the baby?
Life is complicated. There are obviously many, many more important inputs into a human baby’s development than those mentioned here so far. But this is an accurate starting point we can use to build a picture of the key ingredients necessary to raising a human baby that is happy and healthy though childhood and hopefully into adulthood.
The key takeaway of this piece is the following: children raised in psychologically safe and loving homes generally grow up to be happy and healthy adults. But children raised in psychologically unsafe and emotionally toxic homes generally grow up to be unhappy and unhealthy adults.
According to Psychology Today, “Decades of research in developmental psychology, pediatrics, and neuroscience have converged on the fact that the first five years are especially critical to a child’s outcome.”(15) The science here is clear. But this still may seem challenging for some of us to wrap our heads around. Many adults remember little, if anything at all, from the first five years of their lives. However, just because you don’t remember exactly what happened during those crucial developmental years does not mean that what did (or did not) happen then didn’t leave a profound impact on you, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not.
Now let’s remember this young family we’ve learned a bit about back in the New York City of the 1930s. Fred, son of German immigrants, was a hardworking and financially successful entrepreneur. He was also a sociopath who was once arrested at a KKK rally. Mary, daughter of Scottish parents, immigrated to America at age 18 with a single goal: find a wealthy husband. She was also a chronic insomniac, who was very likely also dealing with some serious and untreated version of depression and/or anxiety.
By the time they were married and on the verge of bringing five children into the world, this couple was already deeply unstable. Fred and Mary were not capable of managing even their own personal adult problems in a healthy, rational, mature fashion. Unable and/or unwilling to commit to even to their own self-improvement, there appears to be no evidence that they were capable of honestly recognizing, much less actively working on the unhappy and unhealthy relationship dynamics that quickly emerged between them.
Given what we already know about the home these five young children are about to be raised in, what common-sense predictions might we be able to come to with respect to the developmental experience these vulnerable new babies are about to have?
What are the odds that these specific babies are going to be equipped with the soil, the sun, and the water they will need to grow up into happy, stable and holistically healthy adults?
Let’s start with the soil. How healthy was the culture of Fred and Mary’s home? Was the environment physically, emotionally and mentally safe for babies to be raised in? Were the parents consistent and predictable in their behavior? Did the babies learn they had good reason to trust their caretakers?
Sadly, the five babies soon to be raised in Fred and Mary’s home would be attempting to grow in polluted soil.
It’s not just that these babies will be trying to grow in an environment free of actual healthy nutrients. It’s that these poor kids would be trying to grow in an environment that was both actively indifferent, and often even directly hostile to their own wellbeing.
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, “The importance of a child’s close relationship with a caregiver cannot be overestimated. Through relationships with important attachment figures, children learn to trust others, regulate their emotions, and interact with the world; they develop a sense of the world as safe or unsafe, and come to understand their own value as individuals. When those relationships are unstable or unpredictable, children learn that they cannot rely on others to help them.”(16)
While Fred and Mary chose to give birth to five children, they committed themselves to parenting none of them.
Fred and Mary’s children were never able to consistently count on Fred to be a father, or on Mary to be a mother to them. Fred and Mary obviously made sure to house, cloth, and feed their children, but that’s about the extent of how far their parenting went.
We know quite a bit about Fred and Mary’s household, in large part because one of their own family members has chosen to speak honestly in public about what really went on behind this family’s closed doors.
For starters, we know that, “Even for [their generation], the family was split deeply along gender lines.”(4) Not even in a mildly endearing way, mind you, but in a shockingly callous attempt at division of labor between these reluctant new parents. The set-up was simple. There was an understanding between Fred and Mary about how this would go. When it came to “parenting” their children, Fred would be in charge of the boys, and Mary would be in charge of the girls.
Remember, Fred rarely even spent time inside his own home. He slept at home every night, and spent one weekend day at home, but that’s it. Fred “firmly believed that dealing with young children was not his job and kept to his twelve-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week job.”(4) More than anything, Fred was an absentee father who rarely cared to even spend time with his children, much less meaningfully engage with them. And when Fred did engage, he engaged with his sons only. Fred ignored his daughters.
And just as the girls were neglected by their father, the boys were neglected by their mother. Mary cooked, laundered, and cleaned for all five of her children. But speaking to her sons? Listening to her sons? Asking them questions? Trying to “parent” them in any meaningful regard? No. Not her job, she believed. When it came to the boys, Mary “didn’t feel it was her place to guide them.”(4)
According to their own family member, “Mary and Fred were problematic parents from the very beginning.”(4) Fred simply didn’t care about his wife or children. He cared only about work, which was an extension of his single priority in life: getting rich.
Mary “attended to [her kids] when it was convenient for her, not when they needed her to. Often unstable and needy, prone to self-pity and flights of martyrdom, she often put herself first.” As a mother of many vulnerable young children, “Mary was emotionally and physically absent.”(4)
Fred and Mary’s children were raised in a home that was not physically, emotionally, or mentally safe for young, developing children. These children were raised in an environment in which they could not depend on their caretakers to be consistent and predictable in their words and actions. These children did not get what they needed from their caretakers, thus, they understandably developed severe and life-long trust issues. If you are unable to trust your own mother and father during the most vulnerable years of your childhood, how well do you think you would be able to trust anyone at all later in life, even when it is in fact merited?
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains that children who grow up in neglectful and emotionally abusive homes like Fred and Mary’s, “have trouble controlling and expressing emotions, and may react violently or inappropriately to situations. Our ability to develop healthy, supportive relationships with friends and significant others depends on our having first developed those kinds of relationships in our families. A child with a complex trauma history may have problems in romantic relationships, in friendships, and with authority figures, such as teachers or police officers.”(16)
In 1946, Fred and Mary gave birth to their fourth baby, a boy they named Donald. This fragile young boy, along with his siblings, would be raised in toxic soil.
And Donald didn’t get much sunlight either. Did he get the unconditional love and support from his father? No, he didn’t. How about from his mother? Nope. Not from her either.
From the time he was a baby, Donald learned he could not rely on Fred and Mary to adequately care for him. His earliest attempts at trying to garner the mere attention of his father were regularly met with scorn. According to a family member of Donald’s, “By engaging in behaviors that were biologically designed to trigger soothing, comforting responses from their parents, the little boys instead provoked their father’s anger or indifference when they were most vulnerable. For Donald… ‘needing’ became equated with humiliation, despair, and hopelessness.”(4)
What about the water that human babies need? Did Donald get consistent, positive feedback and engagement from his parents? Of course he didn’t.
Donald’s brother Freddy (Jr.) was eight years older than him. Fred (Sr.) expected his eldest boy to eventually take over the family business. It seemingly never occurred to Fred to ask his first son if he even wanted to do this in the first place. Turns out, Freddy had no true interest committing to a career managing apartment buildings. Freddy was built very different than his father. Freddy was kind, creative, and had lots of friends. The more Freddy’s personality and demeanor developed in his adolescent and teenage years, the more his father’s wrath would reign down upon him. Fred wanted his oldest son to be “a killer.” That is, ruthless in pursuit of one’s own power and monetary enrichment. Like Fred himself, Fred wanted his son to be a shameless liar and an aggressive bully.
Freddy never followed the footsteps his father had prescribed for him. As a result, Freddy was relentlessly verbally abused by his father for many years. Fred blatantly insulted Freddy in front of his younger siblings. He mocked him, belittled him, and never gave him anything even close to praise, kindness, or love. Eight years younger than Freddy, young Donald observed the toxic relationship between his father and his older brother.
Witnessing the torrent of abuse that Fred heaped upon his oldest son, young Donald learned one of his first life lessons: don’t be like Freddy. If you want to get dad to like you and to not be mean to you, don’t be like Freddy. Freddy is nice, Freddy is sensitive, Freddy likes to have fun and hang out with friends. Right from the beginning, young Donald learns that his older brother Freddy’s way of being, is bad.(4)
As a young boy, Donald learned that in order to get positive attention from his father, and in order to avoid being ridiculed by his father, he had to be the opposite of his older brother Freddy, who by all objective accounts was a genuinely kind and decent human being.
Donald observed and internalized what his father liked to see: dominance, and unabashed aggression in pursuit of getting what you want. It’s no surprise at all then, that by the time he’d reached middle school, Donald had become somewhat of a living nightmare.
At age twelve, Donald’s own mother, “couldn’t control him at all…He talked back. He couldn’t ever admit he was wrong; he contradicted her even when she was right; and he refused to back down. He tormented his little brother and…refused to do his chores.”(4)
As the National Child Traumatic Stress Network puts it, “A child with a complex trauma history may be easily triggered or ‘set off’ and is more likely to react very intensely. The child may struggle with self-regulation (i.e., knowing how to calm down) and may lack impulse control or the ability to think through consequences before acting. As a result, complexly traumatized children may behave in ways that appear unpredictable, oppositional, volatile, and extreme.”(16)
Anything starting to sound familiar?
Just imagine young Donald, 12-years-old, in a 7th grade classroom.
To be fair, 7th graders are generally a hazard to society across the board. It’s the first time when most kids, boys especially, start experimenting with pushing back on adult authority. There’s bullying, there’s peer pressure. All of this is compounded by the explosion of hormones 7th graders experience as they traverse through the important and awkward process we call puberty.
Let’s just reflect for a minute. Imagine 12-year-old Donald in his 7th grade classroom. Given what we know about his damaged psychological state, caused by the severe neglect and verbal abuse he was raised with at home, what kind of a student do we imagine he might have been?
It’s impossible to say for sure, but it’s easy to make some logical inferences. Is anyone imagining Donald sitting quietly and patiently at his self-selected front-row desk, deeply immersed in a book? Did he raise his hand and wait to be called on before blurting something out? When conflict emerged among his classmates, was Donald a bridge-builder? A diplomat? Or was he the one yelling “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Young Donald was completely thrown off by the concept of “rules” at school. At home, he had learned “be tough at all costs, lying is okay, admitting you’re wrong or apologizing is weakness.”(4) The perverse way in which Donald was molded by his sociopathic father’s approach to life swiftly came crashing down on him.
Donald was a student at a fancy private school called Kew-Forest. And wouldn’t you know it, Fred just so happened to have bought himself a seat on the Board of the very school his son Donald was attending. Behaviorally speaking, Donald was such a profound little disaster in middle school that he was regularly in trouble with the school administration. Donald was a bully. Donald talked back and was constantly disrespectful to his teachers. Donald got himself into physical fights regularly. Donald was clearly not learning much in school, and his behavior in the classroom consistently created such chaos that it interfered with the ability of the teacher to teach, and of his classmates to learn. Yet, Donald got away with quite a bit, and for quite a while. It helps to have your rich daddy on the Board. Because of this corrupt power dynamic, “Donald’s behavior had been overlooked longer that it otherwise might have.”(4)
But the party wouldn’t last forever.
By the time he was thirteen, Donald’s school had had it with him. The administration was now having to call Fred to come in to discuss his son’s latest transgressions on a regular basis. Kew-Forest was fed up, father on the Board or not. Now, Fred didn’t actually care about Donald’s behavior. If anything, Fred generally viewed the kinds of things Donald was getting in trouble for as overall assets, not liabilities. Fred liked it when Donald was tough, showed strength, and refused to back down even when he knew he was wrong.
But Donald’s behavior was now directly interfering with the one part of life Fred did value, his work and his ability to make more money for himself. Fred was pissed that he kept having to leave his office to come down to the school to bail out his son again and again and again. The school now had a proposal for Fred. They recommended a solution that would keep all of the adults in the equation happy: Donald should be transferred to a military boarding school.
This kid was only thirteen, but he was already so thoroughly out of control, so angry, hostile, arrogant, disrespectful and meanspirited, that he simply could not function in a normal classroom environment like the rest of us. Fred accepted the idea. Donald would soon be removed from his private school and shipped off to the New York Military Academy (NYMA).(4)
Having been raised in toxic soil, devoid of adequate sunlight and replenishing water, 13-year-old Donald developed a wide range of terrible behavioral habits. But he was about to be thrown into a very different environment. At home, although almost exclusively neglected by his parents, Donald could at least pretty much get away with doing (or not doing) whatever he wanted. But all of that was about to change.
The NYMA, about an hour away from Donald’s family home in Queens, was a harsh and threatening environment. In stark contrast to the chaotic home that Donald was raised in, NYMA was built on rules, rules that were immediately enforceable by the credible threat of physical violence. Many of the adult men running the show at NYMA were recent combat veterans of WWII. These men were not afraid of entitled little rich-kids like Donald who thought they could do whatever they wanted without ever facing consequences.(17)
The men in charge of NYMA did not hesitate to physically abuse students like Donald who failed to respect their authority. Upon arrival at boarding school, Donald refused to follow basic expectations such as making his bed and polishing his shoes. For this, a grown man would slap him hard in the face. If that didn’t do it, the man would punch Donald as well. According to a classmate of Donald’s at NYMA, the institution “could be a brutal place where grown men who were veterans of the real military ruled with threats and force.”(17)
Another classmate referred to NYMA as “a closed society where ritualistic hazing was the way that conformity was imposed.”(18) Donald would finish middle school at NYMA, and would remain there for his high school education as well. At home, Donald was severely neglected, and was regularly emotionally abused by his father. At NYMA, Donald was physically abused. But at least some of Donald’s worst behaviors were reined in by this strictly regulated military environment.
Was Donald a changed young man on account of his teenage years at NYMA? It doesn’t really seem like it. According to a classmate, Donald was still the kind of person who, “Lied about his athletic exploits, escaped accountability and did everything for show.”(17) Even Donald’s adult mentor at NYMA, Theodore Dobias, said that Donald was “a conniver, even then.”(19)
Many years later, a classmate of Donald’s at NYMA reflected on how their experience there warped the perspectives of many of its young men. He said, “In the years after I left the isolated, hierarchical society of NYMA I had to learn to work in settings that were collaborative and not combative, and where achievement isn’t synonymous with dominance. My schoolmates have reported adapting in the same way. The exception seems to be Donald.”(18)
That is to say, by the time young Donald graduated high school at NYMA, he’d absorbed an entirely new layer of behavioral pathology. The spark had been lit by his father to be sure: aggression is good, lying is ok, intimidation and confrontation are good ways to solve problems. But the atavistic culture of the NYMA in many ways only seems to have compounded Donald’s perverted sense of acceptable human behavior. The military boarding school had surely taught him some degree of discipline and other useful skills. But overall, it seems to have reinforced and rewarded some of Donald’s worst impulses: that might makes right, that everything in life is a competition which boils down to winners vs. losers, predators vs. prey.
In 1964, Donald graduated high school and set his sights on what was next. 1964 was a pivotal year within a pivotal decade in American history. The country had just been rocked by JFK’s assassination. LBJ was suddenly in charge. The Civil Rights Act was passed that year. The Beatles arrived in America for the first time that year. And US involvement in the war in Vietnam would escalate significantly that year as well.(20)
But none of these sweeping social issues or winds of change seemed to have been on 18-year-old Donald’s mind. He certainly did not want to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, and he also understood the social prestige conferred upon those with higher education. So, as a means to an end, Donald decided to suck it up and do something he didn’t actually want to do: go to college.
The only problem was, Donald was not qualified to get into a good college. He applied to the University of Southern California, and was rejected.(21) He applied to Harvard University, and was rejected.(22)
Donald then shifted to local options that were more realistic for someone with his absence of academic achievement, ability and potential. Donald eventually got an acceptance letter from a decidedly more modest institution than what he’d originally hoped for, Fordham University in the Bronx. According to his older sister Maryanne, Fordham was not where Donald actually wanted to go, but “That’s where he got in.”(21)
Donald spent two unremarkable years at Fordham. He lived at home, and his sister Maryanne often did his homework for him. Nevertheless, Donald still earned a low GPA during his time at Fordham.(4) According to the NY Daily News, Donald “by no means thrived academically. He went through the motions, content with the convenience of a school close to home.”(23) The only thing Donald was remembered for by some of his classmates at Fordham was his ostentatious wealth. “He stuck out because of his fancy clothes” and his new car. He played squash, of course. “Members of the squash team were in awe of [Donald’s] extravagance.”(23)
Yes, to be sure. Donald was a budding fan of extravagance. Fordham was the only college he applied to that accepted him based on his own merit. But Donald wasn’t the type of person who shied away from pursuing things (or women) who didn’t want anything to do with him. Donald definitely had ambition, and like his father, he wasn’t afraid to act unethically or even illegally if it helped him get something that he wanted.
In 1966, Donald wanted to go to a better college. But he wasn’t qualified to get into a better college. So, he got creative. An Ivy League school was surely the most attractive to him, and also the least likely to accept him once they became aware of his actual record as a student.
So, step one, Donald recruited a friend of his who was far smarter than he was. Donald paid the kid to take his SAT test for him.(4) Again, Donald’s own sister Maryanne corroborates this. She’s said that Donald, “had somebody take the exams” on his behalf, in pursuit of transferring to a more prestigious university than he was qualified to be admitted to.(24)
Step two, it just so happened that Donald’s older brother Freddy was able to help him out as well. Turns out, Freddy had an old buddy from high school who now worked in the Admissions office at, drumroll…the University of Pennsylvania!(25)
That friend of the family was Donald’s fraudulent Golden Ticket. The man’s name was James A. Nolan. Nolan has since publicly admitted that he unethically snuck Donald into U Penn, “at the behest of [Donald’s] older brother.”(26) Nolan also clarifies that the school “wasn’t nearly as difficult to get into in the mid-’60s as it is today. Back then…Penn was accepting 40 percent of all applicants, as opposed to its current cutthroat acceptance rate of seven percent.”(26)
In the fall of 1966, Donald transferred to U Penn to get a degree in Real Estate. On campus, he met a young woman he was attracted to, and he even got himself a date with her. The woman’s name was Candice Bergen, who would later go on to become a famous actress.
This is how Candice describes her one-off date with Donald, “He was a good-looking guy. And a douche. I was home very early.”(26)
What was Donald like in an Ivy League classroom? According to his own friends at U Penn, “This was a guy that was obviously not interested in school and possibly never read a book in his life…he was a lackluster student at best.”(26)
Once again, Donald’s older sister Maryanne confirms this. She flatly admits that her brother, “Doesn’t read.”(24)
When it came to actually doing the work of being a student at a prestigious university, Donald was completely in over his head. This was not lost on his own friends, and it was certainly not lost on his professors. One of those professors was William T Kelley. A close friend of Professor Kelley reports, “He must have told me…100 times over the course of 30 years…’Donald…was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had!’”(26)
Professor Kelly also remarked that Donald, “Came to [U Penn] thinking he already knew everything, that he was arrogant and he wasn’t there to learn.”(26)
In 1968, U Penn awarded Donald Trump a fraudulent degree that he indisputably did not earn on his own merit.
But now that he had that piece of magic Ivy League paper, that prestigious, brand-name affiliation he so coveted, Donald simply re-wrote his own version of his college history.
Donald soon took to telling people that he graduated, “First in his class” at U Penn. This is 100% false.
Astoundingly, young Donald was soon to find a major ally in his effort to get the public to believe things about him that were not true.
One of the early allies Donald Trump found, was a local news outlet called the New York Times.
In 1973, the NYT published a profile piece on the young new businessman. They published the sentence, “Donald, who was graduated first in his class from the Wharton School of Finance of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968…” This is completely false. Donald most definitely, most obviously, did not graduate anywhere near “first in his class.” But now the lie was amplified by an otherwise generally credible news source. In fact, in 1976, the NYT published a new glowing profile of Donald. In this piece, years later, they repeat the lie once again. It won’t be until 1984 that the NYT corrected the fiction that Donald, and now their own newspaper, had helped to spread in the public imagination. Once they did what they should have done the first time around, fact check a claim coming from Donald Trump, they concluded that the claim was entirely false.(26)
Donald continued to bring up his time at U Penn for the rest of his adult life. It’s one of his main strategies for convincing people that he really is, in fact, a very stable genius. Because, how could he not be, if he got into U Penn?
As tracked by U Penn’s current student newspaper, Donald Trump, “Publicly name-dropped Wharton 52 times between June 2015 and January 2018.”(26)
“I went to the Wharton School,” 70-something-year-old Donald now says, “I’m, like, a really smart person.”(27)
Because that’s how, like, really smart people talk, right?
Among the many concerning patterns in Donald’s behavior as he grew older, it really is worthwhile to pause to notice something pretty extraordinary. In a very real, and very worrying sense, Donald has a very different relationship with the truth than most of the rest of us.
Like father, like son.
Remember that Donald’s father Fred was a sociopath. And through a combination of his father’s DNA, and also the terrible environment in which Fred and Mary’s children were raised, by the time he was a young adult, Donald himself had become a roaring sociopath.
Is it fair to label Donald this way by the time he was an adult? Let’s quickly consider what Psychiatry as a profession uses to make such a determination.
In order to make a diagnosis of any adult’s potential mental health condition, the American Psychiatric Association uses a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM).(28)
According to the DSM, an adult is a sociopath if they meet at least three of the following criteria. As you read each one, pause to consider each piece of criteria independently with what you already know to be true of Donald Trump’s behavior as an adult. Not his behavior in any given one-off moment, but his pattern of behavior over the course of decades.
DSM criteria of a sociopath:
“1. Failure to conform to social norms concerning lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
3. Impulsivity or failure to plan.
4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
5. Having no regard for the safety of self or others.
6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
7. Lack of remorse, or inability to feel guilt, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.”(28)
Throughout the course of his adult life, Donald would go on to prove his personal sociopathy to a frighteningly high degree. Again, in order to qualify for a medical diagnosis as a sociopath, one must only meet three out of the seven criteria listed above.
But of course, Donald Trump doesn’t meet only three of the criteria above, he meets all of them. Literally seven out of seven.
For our immediate purposes, we are going to focus on just one of Donald’s superpowers as a sociopath, his high level of proficiency as a pathological liar.
By the time he was a young adult, Donald could lie to people’s faces with great skill, and perhaps, with great satisfaction. If it helped him advance his own goals, his own image, he was willing to say it.
He was willing to say anything.
Whether or not it was actually true didn’t really matter to him. In his profoundly warped brain, due to the unfortunate reality of his genetics and also the toxicity of his developmental environment, lying simply wasn’t a big deal to Donald.
As a student, Donald hated school. And perhaps that wasn’t exclusively his own fault. He was a Special Education student after all, who never seems to have gotten access to the special services that students with learning disabilities mostly have access to today.
Donald manifests obvious signs of ADHD, for starters. This isn’t in anyway saying that there is anything “wrong” with people who have learning disabilities. It’s just that these dynamics are relevant to understanding the very chaotic brain that Donald Trump was operating off of by the time he “graduated” from a college he cheated his way into in the first place.
Donald Trump is clearly what elementary school teachers nationwide would recognize as a “struggling reader.”
He can read the words on the page aloud, that much is true. But his ability to comprehend the text he’s read? The jury is still very much out on that front. As one of his own family members puts it, Donald likely has “A long undiagnosed learning disability…[interfering] with his ability to process information.”(4)
In any case, what’s a boy in his shoes to do? He’s deeply traumatized from his childhood, he’s struggling to keep up and actually do the work as a student in school, but he’s proud of himself as proud can be, and he’s ambitious beyond measure.
Donald really did do fairly well, comparatively speaking, in his military boarding school. But the important thing to remember about the school, was that it was a school, not the actual military. There was no Boot Camp, there was not once a moment when Donald faced a hostile enemy, or even real danger of any sort.
And real danger was present in the world Donald was born into.
Donald was born in 1946. From that year forward, all the way up until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the map of the entire world became one massive ideological and physical battleground between Capitalism in the West, and Communism in the East.
In the effort to crush the expansionist Nazis, America and the Soviet Union fought a common enemy together. America and Western Allies attacked the Germans from the West, while the Soviets attacked the Germans from the East. Together, the Allies and the Soviets defeated Hitler’s army in 1945. But as soon as WWII ended, any modicum of trust or even shared interest between the Allies and the Soviets evaporated almost instantaneously.
The global conflict between these two major pillars of political power is what we refer to as the Cold War. This singular set of hostilities dominated the American and much of the global news for half a century.
In 1945, America was one member of a team of nations that defeated the evils of Naziism.
But also in 1945, America was one member of a team of nations that aided and abetted the evils of Colonialism.
At the end of WWII, several of the European Allied powers were still clinging onto their colonies in far-flung parts of the world they knew next to nothing about, other than the existence of precious natural resources the Colonizers sought to continue exploiting for their own financial gain. France was one of such major offenders. Among a litany of other parts of the world they had invaded and conquered, the French colonized Vietnam back in 1857.(29)
In 1945, just as Germany was crushed, Vietnam began to rise up.(29) Still a colony of France in 1945, Vietnam boldly declared independence from its European Colonizer, just as the American’s had done with the British in 1776.
At the exact same moment Americans were cheering themselves on as the Good Guys who defeated the Bad Guys in Europe, the American government was simultaneously committing itself to becoming one of the new Bad Guys in Asia.
In 1946, the year Donald was born, France went to war in Vietnam to prevent the Vietnamese people from attaining the freedom to govern themselves. And right from the very beginning, the French Colonizers relied enormously on their sympathetic friends in the American government.(29)
While the American people celebrated the end of years of war against Japan and Germany, their government was in the midst of laying the foundation for the next series of wars it would commit the weary nation to over the decades to come.
Starting in 1946, America was quietly bankrolling France’s violent effort to subjugate the Vietnamese people. In fact, the American taxpayer funded no less than 80% of France’s brutal occupation of Vietnam.(30) We backed the French all the way until the moment they were defeated by the Vietnamese in 1954.
And of course, in this exact same timeframe, America decided to expend waves of its young men and precious resources in yet another Asian proxy battle. From 1950 to 1953, the Capitalist West fought the Communist East in the small peninsula of Korea.
Even as the horrific bloodshed in Korea came to a close via stalemate in 1953, the US government continued its nearly decade long project to impose the will of the West upon Vietnam, a nation of Buddhist people who didn’t want anything to do with us, or the French Colonizers they had at long last just expelled.
With the French out of the picture in the mid 1950s, Vietnam was separated into two different spheres of geopolitical influence. The Soviet Union and China funded a Communist, Secular Dictatorship in the North, and the US and its Allies funded a Capitalist, Catholic Dictatorship in the South.(29)
The two externally polarized regions of Vietnam moved steadily towards greater conflict. In 1960, a charismatic young JFK was elected to the American Presidency. His first year in office, JFK threw a lit match on top of the trail of gasoline left by his White House predecessors in Vietnam for the preceding 15 years.
As the Encyclopedia Britannica explains, “Until 1960 the United States had supported the [South Vietnamese] regime and its army only with military equipment, financial aid, and…700 advisers for training the army.”(29)
But as the prospect of nuclear war peaked in the early 1960s, JFK decided to escalate America’s involvement in Vietnam even further. By 1963, “The number of [American military] advisers [in Vietnam] had increased to 17,000…they were joined by an increasing number of American helicopter pilots.”(29)
When JFK was shot and killed in the middle of his first term, Vice President LBJ took the helm. Less than two years later, in 1965, twenty years after America had first invested in subduing the Vietnamese, LBJ took the conflict to a whole new level.
In early 1965, President Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam. This was shortly followed up by a ground invasion by US troops. By summer of that year, there were 75,000 Americans fighting in Vietnam.(29)
By the beginning of 1968, the year Donald “graduated” from college, the number of young American men in Vietnam increased to over half a million.(29)
Now let’s circle back to Donald’s unique relationship to the truth. In this case, with respect to his view of the military and his perceived role as a part of it.
Decades deep into his adulthood, Donald manifests a shockingly tenuous grasp on reality. Donald once publicly stated that his time at the NYMA gave him, “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”(18)
Another small detail. Remember that time when Donald turned eighteen in 1964, squarely in the middle of the escalating American presence in Vietnam? As it happens, Donald received multiple deferments on the count of his college enrollment. So, although he wasn’t really studying, or doing the college part of being in college, at least it got him out of the draft.
When Donald left U Penn in 1968, the war in Vietnam was even worse than it was when he was first eligible for the draft after graduating from high school in 1964. After college, Donald secured himself a permanent get-out-of-war-free-card. He got a medical exam, and received a grave diagnosis: heel spurs.
Many decades into adulthood, he’s still defensive about this. To this day, Donald wants you to know that he’s just as much of a military badass as the men who, unlike himself, actually trained for and participated in a real war.
Awkwardly phrased as usual, Donald states, “My number was so incredible, and it was a very high draft number. Anyway, so I never had to do that (serve in the military), but I felt that I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people.”(18)
He’s never been to war, he’s never been in the military. But according to Donald, he “was in the military in the true sense” because he attended a military-themed boarding school from ages 13–17.
We’re about to close out our chapter on Donald’s boyhood years. We’ve covered what he experienced being raised in a broken home through his turbulent, fraudulent, unproductive, and profoundly mediocre performance as a student in middle school, high school, and college.
If you were to ask the 70-something-year-old about it today, he’d surely tell you that he was the best student at every school he ever attended, “First in his class.” He’d surely tell you that when he was a student, he was so perfect, so studious, so, like, smart, that you wouldn’t even believe it.
Quick fast forward to 2015. There’s a new job that Donald wants. It’s a big one, very ambitious.
In 2015, just as he began to tell the world how ready he was for this big new promotion, he was also quietly having an associate of his handle some loose ends from deep in his past.
Michael Cohen was Donald’s lawyer at the time. Donald gave Cohen a special assignment, related to Donald’s illustrious academic career, so many decades ago. Cohen handled it.
But just a few years later, like so many moths rushing an illuminated lightbulb in the dark, Michael Cohen flew too close to Donald Trump, and got burned.
Donald did end up getting that huge new promotion he wanted, Cohen was instrumental in helping him get it. But the spell eventually broke for Cohen. In 2019, he found himself testifying under oath before a committee of the United States Congress.
In this most intimidating, and most somber of settings, Michal Cohen testified that in 2015, “One of his jobs was to threaten lawsuits against the schools that [Donald] attended so they would never release his grades.”(31)
Cohen stated, “When I say conman, I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores.”(31)
This really happened, in real life. Fordham University, one of the institutions Donald had attended as a student, confirmed Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony. “The school received a call from someone on [Donald’s] team, as well as a follow-up letter from [one of Donald’s attorneys] threatening to take action against the university if we did, in fact, release [Donald’s] records.”(32)
Soil, sun, and water.
Every young human being needs it, and some young human beings never get it. By adulthood, the difference between these two versions of human adults couldn’t be more different, or more consequential.
When Donald was a teenager, he was nothing more than a troubled young boy. Today, on full display for all the world to see, Donald is still nothing more than a troubled young boy.
A troubled young boy, who never grew up.
15. Early Childhood Psychology
16. Effects of Childhood Trauma
4. Too Much and Never Enough. Mary Trump, 2020. (Pgs: 13, 23–25, 40–42, 43, 45, 49, 71–74)
17. Physical Abuse at NYMA
18. Classmate of Donald at NYMA
19. Donald’s NYMA Mentor says he was “a conniver, even then [1960s]”
20. Historical Events of 1964 America
21. Rejected by USC, Fordham Becomes Donald’s only Option
22. Donald Rejected by Harvard
23. Donald Remembered only for his Ostentatious Wealth at Fordham
24. Donald Cheats on his SAT
25. Freddy’s High School Buddy gets Donald into U Penn Through the Back Door
26. Donald at U Penn
27. “I’m, like, a really smart person.”
28. DSM and Criteria for Sociopathy
29. French Colonization of Vietnam
30. America Funds 80% of France’s Effort to Brutally Suppress Vietnam, 1946–54
31. Michael Cohen Testifies before Congress
32. Fordham Confirms, while running for President, Donald Trump Threatened to Sue the College if they Released his Grades from the 1960s
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This essay was originally posted on Something to Share with the Class in November of 2020.