This situation is abnormal in American history. But it’s depressingly normal for a country where a narcissistic bully has gained power. We need to reorient ourselves around that fundamental fact, and stop pretending that what’s been normal in the past provides any sound guidance now.
By Paul Rosenberg
I wasn’t surprised by Donald Trump’s rage-tweet attack on Reps. Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, any more than I was surprised by the maturity and sobriety of their response. After all, Trump’s racism is legendary, and telling them to “go back where you came from” is not just textbook racism, it’s a schoolyard bully’s taunt. And a racist schoolyard bully is the sum and substance of what Trump is.
In fact, one expert, physician and psychiatrist Dr. Frederick “Skip” Burkle, told me that autocratic leaders typically have histories of being bullies, and that that the most important thing about them that the public needs to understand. I first contacted Burkle by way of counselor and therapist Elizabeth Mika, whose chapter in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” (Salon review here) explained that “Tyrannies are three-legged beasts”: the tyrant, his supporters and the society as a whole. That perspective is vital to understand our specific predicament, which is historically unique only within our national borders.
So long as Democratic leaders and the media remain oblivious to or ignorant of what’s actually going on psychologically — not just with Trump, but his followers as well — they will continue to misjudge the situation, even as they repeatedly say how abnormal it is. And the danger will only continue to grow.
The generic predicament of racism is nothing new — particularly for the Republican Party. (See “The Long Southern Strategy.” Salon author interview here.) What is new is Trump’s malignant psychology, a character disorder shared by dozens of destructive autocratic leaders whose patterns of murderous rule Burkle described in a 2015 paper, “Antisocial Personality Disorder and Pathological Narcissism in Prolonged Conflicts and Wars,” drawing on decades of experience as a world leader in emergency public health crises such as war and conflict, as well as his background in psychiatry and pediatrics. A recent follow-up paper (“Character Disorders,” for short), focused on the negative impact autocratic leaders have on health security, human rights and humanitarian care.
Bullies-in-chief around the world
Burkle cites examples like Idi Amin in Uganda, Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, who “have emerged first as saviors and then as despots, or as common criminals claiming to be patriots.”
(Art by Tatiana Katara, 2018.)