The famous 19th century fairy tale by the Danish writer, Hans Christian Anderson, could have been written about Donald Trump, a man-child who lives in a fantasy world of self-delusion and lies and who surrounds himself with sycophantic yes-people who value their positions and professional advancement over truth and justice. The damage caused by this corrosive mindset is limited when one is running an inherited family company but magnified and multiplied a thousand-fold when the same person is president of the United States during a global pandemic.
In his 2018 book, Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump, John Gartner, Ph.D., a psychologist who taught at Johns Hopkins University Medical School for nearly three decades, claims that Trump has malignant narcissism, a condition that combines narcissism with paranoia, sociopathy, and sadism. When combined, this perfect storm of psychopathology defines the “quintessence of evil,” according to (Erich) Fromm, the closest thing psychiatry has to describing a true human monster.”
Some examples related to Trump’s malignant narcissism, according to Gartner, are: 1) he knows “more about everything than anyone” and “has empathy for no one but himself.” 2) paranoia (“his demonization of the press, minorities, immigrants, and anyone who disagrees with him, are all signs of paranoia”); 3) sociopathy (“a diagnosis that describes people who constantly lie, violate norms and laws, exploit other people, and show no remorse”); and 4) sadism (“He takes gleeful pleasure in harming and humiliating other people. …undoubtedly the most prolific cyberbully in history.”)
A Full Throttle Misinformation Campaign
For malignant narcissists, the ends justify the means and lying becomes a perfectly acceptable tool. Trump is pathological liar in a league of his own. According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, he made a staggering 16,000+ false or misleading claims during his first three years in office. His lies about COVID-19 include “it’s totally under control,” ‘it will all work out well,” “it will disappear like a miracle,” “we pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” etc., ad nauseam.
This in spite of the fact that US intelligence agencies warned his administration in January and February about the severity of the epidemic in China and its potential to metamorphose into a global pandemic. A March 25th Foreign Policy essay entitled The Coronavirus is the Worst Intelligence Failure in US History claims that “it’s more glaring than Pearl Harbor and 9/11 – and it’s all the fault of Donald Trump’s leadership.”
During a visit to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the narcissism of this self-described “very stable genius” was on full display. When a reporter asked Trump how US hospitals can prepare for an outbreak if they have no idea how many patients to expect, here was his self-aggrandizing non-answer: “You know, my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, like a record number of years. He was a great super genius. Dr. John Trump. I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this? ‘ Maybe I have a natural ability.”
Malignant narcissists are also incapable of accepting responsibility for their mistakes because they don’t make mistakes, e.g., “I don’t take responsibility at all” for his government’s lack of preparedness. (This includes abolishing President Obama’s White House pandemic office.) Trump simply finds someone or something else to blame, be it China, “fake news,” people of color, or anyone who criticizes him. They don’t hesitate to throw gasoline on the smoldering embers of racial enmity and hatred as long as they achieve their goal of evading responsibility and finding a suitable scapegoat. The coronavirus becomes the “foreign” or “Chinese” virus.
The avalanche of Trumpian lies and obfuscations has made the US less safe and its citizens more vulnerable to the coronavirus. His inaction, inadequacy, and political game-playing represent a total abdication of leadership to the detriment of the people he was elected to serve. All of this has created a perfect storm in which the US leads the world in number of confirmed cases and deaths. “We’re #1!” is the mantra but in two most unenviable categories.
Like any crisis, but especially one that involves sickness and death, the coronavirus pandemic is a perfect breeding ground for charlatans and con-artists to crawl out from under their rocks and pick the low-hanging fruit that are the millions of desperate people looking for a quick fix and an easy escape from fear and uncertainty. As if to underscore the surreal atmosphere, it was reported that there are several well-known evangelical Christian pastors with links to the con man-in-chief who claim to be able to cure the coronavirus through prayer. One even told his TV show viewers that he could heal infected people who touched their TVs: “Put your hand on that television set. Hallelujah. Thank you, Lord Jesus. He received your healing.”
How sad that a country that landed astronauts on the moon, developed the personal computer, and gave the world the Internet, among many other scientific and technological breakthroughs, has people who believe that a highly contagious virus can be cured with prayer and by touching a TV screen. Like Trump, false hope and fraud are what these self-proclaimed men and women of god peddle. That’s where the USA is at in 2020, a problem exacerbated by COVID-19 but that won’t disappear whenever the virus and Trump do.
Looking ahead to the November election, Trump’s success depends in part on the health of the US economy. That’s one transparent reason why he’s so insistent that “we have to get back to work. We have to get our country open.” His statement that “we have the best testing system in the world,” reflects his abject ignorance that other countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Russia, Singapore, and South Korea have tested far more people per capita than the US, which still suffers from a widespread shortage of test kits, backlogs, and delays in test results. When a reporter asked him what metrics he’ll use to decide when to relax social distancing, he pointed to his head and said, “the metric is right here.”
While the COVID-19 in Viet Nam appears to be under control, thanks to the visionary leadership of the government and the overall cooperation of the people, it continues to spiral out of control in the United States. Those numbers represent suffering, death, and a devastating economic impact, including a soaring unemployment rate and surging personal debt in a society already drowning in consumer debt.
Viet Nam as Public Health Crisis Exemplar; US as Cautionary Tale
Unlike the inward-looking US, in which too many people, including its political leaders, hold the nationalistic belief that it’s the “greatest nation on earth,” reams of evidence to the contrary, outward-looking Viet Nam has proven itself time and again to be adept at learning from other countries’ mistakes and successes, i.e., countries as cautionary tales and role models, in the grand tradition of comparative thinking and culturally appropriate action.
As a recent analysis How Vietnam Learned From China’s Coronavirus Mistakes from The Diplomat pointed out, “In the case of Vietnam, the conclusions that may be drawn are that to effectively combat the pandemic, governments in developing countries need to be transparent and open to gain people’s confidence in government messaging against the epidemic and in order to win public acceptance of the need to limit privacy for the common good. …perhaps the most important factors should be the openness and urgency of the government to place the well-being and protection of life above all political endeavors.”
Those who live in Viet Nam, both Vietnamese and expats, can be grateful they live in a country whose leadership has taken action that shows concern for the health and welfare of the people and that has acted swiftly in the spirit of collective consent and action. The contrast with Donald Trump and his administration couldn’t be starker or grimmer.
Trump is the reactive “leader” of his supporters not the president of all 330 million of his fellow citizens, He is a petty, vindictive, self-centered, hollow shell of a man with an utter lack of empathy for human suffering who is clearly out of his intellectual and temperamental depth. In a recent televised meltdown, his god complex once again raised its ugly head when he exclaimed, seemingly ignorant of the supreme law of the land that he swore to “preserve, protect and defend,” “The president of the United States calls the shots.”
Trump rarely reassures, except on cue, and all too often heaps undeserved praise upon himself, spouts nonsense and, worst of all, spreads conflicting information or disinformation in general, worst of all, at a time when people desperately want and need their government to provide them with accurate information and substantial support, both moral and material.
Like all malignant narcissists, Trump is a divider not a unifier, who thrives on conflict and acrimony, not a trait that is conducive to cooperation and good governance under any circumstances, let alone during a global crisis. It’s his way or the highway, a scorched-earth approach to flawed decision-making and dysfunctional human relationships.
Viet Nam Makes History While COVID-19 Teaches the US a Tragic Lesson
The coronavirus lays bare on an almost daily basis the litany of faults and weaknesses of Donald Trump and the country he was elected to lead. A tiny viral enemy whose crown-like shape can only be seen under a transmission electron microscope is not fazed by denial, deception, rhetorical bravado, or faux optimism, and cannot be defeated with guns, bombs, jet fighters, drones, or aircraft carriers that are paid for by a nearly trillion dollar military budget.
It is single-minded, non-discriminatory, and merciless in its pursuit of more human hosts to infect and, depending upon the circumstances, kill. COVID-19 thrives on official arrogance, which is complemented by ignorance. It takes full advantage of opportunities to replicate itself in societies and communities that miss the containment boat and whose last gasp option is mitigation, as in the United States. Too little, too late – at inestimable human and financial cost.
With 91 active cases and 0 deaths vs. about 570,000 active cases and nearly 33,000 deaths in the US, as of April 16th, and a population of 97 million vs. 330 million in the US, Viet Nam offers myriad instructive lessons for other countries, starting with the dos and don’ts of how to cope with a global pandemic. Vu Duc Dam, deputy prime minister, said last month that the total number of confirmed cases will not reach 1,000, if prevention measures are strictly adhered to. While no one can predict the future, he may very well be right, if the recent past is prologue. It is an extraordinary and potentially historic collective achievement worth aspiring to.