Donald Trump is emotionally needy – insatiably and pathologically needy. This is a major weakness, insofar as it makes it possible to predict and even manipulate his actions. Of course this is not the only factor that motivates him, but it is never far from the surface.
This behavior is sometimes seen in people who were abused as children (emotionally, physically, and/or sexually). They are constantly terrified, and will do anything to avoid being hurt again. From an early age, they excel at reading other people, to determine who is a threat and who is not. They do not empathize with the other person any more than a rabbit empathizes with a bobcat, but they are very very perceptive.
His financial acquisitiveness and his gaudy, tawdry displays are easily understood as consequences of the underlying emotional neediness. He thinks it all makes him look tough.
He tries always to project an image of strength, so as to scare away would-be attackers. For example, he loudly threatens to sue people (even though he rarely follows through). He loudly proclaims that he never settles lawsuits (even though he does). He has several coats of arms, one of which bears the motto “numquam concedere” (never concede; never admit anything). However, this is only an image. In reality, like most bullies, he is deeply insecure and cowardly; when faced with anything resembling a fair fight, he will run away.
He emphasizes the appearance of strength, even when it detracts from real strength.
It would be a mistake to think that he craves publicity for its own sake, even if it is bad publicity. What he wants is publicity that makes him look strong. This is what people misunderstand about the Access Hollywood tape. Although any sane person would see bullying, predation, cruelty, and vindictiveness as sins, he sees them as virtues. They make him feel like a tough guy. Remember: his psyche is insatiably needy.
Conversely, he is infuriated by publicity that makes him look weak and/or foolish.
As a corollary, he never admits a mistake and never accepts the blame for anything, because that would show weakness. Instead he lies about it, shifts the blame onto somebody else, and/or changes the subject and walks away.
On many occasions he has claimed to prize “loyalty” above all else. However, that word is at best ambiguous. He knows nothing of the symmetrical sort of loyalty that the Three Musketeers showed toward one another. What he really requires is servility, as shown by peons toward their master. He is the opposite of the good shepherd, because he would throw anyone under the bus if he thought it would advance his interests.
He enjoys picking fights over small things. Often the other person finds it cheaper to back down than to fight over trifles, which he takes as a sign of servility and submission. Examples include:
He has no sense of honor, honesty, decency, or morality – much less any sense of civic duty, or any other kind of duty.
The concept of love is entirely foreign to him. He has screwed hundreds of people, but never loved anyone.
Trump has no friends and nobody he can confide in. There is a long, interesting article by Michael Kruse (reference 1) that focuses on just this one aspect of his personality.
Examining the loneliness issue by itself is not wrong. However, one could also understand it and predict it as a consequence of his deeper pathological neediness. Given the choice of either sharing with a friend or dominating over a peon, he will always choose the latter.
This is a significant weakness. Along with cheating (section 1.6), it is one of the traits that prevents him from being a team player.
The mirror image of requiring everyone to show fealty is being vindictive toward anyone who does not. He is especially vindictive toward anyone who makes him look weak or foolish. He brags about being a “counterpuncher”.
In particular, one of the few consistent motifs of the Trump administration is doing the opposite of whatever Obama did. This makes it possible to predict and manipulate his behavior. For example:
Trump is deeply racist, and always has been. One of his first experiences in the business world was fighting for years against the government’s efforts to end flagrant racial discrimination at Trump Management properties.1
He will not hesitate to exploit racism if he thinks it will benefit him financially or politically. If you are black and innocent, he thinks you should be killed.2 If you are white and guilty, and are famous for torturing Latinos, he thinks you deserve a pardon.3
To a first approximation, his sexism, racism, and xenophobia are just part and parcel of his overall pattern of bullying. He craves having somebody who can be picked on but who can’t fight back, somebody who can be blamed whenever something goes wrong.
However, there is more to it than that. During the campaign he exploited the idea of building a wall and making Mexico pay for it. However, after the election he could have dropped the issue, just has he has dropped innumerable other campaign promises. Indeed he has already walked away from the promise to make Mexico pay. The point is, the fact that he is still fighting to build the wall indicates that he really cares about it.
Similarly, putting Jefferson4 Beauregard5 Sessions in charge of the Department of Justice was a big deal. Racism is not an idle hobby with Sessions; he’s a real pro.
There is a proverb that says “Cheaters never prosper.” An interesting question arises, how can that be so, given that in basic simple interactions the cheater would seem to have an advantage?
This was considered an old question 2400 years ago. The answer that Plato gave goes like this: Consider team activities. While the inveterate cheaters are busy back-stabbing each other, the non-cheaters can team up and clobber them.
The same logic applies even in the absence of explicit teams, if there is a long series of interactions. The good guys engage in a mutually-profitable deals, not zero-sum games. Most businesses don’t cheat their customers. They would prefer to have a happy customer who returns again and again, producing a modest mutual benefit each time, rather than to make a killing just once. The cheaters are soon identified and ostracized.
Trump, oddly enough, likes to cheat. He sees every deal as a zero-sum game, such that for every winner there must be a loser. An ordinary bad guy would rather cheat than lose, but Trump is a pathological bad guy who would rather cheat even if he could win fair and square. For example:
He is an extraordinarily skillful liar; see reference 4.
Many of his properties are mortgaged to overseas lenders, because no bank in the US will do business with him.
His cheating is a tremendous weakness, and can be exploited. Remember that Al Capone was a murderous rum-running gangster, but he was never convicted for that. He went to prison for cheating on his income tax.
It is depressing to see how slow politicians are to figure this out. Evidently they are not very smart; intellectually they seem to be closer to the Play-Doh level than to the Plato level. On Monday the republicans work with Trump to torment the democrats, and then on Tuesday the democrats work with Trump to torment the republicans. As long as they keep letting him get away with this he will keep doing it. It’s pathetic.
If they had any sense, the republicans would team up with the democrats to put and end to the Trump circus once and for all, perhaps following the Al Capone model. This is urgently necessary, to defend and preserve the basic institutions of our democracy.