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Trump and the Nature of Hate

Welcome to From Insults to Respect. 

This week I was watching President Donald Trump’s first news conference since he became president. There, the remarks that I found most interesting had to do with his expressed outrage about how hateful the press has been toward him. The first time it came up, he was asked the following question by a reporter:

“I just want to get you to clarify this very important point. Can you say definitively that nobody on your campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign? And on the leaks, is it fake news or are these real leaks?”
Here’s the president’s reply:
 
“Well, the leaks are real. You’re the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean the leaks are real. You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake. So one thing that I felt it was very important to do — and I hope we can correct it. Because there’s nobody I have more respect for — well, maybe a little bit but the reporters, good reporters.
 
“It’s very important to me and especially in this position. It’s very important. I don’t mind bad stories. I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it’s true and, you know, over a course of time, I’ll make mistakes and you’ll write badly and I’m OK with that. But I’m not OK when it is fake. I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.”
The hate issue came up a few minutes later when a reporter asked:
 
“And if I may follow up on that, just something that Jonathan Karl was asking you about. You said that the leaks are real, but the news is fake. I guess I don’t understand. It seems that there’s a disconnect there. If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?”
President Trump begins to look exasperated, and then replies:
 
“The reporting is fake. Look, look… You know what it is? Here’s the thing. The public isn’t — you know, they read newspapers, they see television, they watch. They don’t know if it’s true or false because they’re not involved. I’m involved. I’ve been involved with this stuff all my life. But I’m involved. So I know when you’re telling the truth or when you’re not. I just see many, many untruthful things.
“And I’ll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word “tone.” The tone is such hatred. I’m really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred.
 
“I watched this morning a couple of the networks. And I have to say, Fox & Friends in the morning, they’re very honorable people. They’re very — not because they’re good, because they hit me also when I do something wrong. But they have the most honest morning show. That’s all I can say. It’s the most honest.
 
“But the tone, Jim. If you look — the hatred. The, I mean, sometimes — sometimes somebody gets… Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o’clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit. The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is he doesn’t have good ratings. But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump. And the hatred and venom coming from his mouth; the hatred coming from other people on your network.”
Now, the reason I found these remarks from the president so interesting is that throughout his campaign seeking the presidency, his tone, along with his very words, were filled with hatred and venom toward the press and many other individuals and groups as well. At each of his rallies, he regularly pointed to where the media had gathered and cried out things like, “There’s the press standing over there. Don’t we just hate the media, they are such liars!” Then when the crowd would start getting riled up, and throwing things at the press, he cheered them on. More recently, he has taken to calling the press the enemy of the people using a tone of voice that is pretty far from flattery.

If any of you saw the last debate between him and Secretary Clinton, you will no doubt recall how he called her evil in a tone that mustered as much venom as anyone that I’ve personally seen. Since becoming president, at moments he has backed off some of his most hateful rhetoric, but more often he has regularly returned to it.

 
At the news conference I’ve been discussing, he stated, in what struck me as a hateful tone,
 
“We’ve been negotiating a lot of different transactions to save money on contracts that were terrible, including airplane contracts that were out of control and late and terrible; just absolutely catastrophic in terms of what was happening.”
Now, there were a great deal of people involved in negotiating these contracts and many individuals are currently working hard to do right by them, but the president threw out this blanket statement. These types of comments are modeling for all to see, hateful rhetoric.
 
Now, I could well understand why the president would want the people and the press to treat him, rather then hatefully, respectfully. But if this is true and he therefore wants to encourage people of the press, and others to use respectful tones and language, perhaps he would be wise to start modeling what this looks like when he himself communicates.
 
A great model to consider as an alternative to Trump’s style is that of John F. Kennedy’s. Over the whole of his presidency, Kennedy averaged a 70.1 percent approval rating, comfortably the highest of any post-World War II president. By comparison, the average for all presidents between 1938 and 2012 is 54 percent. President Trump, last I looked, was at 44 percent, the lowest in history at this early point in a president’s term.
 

Lyndon Johnson

In 1960, both Senator Kennedy and Senator Lyndon Johnson were seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. At the convention, with both side by side, Johnson criticized Kennedy for missing some important senate meetings because he was on the road campaigning. Kennedy replied,

 

“I, uh, found it extremely beneficial serving in the Senate with Senator Johnson as leader.  I think if I emerge as successful in this convention it would be as a result of watching Senator Johnson proceed around the Senate for the last eight years.”  

Kennedy, then turns to look directly at Johnson and said:

“I have learned the lesson well, Lyndon, and I hope it will benefit me in the next twenty-four hours.”

Kennedy then turns back to the larger audience. 

“It is true that Senator Johnson made a wonderful record in answering those quorum calls, and I want to commend him for it. I, uh, was not present on all of those occasions…. So, I come to you today full of admiration for Senator Johnson, full of affection for him, strongly in support of him for majority leader, and in that position we’re all going to work together. Thank you.”

This is an amazing contrast to President Trump’s style of dealing with anyone who criticizes him.

An additional lesson that we can learn from looking at Kennedy’s style was his willingness to take responsibility for things that did not go as well as he desired during his administration.

On April 17th, 1961, Kennedy ordered what became known as the “Bay of Pigs Invasion”: 1,500 U.S.-trained Cubans landed on the island in an attempt to overthrow the country’s dictator, Fidel Castro. The plan failed within three days.

Many felt Kennedy was guilty of doing something terribly wrong, and more than a few insults were hurled at him. However, when he went before the press, he took responsibility for the failure, and pledged to take several specific steps to make sure that what happened would never happen again. Immediately afterwards his approval rating spiked, going up to 83 percent, the highest level of his presidency.

Responsibility-LincolnFrom my own experience, I have learned that using a similar type of response can be very helpful. When I find that someone has a conflict with me because of something that I have done, I have often been able to turn angry feelings into a respectful resolution by making it clear that I recognize my responsibility in what happened and I plan to take some action to improve.

 
Now contrast this with what happened at the Trump press conference when a reporter asked him if there were any mistakes that he made when he wrote his executive order regarding a travel ban from seven countries. The president replied,
 
“Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision. We had a court that’s been overturned. Again, may be wrong. But I think it’s 80 percent of the time, a lot.
 
“We had a bad decision. We’re going to keep going with that decision. We’re going to put in a new executive order next week some time. But we had a bad decision.
 
“That’s the other thing that was wrong with the travel ban. You had Delta with a massive problem with their computer system at the airports. You had some people that were put out there, brought by very nice busses, and they were put out at various locations.
 
“Despite that the only problem that we had is we had a bad court. We had a court that gave us what I consider to be, with great respect, a very bad decision. Very bad for the safety and security of our country. The rollout was perfect.”
Notice that President Trump took absolutely zero responsibility for the problems that ensued. This has been his style ever since I’ve been watching him on TV. All problems are due to some other folks, never him.
 
So, a basic nature of respect is that you can’t get people to stop hating you if you are throwing hate their way. If there is any way to turn people from hate to respect, it is useful to model how you want to be treated by treating others as you want them to treat you.  This is the basic Golden Rule.  Rather than attack those who criticize you, listen respectfully, and be open to take at least some responsibility for anything with which you might have played a part.
 
In ending today’s post, I shall leave you with a quote from President Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a period of time when the country was arguably in its greatest conflict. Notice that Lincoln could have expressed great hatred toward those whom he felt were responsible for starting the war. That very likely is the approach our current president would have taken. Here’s Lincoln, currently viewed by many historians as our all time most respected president.
 
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

Is President Trump Mentally Ill?
Doonesbury and the Nature of Payback

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

3 Comments

  1. It is unethical for psychologists to diagnose someone without seeing them, face to face. However, as a retired psychologist who has been trying to make some extra money as a fiction writer, I consider myself exempt from that. Trump’s character is akin to a full blown paranoid narcissistic character. His major defenses, common to most paranoid people, are externalization in which he attributes his own despicable characteristics to the external world and his preemptive attacks on anyone whom he believes will disagree or has disagreed with him, imhop. So why not call a spade a spade?

    • True. Great comment, great article. Short and to the point. Clear points that can easily be understood by a non-psychologist. A lay person.

  2. First, let me say I enjoyed your article very much.

    Your thoughts and comments are quite insightful and surely on point with respect to our new president.

    Fortunately for me, I have known only a few personality types like Trump- they are arrogant, will never admit they are wrong, and will completely blow up and turn the tables on any person who criticizes them; Not good in a working environment as learning and improvement are stifled by outrageous outbursts and bloated temper tantrums.

    I look forward to meeting you in person to discuss these points in greater detail.

    Regards, John Whyte

    Ps- You may be the first and last person to mention JFK and Honest Abe in the same article with our new loose cannon president as they come from different solar systems.

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