I’m starting to wonder whether Donald Trump, in the early years of this century, might have killed some young woman. Not sexually assaulted her; that’s something he’s apparently been doing, repeatedly, since the early 1980s. I mean killed a woman outright.
I worry about this, as an American, because he’s the president — and because he keeps accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of this exact crime, from this very period in time. Naturally, as has become custom, Trump makes this allegation publicly, without a shred of evidence. But this particular accusation worries me in another way because, as we’re learning, it’s part of a pattern — the outrageous lie that falsely accuses or smears someone else, but actually projects the president’s own anxiety about his having already committed the same crime, or embodying the identical character flaw.
This habit of the president’s, what I have dubbed projection lying, is not to be confused with his reflexive, everyday, run-of-the-mill lying (what he himself calls, in his book Art of the Deal, “truthful hyperbole” — the sort of thing you do when selling condos). This form of fabrication he unleashes almost continually.
Ethically, even psychiatrists aren’t supposed to diagnose the most obvious sociopaths from a distance. But I’m not a psychiatrist (!). And let’s face it: As American citizens in the here and now, we are more or less obliged to scrutinize the president’s lies, to sort them into various categories, subgroups and classifications, then collectively wonder what sort of psychiatric phenomenon leads to all this lying, all these different types of lies. He is our head of state, after all. And other than lies, we don’t get many other types of communication from the man.
In the main, Trump lies largely for the same reasons anyone else does — to deflect blame, to immunize himself from harm (when possible), to shirk responsibility, etc. We’re talking the mother lode of deflection and shirking here.
However, even while taking into account the president’s magisterial portfolio of lies and dissembling styles, I am fascinated and troubled in particular by the president’s projection lying — the assertion of something clearly false that nevertheless and quite astutely reveals something manifestly true about Trump himself. Here’s a banal example: When he prefaces a statement with, Believe me when I tell you, he’s really saying, “I’m preparing to lie to you. In fact, I’m doing it right now.”
We are sadly conditioned to this phenomenon by now, like a proverbial frog being slowly boiled to death. As noted above, the man sold condos when he wasn’t doing the impossible: bankrupting casinos (all this prior to starring in a “reality” series that celebrated his business acumen!). At this advanced stage, it’s as if we expect him to lie to us… And yet Trump has taken this projection lying to a new, dangerous and strangely fascinating place in 2020 — because so many of his lies do reveal what the man’s id, his inner voice, what passes for his soul, is trying desperately to tell us. That’s why the Scarborough lie/smear is so arresting, almost macabre.
The president clearly reckons that if a nemesis like Scarborough were first framed up for murder, Trump could better argue that he was being framed up — or that maybe killing someone isn’t so terrible after all (so long as it was done, perhaps on 5th Avenue, by someone famous enough).
See here a brief catalogue of the variations on this dissembling projection theme. In most every case, it’s pretty obvious what Trump and his subconscious mind are trying to tell us — things we kind of knew to be true already:
- A lot of people are saying = I’m making this up.
- She can’t be trusted = You’d be a fool to trust me.
- How has he not been indicted by now? = I’m quite sure I’ve committed several high crimes or misdemeanors — just in the last 3 days.
- The president cannot be indicted = I’ve committed several indictable acts in the last 48 hours (but I’m going to keep repeating this because Bob Barr says it’s so).
- She can’t be trusted with state secrets = I cannot be trusted with state secrets.
- He’s a security risk = I am a security risk (and so are my children)
- Nobody knows [insert subject matter here] better than me = I know next to nothing about [insert identical subject matter here]
- Who knew health care was so complicated? = I just thought about health care policy for the first time this morning.
- I’ve been treated very badly = I’ve committed a crime and/or shattered a longstanding norm and now I’m dealing with the inevitable consequences.
- Witch hunt = Constitutionally mandated Congressional oversight
- Perfect call = Shakedown
- She’s not my type = Yeah, I raped her.
- He’s lying = I’m lying.
- I guarantee you that conversation never took place = That conversation is digitally recorded.
- I don’t know the guy = We have, in fact, vacationed together.
I could go on. For days! (the Washington Post recently tallied the president’s lies and purposely misleading statements, since January 2017, at more than 20,000). But you get the point.