“A man’s character is his fate.” – Heraclitus

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This is part two of my attempt to deconstruct Donald Trump. If you haven’t read it already, please read part 1 here, as it provides context for what’s below.

Read it? All right… let’s begin!

In trying to deconstruct Trump himself, to me there’s an obvious starting point: he is, or is he not a narcissist. Before I go any further, three things need to be said.

The first is that narcissism in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Psychologists have pointed out that there is such a thing as “healthy narcissism“. Studies have shown that many world leaders, from politicians to businessman to professional athletes, have a certain level of narcissism, but one that provides a deep-seeded sense of self-confidence to face a given task, and a sense that they are up to it and can properly lead those around them.

Secondly, there is a huge difference between having narcissistic tendencies, like taking a dozen selfies whenever you use the bathroom, and having an actual diagnosis of Narcissistic Personal Disorder (NPD).

Finally, while there has been much debate online about Trump’s mental health, there are very few qualified mental health professionals that will come out and say “this is the truth about Trump” because of what’s called the “Goldwater Rule“, which states that unless you have personally examined a person, you are not qualified to make an actual diagnosis of them.

I have talked to friends who work in the mental health field, including one with a PHD in Psychology, specifically focused on personality disorders. When we compared notes he said “while I haven’t obviously examined Trump in person, there’s enough public evidence that a reasonably justifiable case could be made that he has narcissistic personality disorder”. While this isn’t a formal diagnosis, and nor should it be seen as such, I agree with my friend that there is enough evidence to say it’s a possibility.

Here are the traits from the DSM-5:

1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others

2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.

3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions

4. Needing constant admiration from others

5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others

6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain

7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs

8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them

9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not they describe Trump. What I can say is that because of his 40 years in the public spotlight, there is a trove of public record information to go through that we rarely have with political figures. Trump has shown himself to be fixated with power, recognition, and with people knowing who he is. He has shown a need to be center of attention, for people to be awed by his wealth and power, and the inability to handle either being questioned. He has shown that he takes any slight, real or not, as a deeply personal attack, and has shown a need to get back at anyone who feels has wronged him. He has shown that he has no problems purposely stonewalling anyone who dares question his authority, legality or decisions.

When it comes to the Goldwater Rule, there are some who believe that this specific situation requires a breaking of normal ethical protocol. John D. Gartner, a psychotherapist who has taught at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, said in an interview with US News & World Report that Trump “is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president” and has “malignant narcissism,” which while not listed in the DSM, has been studied and described as NPD, but with severe anti-social and self-destructive tendencies and a need to see any opposition not just overcome, but humiliated.

From the campaign trail to the Oval Office, Trump has consistently referred to himself as “the best”, having “the best temperament”, being “really smart”, and so on. When challenged on photos that indicated that his inauguration crowd was smaller than the one for Barack Obama in 2009, he and his staff retorted that it was the “biggest crowd in inaugural history”, with an attendance figure of “1.5 million” but failing to offer any credible data as evidence. It’s been similar responses when he’s been challenged about practically anything to do with himself, his business success or his campaign.

A particular sore spot for him has been his losing the election’s popular vote by 3 million votes. His response was to say that “3 to 5 million illegal immigrants” voted and that is what cost him the popular election. The Washington Post reported that there have been only 4 verifiable cases of vote fraud in the 2016 election.

This brings up a point that needs to be addressed: If Trump does have NPD, it needs to be stated that people with NPD literally can not see a negative side to any of their actions. They are incapable of it. For someone with NPD and/or malignant narcissism, the one and only litmus test of whether a choice is good or bad is “will this get me what I want”, with the goal being instant gratification.

That desire could be power, it could be adoration, but whatever it is, it’s all that matters. Beyond that, the person themselves is the only one who matters. Their ego being given the attention and praise it deserves is all that matters. If someone gets hurt or negatively affected in some way, it’s their own fault for not agreeing with that need or desire in the first place. Simply put, there is no empathy, no consideration of others, just selfish, self-indulgent behavior.

Tapping into that self-need is the basis for why facts are so easily and quickly dismissed by him. Facts don’t matter to Trump because “facts” are simply a means to an end. If someone disagrees and says “no, here’s the real truth” and provides facts and data to back it up, Trump simply says publicly “this person is lying to you and trying to hide the truth from you”. For those who don’t trust the media, or see academia as full of self-serving know-it-alls, his discrediting of their countering his statements takes on an almost religious effect. “I alone hold truth, and I alone can protect you from all the evil lies that see to hurt America being great again”.

Another cause for concern is that NPD also voids any sense of loyalty. Loyalty exists to the extent of “are you giving me what I want” in some fashion. As soon as that enabling ceases, that person no longer has any function for someone with NPD and is usually removed from the inner circle. This is very dangerous in a political sphere because it means that those in high-ranking positions (such as advisory positions) are only there because they play into, in some fashion, Trump’s ego or paranoia.

This might also shed light on why he has been nominating people to head government departments that they have previously shown hostility towards: it’s a show of force, a “you don’t think I’ll do it? Just watch” power play, and way to automatically create fear inside that department of showing any public dissension. A leaked memo from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the EPA had been effectively given a gag order, along with almost every science-based government office except for NASA. Why do this? So you can control the flow of information.

If you can control the flow of information, you can much easier control what people think. This also explains his attacks on all forms of media, calling any outlet that disagrees with him or provides evidence contrary to what he says as being “fake news”. If Trump does have Narcissistic Personal Disorder, it makes complete sense that he would try to deny and belittle anyone who goes against his own self-proclaimed reality. Simply put, he doesn’t handle “no” very well, no matter the evidence or legality that challenges him.

While he doesn’t handle any situation where he’s told “no” very well, he has a predictable pattern here as well: he’ll often threaten “see you in court!“, as he instantly tweeted when an injunction was handed down against his travel ban, but history shows the threat of legal action often has no follow-through.

While he has been the target of several investigations by various government agencies over the years, his preferred tactics against them won’t serve him well here. When the Justice Department would go after him, he would keep pushing back court dates time and time again, saying he needed more time to get the requested files ready. He’d repeatedly do this until the delays became so lengthy that the Justice Department would drop the case because of a lack of evidence, meaning little chance of conviction, and how costly the delays had become. This doesn’t mention the fact that there’s evidence Trump used delays to destroy documents the Justice Department had requested.

The problem for him now is that there are big differences between how a government official can act, as opposed to a private citizen. If Trump, let’s say, is found destroying evidence that’s been subpoenaed, that’s grounds for impeachment. If he interferes with an on-going investigation the way he has in the past as CEO of the Trump Organization, that too is ground for impeachment.

Despite all this, I have no doubt that Trump will remain in office until the Republican party stops finding him useful. As long as he’s in power, Republican party leaders will do everything they can to look the other way and they’ll do so because it suits their interest. In regards to this, a quote from Upton Sinclair comes to mind: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it”.

The question now becomes trying to fathom what would be enough for the Republicans, who have political power now that they haven’t had since 1928, to say enough is enough. With the new revelations that Trump’s election campaign team was in contact with known Russian political figures will definitely put those bonds of loyalty to the test.

Will even that not be enough? We’re in a time when there has been a strong current of obstructionism from the Republican party for the majority of Obama’s presidency. It didn’t matter what was, if the Democrats were for it, the Republicans were against it. It really did feel like that if the Democrats put forward a motion saying “kittens are cute”, Republicans would decry it and put forward their own motion saying “kittens are adorable”. It’s never a good thing when American politics remind me of the divisions between the nations of Lilliput and Blefuscu in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, with their biggest political argument being whether you should crack an egg at the bottom (the Big-Endians), or the top (the Small-Endians).

Unless something causes Trump’s presidency to fall apart, or there is a massive changeover in the midterm elections in 2018, we’re in for a very long few years, politically speaking. If things don’t change, we’re going to find ourselves run by a government that is ultimately in favor of the rich and the privileged and those who have the most money to invest. Trump promised to “drain the swamp”, to rid Washington of the corruption, but instead all signs point to him pursuing self-enrichment in a way never before seen.

Despite Trump’s claim of making America great again, it remains a simple fact that you can not make a society great by ignoring those who are most at-risk and most vulnerable. A Great Society is built not on how the richest or the most influential are treated, but by how those who have the least to give are treated.

Taking away rights and services, imposing threats on freedom of speech and dissension, and willful ignoring of science can not make a society prosperous… those are not the signs of progressive government, nor one that has its citizens’ interest at heart.

The truest sign of a Democracy is not the right to vote, but understanding the responsibilities that the freedom to choose inherently brings: the responsibility is not on the government to make the country better, but on her citizens. That is, after all the intent behind Lincoln’s famous words of “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. Lincoln was saying that our fate isn’t in the hands of our government, despite the power they wield, but in our actions towards each other.

While Trump and his inner circle may do all they can to ignore marches, protests, social media posts and the like, there is one thing the average citizen can do that they have no power to do anything about: treating your neighbor with kindness and respect, no matter their race, color, or creed.

Do that and, believe you me, it will be just a tremendous success.

 

Author’s note: since the publication of this post, the debate among mental health professionals about publicly diagnosing Trump’s behavior has only increased.

While some are in favor of it, others aren’t.

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“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” – Albert Camus

“I shouldn’t have to feel like an immigrant in my own country.”

I said that during a dinner with some friends a few weeks ago. Shortly after that I became the target of a hate crime.

We were discussing how we can reach out to the Aboriginal population of my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. Hamilton has a Aboriginal population of roughly 17,000, bolstered by the Six Nations Reserve, which is about 20 minutes away. Things have been tense in the Hamilton area for Aboriginals ever since they occupied a housing development in nearby Caledonia, claiming it was on land given to them in a treaty signed in 1784. After the occupation and its fallout, I’ve noticed a definite increase in anti-Aboriginal sentiment in Hamilton. Those sentiments flared up again when Idle No More was at it’s height last year.

The dinnertime discussion touched on that Aboriginals in Hamilton face an uphill battle in truly showing what they have to offer. Aboriginal education rates are far below the levels of their non-Aboriginal counterparts in both secondary and post-secondary graduation levels, and Aboriginals are disproportionally over-represented in Canada’s criminal justice system compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

The dinner discussion led to brainstorming ways that we can help Aboriginals, especially young men, rise above the social disparity facing them. We talked about the need for respect, tolerance and forgiveness. We talked about how education was the single biggest factor in determining the potential one’s life has. Unfortunately, all that anger towards Aboriginals came right back to the forefront as we were leaving the restaurant.

A man followed us out and singled me out, convinced that I was one of the Aboriginals who occupied and damaged his home during the Caledonia blockade. I told him that he was mistaken and that I purposely avoided Caledonia because I didn’t agree with what was going on there and didn’t want to be associated with it. My denials only served to further enrage him and he took out that rage by punching me several times, including one hit that broke my nose.

After being hit several times, two police officers on a routine patrol of the area stepped in and arrested him. When I was done giving my statement to the officers, one of them said to me “it’s not that often that we have an Aboriginal file charges. Most of them they seem to want to avoid having anything to do with us”.

In the weeks since that incident, I’ve reflected on what it means to me to be Aboriginal, especially in light of such overt racism. It’s one thing to hear someone talk about an something like racism or a hate crime. It’s a completely different thing to go through that yourself. I’ve read about hate crimes, the victim’s statements, the newspaper commentaries about how our society should be better than this. It’s suddenly all taken on new meaning for me.

As I replay in my head what happened to me, how the incident unfolded, one thing becomes crystal clear: a feeling of being helpless. It’s not that I couldn’t have fought back. I know how to fight. I know how to throw a punch, block an opponent’s punch, look for an opening in their defenses to exploit. No, rather that feeling of helplessness came from the realization that in this type of situation, I couldn’t fight back without quickly being viewed by some witnesses as the troublemaker.

The hardest thing to do when someone is taunting me, trying to get me into a fight, is to stay calm and not go for it. I’ll be honest with you, I have a temper. It can be very difficult to turn the other cheek knowing full well that when I do, the person trying to goad me into a fight will just redouble their attack because they see I’m not fighting back. With the assault, if I fought back just as hard as my attacker fought me, it would be very easy for him to justify to the crowds that every negative thing he believed about Aboriginals was absolutely true.

I wanted to fight back. I wanted to hit him as hard as he was hitting me, but what good would that have accomplished? Most likely I would have been charged with assault, same as he was, and any victory, moral or otherwise, that I could have achieved as an Aboriginal would have been gone. I couldn’t fight back during the assault. It’s almost humiliating on a personal level to stand there and take my attacker’s punches when I know how to fight back. Yet, I took them, knowing full-well that I didn’t want to give him (or any onlooker) any justification for his hateful beliefs. The same goes for times when I’ve been out and people have made racially charged comments towards me. Comments like “I’ve never seen a sober Indian before”, or “What are you doing off your reserve?”, or “Waiting for another government handout?” do get under my skin, even if I seem to not have let them register with me.

The racial comments do get to me. I can’t lie to myself and say they don’t. There have been nights, after someone has said something or done something particularly vicious, that all I can do to get out that anger is punch a couch pillow until my arms feel like lead. There have been nights when I’ve screamed into a pillow until my lungs hurt because that is the only way to get this built-up anger out of me in a way that doesn’t cause more problems. I could have made a snide remark back to the people making loaded comments towards me. I could have pushed back when someone purposely pushes me aside just because of my racial heritage, but what good would that do? Nothing worth doing.

I’m not going to let being assaulted get me down. I have too many other things to work and focus on than being defined by someone else’s anger. As I’ve said before, if we truly desire justice, change, and healing, it can only come when we end our desire to see the other person hurt. I honestly do forgive my attacker for his outburst of anger towards me. He was wronged and mistook me for the person who wronged him. I would imagine hearing someone you believe blockaded, occupied and damaged your home talking about fairness, justice and respect towards others would seem like an extremely hypocritical act.

I don’t harbor any ill-will towards my attacker. I’d rather forgive and move on and hope that he finds a better way to deal with emotions and sentiments he obviously hasn’t dealt with. There’s nothing to be gained by holding on to anger or letting that anger turn into prejudice.

In the weeks since the attack, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the evening’s events. I think about the conversations I had over dinner about wanting to find a better way to help Aboriginals live up to their potential. Unfortunately, I can see all too clearly that the road to achieving a better world for Canadian Aboriginals is one that is going to be littered with more incidents like what happened to me, and done by both sides.

I do dream of a day when I no longer feel the need to say “I shouldn’t have to feel like an immigrant in my own country”. I can’t accomplish that dream on my own and I am well aware that for all the positive steps taken towards eliminating prejudice and intolerance, there will always be those who, when confronted with the choice of self-education or racism, will choose racism because it’s the easy road.

I don’t know if my attacker is racist or just someone who reached their breaking point after having to go through a situation where there were many mistakes made by all sides involved. I’d prefer to believe that he just reached a breaking point and made a bad decision. I’d like to believe that in the weeks since that night he too has spent time contemplating a better way. I could be completely wrong but I want to believe in the best in people.

After all, you can’t truly hate someone you believe in; if they do let you down, you hope that one day they can do better.

I hope that better day comes soon.

“We begin with equality, that’s the origin isn’t it? That’s justice.” – Abraham Lincoln, “Lincoln”

I was asked to speak about myself at a business luncheon recently. I talked about about growing up with medical issues, about being being an Aboriginal adopted into a non-Aboriginal family, and about work I’ve done with at-risk youth. There was a question and answer period after my initial talk and one of the questions asked was “how can we make Hamilton (Ontario, where I live) a better place?”

I took a few moments to try to formulate an answer and I finally said “that’s a damn good question.” I told those present, many of whom have experienced a good degree of success in their lives, that there is no easy answer. I told them that it’s not enough to simply donate money to causes or build more infrastructure or even get involved in local community events. I said that the real starting point lies in becoming and remaining open-minded to seeing the qualities in those different from us. What did I mean by “different from us”? I meant that it’s far too easy to dismiss someone based on any criteria we choose.

We can dismiss someone on gender, age, race, sexual orientation, religious background, education level, clothing choices, music preferences, really the list is endless. I’m sure we’ve all had times in our lives where someone has based our worth and what we have to offer on something that really has no bearing on our ability to help out or achieve a specific goal. That there are differences between people should go without saying. We should embrace those differences because they mean the chance to expand our outlooks and social education.

As I answered the question of “how do we make Hamilton a better place” I realized that I myself am guilty of putting people into preconceived categories. I am ashamed to admit this but I can’t deny it either. And even though I know it’s not exactly in the spirit of community building, there are times when I’m walking through the downtown core of Hamilton that I can’t help but think I’ve somehow stumbled upon the world’s largest trailer park because of how run down the core has become. Unfortunately that run down feel has attracted more than it’s share of homeless, street youth and those who’ve otherwise seemingly given up on themselves.

I use the word “seemingly” on purpose because it can be too easy to dismiss someone based on a first impression or because they don’t measure up to some arbitrary standard. It can be too easy to look down on someone because they don’t share the same goals and ambitions that you do. We have to keep in mind that the things we want, the goals we set, are based on our specific life experiences. It’s not too far-fetched to believe that if you had a different set of experiences up until now, you would currently have a different set of goals and desires.

I see this as being true from my own life. As I mentioned before, I’m an Aboriginal who’s been adopted by a non-Aboriginal family, into a culture that is not my own. I’ve come to realize that if I hadn’t been adopted, many of the things that I hold dear, such as my circle of friends, my education, the hobbies and recreations I enjoy, would be vastly different. I do realize certain things would have most likely been the same, such as my love of reading and playing sports, but the difference between who I am and who I would have been if I hadn’t been adopted lies solely in the opportunities I’ve had. I can only imagine what opportunities life would have presented me if I hadn’t been adopted but when I do theorize, I come to see that the greatest difference has come from the impact my adopted parents have had.

The difference between my birth family and my adopted family is night and day. The family values are almost completely polar opposites of each other. I follow my adopted family’s value system but that doesn’t mean I look down on my birth family. I’ve realized growing up that things in my birth family’s history such as alcohol and drug addictions and the abuses of the Residential School system have taken their toll. My birth family works from the moral and social education they received from their experiences. If I had grown up with them instead of my adopted family, I would most likely have that same social outlook.

The reason I talked about this is to show the different paths that a single person can take, given the circumstances they find themselves in. More than most, I’ve seen with stark reality the road not taken and the potential for what I could have been like. Given that difference set of circumstances, those in my life who’ve affected me the most, that I’ve loved, that I’ve been mentored and influenced by, would have been replaced with a different set of people who in turn would have influenced me along different paths and choices.

When I think about the question I was asked at that business luncheon, “how can we make Hamilton a better place”, I realize there is no easy answer because in giving a definite “this is what we must do” answer, I force everyone and their experiences to now fit a specific set of rules and guidelines, and all it will cost someone is their individuality, heritage and social education up to that point.

So where do we start from? How can we make somewhere with so much diversity better? How do you build a stronger community as a whole while respecting the individual communities found therein? I believe the only place we can start from is understanding that each community we come across has innate value, just like each person we come across as innate value. If we’re willing to put aside our differences and embrace our similarities, amazing things can happen.

But is it enough? Looking past our differences is a good start, but it requires more than that. It requires love, and love in the purest form requires self-sacrifice, a letting go of our own desires so that a greater good can occur. It can even require us to see the value in those we consider an enemy.

This is where it can get uncomfortable for a lot of people, including myself. People have an innate need for justice when something bad happens to them. We yearn for the good to be restored and the bad to be punished. Unfortunately that need for restoration can give way to a need for vengeance, regardless of the guilt or innocence of those we think are responsible.

It’s too easy to look at some wrongdoing say “Aha! That is why this happened!”, while completely disregarding the underlying circumstances and evidence. I believe part of the need to blame, especially when it comes to events involving those different from us, is so that we can say “I’m not like that”. If the person is different enough, you can justify away that you and those you associate with couldn’t and wouldn’t break whatever social and moral rules have been broken. You can continue to believe that you live in a good and just society, and that when bad things happen, it’s because those responsible are not part of your society.

But society doesn’t work that way. In places of diverse cultural heritage, like Hamilton, society ceases to be comprised of a few specific cultural heritages and becomes a melting pot of many different ways of life. Unfortunately when this happens it can be too easy to claim that we no longer live in a good and just society because our values are no longer are own because they’re now made by everyone else. It’s an attitude I’ve seen expressed in many different forms since 9/11 and with immigration issues coming to the forefront in both the United States and Canada.

Here’s the thing though: the problem isn’t that we don’t live in a good and just society. The problem is that comparatively we do live in a good and just society, which means there is no excuse for those who are most at risk to be slipping through the cracks. It is only our choice not to do something, to say “someone else will handle it”, that allows injustices to continue.

Nelson Mandela once said “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones”. For those who are most at risk in our communities, whether they are the poor who’ve become the victim of economic forces beyond their control, or minorities who’ve been born here into less than the North American ideal, or immigrants from around the world who’ve come here believing they can find the freedom they can’t find at home, we need to keep in mind that they still have something to contribute, if only given the chance.

Looking at the choices my adopted parents made towards me, to choose to take into their lives a child that they didn’t have to, makes a profound statement to me. That statement is that each of us has the power to completely change the lives of others for the better if we so choose. My adopted parents could have said “someone else will take care of him”, and they wouldn’t have been wrong. Someone else would have come along, whether they be new foster parents or a provincially appointed social worker. But because they made the choice to take on the financial and, more importantly, the moral responsibility of taking me into their home and treating me as an equal, my life was set on a completely new path. To paraphrase Robert Frost, they took the path less traveled by and that has made all the difference.

So here’s the question I leave with you: how can you make where you are a better place? How can you make life better for those around you? It doesn’t have to be something huge and world-changing. It doesn’t have to be planned out. Maybe all that’s needed is simply stepping outside of a comfort zone and making a stranger feel welcome. Rarely do we change someone’s life because we’ve planned to.

Perhaps the best way I can sum every thought I have tried to present here is a quote by philosopher Albert Camus:

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”