“Trump on the Couch” Transcript

Guest: Dr. Justin Frank

(Listen to the audio on the episode page.)

Justin Frank: So when Trump talks about fake news, he means it, but he’s the one who gives fake news.

Betty Teng: Welcome to another episode of Mind of State. I’m Betty Teng.

Michael Epstein: And I’m Michael Epstein. And together, we are your hosts. Here at Mind of State, we don’t so much discuss the news as we psychoanalyze it by talking to some of the smartest, most interesting minds in the social sciences.

Betty: We like to say that we put Trump and Trumpism on the couch in order to make America sane again. It’s a daunting task, but we think we’re up to the challenge. Hi, Michael.

Michael: Hey, Betty. How are you?

Betty: I’m good. So today our guest is Dr Justin Frank, or Justy. Justy is a former clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University Medical Center and a physician with more than 30 years of experience in psychoanalysis. He has also been a contributor to Time Magazine, The Daily Beast, The HuffPost, and Salon, all fake news sites, Justy.

Justin: I know.

Betty: Justy is also–

Justin: Nobody’s perfect.

Betty: No, we all have our foibles. Justy is also a best selling author, most recently of Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. I have to say, as an analyst, the first time I read that title, I thought it was a Stephen King novel because honestly, I can’t imagine having Donald Trump as your patient. He’d be a nightmare, which is probably not entirely professional or nonpartisan of me to say, but what the hell. Anyway, welcome, Justy. Thanks for being here.

Justin: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Betty: So to begin, Justy, really what was it like to write this book and have to delve into the mind of Donald Trump?

Justin: Well, it was something I didn’t want to do, as I actually wrote in the introduction to the book. And I also couldn’t, like you, couldn’t imagine that he would ever be my patient because, A, he couldn’t stay on the couch. B, especially if he disagreed with something I said. C, he would be, if he weren’t on the couch, he’d be banging on the door outside my office to get in and this, and totally distracting and making demands, I mean, that’s who he is. He cannot contain–

Betty: And probably contacting you between sessions.

Justin: Right, so he does not. Yes. And he does not, if we even had a session, would he contact me? And he really doesn’t have the ability to contain anxiety, which is one of the important things developmentally that a little child learns to do. So he can’t hold it in, as it were. So he immediately has to express everything that makes him anxious. So I felt bombarded when I started doing this book.

Michael: Can I ask, why do it then?

Justin: Well, that’s a very good question. I felt that it was important. First, there’s a couple of reasons. One is, when I do these analyses of presidents, I feel that the public knows much more than they think they do. So we understand a lot more if we just pay attention. It’s pretty hard not to pay attention to Trump, but I mean, even paying attention to Obama or Bush, we knew a lot more than we thought. The second thing is to help people understand and think about the person that they’ve elected to be their president. I mean, even the guy who works at McDonald’s has more of an evaluation when he gets a job than the president does, really, in terms of any kind of evaluation. So I was very interested in doing that. And the third is that I just felt I had to. I don’t really know exactly why, except that he was so frightening and so scary. And he reminded me a lot, initially, of George Bush on steroids. I mean, he’s like George W. Bush, not very articulate, very much seeing the world in either or colors, black and white, very simplistic, you’re either with us or against us. And Donald Trump is very similar to that. And so I was interested in the similarities. And as I wrote at the end of the Bush book, I said that, you know, if we don’t deal with Bush directly, which Obama did not, if we don’t deal with Bush directly, we’re going to have in another few years, someone the same, only worse. And that’s what we’ve had.

Michael: I should interrupt by saying, or should note by saying, that you’ve done this now, this is the–

Justin: Third.

Michael: Third book you’ve written. You wrote Bush on the Couch, Obama on the Couch. Maybe you should write one for 2020 in a kind of, like, anticipatory thing, like a good luck charm, right.

Justin: Yeah. Who would you want to put on?

Michael: I don’t know. Anybody else on the couch.

Justin: Anybody but Trump on the couch.

Michael: That would be the title of my next–

Betty: Question mark on the couch. Next President of the United States. Justy, I want to ask you about that. You have the unique perspective of writing about three presidents, albeit in a theoretical way, on the couch. And you had talked about Obama having obsessive bipartisan disorder.

Justin: Yes.

Betty: And that if he had not directly dealt with the Russian interference that he knew about, that we might not have this situation with Trump today. Now, did you hold both presidents or all three presidents in your mind as you were going through your assessment of Trump?

Justin: I do hold them in my mind, but sort of in the back of my mind, in the back burner. Because when I’m with a patient, I’m really with that patient and I listen to them and each session is sort of a new, fresh session, although I remember things from previous sessions, but I’m really very much there. And with Trump, it was pretty easy for it to be fresh because every day was something new and disturbing. But I felt that I could, I didn’t need to hold them in mind particularly. So I didn’t do that. But I’m certainly aware of the degree of health and competence that, say, Obama had compared to Trump’s psychological health, but I also am very much aware of people’s flaws that everybody has them, including the analyst. When this one came out, I sent some advance copies to my kids and my son all of a sudden wrote on Instagram. I just received dad’s third book, Inside the Mind of Dr. Frank and Three Presidents.

Betty: Right, exactly.

Justin: So I think he got it.

Michael: But what was it about Obama that sort of froze him in your mind?

Justin: Well Obama was really frozen at a very early age. I mean, his parents separated, split, by the time he was two. So he came from a very broken family. He only saw his father one more time in his life, when he was 10. And the other thing is that it was a mixed race family. His mother was white, father was black. He was black, lighter than his father. But so there was this problem of trying to integrate different parts of himself, both racially and in terms of having an internal family, a parental couple living inside of his head. When parents get divorced very early in a person’s life, in a child’s life, they don’t have as much of an inner-containing couple where they can see that they have these parents who both love them and can help them manage their feelings. So Obama was always trying to bring things together, and he denied a separateness here, he denied–

Michael: America’s not really blue states and red states.

Justin: Right. And he really couldn’t stand that, and he also believes in the triumph of reason over passion. And sometimes that does triumph. And his mother made a great effort to keep his father alive in his mind. She played spirituals at home. She taught about the civil rights movement at home and lots of good things. But basically, he had to see that, he was like Anne Frank, sort of, you know, people are basically good at heart. And–

Michael: Sometimes they’re not.

Justin: It’s just not true. They are good at heart too, but they’re not only good at heart. None of us is.

Betty: And so in this experience of writing about Trump on the couch, do you read him differently as the news continues to express the person that you see and that you accurately describe, but inclusive of his history, inclusive of his motivations?

Justin: Well I read him differently because his psychological behavior and his pathology, his lying, his destructiveness, his contempt for others, his misogyny, his racism, and his abuse of language. I mean abuse, meaning misuse. He can’t spell. He can’t use any kind of complex sentence structures or complex adjectives or nouns or ideas. Those are all very serious issues. So I saw him as different from the other people. And it was very hard to focus on his past or on his childhood because he was so much in the present. And he reminded me of somebody who makes so much noise, like I was saying about a patient banging on the door. He makes so much noise that you can’t really stop and think. So it was very hard for me to step back and think, whereas Obama and Bush, and Bush actually did write his own memoir and then there were some other things written, and his mother, Barbara, wrote something about him, and there is lots of literature about him. And Obama had this incredible memoir and a lot written about him, so I, but not about Trump. So I didn’t, and, but I didn’t even want to get to it because I didn’t have the time.

Betty: He was so present tense.

Justin: He really makes it hard to think. He attacks. One of his main things that he does is he attacks thinking, he attacks your ability to think. So the listener is either fact checking or just aghast at something he says and–

Michael: Or exhausted.

Justin: Or exhausted. And that’s part of it. And you just give up and then, or people get very anxious because he makes people who listen to him extremely anxious.

Michael: One of the things you said to Betty and me before we got going was that you read some of his tweets, all of his tweets.

Justin: I read all of his tweets.

Betty: Yeah, what was that like?

Justin: Well, I would say it was pretty torturous.

Michael: How long did it take?

Justin: And it was, well I just would do them every day. I wouldn’t, like, read them. I didn’t get a book full of them. That would have really killed me.

Michael: But it’s a new Guantanamo thing, maybe.

Justin: Well, yeah. It was like if I was, I felt like I was a prisoner. I didn’t go out of the house. I mean, I was still seeing patients, so I was still working in the daytime and then reading all the stuff at night and on the weekends and writing. And it was really tiring.

Michael: How many tweets were there in the end? Did you know?

Justin: I wouldn’t count, but there were thousands, thousands.

Betty: But this experience of not being able to think and being bombarded and crowded. And I think we’ve been talking a lot about how the media and Trump’s collusion or working together is a bit of a perfect storm, especially with tweets. And this incessant flow of words from him, a lot of which don’t make sense or are not true. And the distraction that he provides. What was that?

Justin: It’s like a two year old. One of my three children would have ADD and he would try to wake me up when he was two, even when I was really sound asleep. And he would be relentless. He would just constantly, constantly wouldn’t allow any kind of thought or sleep or anything. And it was incessant. But he was two. And Trump is the president. But it’s a very similar process of the incessant, relentless machine gun-like quality that makes it very hard to think. The problem is that, because of my training, I was trained in a particular approach to psychoanalysis, which is called Klein, Melanie Klein, and part of that involves the idea of projection, which is the pot calling the kettle black. So when Bush, for instance, said I’m a uniter and not a divider, I would think he was a divider and not a uniter. Or–

Michael: But he knew that about himself and yet–

Justin: I don’t know, I think it was unconscious.

Michael: You think it was?

Justin: It was unconscious. And I think that projections only work when they’re unconscious. So when Trump talks about fake news, he means it. But he’s the one who gives fake news. So that’s an example of a projection. He’s attributing something to someone else. But trained that way, I was also very mindful of a thing I read from Mrs. Klein. I hadn’t thought about that in any interview until this second, but your questions are really good.

Michael: Almost as if Betty’s a trained analyst herself.

Betty: Go figure.

Justin: No, no. It’s totally great, because there is this apocryphal story, which is written down so maybe it’s not apocryphal, that when Melanie Klein had a supervisee, she, the supervisee, said to Mrs. Klein, my patient is projecting his confusion into me. And Mrs. Klein said, no dear, you are confused.

Betty: Right, right.

Justin: So I couldn’t, I’ve always wondered if how much is me being confused anyway or how much is Trump confusing me. And it’s very hard to tease those things apart.

Betty: Well, and I think this experience that many have where we’re all stirred up in a way that is different from being stirred up by other people in the news, there are a lot of provocative people in the media, leaders and personalities, but Trump stirs in a very particular way. And do you think that he is putting some of his internal bombardment and his internal lack of boundaries into us?

Justin: Yes, he’s putting his internal lack of boundaries into us. He’s making us not trust ourselves, which is a very important thing because we don’t always know what we’re doing with him and how to deal with him. And I think that there’s a really marvelous early paper written about the psychoanalysis of liars. And one of the things about that is that it turns out that lying is not something that develops later in life necessarily. It actually starts very early and it’s usually based on having been lied to by one’s parents.

Betty: So it’s a modeling, a picking up?

Justin: It’s a modeling. And so the liar is actually behaving like his parents, or her parents, and is also treating the people he’s lying to as if he were the confused, they were the confused, baby. So we become the confused people and he lies to us. And he lies to us so incessantly that he’s enraged with his own parents for lying to him in a variety of ways. And so he treats us in this way that is very destructive. And he evacuates, I think, a lot of his anxiety. This is the first president we’ve ever had, I mean, I wasn’t alive for James Buchanan or Warren Harding or any of those people, but basically–

Michael: Jackson was–

Justin: But he’s the first president who did not ever help us contain our anxieties. Every other president is there partly to help us be more sane, because we all, as citizens, have worries, fears. Ever since 9/11, there’s even more fears, but there have always been fears and worries about making a living, all kinds of things. And this is the first person who doesn’t, you know, contain anxieties. I mean, Roosevelt was the best, when he said, when he had those fireside chats, but–

Michael: Nothing to fear but fear itself.

Justin: Yeah. But basically, the second sentence, by the way, is the key in that speech when he defined fear, he said nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Betty: That’s striking.

Justin: And that’s what happens.

Michael: Can I read something from Justy’s book about lying?

Betty: Sure.

Michael: I wanted to, and now that we’re on it. So you just, you wrote in the book, “the pathological liar is driven by unconscious factors so powerful as to make it almost impossible not to lie. To the pathological liar, lying is an addiction and a perversion that unconsciously serves as a source of protection and power, defending against fears of rejection, blame, or loss while instilling a false sense of potency, control, and the ability to manipulate others.” Which is a lot of value for lying, a lot of bang for your buck. So–

Betty: A lot of motivation.

Michael: A lot of motivation. How, first of all, like, how can you be sure about all of those claims and like, what does lying do? Because, look, I’ll be honest, I lie.

Justin; Everybody lies.

Betty: Everybody lies.

Michael: Everybody lies, right?

Justin: Everybody lies, but people don’t lie compulsively the way he does. There are some who do. In fact, some people with learning disabilities lie more than others because they need to prove, triumph over the shame at having trouble reading or understanding material. So they act as if they know more. I mean, he’s an extreme version of that, saying I have the best brain and the biggest vocabulary, but everybody lies–

Michael: Very stable genius.

Justin: Very stable genius. But everybody lies to some extent. We all do. And then we talk about the difference between a white lie to protect yourself or not hurt somebody you care about, like the person you know gets a new hairdo and you don’t want to say, God that’s ugly.

Michael: Right, I like the dress.

Justin: So you just lie. And now is that evil? I don’t think so. So everybody does. But Trump lies to let everybody know as a way of mocking, unconsciously, his own parents. He’s letting everybody know what it’s like to be lied to. And I don’t think that’s conscious on his part. But I do think that he’s letting us all know how hard it is to live in a world of lies because we don’t know what to believe, we’re busy fact-checking and doing all these crazy things. And he probably had to do that as a little kid to make sure, his mother would say, I love you, but don’t touch me.

Michael: Well, in some ways, I look at it, I don’t know what you feel, Betty, but I look at it and I think lying is the ultimate expression of power, that when I, if I lie and I can get away, if I can be president and get away with it. And people can fact check me and it doesn’t matter. That lying is the final ultimate expression of power in our culture.

Justin: That’s right. And lying is an expression of power. It’s an expression, and the first lie that works is being able to lie to your mother and that she believes you. And once that happens, you realize that you have power and then–

Betty: And privacy.

Justin: And privacy against the most powerful person in your world, which the mother is, and that you also are alone in the world because nobody can read your mind.

Betty: So it’s the ultimate act of separation.

Justin: It is the ultimate act of separation, is being able to lie and get away with it. And Trump has done that forever. But he has to keep doing it because it’s not satisfying enough. He doesn’t feel separate enough and he’s too angry at his parents to stop. And by now, you know, we talk about nature, and lying for him is second nature. And we, sometimes as analysts think about the word second, that it’s not original. But we have to remember that the term also includes nature. It is natural for him to lie, even if it is second nature. It does not matter whether it’s first or second nature, as far as I’m concerned.

Betty: And when I think about lying, it’s also something, as we were talking about, it’s a separation from the mother. It’s an individual act of individuality, but it’s also possibly isolating.

Justin: Yes.

Betty: And this is a man who lies and lies and lies and there’s no authenticity. So that, where is his true self?

Justin: I don’t know what his true self is, but I do know that the problem with lying and the need to separate is that he’s never been able to fully separate. If you look at pictures of his mother when she was in her 60s and look at him, they have the same hair, same hairdo. It’s really quite shocking. If you look and compare those pictures. People wrote about that when he was first elected. And I’ve seen lots of pictures of it. It’s really–

Michael: And separation is a necessary healthy thing.

Justin: It’s a necessary healthy thing, but it’s also a frightening thing, as you were saying, as Betty was saying. But it also has to be relative. In other words, you can be dependent and need other people, but it’s an interdependence. He doesn’t understand interdependence because interdependence means that he can’t think on his own. So the reason he can’t work with treaties, he wants to get rid of treaties and get rid of all agreements, is because an agreement means giving up part of himself, which is the main reason why he’s actually a bad deal maker, because he never gives up anything, because giving up something is a sign of weakness. And that he is, he clings to his lying. He clings to being separate.

Michael: It is the thing that defines him.

Justin: He clings to power and it defines him.

Michael: It defines him.

Justin: And at the end of that chapter, I also said that he used to lie, for what you’re saying, for power. He used to lie to convince people he was a good businessman or he was richer than he was. But now I think he’s lying in order to survive. And that’s what’s very scary.

Michael: And how is that different?

Justin: Well, it’s more desperate. So as Mueller gets closer, see, I think unconsciously, Mueller represents Trump’s father in some ways because Trump’s father was the only person who really understood Trump. And he ended up having to send him to military school, which meant that the father said to himself, I’m assuming, I can’t cope. We can’t deal with him. It’s, we have to–

Betty: He’s uncontainable.

Justin: He’s uncontainable. We have to send him to military school and really–

Michael: And maybe they can do something.

Justin: Yes. And he did try to contain him. I mean, he sent him to this private school before and he went on to the board of trustees, Fred Trump, the father, on the board of trustees of that school to help Donald’s behavior and work with the teachers and the faculty. He was very devoted in that way. Nothing, he couldn’t do anything. He was in detention every day.

Michael: Can I ask you also, then what does all of that lying do to those people closest to the liar? We’ll talk for a second about what it does to us, you know, maybe a couple of rings out, but I think about somebody like Kellyanne Conway and her assertion, which we all rightly mock, that’s an alternative fact.

Justin: What it does to the people close is that they have to, when they love and they need the liar, there’s a part of them that doesn’t believe he’s lying. There’s a disbelief in Kellyanne Conway. So she makes a split and it’s the kind of split that, I guess it was Tim Robbins, he wrote a play about the Bush people in Iraq called Embedded. And at one point, one of the reporters is talking about Bush and she says, I know he’s a liar, but I trust him.

Betty: So it’s the need to believe.

Justin: It’s the need to believe. And the problem is that the media now, the people who oppose Trump, who are concerned about him, and I don’t mean just, you know, psychoanalysts and therapists. I mean people who are in the media, people in politics that are doing fact checking all the time. There’s no point in doing fact checking. It’s a waste of time because he’s always lying. And what happens when you fact check is, it means that you can’t believe he’s lying. At some deep level, you’re shocked still. Why would you, otherwise, why would you fact check? Who cares? That’s who he is. We have to let go of that fantasy.

Michael: Or you fact check because you think that the intention is, somewhere, to tell the truth. Right, I’m going to write an article for a magazine and the fact checker is going to come in to make sure I got it right, which is to say, my intention is to tell the truth.

Justin: But after a while, when you see that he has no intention to tell the truth–

Michael: Right, that’s what you’re saying.

Justin: –the fact checkers, I think the people who are opposing Trump and concerned about him, have to give up trying to prove him a liar. It just doesn’t work. You can’t argue with a person who’s a liar.

Betty: And yet, don’t you think that that’s a bit of a normalization, a malignant normality?

Michael: I was just going to say that.

Betty: Meaning that if we just accept that he’s not telling the truth all the time, what do we do with what he says?

Michael: Or how do we know what the truth is? How do we keep our own–

Betty: How do we ground ourselves in reality?

Michael: Where’s our own north star?

Justin: Well we can’t ground it based on what he says. I mean, the one thing, I’ve grounded some of the things about Trump, is that many of the things that he says, one can see the truth when we look in terms of projection. So when he talks about fake news, he’s talking about himself giving fake news. When he says things like that, he is talking about himself, but, or talks about low energy Jeb Bush, he’s talking about himself because he has low energy in terms of he doesn’t ever want to look at any kind of briefings or any–

Michael: Intellectual stamina.

Justin: I mean, he has low, very low energy.

Betty: So this is another way that we can look at what he’s saying. We can read him in a different way.

Justin: Yes, but that’s very important. We can read him in a different way and we know how to do that. After a while, we can really understand that when we see that fake news is really about him.

Michael: But isn’t fake news also, doesn’t it, or I don’t want to say fake news, news, the press, journalists. Don’t they represent a, kind of, a threat, a threat to the kind of–

Betty: To his reality.

Michael: –yes, this, maybe, the fabricated world?

Justin: Yes, they represent reality to him. And that’s something he cannot stand. He cannot accept the limitations of reality, which is why he’s against regulations. The reason he’s against regulations has little to do with business or corporations. It has to do with reality, that he hates the reality that you have to take other people into consideration, that you can’t just grab something out of their hand or grab something under their dress or whatever it is. You can’t just do what you want to do. He can’t stand that. And that’s the way he always has been. And it’s a very disturbing impulse problem that you see, a lot of times, in young children, to some extent, but they grow out of it or their parents set limits or there’s a way they can turn it into fantasy. He doesn’t turn it into fantasy. If he thinks it, he does it. It’s one thing to have a thought about wanting to do something.

Betty: One thing that, Justy, you’re pointing out is this ambivalence about boundaries and limits. And yet here we are with this campaign promise of a wall, and that is a concretization of a big limit. That he–

Justin: Literally concrete.

Betty: Literally concrete, a big, beautiful, concrete wall.

Justin: A concrete concretization.

Betty: Yes. And so what is this wall in a man who doesn’t have any limits, is unbounded, is uncontained from when he was young.

Justin: There’s several ways to cope with being uncontained. One of them, which we’re talking about in certain ways, is to project disturbing elements outside yourself and put them into someone else. So like you suddenly become afraid of a parent or afraid of the dark or afraid of monsters, you know, have night terrors as a two year old. The wall is an inner wall and it’s a wall to keep out danger and terror that is originally projected by him. So he has to see himself as a good, powerful, strong boy, strong man. And everything that is potentially hurtful or destructive comes from outside.

Michael: Is on the other side of the wall.

Justin: Is on the other side of the wall. So whether it’s Mexicans, Muslims, his mother, his father, or most probably projected parts of his own destructive aspects of himself so–

Betty: That he can’t acknowledge.

Justin: He can’t acknowledge. So he will desperately cling to the wall because he doesn’t have a choice. So there’s no point in negotiating about the wall with him. We have to find some way of dealing with him. But the fact is that he is emotionally disabled. He has a disability. And the disability is an inability to integrate different parts of himself. It’s a refusal to look at himself. It’s a refusal to integrate. So he desperately needs the wall and the wall is a block. It’s not like a wall that some people talk about as a, what’s called a contact barrier between disturbing fantasies that get modified in your head and turned into something different or a new thought or a new idea. I mean, that’s what you do in therapy a lot of times. You help a person face things about themselves or think about things and they find ways to convert them and move them into something new. He is too afraid of that and he builds a wall against it. There’s nothing porous–

Michael: There’s no self reflection.

Justin: There’s no self reflection.

Betty: And there’s no ability to make metaphors.

Justin: There’s no ability to make metaphors.

Betty: And this is where Kelly and his, Kelly and, we’re talking about this is a metaphor, Lindsey Graham, right.

Justin: Lindsay Graham. But he can make metaphors. Trump cannot make a metaphor. The other people who watch him see it as a metaphor, because in a certain sense, they’re right. It’s a symbol of his inner world. But it’s not a metaphor in the way we think of metaphors, but it is actually a direct reflection of what his world is like. He has a very rigid wall that he has got to protect himself from.

Michael: So what’s the end game? We’re, just to give you some context, we’re, I don’t know, day 300 into the shutdown. No, we’re about three weeks in. I think tomorrow–

Justin: Tomorrow’s going to be the record.

Michael: Tomorrow is the record. So we’re recording this on January 11th. What is–

Justin: If I was God.

Michael: If you were a fortune teller down in the East Village–

Betty: Talk about omnipotence.

Michael: –instead of a psychoanalyst, what would your prediction be?

Justin: My prediction is that people have to accept that Trump is never going to stop. So my prediction is people have to find a way to go around the wall, which means what Congress is trying to do now by trying to reopen the government with various bills for various agencies, that’s the only way to do it. He’s never going to stop.

Michael: So it’s patchwork government for two more years?

Justin: I think he has to be sent away quickly because he’s going to make–

Michael: Well let’s assume that’s not going to happen.

Justin: Well then it’s patchwork government for two more years.

Betty: So do–

Michael: Do you think emergency, do you think he’ll declare a national emergency?

Justin: I don’t see why he wouldn’t. The point, what’s important about it is not predicting, because I couldn’t predict. But what is important is that he predicts, as part of his narcissism and part of what you were talking about, lying and the power of lying. Lying confers a sense of power, like you’re saying, and grandiosity. But one of the things I was struck by is that there was this psychoanalyst in 1913, that’s 100 plus years ago, who wrote about something that he called the God Complex. And he said that people unconsciously think that they’re God and it has specific characteristics. And Trump has a lot of them. One is that they can predict the future. They can tell you this is going to happen. I’m going to do it again. They are very secret about their facts and their private life. They’re extremely paranoid and want to know every detail of what everybody else is doing and the smallest slight upsets them. And he put this whole constellation as the God Complex. And the problem with that is that it’s a wish to be in charge of everything.

Betty: And there’s no negotiating with God.

Justin: There’s no negotiating with God. So when he says, we’ll see, which he does a lot–

Michael: Well in some fashions–

Justin: –that’s what Gods say. God says we’ll see. People with a God complex say we’ll see.

Michael: Can I play one thing? So this was, again we’re recording on the 11th, this was–

Justin: The 10th.

Michael: This was the 10th. Trump had gone down to the border and this was, for some people, fact checkers, as you were saying, like a new level of mendacity. Which, I know, is shocking at this point. So I’m going to play this. I don’t know how long we’ll stick with it, but long enough for you to get a sense, because you’re saying you didn’t listen to the news last night, right?

Justin: Right.


Donald Trump: This morning, a number of people came out and said, you do need very strong border security. That includes a wall or whatever it is. A number of Democrats said that, but people don’t like to report on it. We have tremendous unity in the Republican Party. It’s really a beautiful thing to see. I don’t think there’ll be any break away because they know we need border security and we have to have it. And the only way you’re going to have border security, there’s only one way. You can have all the technology in the world, I’m a professional at technology, but if you don’t have a steel barrier or a wall of some kind, strong, powerful, you’re going to have human trafficking. You’re going to have drugs pouring across the border. You’re going to have MS13 and the gangs coming in. And we’ve done record apprehensions. We’re doing a great job. But we need help. If we have the wall, we could have far fewer people working, in terms of border security, and doing an even better job. So if we had the wall, we could have a tremendous saving. I feel, I really believe the, the steel barrier or wall would pay for itself every three or four months and maybe even better than that in terms of overall. So that’s it. Just a couple of things, Chris. I know the fake news likes to say it. When during the campaign, I would say Mexico’s going to pay for it. Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check. I said they’re going to pay for it. They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made called the United States, Mexico, and Canada, USMCA deal. It’s a trade deal. It has to be approved by Congress. It probably will be, other than maybe they even hold that up because they want to have, you know, they want to do as much harm as they can, only because of the 2020 presidential election. So Mexico is paying for the war indirectly. And when I said Mexico will pay for the wall in front of thousands and thousands of people, obviously, they’re not going to write a check, but they are paying for the wall indirectly, many, many times over by the really great trade deal–

Michael: So we’ll cut that in, Caroline. But basically, Trump yesterday stood up in front of everybody and said when I, I never said during the campaign, or I never meant during the campaign, never said that Mexico was going to pay for the wall.

Justin: Right. Which is not true. He did say it.

Michael: Okay, so but–

Betty: And I’m experiencing that confusion that we were talking about before.

Michael: Right. So let’s talk about this moment for just a second, if you can.

Justin: Well, I can’t talk about it for just a second, but I could talk about it for about an hour or two. First of all, one of the things about liars, one of the techniques used by liars, is that they shift the meaning of the things they say. And that’s a very classic thing that liars do. They say, well, you think I meant this, but actually that’s not what I meant. So it’s a way of denying that they’re lying and shifting the meaning. It’s a very, so Trump–

Michael: So when I stood up and said Mexico’s going to pay for the wall–

Justin: That’s what he, what he meant was this, which is not true at the time, but now it is because Mexico refused to pay for the wall.

Betty: Well, in the world of trauma therapy, we call that gaslighting. So he’s gaslighting us.

Justin: Yes, he was gaslighting us, but he’s gaslighting himself. That’s the thing that’s so striking.

Betty: Okay, so say more about that.

Justin: When he, one of the things that happens, there’s a lot of different parts of this, when you lie over time, it also means that you’re not interested in pursuing the truth. You don’t want to find out what’s real. When you don’t want to find out what’s real, when you’re having, what we’re doing now is we’re having a quest, the three of us, to understand more than we do before we started our conversation, right. So that’s our effort. When we stop making that effort in our lives, our mind starts to wither and die, because the quest for truth is, to the mind, like food is to the body. If you don’t have it, your psyche will starve. And that is what has happened to Trump. We are seeing a person who has not had a quest for truth, and that’s why he can’t think. He doesn’t know things.

Michael: And his psyche is starved.

Justin: And his psyche has starved. Yes. His psyche is really a tiny little–

Betty: And is that what causes him to bombard us?

Justin: Yes.

Betty: To cry out and constantly gain attention, because it’s never enough.

Justin: Absolutely.

Michael: It’s like that old joke, right. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb really has to want to change.

Justin: Exactly. Where Trump is not, but that’s Trump. Trump is blamed, that’s a psychiatrist who blames the light bulb. And I think that, you know, that’s like saying, oh it’s, the only reason my patient didn’t get better is because they didn’t want to get better. Well that’s not a really competent way of approaching life and work, you know.

Betty: Bit of a projection on its own.

Justin: No kidding. And I think Trump is a pro at that. And so that’s one thing about the lying. But the second thing or third or fourth, whatever we want to call it, is that because he doesn’t pursue truth and doesn’t face truth, he lives in what’s called, what we’d call, segmental reality. He lives in a digital world and not an analog world. So he does not see the arc of a second hand going around the watch you’re wearing. He sees the dates just flipping over, this now, it’s this now, it’s this now, it’s this. So he actually doesn’t always remember things that he says, because, and the only way where there is a memory for it is that we have it on videotape and we have–

Michael: Or on Twitter.

Justin: –memories or on Twitter or whatever. But people like that, and everybody is like that before they’re eight months old, all babies are like that because they don’t have words.

Michael: Right. You actually write in your book, you know, that Trump is “completely in the present tense.”

Justin: Yes.

Michael: “He’s a digital thinker, not analog, functioning like a digital watch rather than one with a 12 hour face and a sweeping second hand”–

Justin: Yes.

Michael: –“that links events in the arc of time.”

Justin: That’s exactly it. And to link events, you have to face your own need to mourn, your own need to deal with loss, sorry. Your own need to realize that you’re part of a big picture. Everything doesn’t emanate from you. When everything is digital, you are the center and you’re the only one. So like when a baby cries and you look at your baby who’s crying, for those who have had babies cry, it’s like they’ve never been happy. They’re just miserable. And then when they’re happy, it’s like they’ve never cried. And they really act like that.

Michael: And that’s how Trump experiences the world.

Justin: And that’s how Trump experiences the world.

Betty: There’s no continuous reality.

Justin: There’s no continuous reality.

Michael: There’s no, so what happens then, either one of you, from a lay question here. What happens if there is no past and there is no future? What happens?

Justin: Everything is the present.

Betty: And it’s pretty terrifying. It’s terrifying. Just like with the baby, you know, if you’re in this terrifying moment of crying and you’re hungry, you don’t think it’s going to end.

Justin: That’s right. Yes, that’s a great point. That’s like the trauma theory. When you’re in the middle of something horrible, there’s no past or future.

Betty; And you have to recruit your capacity to draw from the past or know that you survived something before.

Michael: Or imagine a better future or a different–

Justin: Or something, you can draw from something outside of your own experience and into your head and into your imagination or into something that you know about.

Betty: And I think what’s so traumatogenic about Trump, or what’s so upsetting about him, is this lack of truth, because there’s nothing you’re spinning. If there’s no reality and there’s no truth, it’s just what happens day to day to day to day. It’s like Groundhog Day every day. We’re redoing it. We’re redoing it. There’s no, if there’s no continuity, there’s no thing to reference. There’s no reference point.

Justin: What this points out, though, is a couple of things. One is that, unconsciously, the three of us, and many more of us, have always believed in continuity and part of that’s because of our own psychological growth and who we are. But part of it is also a belief, rather than that continuity is necessarily a fact. It is still a belief. And what I think that we have thought about, and so many people talk about, the institutions of government, the institutions of this are going to protect us, the institutions of this. That’s a fantasy about continuity and it’s a fantasy that you can expect certain things. I wrote not, in this book, maybe I did, I don’t remember where it is, but I wrote a while ago that it takes much longer to build a building than to blow it up. And we built a lot of buildings in this country and great things and lots of laws and lots of growth and lots of struggles from the Civil War to depressions to World War One and Two. Lots of different traumas.

Michael: Slavery.

Justin: Slavery and all of that. And so those are things that over time have been forged and built. But he can knock off the Supreme Court with a boom like that or knock off Congress, boom. We don’t think that’s true, but I think it is true. And that’s what’s the most scary thing and that’s why people, it’s important to understand him. But at the same time, it’s also important to know that at some point understanding has to give way to action because it’s not going to change anything.

Michael; Well, you know, it’s interesting you say that because I actually disagree in the first two years, but I’m looking forward now with the wall and the notion that he’s going to, if he does declare a state of emergency, that’s the first real break that I would see with a constitutional norm. I mean–

Justin: He’s had a lot of breaks with it.

Michael: Sure. But, you know, one way or–

Betty: The travel ban.

Michael: Well, yeah, but the travel ban ends up going through the court system–

Justin: Emoluments. What about emoluments and getting all that money from Trump hotels? You saw that from the get go.

Michael: Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, but if you take the travel ban, it goes through the court system and the courts are the ones that make the final decision in the Supreme Court, whether you agree or disagree with that decision, it at least made it. Here is one where I feel like you’re starting a precedent, if he does declare a state of emergency, that becomes like the crack in the foundation of the republic.

Justin: Yes, because it means anything can become a state of emergency.

Michael: Correct.

Justin: Now, the original idea about that had to do with Watergate and Nixon and resignation and all of those things. I mean, because it was, I think, in 76 when that law was passed. I have one thing I want to read, which is written in 1941 before any of us was born. And it’s about Donald Trump without using his name. So I’ll read it as if it’s about Donald Trump.

Michael: Do you want to tell us who wrote it?

Justin: Yes, Budd Schulberg and it’s called What Makes Sammy Run?. It’s a novel and it’s highly worth reading. This is what, this guy’s talking about Sammy. “He was the smartest and stupidest human being I had ever met. He had a quick intelligence which he was able to use exclusively for the good and welfare of Donald Trump. And that kind of intelligence implies stupidity. Where other people might have one blind spot, Trump’s mind was a mass of blind spots with only a single ray of light focused immediately ahead.”

Michael: Yeah.

Justin: That’s Sammy Glick. That’s Donald Trump.

Betty; That’s striking.

Michael: The media, for both of you, Justy, Betty, since Trump has sort of appeared on the national stage and certainly since he became president, commentators, presenters, journalists of all stripes have now sort of bled into your professional space. And they offer analysis and diagnosis. We now have, at the tip of our tongues, words like narcissist and pathological and all of these things.

Justin: Projection.

Michael: Projection, a lot of words. What did they get right? What did they get wrong? How are they wrong in talking about it? Where is the danger in talking about Trump like this? We’re doing it. How do you guys feel about the way the media has started to talk about Trump? They’re, I think in some part, I ask this because they’re at a loss. They don’t know what to do and how to talk about it, so they’re turning to folks like you.

Justin: No, they’re not, though. They’re turning into folks like me.

Michael: Okay.

Betty: And I don’t think they’re turning enough to folks like us.

Justin: They don’t turn enough to us. I’ve never been on those programs. I was on a program with Ari Melber for a minute and a half. I said something that blew his mind. He looked, gasped, when I said it.

Michael: What did you say?

Justin: I said that I thought unconsciously Mueller was Trump’s father. He looked like huh.

Michael: You can’t say that on television.

Justin: He’d never thought of it. And that was it. I was never invited back. That’s a year ago. And I said, well I’ll invite you back after the book. I said, okay. Now the book is out.

Betty: Do you think it was because it was just too shocking or do you think that it was too complex?

Justin: I think it’s, no, I think it’s the first. It’s too shocking. But also I think that people who are interviewers are much more comfortable having other pundits, who are not therapists–

Michael: Say he’s a narcissist.

Justin: –make generalizations, because if you’re a person who’s a pundit and you have somebody like us on, they’ll be afraid that we’re going to analyze them.

Betty: Right, right.

Justin: And they become self-conscious. It’s like, oh you’re a psychiatrist, I guess I can’t talk to you now.

Michael: That’s my big fear.

Justin: I know everybody’s afraid. Well I thought my analyst said I was the best–

Michael: Is this free therapy for me? You know, it is like, as you were saying, it’s like the seven words, George Carlin, seven words you can’t say on network television. They’d be like the seven diagnoses you can’t make on national television now, right.

Justin: But you can’t make them. You could, anybody could make them except Betty or me. We can’t make them.

Michael: So what are they getting wrong?

Justin: We’re not allowed to make them.

Michael: Why and what did they get wrong?

Justin: I don’t mean to be paranoid like Trump. The media is against me.

Betty: Well, I think it’s, they’re superficial analyses because they’re, it’s not coming from a body of study or time spent in clinical work. And so the words are bandied about, as we’ve said, and they’re not used from the inside. They’re used in terms of the way, if I were to talk about being a cardiologist, I could use a lot of terms and maybe generally understand what I’m talking about, that I’m talking to the heart and the valves and the aorta. But I really don’t know exactly the ins and outs of the way the heart works.

Justin: And that’s, I think, very key. I think that Bandy Lee, speaking of being bandied about, the psychiatrist from Yale who was opposed to having anybody do what I did. And then I sent her my book and she said this is brilliant. And I don’t mean that it’s brilliant as much as, well though it may be, it’s something that is about a lot of work as in-depth and not shooting from the hip. And it’s not like the media. So when I’m asked to give an opinion about Bernie Sanders or about anybody politically, I don’t, because I’m only interested in analysis. I mean, I could give an opinion, but I don’t want to use my expertise that way because I have to really get to know the person.

Betty: And really do the in-depth–

Justin: And do the in-depth work.

Betty; And one more thing, Justy, that you mentioned in the book that struck me was that Trump’s psychology and psyche being exposed for all of us to see, in all of his words and in the media and in his own tweets, is also fodder for Russian intelligence. And that a traditional method of Russian intelligence is to use the tools of psychoanalysis. And that you posit that they have, that they have cited him as somebody very malleable. And so if they are using these tools, should we not do so in the civic discourse?

Michael: And how are they using these tools?

Betty: Exactly.

Justin: Should we not use them when we talk, you mean us? Yes. I think we should, about ourselves though, and about, maybe about them, but we should use the same things.

Betty: Right. We should reflect, use these tools. But if they’re using them to purportedly manipulate our electoral system, then we should also understand more about such tools. If they’re being used to manipulate our society.

Justin: Now, I have to say, though, that the CIA does use these tools and we have manipulated societies like in Chile and other places–

Michael: Iran.

Justin: And Iran and we’ve overthrown governments by doing all kinds of false information and false flag operation. So Russia’s not different, really. It’s just that Trump is such an open target and an easy one to read. It’s not, so I don’t think Russia is doing anything different from what we’re doing. And that’s not a false equivalence. I think it is an equivalence, but I think the danger is to just blame Russia for doing it, A, and B to really say, wait a minute, let’s talk about Trump and what we’re dealing with–

Betty: And in civic discourse, if these are being used by intelligence, our own and foreign intelligence agencies, then we, as citizens, ought to understand what’s happening. What tools are being used to control or manipulate us or other–

Justin: Some of my students are now psychoanalysts at the CIA. Some of my former students.

Michael: So if I can, then as we sort of start to wrap up, we’re going to run out of time in a little bit. Then how do you, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about Trump as if it’s an open book, as it were, and it’s so obvious. Where do you think the appeal comes and how do we–

Justin: Oh my God.

Michael: Yeah, I know. Maybe we’ll have you come back. But seriously, you know, it seems self-evident to you. And yet it is somebody who has enormous power and enormous hold on a lot of people who we don’t want to belittle.

Justin: He’s like a person who, instead of when a child has night terrors, he doesn’t come in the room and gives a child the flashlight. He turns on the lights. I’m going to save you. A healthy parent will give the child the flashlight to scare the goblins away. You can do it yourself and I’ll help you, as opposed to I’m going to turn on the lights. Not only does he do that, he scares the kids in the first place. And then he comes in and turns on the lights.

Michael: He’s the goblin in the first place.

Justin: So that’s the first thing. So it’s all, he’s the start, he’s the alpha and the omega of night terrors. Then the second thing about it is that every single person, even the three of us, have had some experiences with rejection when we were little, either parents going out, different things, whatever it is, some worse than others. But some of it is about narcissistic rejection. When you want to say something to your parent and they’re not listening or when you want to do something and they’re not listening. Trump is a victim of that, I will say, and he taps into that in so many people. So his base is, very much talks about the Washington elites who don’t pay attention or are blind, who are indifferent. And that’s because he had indifferent parents, in a way, and I think that he can tap into that in a way that’s very powerful. And I think that it’s important not to underestimate his power and connection, that he is like a Franklin Roosevelt of the right, in terms of, able to tap into things.

Michael: And speak specifically–

Justin: Speak to them, and then he can blame other people.

Michael: And speak to their insecurities and give them a sense of–

Justin: That he’ll help them.

Betty: And yet there’s a nonporousness to him where he cannot take in overtures or dialogue.

Justin: No, because that would be, that’s seen as weakness. I think that taking in anything, it’s going to immediately come against his inner wall. I think his inner wall is actually expanding over time and blocks out even things that are close to the surface from him.

Michael: So in the end, do you have hope for the republic?

Justin: Yeah, I have hope that we can accept the fact that we can’t deal with a psychopath who is this relentless. You can’t out-argue them. You can’t defeat them. You have to either impeach them or vote them out.

Betty: Right.

Michael: All right. On that note–

Justin: On that happy note.

Betty: On that happy note.

Michael: Yeah, on that happy note. Well, or you have to have a podcast.

Justin: Well, you have to have a lot of podcasts. Because you can’t even out-tweet him.

Betty: Right.

Michael: Well, you know, the thing about it is– Betty: It’s true. It’s actually true. He has endless energy.

Justin: You can’t. You’d have to quit everything you’re doing.

Michael: Well, but the thing is–

Betty: You’d have to have endless energy.

Michael: The real answer to all of this is to not read the tweets, is to ignore them. I mean, that, you know, that really is. I mean–

Betty: That’s actually what I tell my patients.

Michael: All the press, all the complaining, all the bitching.

Justin: But you were saying the opposite about a half an hour ago. You were saying, both of you were saying, well then how how do we know what’s going on in the world? How would we know what’s true?

Michael: I just, you don’t have to follow him.

Justin: It’s a problem.

Betty: I mean, I do tell, I think we have to titrate our own exposure in order to keep our own minds.

Michael: I also think it’s part of the media. I mean, like, why is it that there’s a breaking news every morning about what he’s tweeted? Who, at the end of the day–

Betty: Because he draws attention and therefore money.

Michael: Why does it matter? And money.

Justin: Oh, yeah.

Betty: Well, we’ve reached the end of the session. Mind of State is a production of Mind of State Media LLC and Hangar Studios NYC. Our crackerjack producer is Caroline Kwash. Our engineer is Rick Serbini. Mind of State’s original music is composed by Joel Goodman, courtesy of Oovra Music. I’m Betty Teng.

Michael: And I’m Michael Epstein. You can connect with us on Twitter at Mind of State Media, on our Facebook page, and on our website, MindofState.com. You can also subscribe to our show on the iTunes store or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.

(Listen to the audio on the episode page.)