Trump’s Desperate Quest for Love
U.S. President Donald J. Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have had what seems to be a very bizarre relationship. In 2017 they vilified one another in the strongest terms, calling each other mad, idiot, “little rocket man” and “crazy old man”. In mid-2018 they had a summit meeting in Singapore at which they became bosom friends. In late September 2018, at an election rally before the mid-term elections, the autocratic Trump, who had repeatedly incited to violence against his opponents, said of the violent tyrant Kim, who had brutally murdered many of his countrymen, “He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. We fell in love.” (see https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/09/30/trump-north-koreas-kim-love-beautiful-letters/1478834002/).
Kim’s beautiful letters had gratified Trump’s narcissism. Five months later, after their second summit meeting had fallen though, Trump still described Kim as “quite a guy and quite a character and very strong.” In a talk with Sean Hannity of Fox News Trump said, “He’s a character. He’s a real personality. And he’s very smart. He’s sharp as can be. He’s a real leader. He’s pretty mercurial. He likes me, I like him.” (see https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-news-trump-hannity-interview-vietnam-20190228-story.html).
Trump and Kim seem very different from one another, yet, psychologically, they are very much alike. Both of them are malignant narcissists (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malignant_narcissism) who have little or no empathy for anybody else’s feelings. Each of them unconsciously sees himself in the other as in a mirror, just like the mythical Narcissus in ancient Greek myth, who falls in love with his own image in the water, thinking that it is another person. Both Trump and Kim love to fire: they fire “tweets,” people, missiles, threats, insults, bullets, rockets, anything. Kim has even been known to burn people alive with flamethrowers. (see https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/8512970/kim-jong-un-burnt-north-korea-officials-defector-claims/
Shame and Humiliation
Like Kim, Trump dreads the unbearable feelings of shame and humiliation, and has a compulsive need to shame and humiliate his opponents. The obverse of this psychological coin is his own terror of being humiliated himself. In his White House speech of June 1, 2017, announcing his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords of 2015, Trump said, “They won’t be laughing at us any more, believe me.” Being laughed at, shamed, or humiliated is his deepest fear. His destructive decision was self-destructive as well. CEOs of major U.S. corporations withdrew from his business advisory council, other business leaders and billionaires attacked him for putting our children’s future at risk, and he alienated most of the world’s other leaders. (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/paris-agreement-withdrawal-bob-iger-disney-ceo-donald-trump-elon-musk-advisory-council-tech-climate-a7768346.html).
The Trump-Kim “love affair” had been preceded by a “hate affair,” fueled by unconscious splitting (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splitting_(psychology)) and projective identification (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projective_identification) on both sides, in which each of them had seen the Devil in the other. Neither Trump nor Kim can tolerate any public threat or insult, which both experience as personal shaming and humiliation, nor any expression of superiority by someone else, which makes each of them feel powerless. They see one another as in a mirror: each sees the evil in the other, but not in himself. This psychological situation makes for the most dangerous pair of political leaders today, and perhaps ever, if they cause a nuclear war to break out that could wipe out our species.
Due to their massive unconscious splitting, both Trump and Kim see their world in black and white. Other people to them are either good (allies) or bad (enemies). There is nothing in between. Hate can easily turn into love, and vice versa, if the other person is no longer perceived as the ally or enemy he or she had been.
Fire and Fury
On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, the anniversary of the dropping of the U.S. nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, as the tension between Trump and Kim reached its peak, Trump told U.S. reporters, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the U.S. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen […] he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” Trump has repeated this threat several times since. Trump was threatening North Korea with nuclear bombing.
Trump’s inflammatory comments were sharply criticized by many U.S. politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, yet three days later, on Friday, August 11, in the wee hours of the morning, a sleepless Trump tweeted, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” When Trump spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017, he had threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea (see https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/19/donald-trump-threatens-totally-destroy-north-korea-un-speech).
Twinship and Mirror Transferences
Why did Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un make all these terrible threats, which were likely to provoke a Third World War and destroy our entire species? And why did they become such close friends later?
The psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut (1913-1981) coined the term “twinship transference” to describe a psychotherapeutic situation in which the patient experiences the therapist as very similar to himself or herself, thereby sustaining the patient’s sense of self-worth (see https://dictionary.apa.org/twinship-transference). This occurs in everyday life as well, and certainly between Trump and Kim.
There is also the “mirror transference” by which Trump and Kim have seen madness in one another, as if in a mirror (see https://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mirror-transference). Kim Jong-un, the North Korean despot, had called Donald Trump “mad,” and Trump had called him a “crazy rocket man.” While Kim had threatened a military attack on “the waters near Guam,”the U.S. military base in the Pacific Ocean, Trump was threatening a massive military attack, if not a nuclear one, on a nuclear-armed state equipped with super-sophisticated long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles built by Russian and Chinese experts, whose leader had threatened to bomb South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
A CBS News opinion poll had found that nearly three out of every four Americans were “uneasy” about North Korea and doubted Trumps ability to handle the dangerous situation. The world was facing a catastrophe in which hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, could be killed. (see http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/08/politics/north-korea-cbs-poll-donald-trump/index.html).
Kim had been equally threatening. On November 8, 2017, during Trump’s trip to Japan and South Korea, he announced that the United States must remove the “lunatic old man” Donald Trump or face the “abyss of doom.” Kim said that the United States “had better make a decisive choice […] if it does not want a horrible nuclear disaster and tragic doom.” In other words, Kim was threatening the U.S. and the world with a Third World War, in which nuclear weapons would be used. Such a war could mean the death of millions of people in North Korea, South Korea, Japan, possibly Guam, and even the United States.
In response, Donald Trump had said “Do not underestimate us and do not try us […] North Korea is a country ruled by a cult […] The weapons that you are acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.” After saying he would not fall victim to intimidation, which to him means humiliation, Mr. Trump added: “And we will not let the worst atrocities in history be repeated here, on this ground we fought and died to secure. The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation.” (http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/876961/world-war-3-north-korea-latest-donald-trump-USA-nuclear-war-south-korea).
Like Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump loved to fire. He fired people, and he fires “tweetstorms.” On Monday night, June 3, 2017, after North Korea had tested a ballistic missile that it claimed to be capable of hitting the United States, Donald Trump derogated the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, on Twitter as “This guy.” The U.S. president tweeted, “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
What Trump failed to see was that “this guy” was just as addicted to firing his missiles as Trump himself was addicted to firing his “tweets,” and that the question he asked about Kim Jong-un could be asked about him as well. Trump fires his tweets in much the same way Kim fires his missiles. No day passes without the U.S. president tweeting, usually in the wee hours of the morning or late at night, at times firing several tweets in one say. In July 2017 Julia Gillard, a former Australian prime minister, predicted that Trump’s tweets would trigger public discussions of his mental health.
The debate about Trump’s mental health has been going on for years (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/04/donald-trumps-tweets-will-trigger-talk-mental-health-says-former/). As he had several times before, by early February 2019 Trump seemed on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. The Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy Lee attributed this to his dread of the forthcoming report by Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller on his criminal activities (see https://www.rawstory.com/2019/02/trumps-presidency-mental-crisis-engulfing-nation-yale-psychiatrist/). Yet Trump seemed to have an emotional resilience (and paranoid defenses) that kept him from falling apart.
Losing Kim’s Love
What seemed like an incomprehensible relationship between Trump and Kim could be understood if we realized the unconscious processes of splitting and projective identification in both Trump and Kim that underlie it, and the powerful unconscious twinship and mirror transferences that power their mutual attraction. Unfortunately, we unconsciously tend to deny Trump’s mental illness.
Trump unconsciously experienced the failure of his second summit meeting in Hanoi with his beloved Kim in late February 2019 as a loss of love and an abandonment, and it precipitated a grave emotional crisis in him. Right after Trump’s return to Washington he gave a rambling, incoherent, irrational, psychotic-like, 140-minute speech at the annual Conservative Public Action Conference (CPAC), saying, “I’m in love, and you’re in love. We’re all in love together. There’s so much love in this room, it’s easy to talk. You can talk your heart out. You really could. There’s love in this room.” (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-cpac-speech-was-full-of-love-its-been-a-successful-formula-for-him/2019/03/05/6047df16-3f7e-11e9-9361-301ffb5bd5e6_story.html?utm_term=.96e69cc7a101).
In his book Trump on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (New York, Avery, 2018), the psychoanalyst Justin Frank showed how deeply everything Donald Trump did had its unconscious roots in his disturbed early relationship with his mother, who could not love him, and from whom he struggled in vain to separate. Trump’s mother had almost died in childbirth when he was a toddler (see Gwenda Blair, The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2015, p. 227). Upon returning home from the hospital, she was depressed, cold, and remote, and rejected the little Donny’s desperate attempts to cling to her.
By early March 2019 Trump seemed to be falling part emotionally. His abandonment by Kim had unconsciously thrown him back to his early rejection by his mother, whose lost love he had unconsciously sought in Kim. After losing it, he unconsciously sought that love in his CPAC audience, telling them how much love the room was filled with. Dr. Bandy Lee warned the world again of his dangerous mental deterioration and of our unconscious denial of this danger (see https://www.salon.com/2019/03/05/psychiatrist-on-trump-the-president-deserves-medical-standard-of-care-and-he-is-not-getting-it_partner/?fbclid=IwAR1xlcut_oJOh-xOkSxIj-ZRbJ2zqfnHpfojoH6KPoOAMNhAx1ftuYjWJtI). So did Dr. Justin Frank (see https://www.salon.com/2019/03/11/author-of-trump-on-the-couch-trump-should-be-quarantined-michael-cohen-should-fear-for-his-lif/).
Would Trump take revenge on Kim for the withdrawal of his love by bombing his country, unconsciously rationalizing his decision by citing America’s national security? Are our world, our planet and our species in danger of being annihilated by a man who was emotionally ill and who could destroy himself and our civilization along with him?