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What Trump’s Ascendancy Says About Our Mental Health

what trump's ascendency says about our mental healthBack in August, I wrote the blog post When Did Narcissism Become Presidential? At that time, I thought Trump’s candidacy was something of a joke (a troubling one, but a joke nonetheless.) It’s hard to laugh at this point when he’s poised to become the Republican nominee.

This is not a political blog post. It is not about Trump’s qualities as a potential leader. It’s about what he’s displayed as a human being. More importantly, it’s about what he hasn’t displayed: kindness, compassion, humility, empathy, concern for the welfare of others…I could go on.

What does it say about our national mental health that he’s amassed the support he has, and where do we go from here? I’ve some thoughts.We’ve all heard the argument that Trump’s candidacy is fueled by people’s frustration and anger. He’s a protest candidate, a strike against the do-nothings in Washington and the status quo. While rationally, I suppose one could argue that his success as a businessman means he could fix our still-struggling economy, it seems to me that a slow-simmering rage is the more likely motivator.

As a therapist, I know that rational thinking is compromised by rage. Our higher executive functioning is blunted, if not completely disconnected, by that kind of anger. Rage narrows our focus and makes it harder for us to see the big picture.

What’s being discounted is that Trump says absolutely horrible things about his fellow human beings. He’s been ruthless in his business dealings, and out entirely for profit. He says as much himself, as if it’s a positive.

Why are people okay with the idea of a potential leader who lacks kindness and compassion, who is misogynistic and self-aggrandizing, who would make Ayn Rand blush with his desire for absolute personal gain at anyone’s expense? Why would people ever believe such a person would be interested in public service–as in, serving the people–as opposed to serving his ego?

It makes me think that people have become so demoralized in their lives, that they are so convinced they can’t get ahead, that they want to identify with someone they consider a winner. They want to hitch their wagon to a star, and hope that it will carry them upward.

Trump’s ascendancy saddens me deeply, because it speaks to a type of communal psychic desperation, and a deadening of empathy and understanding of other people’s struggles. We don’t want to extend a hand to someone else because we’re afraid it will pull us down. Rather, we view trampling on others as a way to rise.

Empathy is hard-wired into us as a way to guide our behavior, to put parameters on what we would and wouldn’t do to our fellow man. So many things Trump has said indicate that he is pathologically low on empathy, and that other people’s vulnerability reads to him as weakness and that signals he can attack.

The political is personal, right? So the political leaders (well, wannabe leaders) that we support say something about us. I hope people think about what they’re saying, and the psychic and societal costs.

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What Trump’s Ascendancy Says About Our Mental Health

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2016). What Trump’s Ascendancy Says About Our Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Feb 2016
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