Trump at a campaign rally in 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The neocortex has left the building

The dangers of narcissists like Trump

By Doug Thomson

Watching the Trump administration’s lurching dance into the heart of the swamp he promised to drain would be funny if it wasn’t so terribly wretched, and dangerous.

When we witness the president of the most powerful nation in the world standing behind a podium and declaring himself, “… a very stable genius,” not once but repeatedly, it is simultaneously funny and base.

Not content with one narcissistic trait on the continuum of anti-social behaviour, Trump also professes (ad nauseum) that he knows more about windmills, the law, the military, campaign finance, the courts, trade, renewable energy, infrastructure, drones and pretty much everything else that pops up in his “stable genius,” narcissistic brain.

The trouble is, however, that Trump’s brain is flawed – he hurts people, good people like U.S. Ukrainian ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, or the children of refugees. He lavishes attention on the world’s worst dictators while denigrating his closest allies.

He reinforces the purveyors of prejudice and bigotry and emboldens the forces of hatred and division.

In short, he’s bad stuff for the world far beyond the borders of the U.S – and that includes us.

We Canadians are no longer sleeping next to an elephant – we are now sharing a continent-sized mattress with Freddy Krueger and that shouldn’t be comforting.

None of Trump’s behaviour is new – he has been a grifter throughout his life and by all accounts he is even a serial cheat at golf. However, to dismiss Trump as just a pennyante cheat would be to underestimate him in a very dangerous way.

No – Trump’s incredibly strong suit is pathos (indeed, from which we derive pathetic). Pathos is a literary device, a tool described by Aristotle in his tome, Rhetoric, the purpose of which is to induce in an audience a judgement desired by the speaker.

Watch any footage of a Trump rally and you will see the impossible happening. Here is a man who is the polar opposite of the people who are enthralled by his presence. He lives a gaudy and ostentatious life, he was born with a golden spoon in his mouth and he’s kept it there.

He has failed repeatedly at business and has cheated a legion of small contractors who employ just the kind of people who are wearing his MAGA hats.

Trump appeals to the base instincts in his constituency. He is about spitting in the face of authority, of despising the ‘system’ and denigrating anything and everything that is not about his wants. This is primitive brain psychology; it is about reacting and not at all about thinking.

Trump says he “loves the uneducated,” but in truth, more than the uneducated can fall victim to the grifter, the conman. We are all susceptible to the amygdala hijacking the neocortex, the place where we should be adjudicating a whole lot more than we do.

The brain is complicated. Stick your hand onto a hot stove and you don’t want to get into a long-winded debate with yourself about what you are experiencing. Neither do you want to get into a crying jag until later. You want to move your hand fast – it’s important. That’s amygdala stuff.

But the Trumps of the world have an uncanny ability to hijack the emotional role of the brain and can have a crowd chanting without ever thinking for one second about what he or they are saying. He elicits an action devoid of reason because that primitive, fight-or-flight part of the brain has taken over reason.

The amygdala has hijacked the front part of their brains – the neocortex – where rational thought are negotiated. This is exactly why threats of violence are rife at his rallies.

Violence is reactive, primitive brain stuff. So are the endless put-downs of his opponents, the name calling, and anger directed at anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him.

His crass lies reinforce every emotional spike and because the neocortex has been cut off, making sense of those lies is rendered impotent.

When people are caught in an amygdala-hijack they invariably behave irrationally. Their heartrate increases, they get sweaty, develop goosebumps and may become breathless. Their faces become flushed and their eyes dilate because stress hormones are going crazy in their bodies.

Look at a Trump crowd and bear witness. Trump has not only identified the risk to them (Hillary Clinton, a protestor, the Libtards, “Shifty Adam Schiff,” refugees, Congress – whatever), but also displays himself as the omniscient and only savior who will deliver them from the very enemy he has created.

There is no easy way out of this psychological straight jacket. Once invested in the con, people do not easily come around. A square peg has been beaten into a round hole and getting it out again can be very challenging.

An interesting insight into this extreme level of denial by a victim of a con can be enjoyed in Michael Steinberger’s Vanity Fair article A Vintage Crime, July 12, 2012. It’s a fascinating read.

Amygdala – the section of the brain that deals with emotions.

Neocortex – the section of the brain that deals with reason, movement, language, the senses (touch, hearing, taste etc).

Email the newsroom

Visit our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter

Opinion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stop checks, searches of Wet’suwet’en pipeline opposers unlawful: Watchdog

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs file complaint

Wet’suwet’en pipeline supporters speak up

“Protesters get one side of the story and they stand up with their fists in the air.”

Bachrach rejects calls for police action against demonstrators

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP says only way out of crisis is “true nation-to-nation” talks

Coast Mountain College appoints a new president

The promotion came from within the school

Coastal GasLink pipeline investor committed to closing deal despite protests

Developer TC Energy Corp. — formerly TransCanada Corp. — is to remain the operator of the $6.6-billion pipeline

Blair says RCMP have met Wet’suwet’en conditions, calls for end to blockades

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project

Petition seeks to remove local police department from Lindsay Buziak murder case

American woman starts online petition in hopes of helping Buziak family

Health officials confirm sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.

Woman remains in isolation as Fraser Health officials investigate

Study says flu vaccine protected most people during unusual influenza season

Test-negative method was pioneered by the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2004

Saskatchewan and B.C. reach championship round at Scotties

British Columbia’s Corryn Brown locked up the last berth in Pool B

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

One dead in multi-vehicle collision involving logging truck on northern B.C. highway

DriveBC says highway expected to remain closed until 8 p.m.

B.C. teacher gets 15-year ban after lying about having sex with just-graduated student

Teacher had been dishonest with the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

Most Read