Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


The American press is in a fix

The American press, and to a smaller extent the whole of the Western press, finds itself in what’s almost a double bind.

I have no doubt that Donald Trump is afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you don’t know what that is, you need to read this Medium post composed by N Ziehl. American journalists are not equipped to cover a narcissist. They’d struggle to cover a narcissistic manager of a Jiffy Lube, but a President of the United States afflicted with NPD ruins a journalist’s methods.

Like most professionals, individual journalists are not trained to deal with a narcissist’s constantly shifting truth, false reality and gaslighting. (Gaslighting is a really important concept. Everyone needs to learn what it is and how it works, because Trump keeps doing it.) They are trained to deal with liars and evasion tactics, but when it comes to uncovering truth or meaning, they try to connect dots logically, to search for rational motivations and a reasonable relationship between actions and thoughts. None of that is available in a narcissist’s behavior.

Like most organizations, media companies are not armed with the assumptions necessary to tell an accurate story about a narcissist president—newsrooms assume there is always more than one take on a story, more than one angle and interpretation. The highest forms of essay writing focus on nuance. With a narcissist, there is only one story, and it has neither a flip side nor an alternative take, no nuance at all. The story of the narcissist is that he lives in his own grandiose reality, motivated entirely by self-gain and others’ adulation, unable to feel empathy for anyone. Stories about narcissists can either point out the narcissism or they can enable it. There is no gray area, so forget about nuance.

Quite obviously, journalists have to quote the words the president utters, then attempt all sorts of interpretations when applicable, present the slant they’re after. The problem is that a narcissist’s words are meaningless; the reason they’re shocking is because they don’t represent reality. He wants our adoration, and if he can’t get it, he’ll distract us by threatening our safety or by actually putting us in harm’s way. If we find ourselves identifying his tricks, he’ll burn down the neighbor’s garage and force us all to rush over with buckets. Most of us care about our neighbors. He cares about himself.

***

Now, here’s the double bind.

In America, the problem around telling this story lies also in the way newspapers create revenue streams. Revenue has always been tied to circulation and the size of an audience; obviously, the bigger, the better. Unlike in decades past, when print companies depended at least partially on their brand and their mission to sell a whole paper with advertisements inside, now they depend much more often on individual stories or topics that get shared by readers. The biggest story right now is Trump’s insanity and the threat it poses civilization. It’s dopamine, and media companies know it because they’ve been riding it now for almost two years.

The American press has to change the way it covers the president. Unfortunately, doing so threatens their bottom line.

I still think news companies can generate revenue and get clicks by writing about Trump’s professional enablers…essentially the rest of the federal government. Attention, or the lack of it, is the most potent weapon we can employ against a narcissist. Because they need it, they’ll throw tantrums, insult people, contradict themselves, threaten us with prison, make deals with our enemies, etc. If they perceive it going elsewhere, they become crazed with jealousy and make irredeemable mistakes.

It’s accurate to report that the Republican Party is enabling and attempting to benefit from a narcissist, just as it’s accurate to report that Twitter is enabling a narcissist. This is the brutal truth of the matter. Those who benefit from the narcissist—specifically, those who figure out a way to increase their political power or their profits by blowing sunshine up Trump’s ass—need to be investigated and exposed by the press. It’ll drive him nuts to know someone else is getting more air time, and it should still provide the American public the dopamine it needs to keep on clicking.

It is also not inaccurate, and hardly a disservice, to teach the American reading public about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It used to be that the quiet kid in class was the only one who knew about it. Now we’re all in the same ship because we decided to put one in the Oval Office.

1024px-trump_international_hotel_and_tower_chicago_illinois_estados_unidos_2012-10-20_dd_05

Picture of “Ugly Building” from Wikipedia.


1 Comment

The tweet of a narcissist 

Donald Trump’s first tweet following his electoral victory reveals textbook narcissism and fascistic tendency:

“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

This babble reveals a lot of what we should expect from him as president. It uses techniques familiar to anyone who has ever lived with, been ruled by or has otherwise ended up under the power of a narcissist.

The first technique is a slithery bastardization of terms. “Very open”. Forget for a moment if some portal or speech can be the opposite, very closed; think instead about what most people assume when they hear the word “open”. Few should think “openly bigoted,” and he probably doesn’t want us to. Yet that’s what his campaign and election put out in the open about the electorate: we are either bigots ourselves or don’t mind one as our leader. But don’t split that hair…follow this logic:

Openness = good. Trump = Open. Therefore, Trump = good.

The second technique is to deny the sincerity of an opponent’s feelings and views. These aren’t actual protesters; they’re professionals, which means they’re getting paid. It begs questions: by whom and how much? But you should not worry about that. Instead, realize the people who stand up against Trump don’t *really* harbor these contrary feelings and ideas but only *seem* to be expressing them. These planted mercenaries are in it for a few bucks.

Obviously, the only thing that drives a person to action is profit. That’s why Trump does what he does, it’s why you voted for Trump, and it’s why these people are pretending to protest.

The third technique is to deny the opponent’s capacity to think individually. If not for “the media”, these people would have stayed home knowing “open and good Trump” is their president. Any opposition to a narcissist is an idea born outside the opposer. If you could think for yourself, you’d see that the narcissist is open and good, but you cannot see that because you have been poisoned. You’re incapable and subordinate to Trump, your superior.

The fourth is a demand for pity. Pay attention to Trump’s mistreatments and slights and the people calling Trump names, accusing him of wrongs. Fairness would be an acceptance of him wholesale, just as he is.

The fifth technique available here is exaggeration. Trump’s favorite word is “very”. To say something’s open or unfair is not enough. Everything’s *very* something.

Obviously, we should expect the assault on the rights to assembly and a free press to continue. At this point, Trump’s definition of “the media” has been clear: members of “the media” are those who openly oppose Trump in any capacity. If they could be trusted, they would have predicted what he and his followers knew all along, which was that he would win. If they were wrong about Trump and his followers once, they will always be wrong, very wrong, while he will be right, very right.

So, be very right. Don’t be very wrong.

This is life with a narcissist. Their danger is not that they can’t solve problems or build things. The danger of a narcissist is that they have no empathy, and they see as part of the problem groups and individuals who oppose them. Threats abound at every turn, and much of their energy is spent neutralizing or eliminating those threats, often by isolating, disenfranchising or demonizing people. Skilled narcissists start conflicts among their opponents and watch them distract and neutralize each other.

The other danger is that a narcissist needs a posse to be able to pull off what stunt he has in mind. He needs enablers. When that groups wakes up to his disastrous and destructive methods and acts, complicit in the damage, they deny everything and might blame the victims.

The simplest example occurs in families that enable child abuse.

If the victim finds the courage to come out and say “I’ve been tortured”, most people in that abusive system will retreat, deny the child’s torture, even defend the abuser. That defense mechanism makes it possible to live with the realization that they aided the torture of a child. They’ll do perverted things, like invite the victim to sit at the same Thanksgiving table with his abuser. The victim’s presence sure would comfort them all, help them feel that everything’s okay now, everyone forgiven, despite no one admitting a thing.

The entire world now faces a geopolitical game of high stakes played by charlatans and manipulators Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

In terms of political strategy, Trump’s tweet reveals rhetorical techniques hardly different from Putin’s treatment of something like the Ukrainian protests that eventually became the Maidan and led first to the ousting of Yanukovich, then the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of East Ukraine (one Russia still denies is happening at all).

The parallels between Trump and Putin essentially add up to a pair of rails. Putin routinely tells Russians that Ukraine does not really exist, that it’s not really a country or a culture. Their protests are not actual protests but staged shows orchestrated by America, who’s just paying protesters (this despite the fact that the socio-political, cultural and economic conflicts between Russia and its neighbors have a history several centuries older than the United States). If Ukrainians wanted to be democratic, they would allow democratic and good Russia to do what it wanted to them. Instead, they want to join with the Europeans, and “everyone knows” Europeans are bad gay hedonists while Russians are the good true saviors of the world.

So, America, you might have been hoping for a steel mill to reappear or to punish Hillary. Maybe seeing people deported will make you feel empowered. The sooner we wake up to the institutional failures that led to the election of a narcissist, the more likely we are to get out of this with some horrible rhetoric and tweets that threaten the Bill of Rights as our only fouls.


PTSD sufferers against fascism

There was never a moment in my lifetime that so clearly delineated the right and wrong sides of history. Shit’s real, America. We’re either going to choose a raving mad lunatic who lacks even the most basic shred of empathy, or we’ll face this threat down and pick up the pieces afterwards.

Those pieces are going to be vile. It’s frightening to know I share streets, highways and public spaces with people steadfastly on the wrong side of history. It’s terrifying to imagine an abusive, unhinged narcissist should be put in power by the will of my countrymen and women who’ll remain upset if they don’t get what they want.

Honestly, what do you want? Today “god” took to demeaning the mentally ill, soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.

PTSD is not a joke. Sufferers are at risk of an entire spectrum of self-harm. Their loved ones suffer and are often helpless, confused about what to do. The sufferer, frequently living in a waking nightmare, so often wonders what use they are to anyone. Worse, they might perceive, in perverse delusions of empathy, that the world is better off without them.

Not every PTSD patient survived war. Some may have witnessed a house fire, experienced a car accident or gotten mugged or raped. While our culture usually responds (at least in a common narrative) with care to veterans afflicted with the condition, those sufferers who did not serve or experience war can feel estranged. What’s wrong with you, the inner voice says, if you’re flipping out? You didn’t go to war. Snap out of it.

Studies have actually shown that “violent homes have the same effect on brains of children as combat has on soldiers”. The effects of complex trauma are nothing to sneeze at. Abused children grow up to be adults who mistrust the world, struggle to form relationships, tussle to know the difference between real and imagined emotions. This study breaks the ground to reveal the similarity between the experience of war and child abuse.

Among the worst experiences for a traumatized person is to find oneself in a society or social network that worships the abusive narcissist and dismisses or even refuses to accept transgressions. I know people (many of whom, staunchly middle class, will in November vote for a narcissist) who would rather pour an abuser drinks and chat with him than face the abuser’s true identity, even when it’s out in the open. It takes a society, a system, to keep abuse going, and the easiest thing to do when you find yourself an accessory is to pretend the abuse never happened in the first place. You claim you can’t understand why the victim shouldn’t sit at the dinner table where his abuser receives free drinks and the freedom to spew what nonsense comes to his head.

I know I’m not alone. Apparently, psychiatrists and social workers have noticed a spike in people anxious about the election. This is hardly strange to me. Yes, our fellow citizens want a man who’ll publicly ridicule, demean and bully, who’ll deny the thing he said or did just a moment ago. It’s triggering and frightening. Where should a traumatized person turn when an entire nation empowers a narcissist to abuse at will, to do so on an international stage, the American military at his disposal? How should a PTSD sufferer rationalize that this man now represents the sufferer politically? It’s a nightmare.

I don’t believe he’s gambling that most of America actually considers PTSD sufferers weak. This man has proven a poor player of political chess. He gains votes not by tactic but by hook and emotional trap. His comments today are exactly the kind of calculated barb a narcissist uses to pry into people and leave some afraid, confused, disoriented, while others—the ones who need their strength reinforced—feel empowered, superior, true but now dependent on the narcissist for the feeling.

Ironically, the latter group is at greater risk. We’ll know in only a short time just how many Americans are actually seduced enough to choose this kind of madness. In case you’re confused, let me present this simple warning:

Don’t expect the narcissist to love you back, America. He’ll use you until you’re extinguished, reeling and unable to tell your memories from your fantasies. Should you be bruised, he’ll say you hit yourself, then accuse you of lies in the next breath, speak your bruises away as if they were yesterday’s gossip. You won’t have known that kind of betrayal before, and when he’s out of your life, you won’t recognize what’s left of you, what pieces remain to pick up.

Should this madman get in, our constitution will face its greatest test. If the system fails to be stronger than its citizens—if it fails to remove him before a pivotal moment from which we won’t return—his biography will prove the same as the ones of his narcissist predecessors.

He’ll raze what fields he can, hoard what he thinks he can protect, delude himself for a while with victories and grandeur but eventually find himself alone. Depending on the exact nature and placement of his transgressions, he’ll either find some place to hide and whither away, some tribunal will pack him into a cell, or he’ll descend to the darkest part of his basement. History shows they all have a place where they keep a loaded pistol wrapped in a soft white cloth.

see-invisible


2 Comments

Response to readers

I was very moved by some of the responses that I got to (trigger warning!) my republished version of Baptism Party. If you have not read that essay and have stumbled on this post at random, know that, as a memoir of my abusive childhood, the piece is very difficult to read and might remind traumatized readers, especially those who experienced life with an alcoholic, of their past.

For obvious reasons, many of the responses did not appear in the comment sections. They came directly to me  from subscribers to the Good Men Project, readers who have been following me since the publication of Finding the Moon in Sugar and also former students. The majority were from people who suffered at the hands of a narcissist, or who grew up with pervasive intoxication either at home on in their community. What shocked me—it actually rattled me up—was how many readers quoted this part of the essay:

Children of narcissistic alcoholics will tell you they inhabit the homes of their childhood about as often as their dreams, as so many of their dreams, in daytime as in sleep, are the stubborn memories of childhood. At times when I must return physically to the house, I always enter twice, initially through a sequence of vivid memories and images. As they play out, I construct a fortress of introversion around myself. It does not matter if I am simply dropping off borrowed jars or coming into a full-blown party. Each time I enter, I brace for an assault, though I can never be sure what kind.

I had not really spoken to any “children of narcissistic alcoholics” prior to writing this. Sure, I had read books, attended some meetings, and I had spoken to a variety of therapists before writing the essay. I had also heard stories from people at work. But I can’t say that I wrote that paragraph believing I had gotten to the heart of something. Quite frankly, I thought I was taking calculated liberties.

If you are among those readers who took time to write and say, “That’s exactly how I feel,” know that I was deeply moved. What’s shocking is that so many of us feel something private and sinister while we exist inside that “fortress of introversion”, however we dress it up, but if we could lift our heads out for a moment, we’d find ourselves in a community we didn’t know we had. Realizing this helped me quiet the voice in my head, so similar to the one I write about, the one that criticizes me constantly, bellowing: “Why the hell are you writing this self-indulgent horseshit? No one cares. Grow up! Get over yourself!” (Doesn’t that remind you of anyone?) It’s so much easier to tell that voice, “Take a look at these letters I’ve received. Take a look at this group of people that has no idea what they share, and with how many!”

There are more of us than any of us know. We are invisible even to each other as we sit lonely in cafes or ride the bus to buy soap and toothpaste. Your responses have given me enormous energy. I’m encouraged to continue writing about these important issues of abuse, trauma, self-realization, social confusion and all the close toxic cousins. Thank you so much for all the well-wishes, the sympathy and your expressions of vulnerability. That is all I can say. I feel it is not enough.