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  • Nassir Ghaemi

Trump and the psychology of untruth






Two years ago, Dr. Paul Siegel described quite well in Psychology Today how the current president engages the psychology of projection. This is a defense mechanism where one accuses others of what one thinks or believes. The voters in this election need to understand the psychology of the current president to better understand how to interpret what he says.


It is not a controversial statement, documented by news media such as the Washington Post, to state that the current president frequently makes statements that are patently untrue. Yet he repeats those statements over and over again. This approach is well known in political history as having been used to quite harmful effects by totalitarian regimes in Germany and the Soviet Union. Repeating an untruth does not make it true, but if listeners do not know what is true or untrue, it may become true enough for them. And then a politician can proceed in a course he wants.


Understanding projection as the psychology of such untruth, listeners can know the truth by simply turning such claims around. When someone engages in projection, the claims they make are exactly the opposite in terms of reality. When the president engages in projection, the truth is simply the reverse.


He claims that his opponent is corrupt and that his family engages in corruption; the truth would be that the president is corrupt in his family engaged in corruption. He claims that the election is open to fraud and will be stolen; the truth would be that his election was open to fraud and was stolen. He claims that he is not racist; the truth would be that he is racist. He claims that he loves and supports women; the truth would be that he demeans them.


Facts about what is true or untrue must be left to historians and to journalists. But the psychology behind projection, if correct as Dr. Siegel and I suggest, would suggest to voters that the truth is right there for all to see, as the exact opposite of what the current president claims.

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