The roots of Trump's megalomania: "Public humiliation" pushed him "into a delusional state of mind"

Donald Trump Scott Olson/Getty Images
Donald Trump Scott Olson/Getty Images
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As the pressure on Donald Trump increases from his criminal and civil trials, he is now publicly proclaiming that he is the Chosen One, selected by “god” and “Jesus Christ” to be the next President of the United States (which if Trump and his agents get their way will mean that he is the country’s first dictator and ruler for life).

During a speech in Iowa last weekend, Trump told his MAGA cultists that, “But I think if you had a real election and Jesus came down and God came down and said, ‘I’m going to be the scorekeeper here,’ I think we’d win there [in California], I think we’d win in Illinois, and I think we’d win in New York.”

This is not the first time that Donald Trump has made claims on divine power. Repeatedly throughout the last seven years, Trump has said that he has secret and all-powerful knowledge, that his followers should trust him and not the facts and reality or anyone else, claims to know things that no one else possibly can, makes bold predictions about the future as though he is a mystic or a psychic, and in total believes that he is omnipotent and above the law and any other form of accountability.

Trump is becoming even more bold and direct in his threats and promises to be a Hitler-like dictator, the leader of an American Fourth Reich, who is the champion of a campaign of revenge and retribution against his and the MAGA movement’s “enemies." Trump’s claims to be god-like are terrifying on their own but made much worse by the rapidly deteriorating democracy crisis.

In an attempt to make sense of Trump’s megalomania and God complex and what it further reveals about his mind, behavior and overall dangerousness, and what may come next in America’s democracy crisis, I asked a range of experts (including the ex-president’s biographer) for their thoughts and suggestions.

Federico Finchelstein is a professor of history at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York. His most recent book is "A Brief History of Fascist Lies."

Leaders like Trump present a God complex that is both a performance but also a deep narcissistic belief. This is a classic element of a cult and a key ingredient of why and how Trumpism works among his followers. In this context, the profane and the sacred are conflated in the same way as the Nazis did. Like Hitler or Mussolini, Trump mixes the divine with the most mundane acts as well as with the biggest lies in their propaganda. God becomes a mere helper of the leader.

As I say in the most forthcoming book, “The Wannabe Fascists," this conflation of God and leader can lead to sacrificial ideas and even violence. In fascism, applying the language of sacred ritual to secular politics helped create a cult of leadership that motivated followers, leading them to persecute and even exterminate others in service of the leader. For Mussolini, the “sovereignty of the people” existed only if they delegated all power to the leader, who ruled by force, not consensus. Hitler took it even further. By claiming “I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord,” Hitler used religious faith in his leadership to provide a rationale for Nazism. Trump follows the same playbook.

As always with fascist propaganda the leader mixes things he believes in with outrageous lies he knows are untrue. What is important is that he is able to convince fanatic followers of the sacred mission he ascribes to himself as well as to them.

Michael D'Antonio is the author of the biography, "Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success."

Raised in his father’s words to be “a killer” and “a king,” Trump sees his life’s ambition — power for the sake of power - within reach.  We no longer have the option of ignoring or discounting anything he says. And all of it from internment camps for migrants to using the military against enemies, will likely come to pass if he is elected in 2024.

Right now, the playbook is the same as it has always been. Raise the stakes with every new post or speech and accuse Biden of committing the outrages that belong to Trump himself. Hence his accusation that Biden is a threat to democracy.

It is hard to find the words to adequately describe the danger America faces. Trump is a man the founders could not have imagined rising to such heights. This is why our constitutional system is unlikely to contain him should he be elected again. As many of his trolling supporters say online, he will be a god-emperor in his own mind and usher in a long period of increasing authoritarianism and fear.

I am certain that in his life before politics, Trump never gave a thought to God and would have believed that people who were concerned about what the Almighty expected were wasting their time and perhaps pathetic. He was, nevertheless, aware of the power evangelicals wield in elections and therefore chose Mike Pence as a running mate.

After his election in 2016, Trump often found himself in the presence of Christian Right leaders who do believe he was anointed to lead and the more he heard it, the more he liked it. Trump may still be ambivalent about the spiritual argument but thrilled to hear that others believe he is God's choice. The fact that in the end the truth is unknowable suits him just fine because it leaves people free to advocate anything they choose. Trump doesn't need to reckon with his 2020 loss because he denies it even occurred. Also, by insisting that he was cheated by his opponents, Trump aligns himself with Christians who would say the 2020 vote count was hijacked by Satan's minions including Democrats, journalists, liberals and election officials. 

Trump's genius in dealing with the God question is seen in how he echoes those who believe he has been chosen but does not do it in religious terms. In this way, he affirms them without the risk of showing his religious ignorance.

Katherine Stewart is the author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism."

Let’s set aside analyzing Trump. When we think about the people who are still supporting and voting for him, given everything they know, we have to conclude that the majority of them essentially want authoritarianism or fascism. They want a strongman, and all of our arguments about how lawless and unprincipled he is just reinforce their desire to support him, because they basically want the kind of punitive, identitarian, and anti-establishment leadership that he represents.

Our top priority by far should be to motivate “our” voters. The issues that seem to drive them to the polls include (but are not limited to) reproductive rights, public education, voting rights, gun violence, health care, climate issues, and the preservation of democracy. They need to be reminded that presidential elections are not just about front-runners, they are also about judicial appointments. We need a big tent, and we need to hammer home what’s at stake: It’s now or never.

What we learned from the interim elections is that you can drive up Democratic participation pretty dramatically around certain issues. The abortion issue crushed it in Ohio even though that’s a red state. In Virginia, Democrats also overperformed, and abortion and public education played central roles there too. So looking ahead to the 2024 election, the biggest variable we can play with is base motivation.

The second lesson is that there’s little point in trying to convince much of Trump’s base that there’s a danger to democracy in electing him because they love the danger. Let’s look instead for that share of Trump voters that haven’t really grappled with reality and are supporting him in the frame of traditional Left-Right politics. Those folks have been convinced of two things: (a) Democrats are truly awful, and (b) for all the noise Trump makes, voting Republican is still a sensible choice.

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For the soft Trump supporters, the economy might be the best angle. Many of these people have had it drilled into their heads that Republicans are fiscal conservatives and good for the economy, while liberals are fiscal big spenders and bad for the economy. We need to point out to them that Democrats have, in fact, been better for the economy and the American workforce, while the Republican Party of today, with its dependence on super-wealthy donors, is grotesquely corrupt and incompetent.

So, while the primary aim should be to get out the base, we should also attempt to peel off the Trump voters who still understand the election as a traditional liberal versus conservative choice, or those who just view this as a referendum on who is older.

Dr. Mark Goulston is a prominent psychiatrist and former FBI hostage negotiation trainer.

Let’s start with a basic definition. According to Medical News Today:

Narcissistic rage is an intense and explosive emotional reaction observable in individuals with NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). It is not a distinct symptom of NPD or a particular type of rage but may refer to those with NPD reacting to certain situations due to the condition.

Unlike ordinary anger, which arises from typical triggers, narcissistic rage may occur in response to perceived threats to the narcissist’s inflated self-image and grandiose sense of self. This overwhelming anger may present suddenly and aggressively, seemingly out of proportion to the triggering event.

Narcissistic rage stems from a deep-seated fear of exposure as inadequate or not living up to an ideal self-image that the individual projects.

What is relevant about the above is that the greater the sense of humiliation, the greater the rage. And if not winning the 2020 election wasn't humiliating enough, the thought of losing to Joe Biden may have been so much of a public humiliation as to push Trump over into a delusional state of mind. If that is so, it is not enough to just claim the election was stolen, but he may now be seeking to expunge it from the record and history books. Trump's latest rants are consistent with this.

What next?

Since he has now crossed over into invoking the names of Jesus and God, it may be that what will come next is Trump saying that he has been directed by Jesus and God to do what he is doing... or that he is doing this in their name.

What can be done to counter this?

Perhaps we could reach out to his base and ask them if they can remember anyone from their high school or college days who in the face of utter public humiliation went off the deep end with destructive behavior.

I can certainly remember a few.

Rick Wilson is a co-founder of The Lincoln Project, a former leading Republican strategist, and author of two books, "Everything Trump Touches Dies" and "Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America from Trump - and Democrats from Themselves."

Donald Trump is flat-out telling everyone what he will do in a second term. He is surrounding himself with yes men who promise to arrest members of the media, attack political opponents, and generally do whatever crazy idea comes into his mangled brain. MAGA wants total control of every lever of power and is actively undermining the democratic institutions to crush any ability to check his power if he wins. Trump has turned the GOP into a cult of personality that embraces violence and accepts conspiracy theories at face value. In the last few weeks, Trump has started to set the stage for violence and call the election into doubt - again. He is telling his followers to protect the vote, calling his trial a political persecution, and that the only way he can lose is if he is cheated. Trump will do everything he can to win — or burn the country down trying. This election is going to be a key moment for the nation and everyone needs to decide if they want Trump back in the Oval Office with more committed and more loyal staff, or President Biden - a believer in democracy who has managed two wars and built one of the best economies in history.