TRUMP BUBBLES: The Dramatic Rise and Fall of High Conflict Politicians

© 2016 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Remember the bust of 2000? And the housing and stock market bubbles that burst in 2008? For years, people enthusiastically believed that they would never end. The future was incredible and the bubbles were held up by the hot air of enthusiasm without substance. Alan Greenspan referred to this as “irrational exuberance.”

But these bubbles burst – causing millions of people to lose their houses, jobs, marriages, self-esteem and more. These spent bubbles still have ripple effects throughout our economy and the political world to this day. They were pumped up by emotions without thinking. We didn’t listen to the people who said they were overblown bubbles that couldn’t last.

A Trump Bubble

I define a trump bubble as occurring when emotions trump thinking in politics. When fear trumps facts. When leader love trumps logic. It could be a politician, a policy, or a war. In 2016, the trump bubble is Donald J. Trump himself – but there are others. His bubble is just more obvious.

His rise has been surprising to almost everyone – including himself. We always knew he was full of hot air, but now people are taking him seriously. This is common for high conflict people (HCPs), who have a narrow (and predictable) way of thinking and behaving. They have an adversarial approach to all of their relationships – it’s US against THEM. When they get into politics, HCPs build their entire political agenda on US against THEM.

In an HCP’s eyes, people are all-good, or all-bad; winners or losers. Sometimes, almost inadvertently, they discover a group of people who are so upset that they will follow this US-against-THEM approach wherever the high conflict person leads them. Unfortunately, HCPs generally have a distorted picture of the world, don’t study history or policy, and are more impulsive than most people.

If they are narcissistic HCPs, they see their ignorance and lack of planning as a good thing – because they already are “brilliant,” “wealthy,” “attractive” and “powerful.” They defend their mistakes without self-reflection or apology, and instead invest all their energy in attacking others (THEM) – often over very petty things.  This is because their whole lives have been built around their US-against-THEM, attack-and-defend personalities.

Angry with a Button

In Donald Trump’s case, he has tapped into the anger of a significant section of the electorate who feel recently disenfranchised – primarily because of the economic downturns of the last four decades, culminating in the housing and stock market bubble bursts of 2008. These are real problems that have not been addressed sufficiently by either political party. Trump gives his followers the appearance of addressing these issues by leading his followers with anger against the establishment. (US against THEM.)

While anger can be good for getting attention (and the primary skill of HCPs is getting attention), it can also be dangerous – very dangerous when combined with the strength of the world’s only superpower.

Trump would have a finger on the button of the world’s most powerful nuclear weapons if he became President of the United States. The risk of such danger needs to be understood, especially since he demonstrates significant warning signs of a high conflict personality. In this book I will explain the significance of these high conflict patterns.

Predicting the Trump Bubble

You might think I’m crazy to have written a book about the rise and fall of Donald Trump when he’s riding high in March 2016. But I feel quite confident that the pattern of behavior I describe in this book will play out in the same way that it has for so many other high conflict leaders – in politics and in business. I just don’t know the timing of his fall. Will it be before or after the November Presidential elections? Therefore, I have written this book to be relevant for generations to come – especially because there have been trump bubbles before and there will be many trump bubble in the future, until we learn how to stop them earlier.

This pattern is too familiar and too destructive to ignore. Yet most people don’t even realize it’s a pattern – and don’t realize that there are things they can do about it. They see it in isolation, as if we’ve never seen someone like Donald J. Trump before. It’s just that his bubble is bigger. Of course! It has to be! And it’s potentially much more dangerous.

While this book is about the sudden rise of Donald Trump, and his inevitable fall, it’s also about trying to get beyond the rise and fall of high conflict leaders – all the trump bubbles. I don’t think that even “the Donald” or his followers understands the power he is unleashing.

This isn’t about bashing Trump personally, but rather showing how the combination of his high conflict personality with certain demographic changes and technological advances in communication is creating a powerful force that will inevitably overwhelm him – and possibly all of us – either before or after the November Presidential election. Emotions are contagious and high conflict emotions are highly contagious.

High Conflict Patterns

High conflict people have identifiable patterns. Do you notice any patterns in the following three stories?

Thursday, March 3

Mitt Romney – the 2012 Presidential Candidate of the Republican Party – gave a speech blasting 2016 Presidential candidate Donald Trump as a “fraud” and a “phony” who thinks that the American people are “suckers.” Soon, John McCain, the 2008 Presidential Candidate of the Republican Party joined in with this message.

Polls the next day reported that this speech helped Trump, rather than hurt him. Instead of being inspired by Romney, Trump’s followers criticized Romney as being “condescending,” “presumptuous,” “out of touch” and an “establishment figure.”

Monday, March 7

Donald Trump held a campaign rally, which was shown on TV the next day. At the rally, a parent asked him: “How can I explain your frequent swearing to my daughter?” Trump started to answer, then instantly switched to a hostile tone of voice: “You’re one of those politically correct people, aren’t you?” Trump turned to the crowd. “We’ve had enough of political correctness. You’re not going to tolerate this, are you?” And the whole crowd loudly jeered the parent.

Friday, March 11

A news report described the increase in protests at Trump rallies, including conflict between his team and reporters:

The rancor is so blatant that Mr. Trump was asked about it during the debate on Thursday night in Miami. He said he had not seen the violent episode in Fayetteville, and when asked if he was encouraging his supporters’ fury, he said, “I hope not.” …

Despite pre-event disclaimers urging peaceable conduct, Mr. Trump’s tone often seems to encourage aggression….

Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Trump has lately started asking his supporters to raise their right hand and pledge their loyalty to him, creating tableaus that critics have likened to the salutes of followers of Hitler and Mussolini….

The response when a protest breaks out can seem almost biological.

Parker, Ashley. Riskiest Political Act of 2016?  Protesting at Rallies for Donald Trump. The New York Times, March 10, 2016. (I added the bolding above and will refer to these words later.)

If you noticed a pattern of emotionally intense US-against-THEM thinking and behavior, I would agree with you. This is a common pattern for high conflict people. However, it becomes much more dangerous when it is combined with significant political power and technological power. Ironically, neither Trump nor his followers seem aware of the power that they are potentially unleashing.

Bill Eddy  is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books  and methods  for handling high conflict personalities  and high-conflict disputes with the most difficult people.