Why Trump Can’t Learn
© 2017 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Once again, today’s news raises issues that I addressed a year ago regarding candidate Donald Trump. It amazes me how many people expect change and improvement from those who demonstrate the four key high-conflict personality characteristics: all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behavior or threats, and a preoccupation with blaming others.
This week in an article dated August 4, 2017, New Yorker magazine author Robin Wright asks: “Why Does Trump Remain So Witless about the World? ” She spoke with foreign-policy advisers from eight past Administrations, who were “aghast” that he hasn’t learned anything about the world since he took office six months ago. Yet I believe this was predictable. The following is a part of an article I wrote over a year ago, just before the Republican convention that seems even more relevant (and frightening) today:
5 Reasons Trump Can’t Learn
This week Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, said that he could not support Donald Trump because he doesn’t seem to be learning anything in the foreign policy area. This includes Trump’s repeated statements for waterboarding alleged terrorists, which violates the law and Hayden says would not be followed by the U. S. military. This raises the question of when Trump will learn what he needs to know to be president. My concern is that his high-conflict personality prevents him from learning these lessons, for the following reasons:
All-or-nothing thinking: Trump seems to believe that he has a wonderful brain and already knows everything he needs to know to be president. It’s simple and only he has the answers—and he already has them. He doesn’t study policy, doesn’t surround himself with advisors and doesn’t listen.
Intense emotions: He lets his emotions dominate the moment, which means that he gets easily distracted by his emotional reactions such as bickering for days with Ted Cruz about their wives, getting into a 4-hour Twitter war with Elizabeth Warren over name-calling, talking about himself when 49 people got killed in Orlando and gloating when the British pound plummeted after the Brexit vote.
Extreme behavior or threats: People with high conflict personalities have a narrower range of behavior than most people, which makes them more predictable. He takes extreme positions on Mexicans and Muslims. He opposes any gun control, which goes against 90% of the country. His statements about international debts, policies and isolationism are already reckless and destabilizing. While he prides himself on being “unpredictable,” this is really a cover for not studying and not learning. In this, he is very predictable.
Preoccupation with blaming others: High-conflict people can’t self-reflect, which frees them to focus on everyone else’s behavior. It’s always someone else’s fault. Trump is a classic example of this, as it’s at the core of his politics and his personality. He got lucky in this election, because a significant part of the electorate has been looking for someone to blame since the 2008 Great Recession. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, but Trump tells people it’s easy and many love hearing that.
Encouragement from negative advocates: High conflict people are constantly seeking those who will completely agree with them, love them and defend them against all critics. Trump is skilled at this. Now he is getting the endorsement of political leaders and will get the nomination at the Republican Convention. However, when high-conflict people feel endorsed for their negative behavior, they become more confident, aggressive and reckless; not more reasonable and reflective.
For these five reasons, Donald Trump does not have the time, inclination or ability to learn. If he is elected president, I believe he will spend all his time tweeting insults, attacking world leaders, fighting with congress, releasing all-or-nothing statements to the press, playing at his golf courses and sleeping soundly. This is Donald Trump and this is what he does.
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.