Psychology in a time of the Donald
It is probably no surprise to suggest that President Donald Trump and General Patton, U.S. general during the Second World War, share personality traits. In the words of his biographer, Carlo D’Este, Patton was known for his “aggressive, winning leadership in the bitter battles which [were] to come before victory.” The same general is said to have slapped two soldiers who were diagnosed with battle fatigue. Trump appears to demonstrate the same determination and desire to succeed and no one can deny his ‘aggressive’ leadership. However, what would you say if I told you that Trump also shares traits with John F. Kennedy, Jaime Lannister, Bradley Cooper in The Hangover, and Madonna?
Political psychology is an application of personality psychology that involves exploring, testing and analysing political relationships, people and systems through the lens of traits and behaviours. The practice was made popular around the turn of the 19th century when psychologists began to investigate how a person’s traits and psyche can influence or be influenced by politics. The science gained momentum after the First World War as psychologists and sociologists studied how physical trauma affects the mind, the power of propaganda, and the motives and personalities of those who led soldiers into war or nations into conflict.
During the presidential election and the inauguration of President Trump, the internet was flooded with questions about Trump’s psychological state rather than his policies. In the face of an almost enigmatic candidate, people believed the only way to understand him was through psychological analysis. This analysis can take numerous different approaches. There are hundreds of tests with numerous keys to understanding what drives the mind. The two most well-known methods are trait-based. In layman’s terms, everyone possesses categorical traits that can be slotted into either five ‘Big Traits’ or four ‘Type Indicators’. The latter provides the foundation for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test or MBTI, which I used to analyze President Trump.
The MBTI tests for Extraversion vs. Introversion, Intuition vs. Sensing, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perception. These may sound very abstract but all relate to how someone acts, makes decisions, organises themselves and treats those around them. Sadly, President Trump didn’t take the tests for me, so, like most celebrity psychologists, I had to step into Trump’s shoes and take it myself.
Looking through Trump-tinted glasses
I took the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test to find Trump’s personality type. I answered a series of questions that aimed at assessing how he would spend his leisure time, ranging from whether President Trump gets involved watching soap television to whether he believes the world is based on compassion. Eventually, the test determined that Trump is ESTP or a ‘promoter.’
ESTP translates to leaning towards Extroversion, Sensing, Thinking and Perception. Promoters are adept at influencing other people. Their extraversion means they are motivated by interaction with people and have a wide circle of acquaintances. The Sensing trait informs us that promoters see in the concrete rather than the abstract or prefer immediate realities. The Thinking trait means they are swayed by objective criteria not personal values and Perception suggests that they withhold judgement and delay important decisions to keep their options open.
This all seems believable so far and it looks like internet users were of the same opinion, arguing that Trump is most likely characterized by the ESTP behaviour traits. As I mentioned at the start, these are the same trait profiles of Jaime Lannister (according to Game of Thrones fans) and Madonna. In fact, four conclusions can be drawn in order to clarify that Trump’s MBTI results do seem to correlate to Trump’s reality. Firstly, we know that Trump is extroverted as he relishes big rallies, big crowds and loves an audience whether it’s on The Apprentice or at a Republican rally.
Secondly, Trump appears to be more concerned with the concrete than the abstract. In one sense, we could interpret his practicality through his business ventures and his passion for infrastructure (he likes making rather than thinking). In another sense, we could analyze whether his lack of belief in Medicaid demonstrates a preference of concrete (more money in the treasury) over the abstract (universal healthcare).
Thirdly, the test declares him to prefer Thinking to Feeling, logic over social considerations, which would explain his disregard for criticism, lack of care of affability and his general unpleasantness to those around him (cf. Megyn Kelly, Hillary Clinton, and the LGBTQA+ community to name a few). Misogyny, Racism and Discrimination all fall under this trait (in the extreme) as one disregards social estimation.
Lastly, Trump is apparently ‘perceptive’. He keeps his options open. This might explain his changing views on abortion, Climate Change, as well as tax reform, military engagement with ISIS, the Nuclear Deal with Iran, and undocumented immigrants. Funnily enough, Trump wants to find a ‘General Patton’ to help defeat ISIS; an interesting choice in regards to his own personality type.
But where does this leave us in the context of Trump’s presidency?
“You have to think anyways, so why not think big?”
There are a few commonsensical deductions that we can make from the personality analysis of Trump. Firstly, he appears to fit the bill of his trait-set. Trump’s recent missile strike in Syria demonstrated a policy U-turn from his supportive approach to Putin and Assad. Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council suggests a similar change in perspective. Trump is ultimately ‘unpredictable’, which correlates to our understanding of him as ‘perceptive’. He is unagreeable, logical to the point of uncaring, and concerned with reality rather than ideological impetus. However, this is as far as we can take political psychology.
David Winter is known for his in-depth personality analysis of past U.S. presidents, using speeches and news conferences to code their motivation and personality. Winter presented an address to the American Psychological Society in 2005 on his research. One of his main points dovetails with our analysis of President Trump: personality traits cannot always successfully predict political behaviour. Therefore, it is worth pointing out that most political psychological analysis is conjecture.
Many attempt to predict future political behaviour and policy, using the results to figure out Trump’s next move in the political sphere. This is inevitably futile. Political behaviour matters as much on social circumstance and external influences as it does on the operator. Trump is one, large, orange cog in the American political machine. One cannot predict the output by only understanding one facet of such a machine.
However, political psychology can provide us with a relatively reliable prediction when a situation is controlled by fixed factors. Political psychologists cannot tell you what Trump will do in one year’s time but they can tell you, as Winter puts it in his address, that “we can make contingent, conditional, ‘‘if/then’’ predictions: that a person of type X, under condition Y, is likely to exhibit particular behavior Z. We cannot know everything, but we can often know something.”