Donald Trump has been exposed by his psychologist niece’s memoir
- Credit: AFP via Getty Images
MITCH BENN on the tell-all memoir by Mary Trump which delves deep into the president's pschye.
I'm sure you've all heard the expression 'I think, therefore I am'; it was first coined by the philosopher René Descartes in 1637 and it describes, succinctly, the limits placed upon human cognition and on the whole idea of 'knowledge'.
It points out, essentially, that the only thing you can know with absolute certainty is that your consciousness exists in this precise moment in time. Everything else, including your own physical form, the entire universe around you and all your memories, could be a figment of your imagination.
It probably isn't, but there's no way of proving it. Your mind exists and it exists right now; everything else is debatable.
I forget when I was first introduced to this concept by my philosophically-minded father; probably when I was rather too young, as I've never been able to shake off the feeling that it might be true. That everything actually could be an illusion, and that to choose to believe otherwise is an act of will.
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But while Descartes was right in that there is no way definitively to prove that the universe is in fact real, one can at least prove it to one's own satisfaction. In my case, all I have to do is to remind myself that if everything I think I've experienced really were just a figment of my imagination, that would mean that it was in fact me who wrote the complete works of Shakespeare, Beethoven, The Beatles and Douglas Adams. And I'm just not that good. I'm okay, but I'm not that good.
Solipsism – the belief that one is the only real person in existence and that everything and everyone else is imaginary – may be an interesting philosophical notion but it's no way to live your life and it's certainly no way to run the world's last remaining superpower.
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Which is a shame, because Donald Trump shows every sign of believing it wholeheartedly.
Now as I've said before, I'm uncomfortable with people, even trained psychologists, trotting out pat diagnoses of the mental states of public figures with whom they've had no personal contact.
However, this week sees the publication of Too Much and Never Enough, the memoir of Trump's niece Mary, who has a great deal of personal experience of the president and is also a clinical psychologist.
She broadly concurs with the general consensus that her uncle is a narcissist who is barely capable of feeling any concern or sympathy for anyone other than himself. But I think, in the light of some of his recent statements, that it seems to go beyond that.
In particular, consider Trump's repeated assertion that if only people would stop getting tested for the coronavirus then there would be fewer instances of that virus.
His 'people' tried to pass this off at a joke when he trotted it out at the disastrous Tulsa rally but he keeps reiterating it.
Now the cognitive functions of anyone over the age of about four will tell you that something doesn't go away just because you don't know about it, but what if one were an actual solipsist?
What if one believed that the only thing that's real is your own consciousness and that as such, the only things that exist at any given time are you and the things you're aware of?
Might you not therefore express the desire that people should stop finding out about this disease (and, moreover, stop telling you about it) because it's only the fact that you know about it that's making it happen?
What's perhaps the most alarming thing to contemplate (apart from the fact that the guy who has the nuclear codes to destroy the world might be less than entirely convinced that the world actually exists in the first place) is that Trump is not, in this, massively out of step with a great swathe of the population as a whole, on both ends of the political spectrum.
The idea that one can 'believe' something into existence (or indeed ignore something else out of existence), that faith and fervour alone are sufficient to bend the fabric of reality, has been driving a lot of the political energy on both the left and right wings over last few years.
Not much else can explain the Corbyntologists' eagerness to go into last year's general election confident of victory despite their beloved leader's personal polling barely scraping into double digits at the time (I remember reading tweets by devout Corbynians back in November making casual reference to 'when we win the election'; not 'if'; 'when').
There may have been factors other than sheer belief (and wilful ignorance of the facts) propelling the momentum towards Brexit back in 2016 but there's literally nothing else which explains the continuing enthusiasm (such as it is) for the doomed project in the present day, now that even the government's own spokesbeings are cheerfully acknowledging the massive economic and social toll it will take (while insisting, of course, that they'd been saying this for five years).
Just because the leader of the free world doesn't understand how reality works is no excuse for the rest of us.
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