FRIENDLESS IN PALM BEACH
by Sheldon Bach
Two years ago, an article in the New York Times1 about Donald Trump’s “friends” made me want to collect the little we know about such friendships, some or all of which may apply to Trump himself.
In the article, Trump, speaking to a crowd in New Hampshire, is quoted as saying: “I have no friends, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “You know who my friends are? You’re my friends.”
Trump’s disavowal of friends, which to others might seem like a pathetic admission of failure or deficiency, seems to him like a proof of his superiority. In his grandiosity, he is above having friends; he does not need specific friends the way inferior people do — himself and his money are all that he needs. If he makes friends, it is only because he needs their votes — a purely shallow, functional, and fungible friendship.
Richard LeFrak, a fellow real-estate tycoon who has known Mr. Trump for more than forty years, is quoted as saying: “He’s very gregarious and has lots of acquaintances. But people that he’s close to? Not so many.”
“He doesn’t really have a lot of friends,” said Billy Procida, a financier from New Jersey who served for years as one of Mr. Trump’s top lieutenants. “Pretty much all he does is work and play golf.”
Trump named Richard LeFrak as one of his best friends. “If we’re both in Florida, Donald might call and say, ‘Come have dinner at Mar-a-Lago,’” Mr. LeFrak said, referring to Mr. Trump’s palace in Palm Beach. “But if I tell him, ‘Why don’t you come down to Miami?’ he might say yes, but he probably won’t do it. He’s very much a creature of habit. He doesn’t like to leave his own environment.”
Abe Wallach, who once served as head of acquisitions for the Trump Organization, said he was always surprised when Mr. Trump would ask him and his husband to join him for the weekend with Marla Maples, his wife at the time. “Donald would call and say, ‘Abe, what are you doing? Marla and I are flying down to Atlantic City. You and David want to come?’ I always thought: ‘Why me? I work with him all week. Isn’t there someone else?’”
Joe Scarborough, who described himself as being “a casual friend,” said: “After I was accused of being too close to him, I started going, ‘Wait a second. I’ve known this guy for a decade and I’ve never once had lunch with him alone?’ But that’s what Trump does,” Mr. Scarborough added. “It’s always at an event or at a function. He’s shaking hands, slapping backs — it’s very on the surface. That’s just who he is.”
The Reverend Al Sharpton said: “Out of all the political and business and entertainment circles that we’ve moved in together over the years, I never really met anyone who was Trump’s good friend. In fact, I’ve never even met anyone who claimed to be his good friend.”
Abe Wallach said: “Deep down, he’s a very nice guy, but he can’t let go and just be nice because he fears that people will take advantage of him. Donald is actually the most insecure man I’ve ever met. He has this constant need to fill a void inside. He used to do it with deals and sex. Now he does it with publicity.”
And, finally, Richard LeFrak said: “He’s the kind of guy who likes throwing hand grenades in the room. There’s a lot of intensity and energy, a lot of publicity and other stuff. Being friends with Trump is like being friends with a hurricane.”
But a hurricane with a void inside. In fact, the hurricane, the intensity, the constantly being on the move, is employed precisely to cover the emptiness. Were he to stop being constantly overstimulated and on the move, he would succumb to some variety of boredom or anomie covering a potential paralyzing depression, suicidal ideation, or annihilation anxiety, depending on the level of regression. Thus his dysregulation traps him between two terrifying extremes: to slow down and die or to speed up and explode.
His overinflation covers a more basic underinflation or depletion, correlated exactly with his paucity of friendships and shallowness of object relations, remarked on even by Trump’s own “friends.” A person of this type does not have strong internalized objects, sometimes not even any objects, to whom he can turn and who will support his capacity to be alone, to be quiet, or to be self-reflective.
On the contrary, self-reflectiveness, quietness, and solitude present dangers that bring the threat of falling into emptiness, vacuity, and existential despair. So any slowing down, any loss of motion, any invitation to thoughtfulness and mindfulness is experienced as a danger situation threatening traumatic understimulation, a danger situation that must be avoided by throwing hand grenades and causing tumult to restore the necessary overstimulation and chaos. In his personal life, Trump has lived uneasily in the wake of divorces, bankruptcies, and scandals. But the dangers of placing a whole nation in the hands of someone who needs excitement and disruption in order to feel alive are beyond calculation.
Such a person is in many ways incapable of learning from experience. To learn from experience requires, first, the capacity to admit that one doesn’t know everything and, second, a continuity of experience, the ability to make a continuous logical story out of what has happened and then to process it in a self-reflective way.
Overinflated people do not experience continuity of being or existence; they do not experience their lives as being a coherent story with a past, present, and future. They live digitally, from moment to moment, each moment separated from the one before and the one after with no living thread, no continuity to connect them. They have been cumulatively traumatized as children and may be thought of as existing in a modified post-traumatic state. The apparent dishonesty of such people is not primarily due to lacunae in their superego, but instead to lacunae in their continuity of existence. When they tell you something in the morning and the opposite in the evening, they are not lying, for lying is a developmental achievement that requires a continuous, cohesive self. Rather, like young children, they cannot connect today with yesterday or tomorrow, and so they are telling you the truth as they feel it at the moment, which is the only time they know and the time in which they live.
This immediate, fragmented, ahistorical, unprocessed view of the world can become, as we have seen, very dangerous in a politician who wields great power. ■
Sheldon Bach, PhD, is an adjunct clinical professor of psychology at the New York University postdoctoral program for psychoanalysis, a training and supervising analyst at the Contemporary Freudian Society and the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, and a fellow of the International Psychoanalytical Association. He is the author of several books on psychoanalysis and of many papers, some of which have been collected in Chimeras and Other Writings: Selected Papers of Sheldon Bach. He is in private practice and teaches in New York City.
(1) For Donald Trump, Friends in Few Places. Alan Feuer, New York Times, March 11, 2016.
Photograph by Grayson Smith
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