Donald Trump is Man-child – Maybe

Is Donald Trump a child in a man’s body?  … or something more disturbing.

This question has been discussed a lot.  How would you interpret all the public aspects of Donald Trump (fig 1)?

Trump in 6 facits

Fig 1  6 faces of President Trump

Trump is a Man-Child

In recent weeks, this interpretation has been discussed a lot. Here are a couple examples:

David Brooks

Fig 2  David Brooks, OpEd columnist, New York Times

Columnist David Brooks (fig 2) wrote When The World is Led By A Child (2017 May 15) and lists 3 issues that challenge Donald Trump, but which most people solve by the end of puberty.  This is an informative read.

  • Control and focus of attention.  Trump’s attention span is controlled by his short-term impulsive shifts.  His churning thoughts can jumble together threads of thought into any statement.  “Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom.” My comment – He appears unable to actually study anything.
  • Sense of Self  Most adults achieve some understanding of themselves. “But Trump … need[s] perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he …[tells]… fabulist tales about himself”  My comment –people who doubt their own adequacy need  continuous reinforcement.  These are symptoms of deep feelings of inferiority.
  • Theory of Mind  Most people develop a bit of empathy or some at least some understanding of how others respond to events.  It appears Donald Trump never generated a model of how the rest of us think.

I am surprised to realize that I agree with Mr. Brooks completely!  This essay is one of Brooks’ contemplative columns, after his aggressive period when LastTechAge released Inequality problem and Offshoring. He is still a conservative, but much more introspective than a right wing hack. I think I could enjoy coffee with this person.

Michael A. Cohen

Fig 3  Michael A. Cohen, columnist for the Boston Globe

Another example is The Man-Child Strikes Again (2017 May 16) a column by Michael A Cohen (fig 3). He makes many good points.  Here are two …

Cohen quotes Politico “White House and former campaign aides have tried to make sure Trump’s media diet includes regular doses of praise and positive stories to keep his mood up — a tactic honed by staff during the campaign to keep him from tweeting angrily.”

He then points out “This is how one might consider dealing with a hyperactive child rather than a 70-year-old adult…”  My comment – Very good analysis.

Trump is not a Man-Child

There have been pushback comments, though, saying that this is too unfair to children (picture a hoard of 7 year olds marching with protest signs…).

Fig 4  Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology, UC-Berkeley

The New York Times (for example) published letters to this effect and also published the 2017 May 20 article 4-Year-Olds Don’t Act Like Trump by Alison Gopnik (fig 4).

Dr. Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, is an expert in child psychology and makes points from her laboratory studies . Her article is detailed discussion of 8 characteristics of a typical 4 year old – ones that Trump lacks.

In brief:

  1. Four-year-olds care deeply about the truth.  They continuously try to figure out how the world works
  2. Four-year-olds are insatiably curious.  Typical preschoolers ask several hundred questions each day. Personally, I have heard parents say they were going crazy and would be glad when their child “outgrew that stage.”
  3. Four-year-olds can pay attention.  This may be contrary to popular thinking. Babies systematically direct their focus to things that teach the most.  Special attention is given to things that contradict what they currently believe.
  4. Four-year-olds understand the difference between fantasy and reality.  They enjoy pretending but know this is what they are doing. They understand that imaginary friends are – imaginary.
  5. Four-year-olds have a “theory of mind.”  Gopnik’s studies indicate that they do form models of how others think. They can recognize that their own previous conceptions might be wrong.
  6. Four-year-olds are neither egocentric nor self-centered.  Gopnik’s work shows that they understand that different people have different desires.  “Someone else might like broccoli, even though they themselves prefer crackers, and they will help that person get what he wants.” Children as young as 1½ display empathy and altruism.
    (To me, point #6 is the most surprising.)
  7. Four-year-olds have a strong moral sense.  Even babies will avoid a puppet that has been mean to another puppet. Wow.
  8. Four-year-olds are sensitive to social norms and think that they and other people should obey them.  2 and 3 year olds accept rules and protest when someone breaks one.

If you missed Dr. Gopnik’s  article, this might be a good time to click the link (above) and read her really good discussion.   And, by the way, she has a fascinating article in the June 2017 issue of Scientific American where she discusses strategies to base artificial intelligence systems on the way children learn.

She finishes her comment with
We’d all be better off if Mr. Trump were more like that [an average 4 year old].

The Man-Child issue

I started following the Man-Child discussions with a different interpretation in mind, but the points were persuasive.

Man-Child? I am a scientist (physicist) so I accept that actual data must trump couch-cogitation.  Thus, Donald Trump should not be compared to the median child.

Actually, Dr Gopnik’s standard is the 4 year old, but people are most anti-social between ages of approximately 14 and 20; most of us mature out of this – at least somewhat.  But still. Maybe a normal child is not the right analogy.  Should Donald be compared to one with a severe developmental disability?  Or to a different diagnosis?  Gopnik’s ending comment is our summary.

………………………………

Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2017 May 24
This is listed under Politics  in the Politics > Pres Trump thread
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About LastTechAge

I am a physicist with years of work in fusion labs, industry labs, and teaching (physics and math). I have watched the tech scene, watched societal trends and am alarmed. My interest is to help us all improve or maintain that which we worked so hard to achieve.
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