He’d rather be tearing the head off a rooster

It turns out Trump has a tendency to attack people who annoy him.

Knowing Trump’s reflex is to lash out, aides have in the past warned him that character assassination is a bad idea. They told him to avoid savaging Special Counsel Robert Mueller, for example, advising that it would do him no good. Trump didn’t listen, treating Mueller as another in a long line of antagonists to be trampled.

“He’s a street fighter,” said a former senior White House official, who like others I talked with this week spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Trump’s personality. “He’d rather be tearing the head off a rooster than putting caviar on a cracker.” A Republican senator told me the president “has two speeds: hostile, and hostile on steroids.”

In other words he’s a nasty vulgar malevolent man who never ever restrains his own bad temper.

Why exactly does Trump behave this way? Some mental-health professionals who have studied him—and a few politicians and aides who have worked with him—describe him as a narcissist whose self-image is mortally threatened by criticism of any sort. For Trump, criticism seems to amount to “an attack that is lethal to the public veneer,” Seth Norrholm, a neuroscientist who’s written about Trump’s mental state, told me. The invariable response is “not just [to] extinguish the threat, but to humiliate and destroy the threat.”

This is redescription rather than explanation. Why does Trump vomit rage and hatred all over people? Because he feels a lot of rage and hatred, and he likes to vomit it all over people.

“Some of this comes from immaturity—you can imagine a person who’s narcissistic, but has the intelligence and brains to back it up,” said Norrholm, who believes that Trump is unfit for office. “But there’s not a lot of firepower behind [Trump’s] narcissism, so you end up with grade-school nicknames and playground-level insults.”

Do intelligent narcissists also have enough (or the right kind of) intelligence to know that vulgar abuse doesn’t enhance their status and so restrain some of their hostile urges in favor of more veiled forms of revenge? I believe they do, yes.

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