Avner Falk
Clinical psychologist, political psychologist, psychohistorian

The President and his Iron Lady

The irrational nature of the life-and-death nature of the long-standing conflict that U.S. President Donald Trump has been waging with U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi requires a psychological explanation. This struggle has been going on for years, when Pelosi was still the House minority leader, but has intensified since early this year, when Pelosi returned to her previous job as House Speaker.  Trump got himself entangled in a tragic and intractable power struggle with the iron lady of American politics.

At first Pelosi invited Trump to deliver his State of the Union address to both chambers of the U.S. Congress, scheduled for January 29, 2019, in the House chamber, but in mid-January, with Trump’s federal-government shutdown having lasted nearly a full month, Pelosi asked him to postpone his address, on the pretext that she could not guarantee his safety on Capitol Hill during a shutdown.

Trump, who cannot stand to be humiliated, was beside himself with rage. He retaliated against Pelosi by publicizing her secret trip to meet NATO officials in Belgium and U.S. troops in Egypt and Afghanistan, and at the same time canceling it by depriving Pelosi of her military aircraft. Pelosi planned to fly a commercial airline but postponed her trip “due to security concerns created by Trump’s disclosure.” It was a public humiliation for the most powerful person in the U.S. Congress and second most powerful person in Washington, and she was going to hit back.

Since then, Trump and Pelosi have traded an endless series of punches and counter-punches. No single person makes Trump as furious as Pelosi can, no one gets under his skin the way she does, no one drives him as mad as she. On May 22, 2019 Trump stormed out of a meeting with Pelosi and with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, after Pelosi had accused him of covering up his crimes. He swore never to sign another piece of Congressional legislation until the Democrats stopped their “witch hunt” investigations of his “Russiagate.”

Discussing the clashes between Trump and Pelosi on Politico, John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett thought that “in each case, Trump handed Pelosi a huge gift, a priceless moment that helped unify the Democratic Caucus behind her at a crucial time.” The Democratic Representative Dan Kildee of Michigan thought that Pelosi was “smarter than him, and she’s tougher than him, and I think that bothers him. It’s hard to get inside that head of his and figure out what drives him, other than an oversized ego and an undersized sense of ethics.”

After Trump had denied Pelosi the use of U.S. military aircraft for her planned trip to visit NATO and U.S. troops, Trump’s chief ally, the Republican senator Lindsey Graham, attacked Trump’s decision, saying “One sophomoric response does not deserve another.“ Trump’s action was not only “sophomoric,” it was also self-destructive. It made him more enemies in the U.S. Congress and strengthened Pelosi’s hand against him.

Interestingly enough, it has been none other than Nancy Pelosi who has stood between Trump and his impeachment, which she considers an unwise step to take politically, not least because the Democrats do not have the two-thirds majority in the Senate required to convict Trump. She has resisted her colleagues’ calls to impeach Trump, but those calls have multiplied. The Democrats may have no choice but to eventually impeach Trump. In the meantime, Trump an Pelosi have each questioned the other’s sanity and fitness for public office. Trump, who has derogatory epithets for every rival and enemy, did not have one for Pelosi until recently. Now he calls her “Crazy Nancy.”

To truly understand Trump’s irrational emotional reaction to Pelosi, we must go back to his infancy. In 1948, when Donald was a two-year-old toddler named “Donny,” his mother, a poor Scottish immigrant named Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, abandoned him emotionally after the birth of his kid brother, Robert, during which she nearly died, as Trump’s older sister told Gwenda Blair in her book The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate.

When “Donny’s” mother came home from the hospital, “Donny” clung to her, but she was too busy surviving  her operations and taking care of her newborn baby, and had no time for him. This was unbearable for little “Donny,” who had to defend himself by “unconscious splitting.” The image of his early mother in Trump’s unconscious mind was split into two, a good “fairy” and an evil “witch,” as symbolized by Snow White’s two mothers in the fairy tale, the “all good” real mother and the “all bad” narcissistic stepmother.

Henceforth, Trump idealized the women he “fell in love” with, but later fell out of love with them and denigrated them. Not only women, but also countries, to which early feelings about one’s mother are unconsciously displaced, became either all-good or all-bad in his mind, with America being the idealized “great” country and others being “shithole countries.”

In Trump’s unconscious mind, Nancy Pelosi has become the evil witch. She has taken the place of his bad early mother, who had abandoned him emotionally in his earliest life, and whom he wanted to kill for this crime. Pelosi has to be humiliated and destroyed, and “good mother” America saved.

Trump himself, needless to say, has no awareness of any of this. His outbursts of infantile rage at Pelosi are the telltale sign.

Ever since Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysts have known of the tragic “repetition compulsion,” in which a person unconsciously repeats with other people the earliest and most painful traumas of his life with his parents, in order to overcome the feeling of helplessness and gain a feeling of control, only to suffer them again. Unconsciously, Trump is repeating with Nancy Pelosi his earliest life-and-death struggle with his rejecting mother.

All this has a very serious meaning for us in Israel. Due to his massive unconscious splitting, Donald Trump see his entire world in black and white. For him there are “good guys” and “bad honchos” and nothing in between. To him, the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu in a“great guy” and the Palestinian Arab leaders are “bad guys.” This may seem “good for the Jews,” but in fact it is exactly the reverse. By trying to impose an unfair settlement on the Palestinian Arabs, and by trying to buy their freedom and land with economic benefits, he has turned them against the U.S., which is no longer seen as an honest broker.

Moreover, Trump’s envoys to our region, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, are both Jewish, and the Arabs do not trust them. Kushner has been accused of serious corruption by Vicky Ward in her recent book Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

In short, as with the American Evangelicals, whose love for Israel is based on their belief that the return of the Jews to their land is the harbinger of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and that he will convert all of us into Christians, with friends like these you don’t need enemies.

About the Author
Please see http://www.avner-falk.net/biography/