Avner Falk
Clinical and political psychologist and psychohistorian

Trump and His Lawyers: Unconscious Self-Damage

During his four years in office, President Donald Trump insidiously poisoned U.S. democracy, and, as The Washington Post put it, his assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 “utterly fractured the basic level of trust needed to make a political system function — at a critical national moment.” Despite the national emergency of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Republicans in the U.S. Congress fought President Joe Biden’s vaccination plans tooth and nail. Even though four hundred and thirty thousand Americans had died of Covid-19, due to Trump’s negligence, the Republicans opposed Biden’s efforts to get hundreds of millions of vaccines out to Americans who wanted and needed them.

In late January 2021, instead of working with the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on passing the vaccination plan, the Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy flew to Palm Beach, Florida, to pay homage to Trump at Mar-a-Lago. McCarthy launched the election campaign of 2022, hoping to win a majority in the House and to become the majority leader. Partisan interests were once more placed above a national emergency. Pelosi warned of “the enemy within the House,” referring to the pro-Trump Republicans. She said, “We have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”

Since January 20, 2021 Trump had been alone and silent in his Mar-a-Lago castle. Behind the scenes, however, he was trying to run his defense in his second impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, which was due to start of February 9. In late January Trump’s entire second-impeachment defense team resigned because Trump had asked it to violate their professional ethics. The team consisted of five lawyers: Butch Bowers, Deborah Barbier, Josh Howard, Johnny Gasser and Greg Harris. Trump had lost dozens of lawsuits that sought to overturn the election results. His lawyers resigned because Trump had wanted them to argue that the presidential election had been stolen from him, which they could not do, because making a false argument would violate the American Bar Association’s Model Rules and because the Senate would not have accepted such an unfounded defense any more than the federal and state courts had.

The American Bar Association’s Model Rule 1.16 requires a lawyer to “withdraw from representation if the client demands that the lawyer engage in conduct that is illegal or violates the Rules of Professional Conduct.” Those rules forbid a lawyer from making false statements to a tribunal, which includes the United States Senate as well as all courts of law, or from engaging in conduct involving “dishonesty, deceit, fraud or misrepresentation.” Trump’s lawyers could have been disbarred had they made the false argument that Trump insisted on.

Trump’s former personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, with whom Trump had fallen out, disqualified himself from representing Trump at his second Senate impeachment trial. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, a female lawyer from Arizona who had argued, like Giuliani, that the election had been stolen, and made other false statements, faced disciplinary action by their respective state bar associations, Giuliani in New York and Powell in Arizona. They could be disbarred.

On Sunday night, January 31, 2021 Trump named two new lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor Jr., whom he now wanted to argue before the Senate that his second impeachment trial was unconstitutional. The Senate, however, had voted 55 to 45 to pronounce the trial constitutional. And, as USA Today pointed out, “should Trump continue to insist on claiming election fraud, his new lawyers would face the same disciplinary quandary as those who left.” In all likelihood, Trump’s new lawyers would resign as well if he required them to make false statements.

Schoen and Castor were not unblemished, either. Schoen had publicly stated that the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein had not killed himself, even though the authorities had declared Epstein’s death a suicide. Schoen had also represented organized crime bosses in New York. Castor had refused to prosecute the sex offender Bill Cosby when he was the district attorney for the county in which Cosby was charged, even though Cosby was later tried and convicted. Moreover, it was not certain that Schoen and Castor would agree to Trump’s demands.

The dangerous political hack Steve Bannon, whom Trump had fired, reportedly encouraged Trump to defend himself in his second Senate trial. If Trump did so, he would regain the public exposure and the limelight that he so deeply craved, but he would also gravely damage his case. William de Britaine wrote in 1682, “he who will be his own Counsellour, shall be sure to have a Fool for his Client.“ A layman who represents himself is thus a still greater fool. There were few self-damaging things Trump could have done that were worse than causing his legal team to resign by insisting on their representing his delusion before the U.S. Senate.

Unbeknownst to himself, Trump was driven by a powerful unconscious need to destroy himself. He unconsciously repeated his early emotional abandonment by his mother. When Trump was a two-year-old toddler, his mother had almost died when giving birth to his younger brother, Robert. When she returned home, little Donny tried to cling to her, but she had too much on her hands taking care of her new baby and surviving the operations that had almost killed her. She rebuffed her little Donny and abandoned him emotionally. This was the earliest and most powerful trauma of his entire life.

Trump’s younger brother Robert, who had unintentionally taken Donald’s mother away from him when he was born, had died a few months earlier, in August 2020. Donald had naturally had death wishes for the brother who had displaced him in his very early life. He had unconscious guilt feelings about the death of the brother whom he had wished dead, and he needed to punish himself. This was yet another powerful motivation that he was unaware of.

Throughout his life, Trump had acted in a self-destructive manner that was hard for non-psychological observers to see through the wealth and glamor he surrounded himself with. Thirty years earlier her had been on the verge of financial collapse and bankruptcy. Trump was as self-destructive as Charlie Kane in Citizen Kane or Herman Mankiewicz in Mank. Losing his entire defense team by insisting on his delusion of a “stolen election” and being forced to represent himself in his second trial would cap a lifetime of self-damage.

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