Trump, spectacle and psyspeak (2020)

by Federico Soldani

Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America, has not agreed to be interviewed for a mental health assessment to be publicly disclosed thus far, with the exception of a relatively limited cognitive MoCA test by his physician who was allowed public disclosure.  

Trump has been “diagnosed” with an unspecified number of mental labels, from formal, to metaphorical, to informal ones on the media, including so-called social media, over the years, probably too many to count.  Among those: narcissist, pathological narcissist, sociopath, anxious, obsessive, compulsive, paranoid, conspiracy theorist, angry, autistic, etc.

Such unprecedented spread of psyspeak has surely helped the public becoming more versed to attribute diagnostic labels and to use psyspeak as a new cool language for politics and beyond.  

The same is happening to other public figures.  What is the diagnosis of Trump?  Malignant narcissism?  Paranoid personality? Autism? And what is the diagnosis of Greta, the climate change enfant prodige?  Asperger’s? Again, autism

President Trump has even proclaimed annually a World Autism Awareness Day in line with the United Nations.

The above questions are nowadays common among citizens worldwide, citizens who are largely viewing such public spectacle via mass media and new digital media such as Twitter, which has practically become a new institutional presidential communication channel.

The phenomenon of mass psyspeak learning includes citizens usually uninterested in politics; indeed such spectacle looks like entertainment, a so-called reality TV show, increasingly taking place on the Web.

As it happens, Trump has been the protagonist for years of one of the most popular reality TV shows, the Apprentice. Reportedly, though he denied this via Twitter (ça va sans dire), there were news about him joking of a possible future the Apprentice: White House show.

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One of Trump’s critics from the so-called ‘Duty to Warn’ movement, who appears in a video with others, is former American Psychological Association President, Philip Zimbardo (in the photo above, 1971), author half a century ago of the Stanford Prison Experiment and of the book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (2007).

Zimbardo worked two decades ago on TV programs such as BBC “Five Steps to Tyranny.” (2001, full documentary here).  

In the episode ‘Crimes of Obedience,’ of his own reality TV show called “The Human Zoo” (2000), group power erupts and “nice people begin behaving like fascists.” 

Zimbardo advocated for reality TV as a means for teaching psychology to the public: to “promote a positive view of psychology as a discipline committed to improving the quality of our lives as individuals and as a society.  My whole life is about giving psychology away to the public.”

In an article of the Stanford Report entitled ‘Psychologist puts the ‘real’ into reality TV’, “Zimbardo sees reality TV as a logical format for teaching psychology. “The reason reality TV is so popular is because to observe human behavior is fascinating,” he observed. “I spend my whole life doing this.”

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Could Trump’s daily worldwide spectacle and consequent “viral” spread of psyspeak help on an unprecedented scale with teaching psychology globally?

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