Our solipsistic president
By Richard Kagan, Ph.D.
I am very annoyed with how the pundits, the followers, and reporters try to chase down the meaning of President Donald Trump’s words and tweets. I have been an interpreter and translator of several languages. My experiences in foreign communications have alerted me to the discovery that our President is carrying on conversations in a different realm of verbal intercourse. We are wrong in trying to link what he is saying to Webster’s American Language standard or to the Oxford English Language.
Let me try to reach your mind through an analogy. When the magician takes a rabbit out of his or her hat, we are naturally surprised and inquisitive. The correct reaction is to wonder what trick he used to obtain this poor rodent out of the seemingly emptiness of the hat. The wrong, but realistic and empirical question might be: how does he feed the rabbit in the hat? How many carrots does the rabbit eat? Where does the magician buy or grow the rabbit food? Is there also a store or a garden in the hat as well?
The pundits ask similar questions about Trump’s proclamations. What does he mean? Why does he keep changing his opinions? Where does he get his knowledge from?
The reason for the confusion is that we assume our President is addressing us in our own language. Actually, he is not pulling English as we recognize it out of his brain or vocal system.
Let me explain. Let’s start with the answer that is based on research and observation and then provide the explanation. The man called Donald Trump is a solipsistic thinker with a solipsism syndrome. This is a condition where a person believes that everything he is experiencing is a dream, inside his head. He believes that reality is not real. He believes that an outside reality can never be proven.
There are many examples for this syndrome. Perhaps no one better than Santorum has understood this syndrome. When asked why President Trump engages in so many falsehoods—like saying that he had no proof to back up his claim that Middle Eastern men were part of a migrant caravan walking through Mexico, that he fabricated the number of jobs created by arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and that he concocted a fantasy middle-class tax cut two weeks before the midterm election—Santorum explained without hesitation that Trump “tries to take credit for things that aren’t necessarily going to happen.”
For the solipsist, the true belief in reality of the self exists in the privacy of one’s own experience. Thus, without any empirical justification Donald can say he knows more than his generals, he is inherently a smart scientist, and he graduated first in his class in college. He claimed he did not need to study up on his meeting with President Kim Jung-un because he had spent his life preparing for this diplomatic moment.
The solipsist requires a language, a private linguistic system, that is ineffable by being so simplified that it carries limited meaning. It is enhanced through repetition, loud declarations, a cartoonish body language of smirks, smiles, turning head shots, and exaggerated cake walks. The listener is well aware that the rhetoric stirs up emotions of loyalty, support and physical engagement such as in excitably pitched responses to promises of futuristically positive slogans.
The logic of the appeal is most often couched in conspiracy theories. The justification for the policies advanced is presented in terms of a truth that is secret, that has been denied by the culprits who are seizing power from the people, and are a threat to the welfare of the audience. This method is an extension of the private and even secret meaning of the language of the leader/Trump. The enemy is depicted as a dark hidden (swamp) of faceless and conspiracy-oriented forces. Only the solipsist knows what is waiting to be released from the magician’s hat.
Rather than trying to parse the meaning of Trump’s vocabulary and tweets, we need to look beyond his syndrome into the world he is trying to foist on his. He is not pulling up a tame rabbit: he is creating chaos that will bring us pain and nightmares for years to come.
Dr. Kagan writes a regular column for the Fergus Falls Daily Journal in Minnesota and also provides it to the Asian American Press. He is a professor emeritus of East Asian history at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn.