Presidents are always on the edge of the slippery slope. The very needs, desires and qualities that cause them to aspire to the presidency can be their downfall and have disastrous consequences for their followers and the country. We are seeing that very thing happen with Donald Trump.
In his book Organizational Paradoxes, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries discusses the concept of the folie à deux, “a collective phenomenon whereby entire groups of individuals become influenced by the delusional ideas of the affected person.” [See Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Organizational Paradoxes: Clinical Approaches to Management, 2nd Edition, (London: Tavistock Publications, 1980, 2nd edition 1995): 85]
A folie à deux is a kind of mental contagion or collective insanity characterized by leaders and followers sharing “illusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution.” [Kets de Vries, 86]
Leaders who are predisposed to folie à deux can be recognized by behavior patterns such as those in the list below. Trump exhibits all of these behaviors.
- Displays of conceit, arrogance and righteousness which camouflage underlying feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and low self-esteem.
- Holding rigid concepts and ideas that are extremely difficult to alter by any appeal to logic or reality because of their uncompromising, hostile and aggressive stand.
- A façade of bravado, self-sufficiency and unrealistic pride.
- A need to dominate and control the persons around them.
- Strong resentment of any form of authority directed toward themselves.
- Constant defensiveness manifested by a hyper-alertness, hypersensitivity, suspiciousness, guardedness, and a critical attitude toward others.
- Preoccupation with hidden motives coupled with a search for confirmation of suspicions.
- Feeling easily slighted, wronged, or ignored.
- Lack of trust and confidence in others.
- Frequent mood swings.
- A false display of friendliness and companionship that is nothing more than a façade that is quickly shattered by the slightest provocation, after which the full force of hate, mistrust and rage becomes evident.
- Lack a sense of humor.
[Source: Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Organizational Paradoxes: Clinical Approaches to Management, 2nd Edition, (London: Tavistock Publications, 1980, 2nd edition 1995): 103.]
Beware the Slippery Slope
What we are seeing with Trump and his followers in and out of Congress is a scenario that is all too common. The charismatic leader has a need for power and influence and develops the ability to acquire both. His followers need the leader to fulfill their own psychic needs for meaning, purpose, confidence and security. Each feeds upon the other, sometimes too much so.
As the leader acquires more and more power, he becomes even more attractive to his followers who begin to see him as omnipotent. The leader assumes the mantel of savior with near magical powers. He “becomes a symbol to his followers of the long-sought-after, and for common mortals never attainable, state of final independence. He appears to need nobody and thus seems possessor of the envied ability to attain complete mastery and control over his environment.” A downward spiral begins. Leader and follower alike regress to a childlike state “in which fantasies of omnipotence and of being taken care of play a major role.” The followers’ belief in their leader’s omnipotence reinforces the leader’s illusions of grandeur and self-love. The leader’s grandeur reinforces the followers’ beliefs in his God-like statue. Eventually no one will give him negative feedback. The cycle of positive feedback can reach megalomaniacal heights as it did in the case of Adolf Hitler. To his followers, Hitler was “the greatest artist of all time” and “the greatest general of all time.” He had “an antenna directly to God.” The Führer was always right. He was “the only man in the world in the history of mankind who never made mistakes.”
[Quotes from: Gustav Bychowski from his study Dictators and Disciples quoted in Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, Organizational Paradoxes: Clinical Approaches to Management, 2nd Edition, (London: Tavistock Publications, 1980, 2nd edition 1995): 73.]
Trump’s former Chief of Staff, John Kelley recently came under fire from Trump and Trump’s followers for warning Trump that he needed someone on his staff who would tell him No.
Kelley was right, particularly when it comes to Trump and his followers. For the sake of our country, Trump’s staff, the Congress and the public, particularly those who still support Trump, must for his sake and the sake of our country, tell him NO in the strongest possible terms.