By Dr David Laing Dawson
Listening to Donald Trump at any time is not conducive to equanimity but I clicked on the link to his “take on Brexit”. He was asked about Brexit by a reporter as he stood behind a podium. At first, in a congenial way, he responded that he had been reading a lot about Brexit in anticipation of his upcoming visit to the UK. And then he elaborated in his usual style.
But I am writing about this because it was a clear demonstration of how Donald Trump’s mind works, and of the concept of “associations”.
When we listen to someone else, or to our own thoughts as we form sentences and speak words, each noun, verb, adverb and adjective can cause us to experience associations from other memories and experiences.
In a serious discussion about roses the word “pink” might be used, causing us to think of a “pink Cadillac” or the singer “Pink”, but being in the context of a serious discussion about horticulture we will not let our brains and mouths take us off the topic at hand.
Now people with Asperger’s or “on the ASD spectrum”, not being as keenly aware of the intent of the speaker as others usually are, will often go off on an extraneous tangent, caused by a word association. Often it is a metaphor or simile mistaken for a factual statement of equal or more importance than the original topic.
Someone in a state of disorganized psychosis may appear to go off on an irrelevant tangent linked to a single word, and in that tangent the unusual linkages can occur over and over and may cause a “word salad.”. “Word salad” being an extreme form of “loosened associations.” Of course some of the associations may be to unspoken thoughts and feelings, including delusions and hallucinations.
With the toxicity of drugs, alcohol, infections, chemicals, the fractured sentence structure can be further impaired by problems of working, immediate, and recent memory and the distractions of distorted perceptions.
In dementia, with impairment of recent memory, the brain may associate words spoken, not with the forgotten recent topic, but with other older memories.
And, of course, with some people, the assault on linear, logical and cohesive sentence structure can come from word associations to an overwhelming theme, or trait, or need, or obsession. And here we have Donald Trump. Always, always to his own accomplishments, his self-aggrandizement, his prickly defensiveness, his greatness, his popularity, his wealth.
It is difficult to discern from his answer how much he actually knows about Brexit (probably very little). But the word “Ireland” took him to the properties he owns in Ireland, to how much they love him there, and on to the “magical” property he owns in Scotland, the birthplace of his mother, and the fact he owns properties “all over”, but the people voted to leave the EU, and there will be protests, there will always be protests, and the word protests took him to his own experience of protests during his election (actually switching to the American election without naming it) and how many electoral votes he got, and the words won and election, took him to Wisconsin which he won and Ronald Reagan didn’t win even when Reagan “swept the board”.
There was nothing new here, but a clear demonstration of how much Donald Trump’s narcissism intrudes and distracts from any cohesive linear thought about something other than himself.
In a similar vein, if one listens carefully to Trump’s semantics, his choice of references, his associative processes, when he talks about the upcoming meeting with Putin, his narcissism prevents him from seeing himself as anything but himself, not as a representative of a country. His mind loops within the small circle of how he personally will be perceived and received by Putin (compared to all the lesser presidents who came before him of course).
In a sane world this man would now be making decisions about nothing more than the hair and tanning products he applies each morning. And perhaps what club to use on the dogleg seventh.