Opinion | What Makes Trump Act That Way? A Psychiatrist and a Psychologist Weigh In.

Mental health professionals offer explanations. Also: Protecting the ex-president; sealing criminal records; compassionate doctors; sex and the G.O.P.
Opinion | What Makes Trump Act That Way? A Psychiatrist and a Psychologist Weigh In.

To the Editor:

Donald Trump never apologizes, acknowledges a mistake or appears to reflect on his role in the creation of his recurrent difficulties.

As a practicing mental health professional for over 40 years, I believe that people can change, but I also know it is often difficult and painful work, sometimes requiring a therapist to help illuminate why one keeps finding oneself in the same kind of quandary.

This is the central problem that other mental health experts and I addressed in our 2017 book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” and is what makes him unfit to hold high office. He has to be right, never needs to learn from his mistakes, and must protect his inflated and fragile self-image above all else, including the nation’s security.

He is always the victim, never having had a hand in the creation of his own dilemmas.

Leonard L. Glass
Newton, Mass.
The writer is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

To the Editor:

Efforts to find a “logical” or even minimally reasonable explanation for human behavior tend to run into a stone wall, especially when the behavior clearly defies ordinary logic. Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents and his response to government efforts to reclaim them arguably fall within this category.

I would suggest a different approach: a consideration of what might be going on deeper inside Mr. Trump psychologically, below the realm of logic and conscious reason.

Think of a child’s beloved stuffed animals, commonly known in psychoanalytic terminology as “transitional objects.” In theory, the transitional object provides a child with a fantasied connection to the safety provided by the “mother” that is increasingly threatened as normal development and separation occur.

However, transitional objects may also serve perverse or negative functions, such as maintaining the fantasy of unlimited, grandiose power. And the need for that imagined power may be seen as an attempt to counter deep feelings of weakness and vulnerability.

Mr. Trump’s behavior in protecting his transitional objects (in this case the documents) shows all the characteristics of a child’s response when the beloved stuffed animal is lost or taken away. Anxiety and rage are almost instantaneous. Desperate attempts to retain or restore the transitional objects follow. It may be helpful to reconsider Mr. Trump’s behavior as primitive, regressive and best understood outside the parameters of adult thinking.

Priscilla F. Kauff
New York
The writer is a clinical professor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Medical College.

To the Editor:

Re “Jury Indicts Airman Who Posted Secret Files Online on Six Counts” (news article, June 16):

I can’t help but see a connection between Jack Teixeira’s and Donald Trump’s behavior with classified documents. It’s an odd combination of arrested development and pathology.

Each one was obsessed with his secret treasure, used highlights to impress his posse and may have planned to use information as leverage at some point.

They’re like two clueless schoolyard bullies, in so far over their heads that they cannot fathom the consequences.

Alison Fenn
Westport Point, Mass.

To the Editor:

Re “A President Governing From Behind Bars?!,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, June 15):

Mr. Kristof’s speculative piece reminded me of a similar question that has occurred to me recently as Donald Trump’s legal entanglements have become knottier.

Since the Secret Service is obliged to protect former presidents for the rest of their days, would the agents be assigned to adjoining prison cells and accompany him to meals and work assignments, etc.?

Just wondering.

Joseph Mancini
Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Re “New York Lawmakers Pass Clean Slate Act as Legislative Session Fizzles to an End” (news article, June 11):

Your headline suggests a lackluster end to the legislative session, but for the two million New Yorkers now eligible to have their conviction records sealed, it ended with a bang. The Clean Slate Act, which Gov. Kathy Hochul should sign into law without delay, will dismantle a major barrier preventing those with conviction histories from accessing housing and employment opportunities.

The act also gives hope to the 80 million individuals nationwide with criminal records that they too might have a chance to rebuild their lives and enter the middle-class economy.

As someone who spent more than two decades in prison and a national leader in the field of criminal justice reform, I have dedicated my life to erasing the stigma attached to people with arrest or conviction histories so they can successfully reintegrate back into the community.

Doing so will take a concerted effort. We need more states to follow New York’s lead in passing clean slate legislation, and a similar effort at the federal level. In the meantime, employers can join the growing number of companies proactively implementing fair chance hiring practices.

It’s not about a handout or a hand up; it’s about a fair shake.

Ken Oliver
Oakland, Calif.
The writer is vice president of Checkr.org, which promotes hiring people with criminal records, and executive director of the Checkr Foundation.

To the Editor:

Re “A.I.’s Helping Hand” (Science Times, June 13):

During more than 30 years as a clinical oncologist, it was my responsibility almost every day to discuss devastating results and what were often limited treatment options with patients.

Although I believe that A.I. can offer sound suggestions — or even a script — for how to discuss horrible news in a compassionate manner for the average patient, what A.I. cannot yet factor in is that every patient is different, and the “right words” to express compassion are invariably and understandably different for every patient.

Hippocrates said, “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.”

Choosing the words to express compassion and empathy require health care providers to first really listen to our patients. Truly appreciating the unique personality, values and goals of each patient is the key first step in finding the best words to express sympathy, empathy, compassion and hope.

Steven Sorscher
Winston-Salem, N.C.

To the Editor:

Today’s Republican Party is obsessed with sex. It is ostracizing and marginalizing the L.G.B.T.Q. community, vilifying trans people, banning books that mention sex or gender identity, implying that gay teachers are “groomers,” and disparaging harmless drag queens.

The party that not long ago complained about Democrats’ “cancel culture” has itself brought it to a whole new level, causing substantial economic harm to great American corporations like Target, for things that purportedly offend the G.O.P.’s moral sensibilities.

This is all about shamelessly generating fear and hate for political purpose. And it’s meanspirited.

How did we get to the point where political capital is now built on such cruelty to others?

David Pederson
Excelsior, Minn.