What is it like to be Trump?

Most of you probably know about Thomas Nagel’s famous article, “What is it like to be a bat?” (article here), which denies a materialistic understanding of consciousness based on our inability to understand what a bat’s consciousness is really like. While philosophers have argued over Nagel’s thesis, there’s little doubt that, at least for the present, we have no way of getting inside a bat’s head to answer his title question.  (I often wonder, while tending the ducks at Botany Pond, what it’s like to be a duck.)

While a bat’s mind is inaccessible for the nonce, that’s also true of any other creature, including other humans. We don’t know what it’s like to be Christopher Walken, for instance. But we can be pretty sure, based on the fact that the neuronal wiring and acculturation of humans in our society is fairly similar, and because we also can get self-reports from people, that the consciousness of our fellow hominins is pretty similar to ours. There are of course exceptions: people in vegetative or comatose states, people with severe mental illnesses, and so on.

Speaking of the latter, when I woke up in the middle of the night last night (I don’t sleep well during the pandemic), it suddenly struck me that I have no idea what it’s like to be Donald Trump—in a way that’s similar to Nagel’s question. More than most other humans, Trump’s inner life is largely inaccessible to me.  That is, his behavior and mentation seems so alien compared to those of other people, that I have no idea what’s going on in that depilated noggin. Surely, though, he thinks that although he appears narcissistic, erratic, and foolish to most of us, he thinks he’s just fine—tremendous, as he says. He’s a “stable genius.” He surely thinks that it’s other people who are the problem.

The disparity between how Trump describes himself and how he comes across is greater than that of most people, though all of us have a self-image somewhat at odds with how we seem to others. It’s just that in Trump this disparity seems huge. And I wonder if others have entertained this same question.

As a determinist, I can’t fault Trump for making the wrong choices about what he does and what he says, or about who he’s become. That’s all a product of his genes and his environment and he never really had a choice in the ” libertarian free will” sense. But of course we can—and should—call him out for his behavior, because, though influencing the man himself is a lost cause, we might influence others to vote against him.

What is it like to be a Trump? I doubt that it’s pleasant given his obsessive monitoring of how people regard him and his frequent bursts of anger and invective. But I’m sure that if you asked him, he’d respond that he’s “perfect”, that “there’s nobody on Earth happier than I.”

So go the 2 a.m. thoughts during a pandemic.

 

116 Comments

  1. DrBrydon
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    It’s an interesting question. I feel like I’ve known Donald Trumps over the years in business. I think he represents a type, although I think he has risen past his Peter Principle position. The autocratic style that sometimes works in business doesn’t fit the Presidency, where execution by fiat is limited. I think he liked being the high-flying, big-spender that he was when he was a business man. He enjoyed his victories, and probably brooded minimally on his losses. We know he’s vengeful, he probably always has been. It would seem to go with the narcissism. I suspect now, though, that he is probably very unhappy, since he is limited in what he can do (and always being told that), and because the press is uniformly hostile (not just critical). To some extent, though, that may also be a motivation. I think he’s running to have another win, and it would be his biggest because of the hostility.

    • phoffman56
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      You sound mostly convincing to me, but

      “..the press is uniformly hostile (not just critical)..”

      Mrudoch’s newspapers? Taking a liberty with the word “press”, Fox News?

      • DrBrydon
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        The exceptions that prove the rule?

      • phoffman56
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        I rue the existence of Duncan Murdoch, but my proofreading for spelling wouldn’t get me a job with him!

      • phoffman56
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        I better go back to bed: another goof, it’s Rupert. Not Duncan, a person I once knew quite well and a fine fellow indeed!

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    At two a.m. that has to be a nightmare. Attempting to know what goes on in the mind of a very mentally disturbed person is not to be found.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Cohen was interviewed by Maddow last night on her show. He has a book out now that might help some to understand this guy. Everything with Trump is transactional. This is why he thinks going to Vietnam was for losers. Dying in combat is for losers. He did not expect to win in 2016. It was suppose to be a big advertisement for Trump’s move into Russia with big profits. When he won with Putin’s help, that screwed up his plans.

      One thing to help people understand how damaged our system is because of Trump – The Justice Department is now defending Trump in a rape case. A woman who was raped by him 25 years ago is taking it to court. So now, our U.S. govt. is defending Trump in this matter. This is how low we have gone.

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        In fairness (and I agree it’s not fair!) they are not defending him in a rape case, they are defending him in a defamation case related to comments that he made while president relating to the alleged rape. The open question (I think, not being a lawyer) is whether he made those comments in a private or a public capacity. The justice dept is saying that they were a part of his official duties – an “interesting” take on things. We will see how it works out.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          Yes, technically you are correct. The AG jumped in to protect him from defamation against the woman. Took the case away from the state which Trump was losing. Very unlikely the fed will prevail, part of his duties my ass. However, the whole point as always with Trump is delay and postpone until it won’t matter. He was going to have to testify or be questioned by her lawyers when Barr jumped in and saved Trump.

        • Posted September 9, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          Well, according to the Barr JD, anything tRump does is protected!

  3. phoffman56
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    What it is like to be Donald Trump is very much the same as what it is like to be a typical Komodo dragon.

    Not much content, probably not true if such questions are really meaningful, but it was the first thing that crossed my mind. He inflicts (inflickers?) a bite on his ‘enemies’ and steps back to let his poison have its effects.

  4. Alison Dinsmore
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Is it possible he’s in a panic most of the time, and that’s what makes him behave the way he does?

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Yes. As stated by Randall above, he didn’t want to win in 2016, at least not at first. Winning has brought him much more scrutiny as well as strait jacketing him in some ways. As a result, he’d be in trouble with the law, if he weren’t protected by being president.

      I think, the minute he loses the protection he has by virtue of being president, he is going to have the justice department all over him. I think some of his cronies like, for example William Barr, will be found to have lied to Congress and perhaps elsewhere to protect him.

      He needs to win this election or he’s goingg to jail. OF course he’s panicking.

      • phoffman56
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        “He needs to win this election or he’s goingg to jail.”

        Sure hope so, and Barr going there too.

        But Barr is a liar with far more emotional control, and so he’d likely be able to slither away from his crimes, rather than delaying and overwhelming his opponents with lawyers, and using many times the absolutely stupid USian policy of never prosecuting a president.

        • Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          Someone pointed out that if Trump loses the election, he can resign before Inauguration Day, making Pence president, and then he can pardon Trump. Of course, that’s only helpful with Federal crimes.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Another option presented to Trump is, even if he loses bad to Biden, he could then resign, turn it over to Pence and then Pence pardons him for everything and anything. This does not save him from state crimes but anything federal.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          Yes, and there is a precedent for it set by Nixon and Ford.

        • phoffman56
          Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:33 am | Permalink

          … a Mass Murderer donald option that Cohen mentioned last night on Rachel Maddow, but one which had somehow never occurred to me previously.

          This again emphasizes the stupidities of USian
          1/ refusal to prosecute a president for anything and
          2/ giving a president the power to unilaterally pardon anyone for any federal crime.

          Banana republic–at least in those respects. Is there any other ‘western’ country that has anything remotely resembling either of those stupidities? Shouldn’t Biden say he’ll do all he can to cancel them?

          • Veroxitatis
            Posted September 9, 2020 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

            Yes, the UK which is of course, the origin of the presidential pardon. The monarch cannot be prosecuted or sued in his / her own courts. The Royal Prerogative of Mercy is however by convention exercised on advice of an appropriate Minister, normally the Home Secretary. It has been used sparingly and often following considerable public debate and even public enquiries. It bears no comparison to the exercise carried out by US presidents on their demitting office. Here are a couple of cases in point. Timothy Evans was hanged for the murder of his wife. Later, further evidence became available to show that a neighbor, Reginald Christie, had carried out that murder and others by similar methods. In 1952, Allan Turing was convicted of gross indecency with a male person in a public lavatory. He was recently postumously pardoned in light of changed attitudes to homosexuality and an acknowledgement of the debt owed by Britain to Turing in light of his code breaking work at Bletchley Park during WWII.

        • Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          You beat me to it.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

          What’s in it for Pence — other than going in the record books as the 46th president (if only, perhaps, for a day)? It would certainly mean the end to his having any future in politics.

          Plus, I doubt Trump trusts Pence enough to be confident he’d follow through once he’d taken the oath of office and Trump was out of the way.

          Trump is going to try to pardon himself. Then, it will be up to the courts (meaning, eventually, SCOTUS) to decide if a president has that power. Pardon or no pardon, Trump may well wind up indicted on New York state criminal charges, brought by the Manhattan DA’s or New York attorney general’s office. He can’t pardon his way outta that trouble.

          • GBJames
            Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

            I’ve asked myself that “What’s in it for Pence?” question repeatedly. What I come up with is something like this… Pence wants to inherit the tRumpian base electorate. If he failed to pardon tRump they would never forgive him. He could easily do it and explain it away as simply following precedent.

            • Posted September 9, 2020 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

              I think political animals like Pence are motivated mostly by power and survival while seeking more of it. That said, I can’t imagine the Trump organization selecting Pence as their heir or Pence being able to rally the GOP around him. Trump himself would only pick a family member. I can’t imagine he would get out of bed to help anyone else. I don’t imagine any of his kids could pull it off. They could try to be mini-Trumps but would always be in daddy’s shadow.

              • GBJames
                Posted September 9, 2020 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

                I don’t disagree with that but the Trump Org is irrelevant. Pence is the VP and if anyone is going to pardon tRump it will have to be him. (Assuming no self/pardon)

              • Posted September 9, 2020 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

                I guess I left out a step from my argument. Pence needs the support of what’s left of the Trump machine. If he doesn’t pardon Trump, he’s out in the cold with no friends at all.

              • GBJames
                Posted September 9, 2020 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

                Correct.

          • Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

            Trump still controls the GOP and its voters. That won’t go away the instant Trump loses. His sycophants will just await his orders. Even if Pence doesn’t want to pardon him, his political future with the GOP depends on him doing it anyway. And his future with a party other than the GOP doesn’t exist.

      • Moishe
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        He may be somewhat worried about being prosecuted if he loses, but I suspect that there is something else really scares him.

        I believe that Putin absolutely owns Trump in the financial sense, through Deutsche Bank covenants and other financial arrangements. If that is the case a loss would end any use Putin has for him.

        IOW, Putin might have the power to destroy Trumps’ financial empire.

        • Posted September 9, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          Yes, exactly. The whole point of the Helsinki tete-a-tete.

          I wonder how Putin will play his cards, because play them he will some day.

      • Eli
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        I am not so sure about Trump going to jail after he stops being president. I think this would be an important test of the American political system and it is crucial that justice is seen to be done. But the precedents are not good. Nixon, famously, got off scot free for all the law breaking he did. When Obama came into office, he refused to prosecute the CIA employees who tortured people despite them breaking both domestic and international law. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some deal that the Democrats make with Trump, where in exchange for immunity from prosecution Trump agrees to stop agitating for “2A solutions”. Compare this to Israel where both a former president and a former prime minister were duly convicted and served their sentence.

        • Posted September 9, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think the Democrats need to be scared of 2A solutions. I don’t think the right wingers with guns have the balls to go up against the US Army and if they did, it gives a huge boost to gun control advocates to have people running muck in the streets with guns.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know about panic. I suspect Trump, like most who lack empathy, has a very small amygdala & doesn’t get rattled easily at the same things people with normal sized amygdalas do.

      • rickflick
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        “In short, the brain of a psychopath is different than a normal brain. There are three main parts of the brain which psychopath brain scans show significant differences in. They are in the regions of the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex, and the extended paralimbic structures.”

      • rickflick
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Just Googled up this. I’m going to read it later:

        https://www.learning-mind.com/psychopaths-brain-differences/

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

          Yeah read the psychopath inside. It goes I to to as well.

  5. Nicholas K.
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I think Trump would be more pitiful if it weren’t for the fact he is President. He clearly shows several personality disorders. While perhaps not mentally ill, he cannot help himself. He is a sad and pathetic figure.

    His pathology drives him. While personality disorders are difficult if not impossible to treat, they leave behind them a wake of destruction.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      In the 1990s, as a grown-ass man pushing 50 with failed marriages behind him, Donald Trump would call reporters on the telephone and pretend to be “Donald Trump’s publicist” (using the name “John Miller” or “John Baron”) to plant stories in the NY tabloid press that women Donald Trump did not know — women such as Madonna and Princess Diana — wanted to fuck Donald Trump.

      That is, I think, the most pitiful thing I’ve ever heard of a person in public life doing.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Yeah it’s kind of George Costanza but less relatable.

      • rickflick
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        I have to think some of those conversations are on tape.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted September 9, 2020 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

          Indeed, at least one of them is in the public domain, although Donald Trump has risibly claimed the voice on it is not his:

          • rickflick
            Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

            In order for that not to be DT, it would have to be the greatest mimic ever to come down the pike. But, I think there are technical ways of determining to a high degree of certainty who made the call. I think Biden could make use of these tapes in some ads.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

              If Biden won’t, The Lincoln Project will. They have been putting out a lot of hard hitting stuff.

              • rickflick
                Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

                Thank God for Abraham Lincoln.

  6. Marou
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    He’s a an over-indulged child

    • Mark R.
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      “too much and never enough…”

  7. A C Harper
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    What is it like to be a Biden? I expect there are a sizeable proportion of American voters who wake up at night worrying about him too.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Only those in the cult. Are you one of them?

      • Historian
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Yes, indeed. The cult is afraid of any candidate that challenges its status in society. Viewing life as a zero sum game, its members are leery of sharing power with the “others.” Many are fearful of slipping downwards in society’s hierarchy. But, in their deluded minds, they think Trump will protect them. For them, being white is the marker that retains their self-esteem. No matter what else may happen, their skin color affords them the psychological solace of knowing that there is always others that are inferior to them. This phenomenon is nothing new. Dominant groups always fear challenges from others. In today’s American society, this fear is at its greatest peak since the white South seceded in order to protect slavery.

      • A C Harper
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        Nope. I’m not an American voter, but I do worry that the political debate is so polarised. Trump is undoubtedly awful but I’m not sure that Joe Biden is (if successful) going to be a better President for the whole of America.

        • Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          Trump voters always say stuff like this on liberal websites. So I’ll bite. What is it about Biden that you think will be bad for America?

        • Keith
          Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          Complete nonsense. Whatever one thinks of his politics, Joe Biden is an honorable public servant with a record of decency and integrity. He will be a president for the entire country. The Trump cultists–stupid as they are–won’t accept this reality, but the vast majority of the country will gladly move on without them.

        • Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          I’m wondering what segment of America tRump is good for (aside from the top 1% of earners and the single-issue abortion voters (Gorsuch & Kavanaugh))?

          Certainly not the working class. He’s done nothing for them except make it harder afford home ownership (and give him another term and maybe he can take away Social Security and Medicare as well). And he’s made consume goods more expensive with his silly trade wars.

        • phoffman56
          Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          Neither am I, as a Canadian. I assume you are not, but mimic BBC, which seems ignorant of geography, the word America, and where it came from. You are certainly correct that Biden won’t be much of a president for the WHOLE of America. That’s because he will not be the president of Canada, nor Chile, nor Galapagos, nor St. Pierre and Miquelon, etc. It seems hopeless, my babbling won’t change anything, and talking to each other they can call their country whatever they want. But I have no compunction in reminding USians (sorry others) about the Monroe doctrine vis-a-vis the rest of the two continents called America, and of their invasion of Canada debacle of 1812.

          Most countries don’t need 10 syllables to name their country, but maybe after November it will be renamed Trumpistan. I hope not.

          It’s that word “whole” that got to me going there!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

            Wow, that really got your gotchies in a bunch! You should just chill out and eat a butter tart, eh….

            • Mike
              Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

              Blackberry tart. Butter tarts are for winter.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

                Heretic! Butter tarts are good no matter the season or occasion!

              • Posted September 9, 2020 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

                Butter tarts here in Colorado; it’s winter for two days 😋

            • phoffman56
              Posted September 9, 2020 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

              You’re right–and the butter tart is far better for me than poutine!

          • Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

            Think of it this way. “America” is the last name of the “United States of America.” People call it by its last name, as in a British boarding school.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            That’s because he will not be the president of Canada, nor Chile, nor Galapagos, nor St. Pierre and Miquelon, etc.

            Shhhh! I don’t think anyone’s ever told Trump the part about Galapagos, St. Pierre, Miquelon, and etc. 🙂

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      That’s an easy one. Being Biden is a lot like being most people. Doing Trump is much, much harder.

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Pretty much like everyone else.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, figuring Biden out is pretty much like figuring out your old Uncle Joe.

  8. Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    What is it like to be tRump? What is it like to be batty?

  9. Simon Hayward
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Driving into work this morning I was listening to Steve Levitt (Prof of Economics at UofC) interviewing Mayim Bialik (lifelong actress but also a PhD neuroscientist, among other things). Bailik described herself as essentially an artist who lives to help other people have joyful experiences, while Levitt said that he considers himself to be somewhere on the autism spectrum and has trouble imagining that other people have an internal life are not just objects put there for his amusement.

    That’s a huge range for two high functioning and, at least superficially, “nice” people.Trump’s pathologies probably push I’m in some other direction, but it’s hard to think he cares much about anyone but himself.

  10. Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Sub

  11. Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    What is it like to be person X? I think the only way to guess at that is to read biographies. I say that because, thanks to recommendations on this site, I have just read four volumes of Caro’s biography of LBJ, a president who has always fascinated and puzzled me. I now believe I can guess somewhat like what it was like to be LBJ. But I cannot bring myself to read a biography of tRump. Not yet anyway. Maybe later when he is out of office and in jail, where he belongs.

    • Historian
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Congratulations on reading the four volumes. Many years ago I read Caro’s volume on Robert Moses. It was great. Someday I hope to read at least one of his volumes on LBJ.

      • Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        It was one of the few joys of quarantine. Now if only Caro would get that fifth volume completed.

        • Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          To what other biography would you compare it?

          I tried to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bio (single volume) of LBJ and bogged down in the details. (Too many notes, Mozart!)

          Four volumes (five!) seems really intimidating to me.

          I tried to read Shelby Foote’s Civil War history and the same thing happened. Then I discovered the single volume (Pulitzer PRize winning) The Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson, which I absolutely loved.

          I have loved histories by Barbara Tuchman (and many others, including Churchill, William Manchester, Wallace Stegner, Stephen Ambrose, David Roberts, Mark Kurlansky, John McPhee, H.G. Wells, Simon Winchester, the ancient Roman and Greek authors in translation).

          And I have loved biographies by Walter Isaacson and some others whom I am not thinking of at the moment.

          I like a well-told story. I have heard nothing but great things about Caro. Is he that good a story-teller?

          • Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

            Actually, I have never read a biography quite like it. The details about legislative mechanics are mind numbing, but essential to understanding LBJ’s genius and how he managed to do the seemingly impossible (at the time) on civil rights legislation. A lot of the biography is about understanding LBJ as a flawed human being, his strengths and weaknesses, his impoverished childhood, his single-mindedness, his drive to be President by whatever means necessary (hopefully not assassination.) Caro paints a very negative picture of his ruthlessness, a trait he shared with his nemesis Robert Kennedy, but also of how hard he worked and the sincerity of his sympathy for blacks and hispanics despite a racist past and the fact he rose to prominence as a favorite of the racist Southern Senate bloc.

            I don’t think I would have attempted to read it but for the time I had on my hands. My wife is glad that I have finally finished it. My delayed chores list is long.

            • Posted September 9, 2020 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

              Thanks very much for your detailed reply!

          • Posted September 10, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

            Ron Chernow and David McCullough for bios. 🙂

  12. Roo
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I think the most effective way to reflect on what it is like to be someone else is to reflect on what it was like to be a version of yourself that you no longer recognize. In that case you have at least some firsthand knowledge of both viewpoints (even if the need to see ourselves as consistent beings means some of those memories are hard to pull up) and can think about what shifted between the two versions of yourself. Emotional reactions, baseline moods, more information, etc.

    Sometimes, I think the shift is hard to find. For example, I remember that before I had a child, I thought that people who coslept lacked boundaries with their kids, and this seemed like an obvious, commonsense truth to me. Now I think “a baby needs to be with its mother, clearly”, and this seems like a commonsense, should-be-obvious truth to me, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what shifted, just that they both seemed totally obvious to me at different points in time. I can infer things about oxytocin and bonding and all that, of course, but subjectively, they both just appeared in consciousness as ‘common sense’ at different points in times.

    Sometimes the shift is obviously having more information, having ‘walked a mile in another’s shoes’. This was very much the case before and after I worked in a setting where caseloads are ridiculous and unmanageable. Before working in that setting, I had some kinda high and mighty ideas about what crappy workers people in that setting were. After working there, I came to realize they were the products of an unworkable system where you just couldn’t get anything done.

    Sometimes you have a vague memory of how your emotional state was different at the time. I think memories of being young are definitely an example of this – you can’t really pull the experience back up again, but there’s a vague memory of how the emotional payoff for various things was completely different. What I might find exhausting or nerve-wracking now I might have found thrilling then; while my baseline state on a Friday night now is probably fatigue after a long week, my baseline state at 19 would have been extreme restlessness.

    I think that gives one at least a start in seeing what factors are important and shift around in creating states of mind that seem foreign to us. When I see people whose actions don’t make sense to me, I try to reflect back on a time when my own actions, in hindsight, now don’t make sense to me. People always make sense to themselves in the first person, it’s just a matter of seeing how.

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      It’s notoriously hard to remember what it was like not to know something you now know. It’s a huge barrier to empathy.

      • Posted September 9, 2020 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        Also a huge barrier to teaching. And to writing well in certain cases (like complex non-fiction).

  13. Mike
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    True story. I started to read this post, and as the bat and duck examples were offered and then Jerry pointed out that other humans are similar to ourselves and can tell us what they experience & think, I though to myself, “Yes, but the real puzzle is: What’s it like to be a psychopath. That’s the mystery, because psychopaths are clearly not wired like other people, and because a psychopath won’t tell you what he’s *really* thinking.” And as that thought was forming in my mind, suddenly there was the reference to Trump and what it’s like to be him. Perfect.

  14. Mark R.
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I often wonder what kind of drugs he’s on. Sometimes he’s manic, hair on fire crazy, sometimes he’s overly subdued and sometimes (rarely) he seems normal. Then there’s times he’s constantly sniffling and sometimes slurs his words. Tom Arnold said he sniffed Adderall on the Apprentice set. And did anyone see Don Jr. giving his RNC speech? (Not that Jr. doing drugs incriminates his dad.) It’s no surprise rumors arose that he was high on coke. I only watched him for a minute or so and noticed his glassy eyes and complete mania. I’ve known people on coke; he fit the look to a “t”.

  15. GBJames
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Nighttime worries.

    I spent the night before last totally incapable of remembering the name “Anthony Bourdain”. Drove me crazy. I recovered my memory in the morning.

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Hoppin. Hank! This happens to me all the time! Dang!

      I can see the person in my mind’s eye, in 3D, moving pictures, I can hear their voice. Can’t think of their name.

      Until the morning, like you said, or it suddenly, out of the blue, just comes to me (which is how the brain works! I’m just used to having the ability to bring them up from the subconscious ether with some level of volition!).

      Some of my favorites have been obscure people like Pierre Rolland (Tour de France rider), and some other whom I can’t think of right now!!

      Yes, disturbs my sleep sometimes too.

      • Posted September 9, 2020 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        I often get up in the middle of the night and google what I can’t remember, just so I can go to sleep.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      I wish there were a device that you could think an image into and it would come up with words for that image. Of course, such a device would make the future terrifying but we’d never forget words for things for long.

  16. Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Recently, Trump has had a similar thought to yours. According to reports, he expressed wonderment at the fact that people join the Armed Services and risk their lives for their country.

  17. steve oberski
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    From the Stephen Colbert interview with Mary Trump:

    “I think if we look simply at what he experienced as a child, we should have a great deal of compassion for what that child experienced, witnessed and suffered,” Mary Trump said. “However, that having been said, Donald is an adult human being who understands the difference between right and wrong. He doesn’t think that the rules apply to him, but he understands them. And that we don’t need to have compassion for and it certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t have to hold him accountable.”

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      I think Trump does know the rules apply to him. He just thinks that his life’s work is to avoid the rules and maximize his own pleasure. It’s pretty simple really.

  18. Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    While it is hard to imagine being Trump, here’s a tougher one. What’s it like to be a Trump fan, like those in the front row at his rallies? Now that’s some scary sh*t!

    • Mark R.
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I guess it’s like those girls from the 60’s when they encountered a live Beatles show. Out of their minds with adoration. Now with the Beatles, I can relate, but with Trump?

    • Neil Wolfe
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Simply hold your breath for 7-8 minutes and when you wake up you will have damaged your brain enough to experience the world in a manner similar to Trump’s most fervent supporters.

    • Historian
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      I my response to comment #7, I present what I think it means to be a Trump cult member. But, what is most important is that they believe the cult leader no matter what the evidence shows. This means they do not care in the least if Trump should proclaim himself a dictator and end democracy. This is what is most scary about them.

  19. Billywindsock
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    My nightmare last night was being trapped inside full plate armour at the Battle of Barnet (the site of which is close to where I live,) and having red hot sand poured into my visor. I woke up very flustered, but feel I got off quite lightly compared to you!

  20. KD
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    This one is brilliant. I’m still laughing.

  21. Posted September 9, 2020 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    A thing that is amazing is that most people think they are moral beings.
    A father steeped in conservative Islam might murder his daughter if he even suspects she spoke to a boy.
    A white supremacist plans to mass murder parishioners in a black Baptist church.

    Of course there are exceptions, as there are people who know right from wrong but find they can’t help themselves. But still, our range of moral certainty is astonishing.

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Yep: Culture –> Beliefs –> Actions.

      Culture and beliefs matter.

  22. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Trump doesn’t know what it is to be Trump but only character he creates in his mind. He’s a sociopathic narcissist. They don’t have self reflection or even a real sense of self – it’s why he doesn’t have any strong beliefs and simply goes with what he perceives as getting him what he wants.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      In the simplest terms, that is exactly what Trump is. The true psychopath is what Trump is. Sociopath may still have a conscience but the psychopath does not. Trump does not.

  23. Posted September 9, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I am probably wrong, but sometimes I wonder if tRump actually feels like a pathetic little child, over his head, and covering up his many inadequacies with bombast and braggadocio.

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps he spend his time scrambling with terror to try NOT to feel that way.

  24. Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Bob Woodward’s new revelations about Trump are really something! Quite relevant to this post’s subject.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bob-woodward-rage-book-trump/2020/09/09/0368fe3c-efd2-11ea-b4bc-3a2098fc73d4_story.html

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 9, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      There are so many good books coming out now related to Trump, I wish I had time to read more of them. The bigger problem is that those who need to read them never will.

  25. Posted September 9, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I think most people aren’t even very good at imagining, or describing with any consistency, what it’s really like to be themselves. We know that our experiencing selves and our remembering selves disagree about many things, and most of us are too distracted by going through every day to think about what it’s like to do it. Or perhaps I’m projecting.

  26. Keith
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    This is such a thought provoking post, and why for me, WEIT is such a gem in the vast ocean of internet rough. I recall a post a week or so ago that asked what the Trump administration has done well. It speaks volumes for the problem-solving mindset of enlightenment liberals compared to the approach usually taken by illiberal wokes and conservatives. Fiat lux!

  27. Posted September 9, 2020 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating subject.

    I think Trump is unhappy; and I would make the normative claim that he should be. COVID is probably not what he was expecting.

    The one thing I am certain of is that things that Trump thinks are important or pretends that they are important are very boring to me. The man sits in a petty and vengeful world that doesn’t interest me at all, especially the Christianity he panders.

  28. rickflick
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Wow! A lot of comments here. Everyone wants to know (and guess at) what makes the Orange menace tick.

    1. Animals consciousness must be limited by a lack of deep reflection. They are creatures of the spontaneous moment. Being a bat would be focused on the task at hand without complexity.

    2. Donald tRump is a psychopath – make no mistake about that. The characteristic of a psychopath correlates to missing some personality components, namely, empathy and related social tendencies. This suggests to me tRump, inside, is somewhat like an animal which focuses on simply gratifying his immediate needs, much like a small child. No deep reflection. But, clearly he cannot perceive his missing emotional component as a loss. He’s inside the process. And there’s no treatment, so he’s stuck in there forever.

    • Posted September 10, 2020 at 3:35 am | Permalink

      The psychiatric definition of psychopath is broadly agreed to be Dr. Hare’s 40 point checklist.
      Ta DAH!
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy_Checklist

      Trump scores extremely highly on it.

      The only trouble is most people w/o psychology degrees, say, think of “psychopath” as Freddy Kruger but the reality is different.

      D.A., B.A. (psych/politics), J.D., NYC

      • rickflick
        Posted September 10, 2020 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        tRump fits the definition like a glove. It’s pretty hard to miss.
        Sadly, it’s believed to be genetic and the result of brain structure anomalies, so, no hope of a cure. Does tRump look like he’d benefit from counseling?

  29. Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I predict tRump is going to become ill if and when he loses the election… losing, his biggest fear will shake him to his very core, humiliation is something he does not do.
    I don’t say this to be cruel, it is what it is, psychopathology meets a physically compromised wreak of a man.

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      He has that covered. He will not lose the election. It will have been stolen from him by fraudulent mail-in voting.

  30. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps an even more interesting question is whether Donald Trump has any idea what it’s like to be the rest of us — to feel empathy for other people, to have an inner life, a life of the mind?

    Like many sociopaths, he knows enough to understand that he sometimes has to fake it, as with his recent vehement denials that he would ever call GIs who had given their lives for their country “suckers” and “losers.”

    • Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      He may not feel empathy, but he understands it. He knows what will likely cause his allies and enemies to move in direction that gives him an advantage.

      For so many things that he has done that are so reprehensible, he’s made few mistakes that really cost him very much. That success comes at being lucky, but also knowing a great about how people feel, behave, and react to his actions.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        Oh he has theory of mind. People lacking empathy typically do, it’s what makes them so terrifying.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        He knows what will likely cause his allies and enemies to move in direction that gives him an advantage.

        Indeed, a critical attribute for anyone working a long con.

        Which is all Donald Trump is doing, or has ever done.

  31. Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    To ‘know’ qualia is the question . We could ‘know’ by recording all the nerve impulses and their affects but the actual experience of qualia in other creatures will still be foreign to us. Yet we spend our lives attempting to second guess the qualia of all we meet. This ‘qualia guessing’ the fuel for poetry, music and romance, hate and mystery. Such is our human dilemma.

    rz

  32. Posted September 9, 2020 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Losing the election will put him in the same graveyard as the soldiers he describes as losers. Ouch! That will hurt.
    Yes, it will be all rigged, etc, etc, and he will undoubtedly prop himself up with these deceptions… but like the Shadow Knows cartoon (from Mad Magazine) we will see a decrepit with a walking cane shuffling behind this puffed up “loser”.

    In a recent WEIT post, Nick Cohen said this,
    “his defeat is a necessity not just for the United States but for humanity.”
    I agree with this.

  33. sugould
    Posted September 9, 2020 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Trump is a “self-made man” who believes his own PR. He’ll do fine no matter what. He doesn’t have to like anyone else. (Except Ivanka.)


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