We have a shameless president who transgresses rules, boundaries and people without compunction. It is this about Donald Trump—his missing shame—that is most alarming.
For transgressive personalities like Trump’s, shamelessness is the “great disinhibitor.” It frees them to flout rules, limits and boundaries with contempt, liberating them from accountability, guilt and repentance.
Some would argue that Trump’s hypersensitivity, and habitually bellicose response, to criticism suggests a presence, if gross mismanagement, of underlying shame. But more revealing is the crude lust with which he hunts his perceived detractors, and the veritable “sport” he makes of meting out his lacerating, punitive fury. This is far more indicative of someone bidding, shamelessly, to institute “omnipotent control” over others.
Often, it’s been suggested how great Trump’s need for validation, and to “be loved,” are–a popular, palliative narrative that aims to locate within him a vulnerability many want to believe belies his tyrannical tendencies. But it’s a deflective, inaccurate narrative because Trump, when one looks more closely, is neither desperate to be loved, nor enjoys being loved. Rather, what seems to most preoccupy him are the numbers, the volume, of his legions and their adulation, less their humanity and actual interests.
Indeed, one can postulate that Trump feels something more personal towards his perceived critics than his staunchest supporters, but it is an “ugly personal,” the “personal” of vengeance. And his grandiosity leaves him feeling there should be no blight on the “balance sheet” of his popularity—those who blight it, perforce blight him, thereby incurring his outrage, or rage.
The warping effects of shamelessness on character cannot be overstated. Traits like fearlessness, unaccountableness, mesmerizing charisma, dominance, confidence, arrogance, contemptuousness, antisocial audacity, unconscionableness, recklessness, manipulativeness, untruthfulness and outrageousness arise from shamelessness. Trump has all these traits, and he’s never sought to hide them.
America was unprepared for the startling, disarming force of Trump’s tornadic personality, and equally unprepared to understand the central role of his shamelessness in explaining it. Consequently, his shamelessness has been variously misunderstood, rationalized, minimized, ignored, excused and enabled time and again.
This is how the shameless candidate became our shameless president.