It’s hard to know whether President Trump really believes his own lies. After telling over 20,000 untruths during his presidency, it would be remarkable if he could even keep track of them all.
But when it comes to insisting the 2020 election was stolen from him, two people who know Trump very personally tell VICE News he’s not just trying to fool us; he’s also fooling himself.
“He’s the only person I’ve ever met who can gaslight himself,” Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist and critic of her uncle, told VICE News in an interview on Monday. “I don’t think he’s ever accepted the truth of the loss. I don't think he’s psychologically or emotionally capable of that.”
Michael Cohen, Trump’s estranged former personal attorney who spent 15 years at Trump’s elbow, takes the same view. “It’s the difference between a bullshit artist and a sociopath,” Cohen told VICE News. “Donald Trump is a sociopath, because he does believe his own bullshit.”
Trump’s acknowledgement of his defeat, for most practical purposes, may be academic: His election loss grows increasingly unassailable each day. Key swing states have certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Dozens of GOP lawsuits challenging the results have been laughed out of court. On Monday evening, Trump’s own administration announced it would formally begin pre-transition protocols after holding out for over two weeks.
Yet both Mary Trump and Cohen say Trump’s apparent belief in the phony narrative that victory was somehow fraudulently stolen from him comes with real-world consequences. Trump’s firm conviction makes it easier for him to make others believe that he rightfully won, as polls indicate a majority of Republicans now do. And it raises the dangerous prospect that Trump will feel emboldened in lashing out as the gap between his preferred reality and the bitter truth of his loss narrow in the final months of his presidency.
“I think the thing he’s feeling most is fear. But he can’t acknowledge that,” Mary Trump said. “So it’s translating into rage.”
Trump on the couch
Mary Trump’s unique perspective as a member of the first family with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Adelphi University has made her something of a Trump whisperer in the tail end of his turbulent presidency. She says that a deep insecurity bars her uncle from ever admitting defeat—even to himself.
Mary says her overbearing grandfather, Fred Trump, never let Donald show weakness, and punished Donald’s older brother, Fred Jr., for doing so. Over time, that personality trait hardened into a pathology, she says, to the point where he gets lost in his own mythmaking.
“Donald is a deeply damaged person,” Mary Trump said. “Probably the most central part of Donald’s psychopathology is the need to deny any reality that paints him as a loser or as somebody who is weak.”
Cohen, who’s spent more time around Trump in recent years than perhaps anyone outside of his immediate family circle, characterized Trump’s refusal to accept defeat in similar terms.
“His acknowledgement of the loss would be tantamount to an acknowledgement that he is a loser, something he is incapable of doing,” Cohen said.
Both predicted Trump will never concede to Biden, even though his administration has already begun the early formalities of preparing for the transition.
Mary Trump says she’s also skeptical that her uncle Donald will actually launch another run for presidency in four years, even though Trump has been privately discussing the idea with his inner circle, according to reporting in The Washington Post.
Running for president again would open him up to another bout of defeat, Mary Trump says—a prospect she now expects he’ll want to avoid, even if he talks about running again as a way to remain in the public eye.
“If he does announce a run, I don’t think it should be taken seriously,” Mary Trump said. “I don’t think he’d put himself in a position of losing again, which he’d be doing if he ran again.”
In four years, Trump will be 78 years old, and about the same age Joe Biden is now. But Mary Trump also says she thinks that Trump’s unhealthy lifestyle choices may catch up with him by then, to the point where he might not be mentally or physically up to the challenge.
“He’s a deeply unhealthy person, physically and psychologically,” Mary Trump said. “He doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t exercise. He has undiagnosed mental illnesses that have not been treated. All of that is just going to get worse.”
Both Cohen and Mary Trump said they believe that Trump fears, most of all, the pending wave of civil lawsuits and law enforcement investigations that now appear set to pursue him into his post-presidency. The Manhattan District Attorney and New York State attorney general are now probing Trump’s financial affairs, and Trump will lose his shield of protection from federal indictment when he leaves the White House.
“The thing that’s most driving him right now is the desperation to turn the loss into a win,” Mary Trump said. But his anxiety about losing the power of the presidency to manage his legal affairs may prompt him into ever-more extreme behavior as his looming exit draws closer, with potentially damaging consequences for his successor and for the country, Mary Trump said.
“If Donald feels rejected by the American people, he’s not going to distinguish people who voted for him from people who didn’t,” Mary Trump said. “He’s going to take all of us down with him.”