During his first speech before the United Nations Tuesday, President Trump proudly offered the world a vision of hope and peace. “We have it in our power, should we so choose,” he told gathered world leaders, “to lift millions from poverty, to help our citizens realize their dreams, and to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred, and fear.” To many, Trump’s words might ring hopeful, even presidential.
But that’s exactly the point. By now, many are familiar with the split political personalities of Donald Trump. The most infamous is the Mr. Hyde version, the one stuck in campaign mode and who takes every chance he gets to throw gasoline on the fires of division and hate that are burning across America. This is the Trump who told supporters at a campaign rally who saw protesters to “Knock the crap out of them.” This is also the Trump who used his first U.N. appearance as an opportunity to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the U.S. and to belittle Kim Jong-un as a suicidal “rocket man.”
The Dr. Jekyll version of Trump, however, consistently shows that he knows how and when to read from the presidential script. This is the Trump who said in his joint address to Congress that “we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil.” Before at the Arab Islamic American Summit, this is the man who claimed, “Our vision is one of peace, security, and prosperity—in this region, and in the world.”
This is the superficially presidential version of Trump who spoke before the United Nations about peace, freedom, and justice. Trump’s bigotry, repeatedly inciting violence, and openly praising dictators and authoritarian strongmen like Kim Jon-un as a “smart cookie,” however, reveal what’s really in his heart.
Having studied domestic and international politics, Donald Trump truly scares me. Earlier this year, 35 psychiatrists at a conference at Yale warned that Trump is unstable and has a “dangerous mental illness.” Last fall, 50 GOP national security experts warned that Trump “would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” I concur with these assessments. As he’s shown time and again at the U.N. and beyond, Trump is not a man of unity or peace. He is a hungry wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Why, you might ask, does Donald Trump put forth such contradictory personas? It’s impossible to know for sure, but the effects are highly suggestive. To his followers, this type of dual-messaging helps to brand Trump as a visionary leader, a man of peace fighting the good fight. That’s a tremendous help when you stop to consider that Trump is being sued by a record number of legislators for possibly violating the Constitution. It’s an even bigger help when you consider that Trump is facing a looming threat of impeachment for his potential obstruction and collusion in Russia’s act of war against America in the 2016 election.
Trump’s dual-messaging also helps him solidify his base, protecting the egos and misplaced support of many of his followers. For those who are unaware of their own bigotry or who prefer to remain in denial, Dr. Jekyll Trump gives them a welcome antidote of superficial “evidence” that contradicts his (and for many, their own) support of hate and violence. And for those who openly embrace Trump’s sinister half, Trump’s bigoted commentaries, Muslim ban, transgender military ban, and racist border wall with Mexico serve them up with a hearty helping of what their bigoted hearts crave most.
In short, Trump’s two-faced approach lets him have it both ways. It gives him cover against criticism from liberals and those of us seeking change while firing up much of his conservative base.
The French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argued that power depends on our collaboration in “misrecognition,” the recognition of someone as being other than who they really are. We can definitely see how power and misrecognition operate in the “success” of Donald Trump. When we misrecognize Trump’s sinister side for leadership and progress, we further empower violence and hate. As we’ve seen time and again, Trump is not a man of unity or peace. He never has been. Such false images of Trump only distract us, redirecting the flow and content of national debate on terms favorable to Trump.
If we fail to recognize Donald Trump for who he really is, we risk empowering Trump and those among his following who embrace his incitements of violence and hate. Even worse, we risk unleashing the horrors Trump has foisted on the American people on the rest of the world.