White House

President’s Behavior Unpredictable in Aftermath of Impeachment

Despite the president’s claim that “it doesn’t feel like” he was being impeached, the House of Representatives’ passage of articles of impeachment is having a clear emotional effect on him. Throughout the process, Trump has been especially active on Twitter, a platform he uses to air his many grievances and seek sympathy for what he perceives as unfair attacks on his character and presidency. As the votes that would cement his legacy as only the third American president in history to be impeached and as the first to be impeached during his first term were counted, Trump held a campaign rally in Michigan, basking in his audience’s approval as he angrily castigated Democrats even if he downplayed the significance of the historic night.

Rallies function as a kind of security blanket for the president, as he perhaps loves nothing more than hearing the cheers and applause of his supporters, who are particularly vocal when he belittles and demeans his opponents. As in prior Trump rallies, the president casually encouraged law enforcement officers to use violence against anti-Trump protestors, reiterated improbable or false claims like that he led people to start saying “Merry Christmas” again, and attacked his former political opponent Hillary Clinton and her husband as well as his current rival, Joe Biden. 

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The president apparently acts in this way as a self-soothing behavior, but given the immense level of stress he must be undergoing, this practice may fail to satisfy his ongoing need for admiration and approval. Indeed, Wednesday night’s display was egregious even for a Trump rally, as the president suggested that the recently-deceased husband of a sitting US Representative was looking up at her from Hell as she cast her vote to impeach. This comment offended even some of the president’s most loyal defenders, as a number of audience members audibly groaned and Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s closest allies, criticized him for his slur against a dead man and his grieving widow.

If the president wins re-election next year and Republicans regain full control over Congress, it’s difficult to imagine what obstacles to the expansion of his power would remain.

While Trump’s psychological state has long been a subject of interest and concern to mental health professionals and political experts, it is of particular note in the aftermath of impeachment, as the unprecedented nature of Wednesday’s proceedings combined with his volatile disposition makes it even harder than usual to predict his behavior, which may grow even more chaotic and dangerous as the reality of impeachment’s impact on his legacy sinks in. The president seems to live in a state of perpetual denial, constantly projecting by accusing others of engaging in the same misconduct he is in fact guilty of; however, he does seem to recognize the reality of his circumstances, though his pathological lying makes it difficult to discern his true beliefs. 

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By analyzing official accounts of his behavior, psychologists have found with a high degree of confidence that Trump does not generally take in critical information and advice, has profound impairments relating to information processing and decision making, and tends to endanger himself and the people around him. These characteristics will likely only intensify as the president processes this new stain on his legacy, and reports have indicated that Trump is incensed by the situation and has privately vowed to exact revenge on his political enemies. As such, the president may not only continue to abuse the awesome powers of the executive branch in his quest for vengeance, but expand his misconduct in further unprecedented and as-of-yet unknown ways. 

Given the Republican party’s near-absolute loyalty to Trump, the limits of executive power are unclear, as congressional Republicans have not yet generally shown any interest in curbing his abnormal and illegal acts as the Constitution requires. Most political analysts agree that Trump is virtually certain to be acquitted in the upcoming Senate trial; if he is, he is likely to feel vindicated and emboldened to expand the scope of his wrongdoing, just as he did on the day after Robert Mueller testified when he tried to cheat in the next election. And if the president wins re-election next year and Republicans regain full control over Congress, it’s difficult to imagine what obstacles to the expansion of his power would remain.