By Laura Walcher
Bill Eddy is a San Diego lawyer, therapist, mediator and president of the High Conflict Institute, where he developed a theory of “high conflict personality” to explain some of the world’s most difficult people.
Eddy is the author of numerous articles and several books, and his latest is extraordinarily topical in the wake of the November election: “Trump Bubbles: The Dramatic Rise and Fall of High-Conflict Politicians.”
“This won’t be a ‘business as usual’ four years,” he says of Trump’s upcoming term. “We will need to speak up a lot!”
Here’s what he had to say about President-Elect Donald Trump in particular and high-conflict politicians in general:
LW: Bill, to begin with, please define what you mean by “bubble.” While your book is primarily about President-elect Trump, I presume your use of “bubble” may apply to others?
BE: For years, people have described a “bubble” in the context of a social condition, such as the housing market bubble or the stock market bubble, both of which burst in 2008. The term “irrational exuberance” has been applied to describe the enthusiasm and belief that these social conditions will only get better and better. I define a “Trump bubble” as “when emotions trump thinking in politics.” I believe that when emotions drive a politician’s success, it will inevitably lead to their fall when reality sets in.
LW: According to your definition and discussion of “high conflict personality” people, Trump is certainly a qualifier! How unique in this respect is Trump versus other U. S. presidents — or other leaders? Joseph McCarthy? Richard Nixon?
BE: High conflict people have four common characteristics: 1) preoccupation with blaming others, 2) all or nothing thinking, 3) unmanaged emotions, and 4) extreme negative behavior. When high conflict people gain political power, they tend to dramatically rise (based primarily on emotions) and dramatically fall when reality sets in. Examples of such “Trump bubbles” have been Hitler, McCarthy, Johnson, Nixon and others. I explained six of these historical examples in my book. They all follow a predictable arc of rise and fall. The only question is the timing.
LW: Could this personality be simplified as “narcissistic” or is narcissism just one element of the character?
BE: Not all narcissists are high conflict people. The extreme preoccupation with blaming others characteristic of high conflict people when combined with narcissism and political power create a much larger problem than with an ordinary narcissist. However, in this case the co-author of Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal,” says that he is a sociopath. If this is true, it means that nothing he says can be trusted. It also means that such personalities will lack a conscience and act recklessly.
LW: Is there any upside to this personality — especially for the president of the United States of America?
BE: Given Trump’s possible character traits, there is no long-term upside. In the short term a charismatic emotion-based leader often looks wonderful in the early stage. We are now in the early stage; he has not yet performed on behalf of the nation. The conflicts he will create, the failures to follow through, and his inability to manage the flexibility needed for this job will create many more problems than he may solve. Yet, he will have some success by bullying people into doing what he wants. However, he will disappoint his followers much more than he helps them.
LW: Does Trump’s flip-flopping on issues, opinions, answers — even outright lying — throughout the campaign conform to the personality you describe?
BE: Yes. Narcissistic high conflict people like being unpredictable and beholden to no one. They hate rules and feel superior to them. So being consistent feels confining and they generally like to keep everyone else guessing. It’s rule by personality, not by logic or law. Sociopathic high conflict peole will say (lie) and do whatever is convenient or appealing at the time, without conscience or consistency. They like instability because it keeps everyone else off-balance. This especially can be demonstrated with a lack of loyalty to his associates, discarding them at will and turning his attention to new shiny objects and people (wives, for example).
LW: You write that Trump is “…potentially the most dangerous person in politics since Adolf Hitler.” Clearly a terrifying opinion — yet we do remember the ardent hordes of Hitler’s followers. Can you elaborate?
BE: There are similarities regarding how he connects with his followers, so that they become more passionately connected when he and they are criticized. It strengthens their bond. It’s a major part of my book. In a nutshell, it’s because he uses emotions instead of logic, and uses repetition on a greater scale than most politicians since Hitler. He has conditioned his followers to his simple arguments from day one. Hitler was known for spewing ten times as many words as any other politician, and he used modern media for voice (daily speeches on the radio) and face (movies of him speaking at his huge rallies). These emotional media projecting face and voice are much more powerful on our brains than printed words.
LW: Evaluating Trump as you do, do you really believe that, per his leadership, “sooner or later we will have a war on our hands?”
BE: Here’s a short statement from the book:
“He tends to inspire violence and lack of restraint — which leads to lack of physical restraint, which leads to organized aggressive behavior — which leads inevitably to war. He will “split” the world into allies and enemies. We will have more chaos than we do now in the Middle East — and on American soil. Friends and family members will start hating each other, and school children will become disrespectful and violent towards people who look different from them.”
LW: Given your expertise and experience, what is your prediction for Mr. Trump’s presidency — and its consequences for our country? Should we be — as many of us are — very scared?
BE: Yes. Moderate Republicans may limit his damage and keep him tied up in procedural matters, such as conservative Republicans have done to Obama. However, the more frustrated he gets, the wilder he may get and he will potentially motivate his followers to threaten his opponents (which will especially be directed at protesters).
I expect that his presidency will look similar to Johnson’s and Nixon’s, with lots of protests, dirty tricks, violence, and a mix of good and bad policies. But ultimately his over-reaching and paranoia will cause him to fall, as Johnson did and Nixon really did. When and how many will get hurt? I explain the steps of the fall in the book; I just don’t know the timing.
In the long run, strong protests of his actions and educating the public on issues will prevail — as it did with Johnson and Nixon.
Laura Walcher is principal PR consultant to J.Walcher Communications, a San Diego-based public relations and marketing firm. Bill Eddy’s new book “Trump Bubbles: The Dramatic Rise and Fall of High-Conflict Politicians” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the publisher, Unhooked Books.
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