Cognitive Psychology

The Narcissist’s Playbook: Implications for Trump’s Evolution of Hitler’s Big Lie

When I was researching the make knowingly telling politically expedient lies illegal post, I came across the Walter Langer’s assessment of Hitler for the OSS and Henry Murray’s analysis of Hitler’s personality, both published in 1943. I was struck by how similar Trump’s and Hitler’s techniques were. Of course, it has become a social media trope to say that Trump’s America is following in the footsteps of Hitler’s Germany, but when you look at the specifics of Hitler’s recommendations for how to subvert a nation and compare it to what Trump’s been doing, it becomes frighteningly clear that, intentionally or not, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is using Hitler’s playbook to subvert our nation.

In this post, we’ll look at the ways that Trump has adapted Hitler’s Big Lie to his own purposes. Our next post will look at the way the Ol’ Pussy Grabber has used Hitler’s other propaganda techniques.

Let’s begin by looking at Langer’s and Murray’s findings. But, first, why not give this stellar post a five-star rating?

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Hitler’s Playbook

During the war, the OSS wanted to have a psychological profile of Hitler in the hopes of predicting his behaviors and understanding both the man and the country better. They commissioned two groups to do so one led by Langer a prominent psychoanalyst and on the faculty of Harvard. Murray was a leading personality psychologist who was also on the faculty of Harvard. Interestingly, Langer contributed to both works.

Both documents distill Hitler’s techniques down to a few manageable goals. Have a look at these:

Langer’s Primary Rules of Hitler

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.

A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend, by Walter C. Langer available from the US National Archives

Langer’s list reads like a who’s who of narcissistic signs and symptoms. Never admit a fault or wrong? Never accept blame? Blame everything on an enemy or scapegoat? I mean, does that sound like Trump in this post-election flailing fit?

And, this is the most likely Occam’s Razor explanation for their similarity. Both men are narcissists and came up with similar solutions to the same problem. And, we know that as a narcissist, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber wouldn’t use someone else’s work. I mean he would, but he would claim it as his own. However, he lacks the executive functioning necessary to actually read, understand, and then commit to carrying out any program of action. Trump is also instinctive emotional reaction.

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Murray’s Rules of Hitler

Never to admit a fault or wrong; never to accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time; blame that enemy for everything that goes wrong; take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind.

Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler: With Predictions of His Future Behaviour and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany’s Surrender, by Henry A. Murray, October 1943
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Sure, Murray repeats Langer, but adds one extra point that makes it absolutely necessary to include him, Take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind. Does it feel like the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and the GOP is working hard to raise a political whirlwind? Luckily for us, the Proud Boys are proving themselves to be too big of wussies to be proper Brownshirts. Believe you me, Trump and McConnell would like nothing more than to have the Proud Boys running amok and actually shooting people.

We are fortunate that democratic ideals have become part of our deep culture. We live and die by the vote and accept the outcome of our elections. Everything that has happened since 3 November points to that single kernel of truth.

Now we’re going to go through some examples of each of the plays in the playbook.

Trump’s Adaptation of Hitler’s Big Lie

People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it

We all know what the Big Lie is right? It is the notion that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will come to believe it. It’s an example of the mere exposure effect. Many politicians and advertisers take advantage of this tendency. It’s not just the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and Hitler. However, the Big Lie has a rich history full of surprises, curiosities, and unexpected twists and turns.

In one of the biggest twists of irony in history, the concept of the Big Lie has been attributed to a quote that Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, did not make, so that attribution is in itself a Big Lie. It has been repeated so often that it is believed giving solid evidence to how the Big Lie works: repeat a lie often enough, it takes on the illusion of truthiness (sorry Colbert).

The irony does not stop there, though. The original quote, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself” was first attributed to Goebbels in a report published by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1946. Wow. Just wow. That is if Leigh Kolb in her chapter, Argument by Repetition in Bad Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Fallacies in Western Philosophy is to be believed. But, still, the Un-American Activities Committee kicked off the Big Lie concerning the Goebbels quote.

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It is perhaps a curious artifact of history that in Mein Kampf, Hitler discussed the use of the Big Lie but attributed it to the Jews. Nonetheless, he described it this way, “…in view of the primitive simplicity of their [Jews’] minds, they more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads, and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others.…”

Hitler is referring to the effect that the social norms surrounding lying have on our reactions to hearing an obvious lie, namely disbelief that anyone would tell such an easily refutable lie, so we are more likely to believe it.

Goebbels, too, referred to the Big Lie, but he attributed it to the British saying, “…The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” This sounds more like bigotry than anything else, though, doesn’t it?

Langer also points us in the direction of the big lie. In the simpler slower times of the ’20’s and ’30’s, you didn’t need more than a few Big Lies to bamboozle a nation into somnambulance and plunge a world into war. Nowadays with a news cycle that never sleeps, you’ve got to be churning out Big Lies 24/7/365 in order to match our Zeitgeist and prop them up using a ton of little lies, too. This is Trump’s addition to Hitler’s Big Lie technique.

Trump uses the little lies to mesmerize the press and the public. It is the reason that we are all so exhausted. We’re kept in a constant state of agitation fending off the latest outrageous lie that he’s pulled out of his ass. The constant stream of lies serves three narcissistic purposes: (1) They keep Trump the spotlight preventing air time for rivals and opponents. (2) They comfort his narcissistic wounds by maintaining his fantasy of perfection. And (3) They keep everyone off balance so we can’t ever focus on one thing and really come after him for any single lie or act. It is the perfect play of the for-profit scoop-driven breathless yellow journalistic environment we find ourselves living in. The press just can’t help themselves.

Do we really need to document and enumerate Trump’s Big Lies? He’s been running around the country both physically and through the media perpetrating the myth that he won in a landslide and that a vast conspiracy has been organized to steal the election from him. All you have to do is poke your favorite drunk uncle or open an email or your Facebook and you’ll receive more on the absolute proof that cannot ever be produced in a court of law but is still incontrovertible and unassailable that there was voter fraud!!1!!

That Trump lies constantly is not news to any of us. The question, of course, is how much has being exposed to his constant lying changed our culture. Has it made lying for political gain more acceptable. Will we be more tolerant of lies that we want to believe? We won’t know the answer to that until we get our next politician who constantly lies like Trump did. In the meantime be sure to check out the second installment of how the Ol’ Pussy Grabber has adapted Hitler’s playbook.

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Image Attribution

Evilution by GDJ was obtained from Openclipart and is licensed under Creative Commons Zero 1.0 License.

8 replies »

  1. The take away here is the answer to the chicken-&-egg question. Trump end his enablers did not study Hitler’s methods. Rather, the Big Lie and Little Lies behavior is simply what malignant narcissists do as a coping mechanism. That it works so well for an ambitious politician is a side effect. The other is that even the attribution of Big Lie as a strategy to Hitler and/or Goebbels or others (history could probably supply much earlier examples) is based on their use of it in accusing others of using it, another typically narcissistic behavior.

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