Donald J. Trump and The Fracturing of Our Social Contract

What we need to analyze is not his incessant lying, his white supremacist allies, his absolute incompetency as a potential head of state, his trail of corrupt and shady business practices, his vainglorious pronouncements, his deft manipulation of the ratings-crazed media, the charges of rape, fraud and human trafficking – though each is a terribly frightening fact and each by itself disqualifies him as a presidential candidate.

What we really need to examine is something more pernicious and long-lasting.

Donald J. Trump is deconstructing the social contract of civilized America. He is doing it by normalizing what is regressive or retarded moral and cognitive development.

The guy who boasts about building great things, beautiful things, really really big things is systematically razing the moral and intellectual progress that has grown this into an adult country.

Psychologists, educators, child development professionals, anthropologists and anyone else who studies the progress of a human being understands what this means. Mention Kohlberg and his Stages of Moral Development and these people will likely nod their heads. “Yes, yes. I see it.” Kohlberg may remind them of a guy named Piaget, and it all falls into place.

Without going into the weeds, Trump is doing one of two things:

  1. He’s promoting his own frozen development as a human or
  2. He’s calling out to the segment of our population who have yet to reach a higher level of moral and cognitive functioning.

Likely, it is both.

David Brooks tries to explain it. He skims the outskirts when he says that “Republican tribal identity” is what makes GOP leaders align themselves with a candidate of “bad personal morality.” Tribal identity, asserts Brooks, has demolished the clear distinctions between principled Conservatives and the GOP aficionados.

Brooks comes nears the edge. But he’s not ready to push himself off the cliff and admit there is a whole lot more going on.

Senator Tim Kaine gets it. In his address to a crowd of Virginians, he employs a specific phrase:

“We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Kaine, a trained Jesuit, is referencing Kohlberg’s ultimate stage of moral development: the individual’s identity as one within many; the understanding of civilization as an interdependent web of individuals who look outward, not inward; people who understand their moral responsibility is to care for one another. This concept encompasses and goes beyond the self, immediate family, tribe and political party. (See chart below)

This is the social contract. This is the peak understanding of a human, the top of Kohlberg’s pyramid.

Donald J. Trump, who sometimes refers to himself as “Donald,” doesn’t get it. He does not have the emotional or cognitive tools to go beyond Donald J. Trump. He is at the bottom level of human progression: avoiding punishment and self-interest. Only a moment’s review of this man’s history is needed to verify this.

He displays no turmoil at his onslaught of insult. And when his deceit is manifestly obvious, he does not confess to error. He denies like a little boy. Unless a pre-written statement is staring at him from a telepromptor, Donald J. Trump refuses any admission of wrongdoing. These patterns translate into an emotional being who refuses the consequences of his actions. Doing so would damage that warped projection of self.

Donald is all about Donald. Rallies are all about Donald. His audience size expands his beingness. Poll ratings reflect upon his prowess. The height of his buildings, the zeroes in his bank statements, his famous (and imaginary) friends, each is a boost to his self. And yes, even the size of his genitals is used as his measure of Donald to Donald.

What happens when this utterly self-absorbed baby man throws himself upon the ears of America? Birds of a feather happens. All the emotionally dwarfed, mentally shallow among us hear a voice that speaks to them. For years, they have hidden, pariahs of adult experience, and now here is their champion.

He is their echo chamber. He tells them many things that they can understand. Donald J. Trump says it is okay to hate without consequence. It’s all right to be vulgar. Violence is legitimate. Donald appeals to their stunted ethos and their labile pathos. They are enlivened.

And the logical result could be a shattering of all that has been slowly, painfully devised to hold this nation together and push it forward.


Likewise Donald J. Trump’s cognitive development is frozen at the pre-pubescent stage. (Look at the Piaget chart.) It’s fascinating were it not so horrifying.

About 2 to 6 years: “Representing things with words and images but lacking logical reasoning.”


Consider any of the three debates and recall Donald J. Trump and his monosyllabic word salad. Recall his diversions (those were not “pivots”). He looks like an adult. He dresses in the garb of an adult. When he opens his mouth, he has all the credibility of a child. Donald J. Trump uses words sans their logical force.

Hillary Clinton’s team has fodder for a thousand ads. They need only tune in and hear: “He’s a Mexican. I’m building a wall!” Or “I know more than the generals.” Or “I have a very good brain.” His inability to connect the dots is pervasive. It is the cornerstone of his campaign rhetoric.

More recently, Donald sat next to his running mate and called him a “free agent.” This while he childishly refused to concede should he lose, and after Mike Pence, the adult, claimed that indeed, they would recognize the vote tally.

It’s not just that Donald J. Trump has the cognitive ability and the emotional depth of a child. It is the consequences of these deficits.

The thing that differentiates America is its collective sense of morality. This isn’t about religion, although faith systems enforce such values, nor is it only about the rule of law, which likewise recognize right and wrong and punishes offenders. This sense of morality is often bundled into a familiar phrase: “democratic values.” This goes beyond a party, beyond a statute, beyond one’s faith. It is the adhesive that keeps us from chaos and propels us forward.

In Donald J. Trump’s infantile universe, morality is self-serving. In such a cosmos, tenets of right and wrong apply only to what benefits Donald J. Trump.

So when Hillary Clinton says: “We are better than this” or “We are stronger together,” reflect on the literal meaning of those words. Check your development with Kohlberg and Piaget. Have you aligned yourself with the adult? Or are you voting for the infant? Will your vote plunge this country into the unprincipled mayhem of a two year-old or the intellectual, morally responsible order of the adult?

The social contract of a great nation depends on your answer.

1 Comment

  1. Will cherish this thought for the next four days: “What happens when this utterly self-absorbed baby man throws himself upon the ears of America? Birds of a feather happens. All the emotionally dwarfed, mentally shallow among us hear a voice that speaks to them. For years, they have hidden, pariahs of adult experience, and now here is their champion.” That explains the grotesque diatribes of Trump’s dupes — a couple who I thought could think.

    Liked by 1 person

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