The Fall of Donald Trump

The Fall of Donald Trump
© 2016 Bill Eddy

Apparently, Donald Trump’s recent racist comments about a federal judge have caught many people by surprise. For those of us familiar with high-conflict personalities in relationships (whether in romance, at work or in a legal dispute), it was quite predictable. It is another sign of the inevitable fall of Donald Trump, because he fits the standard HCP pattern so well. It’s just a question of timing, not “if.” Here’s the pattern: 

First, there’s the Rise: the seduction phase—the sugar-coated stage—of the high-conflict person (HCP). He or she is too good to be true, so exciting, attractive and powerful. Once you’ve seen a dozen cases of this, you realize that what everyone else sees as a wonderful person is really the sweet cover-up of a high-conflict personality. The charm, the energy, the intensity and so forth are most effective on a desperate person, eager for love or power themselves. 

The Republican Party leaders have been so desperate for a victorious presidential candidate this year that they were easy prey. They are still mostly in denial, but that is about to change over the next month or two. It’s not unusual for the Rise to last 6-12 months. Trump jumped into the race last year in mid-July. It takes a while for most people to see the HCP pattern.

Second, there’s the Overreach: High-conflict personalities have a narrow range of behavior and can’t stop themselves from repeating it. A much narrower range than the average personality. They say and do and threaten things that 90% of people would never do. They repeat and repeat their dysfunctional actions, without self-reflection or any efforts to change—that’s why they increase conflicts rather than reducing or managing them.

One of the key characteristics of high-conflict people (HCPs) is that they are preoccupied with blaming others. Trump is skilled at this and will never stop. His essential being is wrapped up in being superior to everyone else. He has to insult others in order to elevate himself in everyone’s eyes. No one can escape his insults. Not the Pope, not a federal judge and not even his loyal and long-suffering staff. He cannot change this about himself, because this is all he is. Even if it hurts him, he has to keep doing this to keep his self-esteem up in the air (like a bubble). It requires constant pumping up, or it will burst.

Even if it hurts him, he has to keep doing this to keep his self-esteem up in the air (like a bubble).

Someday—either before or after the election—he will overreach in a dangerous fashion. Someone may get seriously injured or killed directly related to something he says or does. This is how Sarah Palin’s overreach occurred: She had a website targeting congressional candidates, including Gabriel Giffords in Arizona, with symbols of gun cross-hairs over her face. After a few months, someone took that literally and shot Giffords in the face and killed six other people. 

President George W. Bush overreached by pointlessly invading Iraq and destabilizing the entire Middle East even up to today. Yet he too started out with enthusiastic support (his Rise), then ended up in disgrace (his Fall). They tried to hide him during the following elections. 

Donald Trump overreaches with insults every day, because it’s his narrow pattern of behavior. His followers are enthusiastic because he gives the appearance of being a powerful person who will help them. However, someday soon it will become clear to a majority of Americans that instead he’s just another HCP who never had any ability to do anything for them.

Finally, the Fall: High-conflict people always find and recruit negative advocates. These are people with more credibility than the HCP himself or herself, who advocate for the HCP’s negative behavior and statements. Recently, we have seen many Party leaders—even a reluctant Paul Ryan—get on the bandwagon for Trump, primarily justifying his behavior because he will be “better than Hillary” at getting Ryan’s legislative agenda passed. 

However, Ryan and the others are still in the Rise stage of the pattern. In fact, as negative advocates, they are an essential part of the Rise stage. They truly believe that Trump is an ordinary person who will be reasonable in all ways, except for his tendency to blame and insult others. They have tried to intervene to get him to tone down his insults. It’s too bad that they can’t see that this is all he is. He is not a reasonable person. He is a high-conflict person. And he will soon turn on those who have gone out on a limb for him. 

Then, these negative advocates will abandon him. They will hide and throw him to the wolves. When this happens, Trump will probably even sue the Republican Party—because it has to be all someone else’s fault! After all, it’s a pattern: the high-conflict personality pattern. See if you can see it in the coming weeks. 

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, mediator, therapist and President of the High Conflict Institute. He is the author of the new book Trump Bubbles: The Dramatic Rise and Fall of High-Conflict Politicians, released on June 14, 2016, and High Conflict People in Legal Disputes (2006).