State of (Trump’s) Mind examines the psychology behind statements and actions by the president.

In a now-infamous tweet burst on Saturday morning, President Trump accused former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in New York City, where Trump lives and where the Trump Organization is headquartered.

The spark:

Trump didn’t explain what prompted his tweet storm, but late last week, a conservative radio program and Breitbart News claimed that Obama had wiretapped Trump, without citing any real evidence for the claim. Obama, his former aides, and FBI Director James Comey have denied that any wiretapping took place.

The science:

The president’s embrace of this unsubstantiated idea fits with his history of promoting conspiracy theories unsupported by evidence: His claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in the November election, for example, or that Obama was born outside the United States. An extensive body of research has examined the psychological traits of people who believe in conspiracy theories, such as that the CIA caused the AIDS epidemic or that the 2012 Newtown, Conn., school massacre was staged.


“People at the political extremes are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories,” said psychologist Jan-Willem van Prooijen, of VU Amsterdam in the Netherlands, who has studied such beliefs. “They generally have a high level of distrust of the government and what the powerful are doing.” Like the others experts STAT interviewed, he hasn’t examined Trump and spoke generally about what behaviors such as the president’s might, according to published studies, reveal about the thoughts and emotions driving a person.

Research has also found that conspiracy beliefs are more common among people with certain personality traits. “Agreeableness,” for instance, is defined as being considerate, trusting, willing to compromise, and caring about getting along with others. People who score low on measures of this trait tend to pick fights and see enemies everywhere.

A fragile sense of self-worth also drives people to find causes for their problems outside of their own actions, including in nefarious cabals. When people feel that events are beyond their control and do not have a strong “sense of agency,” meaning the feeling that they are in control of their own fate and can make things happen, conspiracy theories offer appealing explanations for why. One way to restore feelings of agency is to assert that you know what’s going on and others don’t.

Although it might seem paradoxical for the most powerful man in the world to doubt his ability to make things happen, Trump was infuriated by courts blocking his original immigration ban and reportedly flew into a rage when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia. A feeling of frustrated powerlessness and a sense that events are spiraling out of control breed conspiracist beliefs, research has found.

“One of the things Mr. Trump finds disquieting about the office of the presidency is that he can’t control it,” said psychologist Dan McAdams of Northwestern University. “It’s not like being CEO of a private, family-controlled company. It drives him crazy that he can’t just lift his hand and say, ‘make this happen.'”

Conspiracist beliefs in the face of setbacks are particularly likely in people who are high in narcissism, the trait that psychologists most commonly see in Trump. When a narcissist’s feelings of personal superiority “are undermined” van Prooijen said, “he looks for a scapegoat.” With someone who “needs to constantly feel that he’s superior to others,” said psychiatrist Dr. Lance Dodes, who is retired from Harvard Medical School and practices in Beverly Hills, Calif., “any challenge will be met with a furious rage reaction. In that state he may very well believe that people are conspiring against him because his emotional experience is that he is being attacked.”

Negative attitudes toward authority make people more likely to believe the worst of the powerful. So does greater cynicism about politics, such as that it is a “swamp” that must be “drained” — as Trump has said — and “exaggerated pride in their country, the idea that theirs is better than all others,” van Prooijen said.

Or, crazy like a fox:

No outsider can know whether Trump’s behavior stems from the psychological factors that researchers infer or from a calculated strategy. In this case, the president had just suffered setbacks such as Sessions’s recusal and continuing obstacles toward the promised repeal of Obamacare. A reportedly infuriated Trump may simply have wanted to redirect the conversation.

And it worked: The Sunday talk shows were filled with discussion of Trump’s wiretapping accusations, not developments in the Russia story.

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  • Capitalism is not a conspiracy. The leaders of industry, finance, etc., are not secret. Nevertheless capitalists require conspiracies in order to function. The reason is that–in a bourgeois “democracy” such as in the USA–power is indirect. The elected leaders are covertly controlled by economic interests.

  • This article is poor Science. Please no politics into Science. No evidence to support your conspiracy ideas about Trump. Evidence for Trump: main media and press against him, media supports people in power, Trump is not liked by the elite. Evidence general Flynt was wire taped and the information leaked. Conclusion: there is wiretapping and the press support leaking the information to destroy Trump. My guess but no evidence is that the author of this article is politically motivated and it is not objective.

  • I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God

  • parents served in united states army, family of officersfrom the civil war: the Bordelon family, the Roland family, the franks{german jews}, the rochechouart family{ French aristocrat jews}, royal blood lines; native indian{ avoyell- tunica} I wass born in United States of America; Washington, D.C. walter reed army medical center proud to be who I am. mixed of African and Mexican ancestry{ Gonzalaz} ; jewish rabbinical family line from baden wutterberg Germany proud of my royal blood line. my mother is from the same family tree of dr. Robert Salk helped in polo vaccine discovery among other greats in my family; if you only knew the half – the kalischer family of rabbis started the Zionist movement before Theodore Herzel. Iam proud to be American. Jean baptiste ambroise rulen roland with jean Catherine lukas came to America from st. germain la”Rue in Paris France in 1700″s( I belive we have the statue of liberty from paris with love from sir Effiel. can the real Americans please stand up for FREEDOM; stop bickering before we all loose it!
    Russian ; polish, jewish , german, African, indian my bloodline and Iam proud to me an American. Stop fighting each other- and help our beloved country! the only country in the world with “In God We Trust” can anybody be silent and listen for a change to the voice of reason and compassion. You know even Christ told the storm the wind and the rain- Peace be still.

  • An entire section devoted to trampling the Goldwater Rule. I guess this is what happens when you go corporate and decide that clicks are worth more than integrity. Jesus, Stat at least put the nonsense behind the paywall

  • Is he is a Fox or a Loon?
    Either way, it is extremely disturbing if not frightening for all of us, to have Trump as President.

    • And missed the opportunity to meet your charming self here?

      How ’bout my friend Karl Hess’s “Ya hunt where the ducks are”?


  • Probably the best story I’ve read yet on the issue no matter what Cheato’s trolls posit.

  • Isn’t writing junk like this the ultimate form of “conspiracy theory”? This is embarrassing, no matter what you think of the whole issue.

    • Agreed. With the last salvo “…developments in the Russian story.”, a proven nonstory, the author reveals her stripes.

    • Sorry, anonymous “FXR,” there is no such thing as a proven non-anything.

      In the case of Russia and the Trump Administration, “Russia” is merely a topic heading for a whole group of stories. Among which the current Attorney-General’s proven and admitted lying to Congress while under oath is merely one mote of dust in the typhoon.

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