President Trump’s refusal to unequivocally denounce white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists who chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, and to assert instead on Tuesday that “there is blame on both sides,” led to widespread condemnation. What it did not do was surprise psychologists.
They see two forces in play. Trump responds to criticism and the damage it does to his self-esteem by lashing out, including by taking an extreme position that is as much as possible at odds with his critics’. And he (perhaps unconsciously) recoils from undercutting his supporters because that would implicitly call into question their judgment, which includes voting for him.