Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 31.1.17

Not only in Spain 1: It's reported today that the UK Tax Office has issued a massively increased number of fines for mistakes in declarations. And, of course, denied that it's going after the low-hanging middle-class fruit, rather than the big avoiders/evaders. Accountants here are said to have expressed fears that the Inland Revenue may be treating some mistakes as evasion. Welcome to the Hispanic world, where no mistakes are innocent - even the misspelling of your name - and are all heavily penalised. At least in the case of Modelo 720. Where even such a simple mistake costs you €100 and late submission at least €1,500. It's called penalty farming.

Not only in Spain 2: I saw this headline in The Times today - Boss paid for a decade without working - and thought: That can only be Spain: Sure enough it was a guy who duly logged in and out every day for 10 years, earning €50,000 a year for doing sweet FA. Or, as he put it, working on (unspecified) out-of-office projects. Officially he was Head of Books in a the Archive Department of a Valencian council. Needless to say, there weren't many books. And he never had an office. Or even a desk. Nice work, if you can get it. Whistle-blowing is not a developed calling in Spain. Especially if it's a relative or a friend. Or even an acquaintance.

I watched Donald Trump sign his controversial Executive Order on Muslim Immigration. As you'd expect, it's so large and florid this takes longer to do than to write out the order itself. As regards this legislation, the main questions - it seems to me - are not whether it's as good or as bad as anything Obama did, or whether it's a betrayal of American/universal values, or whether it's in accordance with the wishes of (a minority?) of American voters, or even whether it's legal under the constitution. They are whether - as with his Mexican wall - it will be effective, and whether it will be counter-productive. And, so, stupid. There are plenty of people - me included - who can see and understand his (alt-right?) rationale and can agree that liberals must take some of the blame for it but who reach the (balanced?) conclusion that it's an enormous mistake that will result - not just in immediate misery for many - but in greater loss of American lives. Exactly what Trump claims he's trying to prevent. It's as if he's never heard the comment that The result of every [rapidly and inefficiently enacted] major reform is the exact opposite of that which it was designed to bring about. Time will tell, as it always does. Though Trump could well be six-feet under by then, if my assassination bet comes off.

Today's foto: Of a card given to me by my younger daughter, who believes I spend too much time on my laptop . . .

Mind you . . . She is a woman who has no TV, can't find the handset to the landline and has more than 1,000 emails in her In Box because she doesn't like using a computer. But, to be fair, she does occasionally use her expensive MacAir laptop to watch videos of her favourite comedy series. Especially Curb Your Enthusiasm, so she can regularly point out how like Larry David I am. Of course, the good news is that I can write what I like about her here with impunity, as she's never going to read it. Unless my elder daughter snitches on me. Sorry, my mistake. The MacAir doesn't play videos . . .

Finally . . . Not only in Spain 3. I bought a ticket on the net for a train to London later this week. As our local initiating station doesn't have a machine, my son-in-law tried this morning to collect it at a station in Manchester, when a Collection Number - not the Confirmation Number - was demanded. This appeared in none of the 3 places Trainline said it would; so I had to download their app to my Spanish mobile and get the ticket on my phone. Which means roaming charges today and on the day of travel. Maybe the companies have shares in each other . . .

Monday, January 30, 2017

Pontevedra Pensées: 30.1.17

If you want to read about Spain's excellent macro-economic growth - and to see a gratuitous picture of a pretty girl in shorts - click here.

I am truly astonished that anyone is surprised at Trump's anti-Muslim executive order dressed up as an anti-terrorist measure. Everything we knew about the man and his pathological narcissism and political inexperience screamed that something like it would be quickly coming down the pike. As our American cousins put it. What can one say better than these comments this morning?:
  • It's chaos. It's hard to know if this White House did this because they don't understand how government works, or through willful incompetence.
  • It is malevolence tempered by incompetence: It’s a very dangerous thing to have a White House that can’t, with the remotest pretense of competence and governance, put together a major policy document on a crucial set of national security issues without inducing an avalanche of litigation and wide diplomatic fallout. If the incompetence mitigates the malevolence in this case, that’ll be a blessing. But given the nature of the federal immigration powers, the mitigation may be small and the blessing short-lived; the implications of having an executive this inept are not small and won’t be short-lived. 
  • Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism - a move that would only help Isil in its propaganda. - John McCain, former Republican presidential nominee, who is a leading voice in the party condemned the action, as 
And did you see his signature in the order - taking up half a page?  Click here for why he does this. And everything else the rest of us can scarcely credit.

I have shortened my odds on his being assassinated by his own Republican party, for fear that he will destroy it.

Today's fotos:- The environs of Tineo, Asturias in spring and winter. It's a place I have very fond memories of . . . .

Finally . . .  Let's hear it again for my black electricians' tape. I finally figured out that my Mac was failing to charge not because the metal connection was poor but because the cable going into the connecting plug was faulty. At this point I should confess that the cable is not from Apple. Anyway, having pushed the cable into the plug, I've now secured it with black tape. Ugly but effective. My daughters, by the way, are each on their 3rd Mac laptop but I refuse to be forced to replace one which is only 5 years old or so and which cost more than 1,000 dollars.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Comment from Pontevedra 29.1.17

Penned at 3.20am:

Since last Tuesday, my daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law have all come down, in rapid succession, with a 48 hour vomit-oriented virus. And last night it hit me around 9pm. So I immediately retired to bed, maximised my warmth and slept fitfully until 3.15, taking a drink of water every half-hour or so. Because I have a pact with the Devil, I wasn't too surprised to find at this hour that my symptoms had virtually vanished and I hadn't needed the bowl at the side of the bed. What did surprise - and disappoint – me was that I couldn't recall the detailed blog item I'd penned in my sleep. All I can remember is that it centred on a particular person – The Angel of Asturias – praying to a god I don't believe in for my rapid recovery. And something about the ridiculous Santiago myths that generate so much money for Spain via the annually increasing raft of camino pilgrimages.

So, I took a strong analgesic – which may well stimulate the vomiting I've (not) missed – and will now try to induce The Committee of Sleep to bring the blog post back to mind for tomorrow morning.

HT to my friend David for informing me of this article:-

After Eta: Spain’s History Of Violence:  Tobias Buck, The FT

If you want to understand what is happening in the Basque country, says Carlos Totorika, you have to look into people’s eyes. “You notice it in the eyes if someone hates you or not. You see it in an instant, even if they don’t speak a word,” he says. “And the eyes look different now. People are leaving the hate behind.”Totorika was a young man when he was first elected mayor of Ermua, a small town in the Spanish Basque country, back in 1991. He has been mayor ever since. Now a silver-haired man of 60, he has learnt everything there is to know about hate, and what it does to people. He has buried comrades killed by an assassin’s bullet, and seen his own name, address and car licence plate on a kill list. He spent 15 years being shadowed by armed bodyguards.

Then, suddenly, everything changed. After five decades of violence and murder, the Basque separatist group Eta decided to abandon what it called its “armed activity”. The announcement came on October 20 2011, sparking relief across Spain. It brought an end to a bloody campaign that started when Eta killed its first victim, a police officer, in 1968. It went on to murder 845 people, most of them in the small sliver of land it claimed to be fighting for. Now, finally, the killing was over. Politicians, prosecutors, judges and journalists stopped looking over their shoulders and under their cars. Hundreds were relieved of their bodyguards.

“I am a free man. I live without fear. I can go out with my wife. I can go to the cinema,” Totorika tells me. We are in his office, on the first floor of Ermua’s imposing Baroque town hall. It is a gloomy rain-lashed day, not untypical for the region. But the mayor’s eyes light up as he reflects on his new life. “It is wonderful. There is no other word for it. To live freely and without fear is wonderful.”

The sense of wonder is evident across the Basque country. There is talk of a return to normality, and an effort to bolster what Spaniards call convivencia — living together. Many see a bright new future for what is already one of the richest regions in Spain, an industrial powerhouse and a magnet for tourists and foreign investors alike. The leaden atmosphere of terror has given way to a lighter mood: Basques today are counting Michelin stars, not bodies.

But amid the newfound tranquillity, there is still unfinished business. On one side of the political divide, there is bitterness that Eta’s announcement did not prompt conciliatory steps from the Spanish government. On the other, there is exasperation that Eta has yet to give up its weapons, or to formally disband.

Eta was founded in 1959, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Its mission was to fight for the independence of the greater Basque country, a region straddling the Franco-Spanish border. The group went on to assassinate Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco’s chosen successor in 1973, a killing that had profound political repercussions. Since 2011 though, Eta has made news only sporadically, mostly when another of its dwindling band of members is arrested. The group inhabits a strange netherworld, neither dead nor alive, as it waits for a grand political settlement that will probably never come.

But there is another source of tension, which shows up in the words that people use to describe the recent past, in the way they count the victims, and the starting point they choose to tell their tale. It has to do with the struggle to fit a million memories of fear and loss into a broader narrative — and find a version of history that is generous enough to unite a people torn by trauma, yet true enough to sort victims from perpetrators. It is about who gets to tell the Basque history of violence, and how.

This is the struggle that breaks out every time a cruel regime falls, a campaign of terror ends or a civil war draws to a close. Who was right and who was wrong? What must we do so the killing does not happen again? And why did we start shooting in the first place? The questions now being asked in the Basque country are the same ones that haunted South Africa and Bosnia a generation ago — and that surfaced in Spain after the end of the Franco regime. Many prefer not to ask them. But those who do are well aware that defining the past means shaping the future, in the Basque country and beyond. And, according to some leading combatants, it is a struggle that neither side dares to lose.

The Basque country is tiny — just a quarter of the size of Belgium. But it packs an awful lot into that small area, from the rough Atlantic coast to the peaks of the Basque Mountains and a patchwork of steep, narrow valleys in between. Land is so scarce — and so much is taken up by industry — that even small towns have been forced to build high-rise buildings. Wherever one looks, one sees bridges, railway lines, factories, apartment blocks and ancient churches jostling for space.

The drive from Ermua to Lasarte, just outside San Sebastián, takes less than an hour. There was no one to talk to here, just a place to find: the scene of a notorious crime that was committed two decades ago — the murder of Miguel Angel Blanco.

I am told that locals are normally reluctant to speak about the killing, but the new era seems to have made people more relaxed. Within minutes of my ordering pintxosin a local bar, the waiter has tracked down one of the ambulance drivers who recovered the body. We set off along the river in his ancient Volvo, until the car comes to an abrupt halt. “It was here,” our guide says.

There is nothing except trees and undergrowth. The ground rises steeply on both sides but there is a flat section by the fast-flowing stream that is just big enough to stage an execution. What happened here changed the course of recent Basque history.

A 29-year-old from Ermua, Blanco had served on the same council as Carlos Totorika. He was a member of the conservative Popular party, while Totorika was a life-long Socialist. But the mayor liked the young councillor, and admired his courage. He remembers Blanco telling the mother of an Eta prisoner in a public meeting that her son was a criminal, not a hero. Such plain-speaking was rare in the Basque country at the time. Still, Blanco thought he had no reason to be afraid. He always told his family and friends that he was not important enough to be an Eta target.

He was wrong. Blanco was abducted by an Eta commando in July 1997, held for 48 hours while Eta demanded that all its prisoners be transferred to the Basque country, and finally taken to this forest. His killers forced him to kneel on the ground, before firing two bullets into his head.

Eta had killed hundreds of people before, and would kill dozens more. But this time was different. Perhaps it was because of Blanco himself, a small-time politician who looked even younger than his years. Or the psychological torture inflicted on his family and friends, who knew that the government would never fulfil Eta’s demands. In the two days between his abduction and his killing, some six million people took part in rallies and vigils to demand his release. In the Basque country, too, ordinary citizens decided it was time to stand up to Eta. The revulsion was universal, and would follow the group all the way to 2011. Eta killed a man, but it dug a grave for its own ambitions along the way.

“When they killed my brother, no one came up with the slightest justification. It took people until 1997 to realise that the victim of terrorism is innocent,” says Mari Mar Blanco, who was 23 at the time. The sense of loss is still raw; her voice breaks as she recalls the last day she saw him alive. But she also sees the murder as a rare moment of moral clarity for Basque society. “People realised that the victims are always the innocent ones, and the perpetrators are always the guilty ones.”

The country took the death of Miguel Angel Blanco in a way it had never done before, she adds. “I remember people saying: he is only 29. Not that the killing would have been any more justified if he had been 40, but people looked at him and saw a son, a brother, a boyfriend. People would say: I have a picture of your brother in my living room, next to the photo of my family. Everyone in that moment saw him as part of their family.”

Today, Blanco is a member of parliament for the ruling Popular party and a prominent advocate for Spanish victims of terror. She appears regularly on the pages of the conservative media but has a much lower profile in her native Basque country. The PP is a mere splinter party there, where the main conservative force is the moderately nationalist Basque National Party. Many Basques view Spain’s ruling party much like Blanco regards the region’s radical secessionists: as hardliners, extreme and divisive.

“They know that they lost,” Blanco says, referring to Eta and its sympathisers. “They will never admit it in public but they know they were defeated. And they know they cannot afford to lose the other battle — the battle for the historical narrative.” She adds: “We cannot afford to lose this battle.”

One key combatant in that struggle is Florencio Domínguez, a former journalist who now presides over the Foundation for the Memory of Victims of Terror. His office in the Basque capital of Vitoria is as bare as a monk’s cell — but it offers a view to the site across the road that will one day house a museum dedicated to the history of terror here. One of his tasks is to fill the building with objects, pictures, words — and a coherent narrative. He also oversees a well-funded research effort, involving many of the region’s most prominent historians.

“We are in a paradoxical situation. Younger people who are now in their twenties have little direct experience of terrorism. They are not well-informed, and this all seems like a distant thing to them. And then we have the grown-up generation that knows from experience what terrorism is. But they often just want to turn the page,” Domínguez says. “We want to reach as many people as possible, make them aware of what terrorism is and make clear that there is no justification for terrorism.”

That educational impulse, he admits, runs into two serious obstacles. One is the desire, shared by many Basques, to simply forget about the past. The other is a powerful counter-narrative that views the region’s history differently: as one of conflict between two sides, in which both Eta and the Spanish government committed their share of abuses, and in which both sides suffered trauma, death and injustice.

“They are trying to win one battle because they lost the other,” says José Antonio Pérez, a professor of history at the University of the Basque Country, who leads the terrorism research group. “If you convince, you win. The story they are trying to establish is that there was a political conflict that is both origin and justification for the violence [of Eta] . . . As Hannah Arendt once said, where everyone is guilty, no one is.”

“They” are the members of the so-called Izquierda Abertzale, the pro-independence radical left in the Basque country. This was the movement that provided the political part in Eta’s “politico-military strategy”. Over the years, it gave birth to a variety of parties, some of which — like Herri Batasuna — were banned by Spanish courts for their close ties to Eta. Over the years, more and more members of the Izquierda Abertzale turned against Eta’s violence. But in the battle for narrative, they insist that the recent history of the Basque country is no simple tale of darkness and light.

“We need to construct a history that is inclusive — a history of histories. What we don’t need is a history of victors and vanquished.” So says Arnaldo Otegi, the leader of EH Bildu, a party that is the latest — and probably permanent — incarnation of the Izquierda Abertzale. A former member of Eta, Otegi spent long years in jail, both for his Eta activities and, most recently, for his role in trying to re-establish the banned Herri Batasuna party. He was released just in time for the Basque regional election last September, though a Spanish court subsequently banned him from running as a candidate.

In the rest of Spain, he is loathed as an apologist for terror by all but a small minority. In the Basque country, however, things are different. EH Bildu won 21 per cent of the regional vote, making it the second-largest bloc in parliament. Otegi himself, meanwhile, wins praise even from some of his political opponents for helping to push Eta towards its 2011 declaration.

Otegi insists that the era of violence is over. But he also warns against a version of history that presents Eta’s deeds in isolation. “If you look at the history of this country, you will see that in the last three or four centuries there is not one generation that hasn’t known armed conflict,” he tells me. “Evidently, there is a political reason why this is happening. That is not to justify what happened. But to hide it is absurd.”

To understand the abyss in perception that looms in any discussion of Basque history and politics, I headed to the small town of Hernani, a short drive from San Sebastián. This is Abertzale territory. For many decades, Hernani and the towns and villages around it served as a source of manpower, funding and political support for Eta. No fewer than 23 of the 400 or so Eta prisoners still in jail come from tiny Hernani.

Here, too, it used to be hard for journalists to find people to talk to. But the recent political thawing has opened both minds and doors. One leads to the small, tidy apartment of Ricardo Mendiola, a life-long Abertzale, who served as mayor of Hernani from 1983 to 1987. It was a period that brought violence and death on a terrible scale. “There was fear and there was hatred. Visceral hatred,” he recalls.

For Mendiola and many of his voters, the fear and the hate were not directed at Eta but at the Spanish police and security forces — and at mercenary death squads such as the notorious Gal [Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación]. Financed and supported by members of the Socialist government, the Gal murdered 27 Eta operatives and suspects between 1983 and 1987, often burying them in anonymous quicklime graves. In total, far-right and paramilitary groups murdered 62 people.

The so-called guerra sucia (dirty war) forms the darkest chapter in the history of modern democratic Spain. The interior minister at the time of the Gal killings was one of several top officials later convicted for his links to the group. But it was also the security apparatus itself that stretched the limits of state authority to breaking point and beyond. A study released by the Basque regional government last year found that more than 4,000 detainees were tortured by Spanish security officers between 1960 and 2013. UN reports detailed cases of torture as recently as 2004 (strongly denied in Madrid, where officials argue that Eta invents torture claims to blacken the government’s name abroad).

These are the memories that resonate in towns such as Hernani. They also loom large in the thick set of ringbinders that contain the official town history, and that now sit on the table in the mayor’s office. Luis Intxauspe, who hails from the same party as Otegi, emphasises from the outset that the local history project has nothing to do with the version being written by the professors in Vitoria.

“When we talk about historical memory our view goes back to 1936 and the start of Francoism. That is where we begin the narrative,” he says. Eta, he adds, cannot be understood in isolation. “The problem and the conflict did not start when Eta was founded and didn’t stop with the end of Eta.”

Historians such as Pérez are deeply wary of this kind of thinking. There is, he argues, no simple line that links the Franco dictatorship to the Eta killings to the Gal murders and to the situation of Eta prisoners today. “For them, context means justification,” he tells me. Whatever the crimes of the Franco regime, they cannot be taken as an excuse for a wave of killings that ended 36 years after the death of Franco. Indeed, more than 90 per cent of Eta victims were killed after Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. The Gal, meanwhile, killed its last victim in 1987 — a decade before the murder of Miguel Angel Blanco, and 24 years before Eta announced the end of the “armed struggle”.

The issue of Eta prisoners, meanwhile, remains intensely controversial. In places such as Hernani, they are awarded a status that approaches martyrdom: the narrow lanes of the old town are plastered with banners showing their faces and names. There is a black-and-white mural near the town hall with portraits of all the Eta prisoners from Hernani (including Mendiola’s nephew). Every time one is released, his or her portrait is struck off. Abertzale leaders such as Otegi insist that all the prisoners have to be released, as would happen in a normal post-conflict agreement. At the very least, they say, the Spanish government should allow them to complete their sentences in Basque jails.

In Madrid, however, such pleas cut little ice. As long as Eta has not handed over its weapons and formally disbanded, the government refuses to contemplate a change in its prison policy. As for the notion of a normal post-conflict settlement, the response is equally clear: there was no conflict. Eta killers are murderers and will be treated as such.

The real outrage, says Mari Mar Blanco, is the hero’s welcome that released Eta prisoners continue to receive in places such as Hernani. Like many Spanish politicians who experienced the sharp end of Eta terror, she insists that there can be no negotiation with the group and its sympathisers. “The younger generation needs to know that to kill, as Eta did, achieves nothing. Eta achieved nothing in any of the causes that it claimed to kill for: it didn’t achieve the independence of the Basque country, and it did not bring home the prisoners. They achieved nothing, except to cause terrible pain.”

While in Vitoria, I meet another prominent sister with a story of grief and loss. Pili Zabala entered politics only last year, when she emerged as the leader of the anti-establishment Podemos party in the Basque country. Before that, her surname was known to Basques and Spaniards alike mainly in connection with one of the most notorious crimes of the Gal: the abduction, torture and killing of José Ignacio Zabala in 1983.

Zabala was 14 when her older brother disappeared, together with another Eta suspect from the same village. Year after year, the families pleaded with the Spanish authorities to reveal the whereabouts of the two men’s remains. But it was only in 1995 that a forensic examination was able to confirm that two bodies discovered a decade earlier in a quicklime grave near Alicante were those of Zabala and his friend, José Antonio Lasa.

“Eleven years, five months and five days,” Zabala says. “You always cheat yourself. I always dreamt that my brother was alive. It was a dream but it was also a defence mechanism, a survival mechanism.” A slight woman of 48, her voice is reduced to a whisper as she recalls that time. “You are lost in the world. I used to have moral and ethical references, religious references. They all broke. Justice doesn’t exist. Because of my own experience, I can say: there is no justice in the Spanish state.”

For more than a decade, the family had no grave to go to, and no help from the authorities. “We were aware that the very enemy that took my brother was governing us . . . We felt a terrible impotence.” Even today, Zabala says, she cannot bear the sight of Felipe González, prime minister from 1982 to 1996 (“I have to turn the television off”). Her view of Spain is tinged by bitterness and doubt. The murder of her brother — and the lack of serious punishment meted out to the perpetrators — suggests to her that the nation still has a long way to go before it can call itself a true democracy.

Looking back at the decades of bloodshed and violence, however, what strikes Zabala is the sheer absence of empathy. “People felt the pain of the victims on their side, but not on the other. There was no compassion, and no solidarity.”

It is difficult to convey, through the veil of time, how hard it was to escape from the terror that stalked the Basque country — how all-engulfing it was. So many deaths, so much fear, in so little space. Victims and perpetrators, running into each other in those narrow village lanes over and over again. As Iñaki Soto, the editor of Gara, an Abertzale newspaper based in San Sebastián, told me: “This was an untypical conflict in the sense that there was no social segregation. We lived in the same buildings. We took our kids to the same schools.”

There were years in which the killing came at a rate of one every three days. And while Eta initially targeted policemen and state representatives, the circle of death would widen ever further as the years went by: run your finger down the list of victims and you find taxi drivers, bakers, the owners of bars and restaurants, housewives, a couple of migrants from Ecuador caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1987, an Eta bomb exploded in a Barcelona supermarket, killing 21 men, women and children who never had the slightest reason to fear the group’s wrath. It was Eta’s deadliest attack.

The suffering of the victims and their families went on long after the dead were buried. In a cruel inversion of normal human behaviour, it was often Eta’s victims who were isolated and stigmatised, while the perpetrators received shelter from their community. According to historians such as Pérez, this twisted social dynamic helps explain why Eta could carry on killing for so long.

“For decades, when Eta killed someone, people would say that the victim must have done something. The burden of proof fell on the victim. Eta was given the benefit of the belief that if they killed someone, it must have been for a reason. The killer was given solidarity when he was arrested. The day after an Eta commando was arrested there would be demonstrations and so on. But it took until the late 1980s and early 1990s for there to be demonstrations in solidarity with the victims.”

The balance finally tipped irrevocably in those fraught July days of 1997, as Spain waited for the death of Miguel Angel Blanco. “Terrorism needs social paralysis, it needs to create a spiral where every killing creates more fear. That spiral was broken in Ermua,” recalls Totorika, the mayor.

Looking back, he says he feels pride in the rallies and protests that started in his village and spread across the nation. But that was a long time ago. Today, he says, “we are tired of Eta and talking about Eta. Even the victims are tired. They want to close this chapter. But we can’t close it just like that.”

History matters, he says. It always does. “What is history today becomes social reality a generation from now,” he says. “And, what’s more, the victims have a right to the truth.”

Tobias Buck is the FT’s Madrid bureau chief

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pontevedra Pensees: 28.1.17

Apart from the first paragraph, this post is all about Trump. One reason is that my Mac charger - the 4th in 5 years – is bust and I’m having to type on the British keyboard of my daughter’s Mac Air. The smaller keyboard and the typing ‘mistakes’ born of my use of a Spanish keyboard are driving me nuts . . .

I have to say I admire my younger daughter’s consistency – not only does she leave every light in the house on during the days she’s in the place but also when she’s away for 2 days. But I’m not so admiring, of course, when she does it at my house.

The estimable Caitlin Moran has this to say about Donald Trump, echoing one of my comments of last week:- However much we laugh at his hair, lies, unhappy-looking marriage and insane tie-wearing aesthetic, “The” Donald has the nuclear codes, so ultimately every joke will eventually blow back and irradiate us, come The Reckoning. As regards said tie-wearing aesthetic, she has this advice for him: — MATE! IT’S OVER A METRE LONG AND FLAPPING AROUND YOUR NADS! NO ONE WEARS A TIE LIKE THIS! BECAUSE THEY’VE ALL READ FREUD FOR TODDLERS! DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR AND STOP BEING A WALKING METAPHOR FOR PENILE INSECURITY!

My friend, Dwight, tagged Trump a textbook Narcissist – not merely a narcissist – long before he became president and before this perception became almost universal. Here’s an article that Dwight has just sent me on this. Even if you weren’t frightened before you read this, you'll be terrified after.

Here’s what’s psychologically wrong with Donald Trump: Karen Wehrstein

With all the talk of Donald Trump’s mental health status, I’ve decided to do something I’ve put off for a while: write a diary that shows he is a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and spell out what that means in terms of what to expect from him and how to deal with it.  Certainly the term “narcissist” is being applied to him a lot, but most people don’t know the entirety of what that means, psychologically.

I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist, but for personal reasons I have educated myself about NPD.  It generally conceals itself and is little understood—but has a devastating effect on the lives of others close to the narcissist or to organizations he is involved with.  Knowing NPD creates a coherent picture that explains Trump’s behaviors. That will help you not only understand Trump, but enable you to spot people with NPD who want to enter your life, organization, etc., so that you can act accordingly. This is an educational moment in history.  It is very rare that the symptoms of NPD are on such massive public display.

If you find yourself completely baffled by Trump’s behavior, that’s because mentally-healthy people generally find NPD-rooted behaviors incomprehensible.  The narcissist violates social norms that healthy people hold instinctively and therefore assume (usually correctly) that others hold—while at the same time he creates a semblance of normalcy, because being able to do so is part of the disorder.  Because the rest of us cannot relate to, often cannot even imagine how a narcissist thinks and feels, it seems outside the realm of plausibility, and so his semblance of normalcy will fool us.  Not only Trump voters but fellow Republicans and even Putin have shown signs of buyer’s remorse with Trump.  That’s because he fooled them all.  Narcissists can do that.

So, since he’s a textbook case, let’s hit the textbook.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – the American Psychiatric Association’s guidebook for mental health diagnosis – gives diagnostic criteria for all mental illnesses.  Between the fourth and fifth editions, the criteria for NPD changed, so I am going to use both to paint a fuller picture.  If you’ve been following the presidential news for the last few months, you’ll likely be able to think of at least one and probably several examples of Trump demonstrating every single diagnostic criterion below.

From DSM-IV:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.
1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. Believes he is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Has a sense of entitlement
6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends
7. Lacks empathy
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him
9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes

From DSM-5
A. Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:
1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):
a. Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.
b. Self-direction: Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.
2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):
a. Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over- or underestimate of own effect on others.
b. Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others’ experiences, and predominance of a need for personal gain
B. Pathological personality traits in the following domain:
1.      Antagonism, characterized by:
a.      Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.
b.      Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.
President Obama and others who have observed that Trump’s behaviors arise from an underlying insecurity are right, as per DSM-5 criterion A.1.a. above.  Kossacks and others have figured out that the way to get under his skin is to is to point out how unpopular he is, because that works on narcissists.  In fact any criticism does, because narcissists can’t handle criticism at all, cannot help but take it personally, as per DSM-5 criteria A.1. a & b both.

How else does this translate into behaviors? 

Let’s start with the persona narcissists create.  Because they lack empathy, they have to learn how to appear normal, which they do by rote-learning expressions and mannerisms from normal people around them.  In fact, they are good at being charming; they learn what people want to hear and say it without regard to whether it is true.  Because they are without moral qualms, they can come across as decisive, which normal people interpret as confident, and spontaneous, which normal people interpret as authentic.  This is how Trump played the crowds at his rallies.  None of it, however, is sincere; it is only for personal gain.  There is no such thing as loyalty from narcissists; loyalty arises from the social norm of reciprocity, which is based on empathy, which they don’t have.

Next: falsehood.  Honesty is also a social norm based on empathy, so narcissists feel no need to hold themselves to it.  Falsehood serves two functions: 1) manipulating people into furthering the narcissist’s aims (e.g. making promises he never intends to keep); 2) maintaining his own delusion of superiority, e.g. insisting he is liked more than he is, or rebutting good arguments with false ones.  The media is debating whether Trump’s tales of a record-breaking inauguration audience and 3-5 million illegal votes are lying or delusion.  Knowing what I do of NPD, I would say it’s delusion.  Trump will cling to it and keep it in the news even at the risk of damaging his own credibility, because it engages his central, very strong motivation, and he lacks the empathy to see how it will damage his credibility.

Because narcissists are so insecure at heart they can be control freaks, and the male of the species in particular can be authoritarian.  Hence, executive orders that are likely unconstitutional as well as absurd.  In a “love” relationship (because narcissists lack empathy, which is central to love), he can seek to dictate every aspect of his partner’s life, including that she conform to his standard of beauty.  Thus he feels free to wander into the dressing room of a teen beauty pageant to “inspect the goods,” and you’ll see a certain uniformity among the Trump women in style of dress and even length of hair.  I think he is likely giving them strict orders.

At the same time, there will be impulsiveness, moodiness and disorganized thinking. A narcissist is really a six-year-old in a grown-up body, lacking reason and ruled by emotion; recall Melania Trump’s comment that she had to look after two boys, one being Barron, the other, Donald.  People have suspected Trump’s reversals and word-salads could indicate ADHD, but these are indicators of NPD, too.

In his exploitiveness, the narcissist violates social norms concerning appropriate boundaries, whether those boundaries are codified in conflict-of-interest prohibitions, investment loan contracts, business contracts, sexual assault laws or what-have-you.  The narcissist basically feels that rules are for him to set, not obey.  This includes even the rules of logic, such as “base your decisions on facts.”

Projection characterizes how narcissists describe people who oppose them. They will “project their own negative introject,” in Freudian terms, i.e. ascribe their own wrongdoing and faults to other people, whether it be criminality (“crooked Hillary”), lying or a rigged election.  I have come to assume that whatever Trump accuses someone else of doing, he is doing or has done himself.

Competitiveness and envy result from others apparently outdoing the narcissist, e.g. President Obama drawing large inauguration crowds.  He, and everything he’s touting, has to be the biggest, the best, the huuuugest.

Rage and vindictiveness result from the narcissist’s wishes being thwarted which, of course, life does fairly often, quite naturally.  It is a primal rage, like a child’s; hence Trump’s angry style of speaking and noted obsession with getting even.

One reason the golden shower story went so viral; Americans have come to know Trump well enough to see it is plausible.  Rage translates into hate, which can manifest as racism, sexism, and homophobia.

So how to deal with a narcissist?  To put it very bluntly: don’t. 

There really is nothing to do with these people but to disassociate with them.  They bring nothing but harm and suffering.  

However, if you are stuck with one, there are ways to handle it:
1)      Avoid being disillusioned: have very low expectations.  Here are things never to expect from a narcissist: honesty, loyalty, reciprocity, change due to the gravity of a position, reasonableness in negotiation, learning through experience, maturation, adaptability, courage, ability to handle adversity, aspiration to genuine excellence, genuine altruism, humility, guilt or shame for wrongdoing, equanimity, sincere gratitude, sincere appreciation, sincere praise, admission that he is wrong, returned favours or improvement of the condition.  In Trump’s case, you can’t even expect normal laughter or a smile that goes up to his eyes.  Prognosis is poor because narcissists think all problems are caused by other people and so generally don’t seek treatment.  Many people, even ones as smart as President Obama, expected Trump to settle down some once he was president.  I knew he wouldn’t.  He actually is not capable of doing so.
2)      Do not normalize.  Healthy people have a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt, in part because they simply can’t believe a narcissist is the way he is.  It is standard operating procedure for him to use that to gaslight you; normalizing is gaslighting yourself.  Recognize and accept that he is the way he is, that it’s due to mental illness and that he will not change.  This is what the mainstream media most needs to learn about Trump.
3)      If you are trying to figure out why he would do something, ask yourself, “How might it be motivated by a need to feel significant or important?”  Discount all other motivations.  Your questions will be answered.
4)      Keep interactions distant.  Don’t depend on a narcissist for anything; never make yourself vulnerable to a narcissist.  Don’t loan him money or do work for him without 100% payment upfront.
5)      Expect those around him to be damaged.  They are either brain-washed into being extensions of him, parroting his thoughts, or faking same for personal gain, or bewildered by the madness.  Expect chaos in any organization he leads: good people will resign in disgust or be fired, while marginal people ascend to powerful positions.
6)      Do not attempt to reason with or educate him.  It doesn’t happen.
7)      Manipulate him by using his disorder.  Flattery will get you everywhere; convince him that your idea was his brilliant one and he’ll run with it.  Trump’s campaign staff learned to do this.  But if you’re too honest for that:
8)      Get rid of him as fast as possible.  How?
a.      Stop giving him what he so desperately needs.  Once a narcissist realizes someone is no longer a source of approval, admiration and adoration, he’ll be off like a shot looking for the next sucker.
b.      Expose him.  Narcissists also tend to flee when they realize people are onto them.  I am actually expecting Trump to flame out fairly soon, perhaps within weeks, because he is revealing that his condition makes him unable to deal with losing the popular vote, drawing a small inaugural audience, being mocked by SNL or greeted with protests wherever he goes.  The media are beginning to talk openly about his mental illness; how will he handle that?

The central thing to understand about narcissists is that their need for “narcissistic supply” – feelings of being significant, important and adored – overrides all other considerations, including empathy and all the human norms that arise from it, because their delusion is to equate narcissistic supply with survival—same as a drowning victim might drown their rescuer.  Some narcissists, having flashes of realism as some of them sometimes do, have described narcissistic supply as a far stronger addiction than heroin.

It’s a throwback to the helplessness of early childhood, where not being considered important and lovable by parents is a genuine threat to survival.  Thus a narcissist is always trying to soothe an all-encompassing internal terror, and no amount of narcissistic supply can ever soothe it entirely.  This is the inner hell in which Donald Trump lives, and which he now has the ability to externalize onto the United States of America and the world.

I go with the flame-out expectation/fervent hope.