Stupid, Incompetent, Racist, Loser: Do Trump's Tweets Project His Own Faults Onto Others? | Opinion

Donald Trump's propensity for ridiculing his opponents (both real and imagined) is well known to even the most casual observer. He genuinely seems to delight in name calling, belittling, and demeaning rhetoric, and like most bullies he rarely passes on the opportunity to denigrate his foes. So, not surprisingly, Trump seized on the occasion of Father's Day weekend to unleash a torrent of ugly comments directed at others.

The president's ire this week was trained on some his favorite scapegoats: Democrats, Hillary Clinton, the mainstream news media, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan. There is, of course, nothing especially newsworthy about the fact that Trump spent much of Father's Day weekend engaged in his favorite pastime: savagely degrading and disparaging others on Twitter.

But what I wish to highlight is the specifically rhetorical character of his Twitter putdowns. They are all governed by one unifying motivation: projection. Simply put, Trump consistently projects his own worst shortcomings and sins onto others. In fact, there is no better insight into Donald Trump and what he thinks about himself, if only unconsciously, than the things he repeatedly says about others in 280-character bursts.

Indeed, Trump's most frequent putdowns on Twitter function as a virtual Rorschach test for his own personality traits and behavior. A few of the president's favorite putdowns as of June 17, 2019 include: loser (234 tweets), dumb (222 tweets), terrible (204 tweets), stupid (183 tweets), weak (156 tweets), dishonest (115 tweets), incompetent (92 tweets), fool (83 tweets), pathetic (72 tweets), moron (52 tweets), and racist (50 tweets).

Think about it: why would you repeatedly—not occasionally, but repeatedly—call a wide array of individuals and groups "stupid," "dishonest" and "racist" if you did not consistently see these traits in yourself? You wouldn't. You also wouldn't feel the need to constantly affirm how smart, honest, and not racist you are (remember Trump famously told Piers Morgan, "I'm the least racist person anybody is going to meet,") unless you were exceedingly apprehensive about those very things.

Given Trump's tendency to talk always and only about himself even when his comments are explicitly directed at others, it is worth looking more closely at what else Trump had to say over Father's Day weekend. In a series of tweets, Trump rhetorically projected concerns about his own criminality, corruption, deceitfulness, dishonesty, and treasonous behavior onto others. In short, he took considerable time out of his weekend to remind the world that he sees himself as a "national disgrace." And who am I to argue with the president's own self-assessment?

As a matter of fact, Trump's obvious self-loathing goes a long way toward explaining much of his rhetoric. For instance, Trump is famously concerned with ratings. One of his favorite putdowns of a media outlet is that it is failing, has poor circulation numbers, or weak ratings. Trump's obsession with ratings transparently reflects anxiety over his own poor polling numbers. He repeatedly reminds us how beloved he is precisely because he feels unloved. In the words of one famous Twitter user, "Sad!"

Similarly, prior to being elected president, Trump's primary foray into politics was as a sort self-appointed leader and spokesperson for the birther movement. Aside from the obvious racist aspect of birther rhetoric, why was Trump so obsessed with convincing his fellow Americans that Barak Obama was "illegitimate"?

Trump desperately needed people to see Obama as an imposter, as someone unworthy of his success. In keeping with his personality, Trump was simply rhetorically projecting his own deep feelings of unworthiness, his own sense of being a fake. And where have we heard this term "fake" before? It is, of course, Trump's favorite putdown of the mainstream news media.

In fact, in his first 878 days as president, Donald Trump has tweeted about fake news 468 times (more than once every other day ... can you say, "projection"?). What this rhetoric reveals about Trump is far more significant than anything it says about the actual news media or even its coverage of him. It reveals that Trump regards himself as a fake, a phony, and an imposter. More recently Trump has taken to referring to the media as "corrupt," which also suggests a great deal about Trump's shifting opinion of himself.

If ever there was an argument for impeachment, it is that no one knows Donald Trump better than Donald Trump. Listen carefully to what he believes about himself based on his repeated criticisms of others.

Brian L. Ott, a professor of communication studies and director of the TTU Press at Texas Tech University, is co-author, with Greg Dickinson, of "The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage."

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​