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Diagnosis: Donald Trump

May 27, 2019

Much has been made of our president’s often confounding behaviors — his casual lies, constant boasting and empty promises. I feel like I’ve seen it all before. Unfortunately, I’ve learned — from unwanted close-up observation of a family member — a great deal about compulsive gamblers. I suspect the diagnosis also fits our president.

It’s important to understand that compulsive gambling is as destructive as an addiction to drugs or alcohol, with specific, observable characteristics. The risky behaviors are not confined to gaming tables; they also can be found in high-stakes business such as finance, professional sports and real estate. The compulsive gambler is always angling for his advantage, the win, at any cost to those around him.

Consider the evidence: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, the bible of psychiatric symptoms, describes a compulsive gambler as someone who, “after losing money gambling, returns another day to get even (chasing one’s losses).” Here I would urge you to recall Trump’s serial bankruptcies and failed businesses.

The compulsive gambler, it tells us, “lies to conceal the extent of his involvement with gambling.” The troubled gambler might, for example, exaggerate his wealth in order to entice new investors, even as his businesses crash.

And our compulsive gambler, we are told, “relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.” Someone like that might turn to distant, shady lenders to maintain the facade of successful businesses.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic say such gamblers are highly competitive, impulsive and easily bored.

You might say that about someone who incessantly declares himself superior to his predecessors and critics, fires off ill-considered missives and engages in compulsive television viewing or marathon phone calls with sycophants, all while declining to read tedious briefing papers.

While Trump is widely known to be a teetotaler, compulsive gambling is an addiction and addicts share certain traits. They score low on social intimacy and score high for thinking that others are out to harm them. Often they are described as “paranoid” and are devoid of close friends. One particular element of gambling feeds the addict and keeps him coming back for more: intermittent reinforcement. That’s the “chance” in games of chance.

Addicted gamblers never know when they might win, but they’re always looking for that next time. And every once in a while — if they don’t go broke first — they do “hit.” This serves to reinforce their grandiose convictions that they are smarter, luckier, more worthy than the next guy and primes them for the next wager.

This is true for all compulsive gamblers whether they’re playing bingo, pulling slot machines, placing their bets at the racetrack or on Wall Street. In the end, their wins are not due to hard work or training, they come down to chance.

In addition, when compulsive gamblers are candid, they will tell you it’s not when they lose that they’re despondent. No — it’s when they’re out of the action. They crave the thrill of living on the edge, risking ever-larger stakes in the game.

I would ask, what is more on the edge than taking an entire nation to the brink of future financial ruin, environmental disaster, loss of international standing or — worst-case — war, all to boost his own wealth and bolster his outsized ego?

The problem today is that our president is not risking his personal fortune as he pursues the thrill of the game; he’s risking the fortunes of our entire nation and the future well-being of all its citizens. Unwittingly, we all have become this gambler’s stash, as well as his enablers.

Karen Foss of Santa Fe worked as a TV news reporter and anchor for more than 30 years. She retired from NBC affiliate KSDK in St. Louis in 2006.

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