Robert Jay Lifton appeared in a two-part interview on the progressive news show “Democracy Now!” on October 13, 2017.
The interview begins with a discussion of the Duty to Warn movement, “a group of psychiatrists and psychologists who feel we have the right and the obligation to speak out about Trump’s psyche when it endangers the country and the world.” In particular, Lifton describes Trump’s problematic relationship to reality, his potential unraveling, and the risk of malignant normality, which are just a few of the topics addressed in the recently published volume The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.
The second part of the interview shifts to subject matter from Dr. Lifton’s most recent book, The Climate Swerve, and specifically the argument that climate change is the “apocalyptic twin” of nuclear war, since “only these two threats, these two developments, can destroy the human species.”
ROBERT JAY LIFTON: I belong to a group called the Duty to Warn, which is a group of psychiatrists and psychologists who feel we have the right and the obligation to speak out about Trump’s psyche when it endangers the country and the world. And what we’re seeing—you mentioned the potential unraveling of the pact with Iran. There’s also the potential unraveling of Donald Trump, which seems to be occurring. It’s hard to read him, because his behavior, as I understand it, is completely solipsistic. He sees the world through his own sense of self, what he needs and what he feels. And he couldn’t be more erratic or scattered or dangerous.
So, the exchange with North Korea has to be terrifying to all of us. It’s not something that can be controlled. You have two leaders who are bent on hyperbole and intense threat to the other and have their own motivations, each of which is hard for us to read. But we can read the danger that they represent, particularly since we’ve learned recently that Trump is on record for demanding something like 10 times the number of nuclear weapons. And that’s what I call extreme nuclearism, a kind of embrace of the weapons to do everything that they can’t do. The only thing nuclear weapons can do is destroy countries, cities, destroy human beings. But since they came into being, there has been an impulse to embrace them and see them as saviors, that prevent war, keep the world going, maintain authority on the part of the nuclear weapons-possessing nations. So Trump is into that extreme nuclearism.
And at the same time, as you mentioned, with the other apocalyptic twin, the terrible and very real threat of climate change, global warming, he and his followers are blocking every reasonable effect that was put forward at Paris in 2015 and which the world—through which the world seeks to confront what may be the gravest danger it’s ever faced. That’s where we are.
Full transcripts of both interviews are available on the Democracy Now! website: