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What makes Donald Trump tick?

This post was originally created during the time of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. As the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election heats up, people again are questioning the candidates’ temperaments to be Commander In Chief.

No one kind of temperament is inherently superior to any other, however. Any kind of temperament can lend itself to high public office. The better question is which candidate has the most integrated temperament — the one most internally balanced and healthy — regardless of what kind of temperament it is.

The Enneagram is a highly effective personality typing system. There are nine personality styles. Click here to learn more about the Enneagram generally, and the Living Enneagram approach in particular.


Donald Trump runs the Type 8 – the “Intense Protector.”

This post is part of a series:

Typing Public Figures

Donald Trump: Type 8

Barack Obama: Type 9

Hillary Clinton: Type 1

It may be help to read the first post by way of background. The others posts stand alone.

Type 8 – The Intense Protector

Type 8 over-identifies with and discharges anger energy. All impulses are regarded as good and all impulses should be discharged, no matter what the impact. While this gives 8s an air of directness and truthfulness — one always knows where they stand with 8s — it can also be insensitive and demeaning to others.

8s tend to believe deep down that they are all-good, that their perspective is the one truth or the only true way. Meanwhile, 8s tend to relish in being bad on the outside:  the rebellious one, the politically incorrect, the vigilante. (1s are the exact opposite: believing they are bad inside while striving to be good on the outside.)

The 8 focus of attention is power, dividing the world into strong versus weak. 8s either disdain or overly-protect those they consider “weak.” 8s instinctively know who has control of any given situation. It can be highly upsetting for an 8 to feel no one is in control; the 8 will step into a perceived power vacuum and take charge.

Some 8s focus on controlling their bodies and possessions. Other 8s control entire environments, using charisma and spectacle to draw all eyes onto them. Still other 8s exercise control by “protecting” loved ones, family, gang or clan. Trust, loyalty, and respect are 8 buzz words.

At higher levels of integration, 8s are gentle giants: heroic, yet tender; tenacious, yet merciful; and honorable, yet forgiving. When average functioning, 8s strive for peace through order and control. They sometimes feel the only to achieve peace is through domination and imposition of their will. When very low functioning, 8s can descend into barbarity, becoming destructive megalomaniacs who are unrestrained in their cruelty.

When consistently integrated, 8s can become an unstoppable force for justice. They recover needed restraint and mindfulness of Type 5 and shine into the powerfully nurturing patterns of Type 2. Famous 8s include: Lyndon Johnson, Indira Gandhi, and Lucille Ball.

Type 8 Patterns & Donald Trump

Type 8s can obsess about justice and fairness. There is a persistent sense that someone is being mistreated, often themselves. Such 8s feel they alone have the strength and will to fight and re-balance the scales. They habitually (and at times unconsciously) plot how to get even, and they can get caught in revenge cycles.

Trump’s  focus on fairness has been on full display throughout the campaign. During the primaries, he repeatedly threatened to leave the Republican Party, if in his judgment, it treated treated him unfairly. The Washington Post recently compiled video clips of 18 instances in which Trump complains about being treated “unfairly.” After Clinton’s post-convention poll bounce, Trump complained the upcoming election might be rigged against him.

Reacting to their justice concerns, average and low functioning 8s do a lot of blaming and revenging. All ennea-types project onto external objects their inner dissatisfaction. 8s often do not realize the extent to which their overheated nerves are at the root of their ongoing discontent. Lost among the 8s external story-lines of raw deals and retribution is the underlying pattern of blaming and vindicating perpetuating itself. If it’s not one thing, it would be another. In the process of keeping their anger buzz going, it’s the Type 8 who is rubbing their own nerves raw.

Trump’s propensity for blaming and attacking people is well known. Trump proudly pronounced his penchant for retaliation:  “Anybody that hits me, we’re gonna hit them ten times harder.” And Trump reliably visits vindication on his perceived enemies. The New York Times released a “complete list” of hundreds of Trump’s Twitter insults.

8s naturally are direct and truthful, in the sense of being forthright. Forthrightness is a very 8-ish variety of truthfulness, wholly separate from factual truthfulness. This kind of truth gets its power from the authenticity of discharging “true” impulses, rather than repressing or stage-managing them. It need not bear any relation to the truthful substance of what is said or done. Because the pull of forthrightness is strong — unrestrained anger energy is a kind of intoxication — 8s characteristically fail to realize how unhelpful, even damaging, it is to discharge every impulse in every situation.

Is Trump’s offensive behavior a refreshing rebuke of the excesses of political correctness or a categorical dis-qualifier from the White House, or perhaps both? Decades of slick talking points and spin rooms has shellacked over a system in disrepair. However condemnation-worthy, Trump’s coarseness may be a needed sandpapering before the restoration of functional governance. Then again, ‘Trump the Disrupter’ could be more demolition derby than refinishing school. Whatever metaphor wins the day, Trump’s brashness opens space for more forthrightness in our political discourse even as, too often, it demonstrates what’s truly beyond the pale.

Type 8 habitually dampens pain sensitivity. 8s do this in order to endure the painful side-effects of harnessing anger energy and to get strong enough to fight for justice in an unfair world.

Dampened pain sensitivity feels less alive, however. 8 compensates by further ramping up anger energy and intensity. Thus, the Type 8 emotional driver is lust — intensity in seeking to quench an unquenchable thirst for aliveness or feeling-ness. The 8’s path of development involves realizing aliveness is found in the very sensitivity, vulnerability, and tender frailty of the human condition they habitually push out of consciousness using the defense mechanism of denial.

In his article, The Mind of Donald Trump, Dan McAdams writes, “Trump has never forgotten the lesson he learned from his father and from his teachers at the academy: The world is a dangerous place. You have to be ready to fight.” This life lesson exactly mirrors the core Type 8 worldview. McAdams continues:

Donald stood out for being the most competitive young man in a very competitive environment. His need to excel—to be the best athlete in school, for example, and to chart out the most ambitious future career—may have crowded out intense friendships by making it impossible for him to show the kind of weakness and vulnerability that true intimacy typically requires.

Trump is still very competitive. In the above video, Trump reports he has a “winning temperament.” His emphasis on winning has led some observers to suggest Trump is a Type 3. The 3 ennea-style markets a winning self-image for the accolades of an audience as a means of coping with an inner feeling of unworthiness. 3s can be stellar leaders: charismatic, charming, caring, and community-driven. 3s can also deceive others with shameless exaggeration and deceive themselves with vanity and narcissism.

When narcissism manifests in Type 8, however, it’s about making a big enough impact on the world to feel alive. Trump’s obsession with winning is much more about fighting for survival, control, and power in a dangerous world than attempting to fill an inner emptiness with the admiration of others. While Trump likely runs Type 3 patterns, I join Ginger Lapid-Bogda in assessing Trump as primarily running Type 8.

8s can struggle with impulsiveness and toughness. Consider one scene in which Trump managed to be both endearing and cringe-worthy. At an August 2016 campaign rally, Trump twice responded to a mother with a crying baby, in diametrically opposing ways. Initially he said, “don’t worry about it, don’t worry . . . [the baby] is young and beautiful and healthy, and that’s what we want.” Less than two minutes later, Trump said, “Actually, I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here. . . . Don’t worry. [To the audience:] I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking. . . . People don’t understand, but that’s OK.” As the spectacle showcases core Type 8 features, it’s worth unpacking.

Trump Bouncing The Baby

Trump was discharging two separate, but truthful impulses. First: Trump was distracted by the crying, but spoke genuinely about understanding the baby’s needs and mother’s predicament. He was sweet about it, and the audience applauded. Second: as the baby and mother continued to distract him, Trump got increasingly irritated and asked them to leave. He was insensitive about it, and the audience laughed. Trump smoothed over his erratic behavior by oddly suggesting he intended the mother to remove the crying baby all along.

At the risk of over-reading, the exchange highlights the Type 8’s toughness: feeling strong by smothering natural human sensitivity, aka “weakness.” Type 8’s core fear is showing vulnerability, being weak, being taken advantage of. 8s use denial to overpower, write-over, and forget these natural, human impulses. (Types 891 each are self-forgetting in different ways.) It’s plausible Trump’s startling brashness not only showed his irritation, but also, more deeply, showed him reactively trying to stamp out his own, unwanted, rising impulses of tenderness.

The baby disrupted Trump characteristically using his anger energy to power through an aggressive speech about “fighting back” against China. Trump, showing his softer side, attended to the needs of the crying baby and its distressed mother. Trump awkwardly tried to recover his intensity by punching out some words – “IRAQ!” “AFGHANISTAN!” “WE CAN’T FIGHT BACK ANY OTHER WAY!” – but the baby continued to stall his momentum. The more the baby cried, the more it needed attending, the more irritated, distracted and uneven Trump’s performance got. Trump’s softness kept creeping back into his tone; but apparently Teddy Bear Trump can’t, at the same time, be tough on China. Trump finally felt compelled to overpower, quiet, and forget the ‘baby chaos’ – and his own caring (aka “weakness”) – by asking the mother to leave.

Against the backdrop of chortles, Trump’s comment, “I think she really believed me,” seemed more like comedy improvisation than sincere communication clarification. Trump doubled down with the aside, “People don’t understand.” His mocking humor provided the perfect face-saving cover, essentially, “that’s what I really meant all along, duh!” He demanded the baby’s removal without admitting it had anything to do with his inability to keep up the ‘tough guy’ routine, let alone stamping out his pesky vulnerability of wanting its needs addressed.

Grandpa Trump Shows His Tender Side

Indeed, babies can bring out an 8’s forgotten inner child. And the journey for the Type 8 is from lust to innocence — an open, childlike guilelessness. Innocence is the virtue of allowing a more receptive embodiment of truth to emerge. Tender impulses are not denied or suppressed; they are allowed their full flowering. It turns out there is nothing more alive than sensitively receiving one’s vulnerability and connecting it with everyone else. As a result, an integrated Type 8, like a healthy Type 2, deeply respects, nurtures, and appreciates others’ needs.

Trump’s wife Melania told Barbara Walters, “He loves the American people, and he wants to help them. . .  . He’s not nasty. . . . He has a big heart.” Trump’s heart was on display, in the same Walters interview, when he was filmed in the presence of his grandchildren. In their joint 60 Minutes interview (at 14:50), Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, called Trump “a good man,” saying, “He speaks from his heart. He speaks from his heart.” Trump quickly intervened: “Well, I think I speak from my heart and my brain, just so we understand. … [Pointing to his head]: This is maybe more important.”

Even with a campaign theme centered on Trump’s Type 8 projection of strength — Pence said Trump “embodies American strength” — Trump would do well to allow his tender side to shine through more often. After all, as integrated Type 8s realize, the greatest strength is the strength to be vulnerable, sensitive, and empathetic.

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Click here to learn more about the Living Enneagram approach of relating the nine personality types to the nine universal stages of transformation.

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