Folk tales and fables used to be understood as containers for the psychological truths and deeper ideas needed to understand the recurring troubles of this world. “Nothing new under the sun,” they seem to say; what seems unprecedented now may have appeared before in a different guise. Thus, the old tale of the emperor without clothes has made a big comeback lately. Yet, other old stories can more precisely reveal what is trying to be covered up in the struggles behind the throne.
An old tale, perhaps ironically translated from the Russian, involves an emperor called the Czar Trojan who loved nothing more than being admired by the public and seen as powerful and successful. He also had a secret he felt needed to be kept hidden at all costs. It turned out that the emperor had the ears of a goat, but kept this fact a secret from the populace by arranging his hair a certain way. Each time he needed to have his hair cut, he would ask if the barber had noticed anything strange. If the man even mentioned the presence of the goat ears, he would have his own head cut off.
After many heads had rolled, a certain master barber was summoned by the emperor. He pleaded illness and sent his apprentice instead. When asked if he noticed anything strange about the ruler, the young fellow said he saw nothing unusual. This act of denial earned him a position at the royal court. Yet, as time went on the apprentice found keeping the secret about the emperor increasingly troubling. His former master advised him that he had to tell the truth somehow, either to him or to the pastor, or else he could say it into a hole in the ground.
So, the apprentice dug a hole and shouted three times into the earth that the emperor had goat's ears covered up by his hair. Soon after, an elder tree grew from the spot with branches that were straight and true. Each time someone made a flute from one of the branches the only thing it would play was: "The Emperor Trojan has goat's ears." As was his habit, the emperor tried to deny everything and blame the apprentice. But it was too late; the truth behind all the trouble was out. The royal secret and its cover up spread across the land and people began to understand that something was deeply wrong at the very center of the realm.
There have always been palace intrigues and there is no doubt that people in high office hold secrets; but this story warns us of a secret of a different order. While many jokes can be made about comb-overs and cover-ups and an apprentice who ‘leaks’ the truth to the public; there is a serious psychological truth at the core of this cautionary tale.
Everyone lies at one time or another and politicians have been known to lie a lot. Some suggest that Donald Trump lies purposely as part of a grand strategy of success. Yet, the truth appears to be much sadder as well as more dangerous. While Trump may often control the news cycle, he is rarely in control of himself. When people lie compulsively, repeatedly and unnecessarily it is usually a sign that something is wrong at the root of their being. Those plagued by narcissism compulsively exaggerate and outright lie in order to hide and cover up an essential inner flaw.
Although many voted for Donald Trump on the basis of ‘what you see is what you get,’ it would be far more savvy to view Trump as a case of ‘the bigger the front, the bigger the back.’ The big front insists that he is wildly successful and powerful; the backstory is that he is wildly insecure and deeply flawed and determined to cover that secret up no matter what the cost may be to those who come too close or to the country at large.
Trump has to lie and will ultimately lie about anything if his shaky sense of superiority comes into question. He was successful at producing a reality TV show because he has been producing his own self-aggrandizing versions of reality his entire life. It is more than ironic that the name “Donald” means, ruler of the world. Becoming president is like completing the fantasy of being emperor of the world and living out the delusional sense of being omnipotent that often lies at the core of narcissism. This is not simply a political situation, as people of all political persuasions are affected.
Old tales about emperors being caught in naked lies serve to remind us that those who seek power and wealth at any cost often suffer a gnawing emptiness where most have a more established sense of self. The truth must constantly be sacrificed for the sake of self-aggrandizing lies needed to support a false sense of being all knowing and all powerful.
Because the whole shaky throne rests upon a deeply flawed self within, no lie can ever be admitted, much less be corrected. The issue is not that he has a rule against apologies. Rather, he cannot afford to admit to any mistakes because any admission of weakness might lead to a breaking of the narcissistic bubble and a pouring forth of the massive flood of envy and self-loathing behind all the attacks on others.
The president may have the prerogative to shoot himself in both feet while also stepping on his own message; others have to resort to leaking in order to get out the message that there is something deeply wrong.
Historically we may be in the modern world; yet in psychological terms we are now in the realm of the needy despot and tyrant who must sacrifice others to maintain a corrupt sense of self. Whereas genuine leadership requires that a person in power sacrifice themselves for the well-being of others; flawed leaders will sacrifice both friends and allies for their own self-aggrandizing needs.
The issue is not whether serious leaks may continue, but that the psychological truth must come out before a crisis not of the president’s making endangers everyone. The old psychological rule states that if a person’s inner conflicts are not faced, they will be lived out as fate in the outer world. When the deep conflicts and disorders of the person seen as the most powerful in the world are denied, a tragic fate may befall an entire country.