Can you think of a more unpleasant, mind-numbing, unrewarding activity than pulling weeds? (Just say no; it’s a rhetorical question.) A house in foreclosure in Keyport New Jersey was horribly overrun with weeds and needed to be cleaned up so it could be shown. They hired me. To get it done for the showing, I had to do it last Monday. It was 85 degrees and climate change decided Keyport was the place to flex some muscle. A tough day even without weeds. Not just any weeds. Goosegrass and quackgrass with tentacles for roots. Thorny glove-puncturing wild lettuce and poison ivy lying in wait for any opening. Endless,fearless weeds that can actually laugh. There I was, bent over for hours; eyes stinging from sweat, legs and back cramping from the electrolytes draining out of my body in waves or milliliters or whatever circles electrolytes choose to drain in. I began to feel dizzy and questioned the very necessity of my existence.
So I walked around to the side and hosed myself off. Standing there, I picked up on a conversation between a mom and her teenage son next door. They were going out and it was obvious that the young man was mentally challenged. In less time than it takes to say Jiminy Cricket (cartoons are important in the weed-pulling game), my pity party got cancelled. (No one else was coming anyway.) I felt ashamed that my fleeting discomfort deserved even the smallest amount of attention when this kid faces far greater obstacles every day of his life.I went back to work with renewed spirit. Still, the key to enduring the relentless weed-pull is to release your mind anywhere but where you actually are. If all you think about is the weeds, your brain will coalesce with the chickweed and you’ll never find your way out of Keyport. And with the onset of heat-stroke opening the gates to my subconscious, I wandered. First to the situation of the neighbor’s son. Glad that he, at least, seemed to be in a loving home and wishing there was something I could do.
Then I meandered over to Donald Trump. I had caught him briefly on the morning news denigrating some British princess or duchess or queen or whoever he can find to poke fun at. My nomadic thoughts remembered him making fun of a reporter who had a speech defect, similar to the neighbor in this story. He poked fun at Carly Fiorino for her looks; at Marco Rubio for his size; at Jeb Bush for being dull;at “Little Rocket Man”.
Like I said, your inner self can wind up anywhere. I began to wonder why? Why? Why does he do that? I’m familiar with those psycho-labels of his mental deficiencies: over-inflated ego, narcissistic, paranoid,and probably a dozen others that can get floated across the Freudian couch. But in that weed-strangled, heat-induced journey that my brain was on, I came up with another prognosis. It hasn’t been offered because there is no English word for it. It is a German word. I know it only because I was fortunate enough to grow up in a Yiddish household where terms of negative connotation make up the bulk of the vocabulary. (Think sha-getz, shiksa, goyem. You don’t even have to know what they mean to know it’s not good.) The word here is “Schadenfreude”. It means to take pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.
Now I had two full semesters of Psychology and would have passed them both if the second one hadn’t been scheduled in a Saturday class. With this impeccable resume’, I’m convinced that Donald Trump is marinated in Schadenfreude. Look at his recent meetings with the leaders of our European friends. His first instinct is to publicly humiliate them. Having fed this self-satisfaction, the next day he gloats about their wonderful relationship in the absurd notion that anyone believes him. This is another psychological disorder known as “counter-factual thinking”, a concept that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred. Like believing Trump University is a real school.
Research has shown that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel Schadenfreude than well adjusted humans. But how can Trump be charged with that label? He appears so confident, so sure of himself, so in control. Until you peel back the curtain and see the real Wizard of Oz. In the schoolyard, the toughest kid never talks about how tough he is. The kid who’d like to be tough does. The smartest kid in class doesn’t spend homeroom selling his IQ; everybody knows. It’s the kid who needs to look smart that huffs and puffs about his intelligence. The most attractive, popular, athletic, artistic, talented –they don’t toot their own horn. It’s the kids who need to validate themselves that make the most noise. The ones with the deeply buried, heavily veiled low self-esteem.
This is not to deny Trump his accomplishments. Isis is badly beaten; he deserves all the credit in the world for trusting in his generals. Jerusalem is now the capital of Israel. No other president had the courage to push this through. The economy has grown stronger under his watch; unemployment is down; taxes are lower, wages are creeping up. When it comes to stronger border security, I’m all in. Yes, he gets things done even up against a biased media and Democratic party that marches in lockstep in opposition to his every thought. I’m just trying to figure out why he has to be so mean. All in a day’s work – from pulling weeds to a matchbook psychoanalysis of the President of the United States. Sometimes I’d like to feel bad for him, but that’s when my Schadenfreude usually kicks in.