8 min readMay 8, 2020


He Might Not Be The Worlds Utmost Existential Threat

Untitled, Acrylic on Panel, 18" x 24", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

“You can eat the one marshmallow right now, or, if you wait fifteen minutes, I’ll give you two marshmallows and swear you in as President of the United States.”

A Cartoon from The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/cartoons/a20684 @newyorker Jan 13, 2017

I published a version of this post long before the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic was a thing, even though the federal government was on full notice that such a pandemic was highly likely — if not inevitable — while Mr. Trump was about dismantling much of the country’s preparedness and capacity to respond. The inability to delay grantification in the current circumstance is unnecessarily costing thousands of lives and considerable human suffering. It is also exacerbating, rather than mitigating, the economic downturn.

Unfortunately, this post aged well.

My Lay Opinion

Descriptive and prescient of a key component of Mr. Trump’s core deficits which now manifest as the world’s utmost existential threats, this New Yorker cartoon, published a week before the inauguration, evokes the 1960s Stanford University Marshmallow Experiment on instant-versus-delayed gratification in four-year-olds. Children were offered a treat. The kids knew they would receive a second treat by waiting 15 minutes to eat it after the experimenter left the room. Some did. Some didn’t. The testing assessed some of the “why.” The test and its conclusions — including the causes of one’s choice or ability or lack thereof to delay gratification — have been subject to criticism. More recent testing suggests that children from more affluent households have greater success at delaying gratification. Hmmm.


The cause is not so much my concern. The effect is what matters, or should matter, to all of us.

Delayed or deferred gratification is the process people undergo when resisting the temptation of an immediate reward in preference for a later reward. The later reward may be bigger, better, richer, more meaningful or valuable or in some other way an improvement over the immediate reward. In my lay opinion, deferred gratification requires that the subject have some patience, will-power, self-control/-regulation, self-awareness, an appreciation of the value to himself and/or others of the anticipated more enduring reward over the immediate satisfaction or indulgence of the smaller reward.


It’s no secret that Mr. Trump, with some precision, matches the DSM V criteria for narcissism. I list the criteria below, each of which, in my lay opinion, Mr. Trump exhibits:

A-Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:

1-Impairments in self functioning (a or b):

a-Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal may be inflated or deflated, or vacillate between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.

b-Self-direction: Goal-setting is based on gaining approval from others; personal standards are unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.


2-Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):

a-Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over- or underestimate of own effect on others.

b-Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others‟ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain

B-Pathological personality traits in the following domain:

1-Antagonism, characterized by:

a-Grandiosity: Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others.

b-Attention seeking: Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.

C-The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.

D-The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.

E-The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).

See, for example, https://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/materials/Narc.Pers.DSM.pdf (comparing DSM IV and V criteria for narcissism which were updated June 2011).

To the exclusion of all else, Mr. Trump values Mr. Trump and whatever makes Mr. Trump feel good, or better, to bolster this core pathology, in his impulsive need for instantaneous gratification. In my lay opinion, this, rather than drugs or alcohol, is Mr. Trump’s addiction (although there has been considerable speculation over the size of his pupils, his slurred speech and his inability to read large font from teleprompters, among others). These are the criteria on which he makes decisions, not just in his personal, entertainment, reality-TV, business and criminal lives and relationships, but now in his political, geopolitical, diplomatic and military responsibilities: very little consideration of consequences outside the sycophancy of a diminishing base, even with a set of musical-chair handlers; no thoughtful, quiet deliberation; no regard for facts or truth; no search or curiosity for information or answers outside his confirmation bias.

Mr. Trump often, usually, chooses the immediate, glossy splash of self-adulation and that of his base with faux accomplishments and transparent falsehoods over deferred gratification that comes from laying meaningful groundwork, preparation, diplomacy, understanding, curiosity, research, inquiry, all with a planned and anticipated outcome that would be fitting on the world stage, say, for a Nobel (Noble?) Laureate. Maybe his inability to delay gratification is simply a symptom, or a subset, of his malignant narcissism. Maybe he’s just lazy. Maybe he is intellectually unable.

Maybe Mr. Trump simply does not value — or have the capacity to value — the deeper gratification that comes from such problem solving over the immediate satisfaction that comes from fatuously declaring the problem solved or non-existent and moving on. Maybe he understands and simply concludes that political expediency and stunts produce results of greater value to him in the short term.

In my lay opinion, Mr. Trump’s personality and mental health disorders have created, enhanced or exacerbated the world’s most dire existential threats since I was climbing under my desk in elementary school. As the form-over-substance president, what is Mr. Trump capable of doing, or invoking, in his compelling, impulsive need for immediate gratification over the satisfaction of longer-term problem solving? I realize the following list bespeaks a greater complex of disorders, including a dearth of any morality, than simply his refusal or inability to delay gratification. Without delving into Mr. Trump’s personal relationships and treatment of women which alone, in my lay opinion, was sufficient to place the world on notice of his core character deficits, I suggest a few examples of Mr. Trump choosing immediate or short-term gratification over the delayed or deferred gratification that comes from patience, hard work, personal investment and problem-solving:

• Climate change, valuing short-term carbon-based production and consumption and putative economic benefits over slowing and reversing global devastation in the longer term. “Hoax”

• Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, valuing the hope for short-term economic benefits in anticipation of the 2020 presidential election over reducing spread of infection, human suffering and death in massive numbers, while being too stupid to understand simple cause and effect — what a pandemic would do and is doing to the only thing he cares about, the economy, yes, the one President Obama saved and delivered to him after the last Republican president did everything he could to destroy it. Arriving 70-days late to a ravaging crisis and having been easily outsmarted by a glob of genetic material that doesn’t have a brain but has only one purpose — survival — Trump blundered into his post-hoc singular strategy for his own survival — to take no ownership or responsibility for managing the crisis he wasn’t smart enough to contain, to announce that the federal government is “backup” to the states with no primary role in crisis or emergency management, to shift responsibility to and blame others while watching the destruction with an eye toward personal profiteering. Speaking of thoroughly washing one’s hands . . . . .

• A hastily arranged, vacuous summit with North Korea, rewarding a tyrant — with whom he has fallen in love — with credibility on a world stage, forfeiting United States military and strategic advantage with less than nothing in return. “I, alone, accomplished a denuclearized North Korea, something no prior administration could achieve.” Splash

• An increasingly unhinged Twitter feed. Splash. It is possible, however, that with the 24/7 news cycle, instant messaging and the immediate rewards from participation in social media, we all are being conditioned against delaying any gratification

• Lying. Splash

• Transparent stunts in lieu of remedies. Splash

• The whole immigration straw-issue debacle. Splash

• Tax cuts for the wealthy that everyone knew would result in unprecedented deficits. Splash

• A musical-chair administration and cabinet with corrupt and less-than-qualified appointees, acting _, the “best” people. Splash

• Campaign rallies for others. Splash

• Name-calling and belittling. Splash

• Threats. Splash

• Unabashed rewarding flattery and sycophancy over substance in any form. Splash

• Taking full credit for others’ accomplishments. Splash

• Blaming others for his abundant failures. Splash

I realize much of what he says and does is motivated by his impulsive need to induce accolades from his base. This might be okay were it not in lieu of facts, truth and meaningful accomplishment — substance.

*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com

**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers




Exercising my right not to remain silent. Criminal defense and First Amendment attorney.