Who is Donald Trump?

[Donald John, or Dòmnall Iain is one of the most common names on the Isle of Lewis, the birthplace of Donald Trump’s ancestors. It translates, from the Latin and Norse roots, as dom and val, as The Ruler of the World]

In a wide-ranging interview, the writer, activist and ecologist, Alastair McIntosh, has raised an intriguing possibility that US President Donald Trump’s personality and behaviour can be traced back to traumatic 19th century clearances and evictions in southern and western Lewis (Pairc and Uig). The subsequent shortages of land and poverty on the Scottish island drove Donald Trump’s mother, Mary McLeod, and other members of his family, to migrate to America in the early part of the 20th century. If McAlastair’s thesis is accurate, that the President carries a “wound to his primal integrity from places that he probably doesn’t even know about”, compromised in “his capacity even to have an inner life as distinct from it all being on the outside – cut off by his deracination, his uprooting”, there is a deep irony. Trump now represents a modern form of this uprooting, occupying a powerful convergence of politician-celebrity-consumer: the perfect cypher for the ascendant powers of “neurocapitalism” or the “attention economy”. He is the “stand-up President” for forces of capitalization that now target or enclose, above all, our mind-share, attention and subjectivity through a complex of media, corporate and political institutions.

Speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological condition has followed the new President all the way into the White House. The debate reached a new pitch in February 2016 when the Huffpost published a letter from three of Harvard University’s professors of psychiatry raising “grave concern” regarding then President-elect due to his “widely reported symptoms of mental instability – including grandiosity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality”. Of of this led the professors to question Trump’s fitness for office and recommend that he receive a full medical and “neuropsychiatric evaluation”. Earlier this year The New York Times joined the debate with a cautionary note, publishing an op-ed by Richard E Friedman under the title, “Is It Time to Call Trump Mentally Ill?” Friedman called on the psychiatric profession and others to step back from diagnosis by media.

In an article for Bella Caledonia, an online magazine dedicated to Scotland’s self-determination, autonomy and independence, Alastair McIntosh, who also hails from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, brought his own insights to the conversation about Trump’s profile. Alastair is a celebrated writer, poet, broadcaster and activist with a deep interest in spirituality, justice, and ecology. In his article, he recalls a return visit to Lewis with an old friend from Leurbost village in the region that was home to Donald Trump’s ancestors. Members of the Trump family still live there. On asking “Wonder which is Trump’s house?”, Alastair receives an unexpected response from his friend: “I know which one it is…But I’m not showing anybody.” McIntosh explains: “In a nutshell, that sums up the island view of Trump. Partly because he so much doesn’t represent the island’s values that they’re at a loss to explain it. And equally, partly out of the respect for the privacy of the family. Trump is dirty washing that the island would rather not hang out, and not just on Sundays.”

McIntosh appeals to the tradition of the islands’ notion of Second Sight – an dà shealladh or “the two sights” – to offer his own tentative explanation of the Trump phenomenon. The “Second Sight” refers to a local belief in a quality of insight or disposition associated with life in the tightly knit communities of the Highlands and Isles of Scotland “where empathy remains profound” “because the deeper levels of the psyches of individuals are not as disconnected from one another as they become in highly competitive metropolitan settings.” Moreover, it is a quality that is said to be lost by those islanders transported to live in other countries.

This fascinated Alastair because it suggested to him that when the bonds of community are broken, the capacity for deepest empathy and intimacy are lost too. This will resonate for those familiar with the rupture experienced by generations of young Irish men and women forcefully uprooted from their own landscapes and forced to migrate to the world’s metropolitan centres. McIntosh recalls that Donald Trump’s mother, Mary MacLeod and other members of her family were, in all probability, economic migrants along with large numbers of the island’s youth who migrated to America in the early part of the 20th century. In the background was a story of clearances and evictions, with origins in the first half of the 19th century when the proto-capitalist speculative Mackenzie landlords evicted people from southern and western Lewis (Pairc and Uig). Their ancestral land was rented out for commercial sheep farming. It seems that two branches of the Trump family were forced from their homes due to the subsequent poverty, becoming refugees.

McIntosh reflects: “When I look at Donald Trump – his colossal egotism, his grandiosity, his disconnect from empathy – I see a man who nurses a narcissistic wound, a wound to his primal integrity from places that he probably doesn’t even know about. And that’s just on his mother’s side. Like those plantation managers in the African trade [of whom Lord Tarbett spoke], his capacity to be and inwardly see – his capacity even to have an inner life as distinct from it all being on the outside – has been cut off by his deracination, his uprooting, from holding in his community.”

Listen to McIntosh in this wide ranging interview recorded for the School of Law at Queens University Belfast.






  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    He’s a narcissistic psychopath with possible early onset dementia. He’s profoundly unfit to hold any form of public office.

    The highland clearances have nothing to do with this stupid little rich boy who managed to exploit how fundamentally racist American society is for his own gain.

  • Salmondnet

    Ye gods! Are the descendants of all the African and Asian economic migrants to Europe at risk of the same psychological defects? I think we should be told (or it could just be psychobabble).

  • Dan

    More to the point, who is Peter Doran?

  • Korhomme

    I would agree entirely with your first sentence — but you include the word ‘possible’. I’d prefer ‘probable’.

    As for the Highland Clearances to explain him, this sounds a bit like Lamarckian inheritance — the inheritance of acquired characteristics. It’s not widely accepted today in this sense, though it’s known that stressors in pregnancy can be passed on to the kid and grandchild.

  • Zorin001

    I think it should be obvious that being President is the be all and end all to Trump, he would say and do anything to achieve high office. Know he has it I don’t think he has the first idea (or inclination) on what to do with it.

    That doesn’t mean that he’s stupid by any means, but he has a shallowness to him that doesn’t point to a deep intellect (see the “beautiful piece of cake” incident).

    However he knows how to use people to get what he wants and then cast them aside, he’s done it in business see and he’s already started in office, look at how he used Bannon to harness the alt-Right and now already looks to be shunting the movement to one side.

  • Nevin

    No mention of the possible influence of the Wee Wee Frees on Mary Anne Macleod.

  • Patrick Mac

    Who is Donald Trump, you ask ? The President of America, is who.

    Now tell Peter, please – what exactly is/are ‘green politics’ ?

  • Korhomme
  • SDLP supporter

    I think this is mostly psycho-babble. RTE archives played an interview from decades back with Trump’s old Mum and she seemed to be an entirely normal, kindly, sweet Scottish old lady with a great fondness for and friendship withthe late Irish tenor, Frank Patterson. I suppose the equivalent nowadays would be of women ‘well up in years’ who esteem Daniel O’Donnell.
    I think a more fruitful line of enquiry would be on Trump’s father’s line for it is pretty well documented that the Da was a nasty piece of work.
    Anyway, I am sceptical of all this ‘inherited traits’ stuff. Years back Muhammad Ali visited Ennis, County Clare, where his great-great-grandad came from. The Irish media were losing the run of themselves proclaims that Ali got his sparkling wit and gift of the gab from his Irish great-grandad. I think it was Ali himself who pointed out that he had input from fifteen other great-great grandparents.