All politicians project a full quotient of self-confidence, if not out-right self-importance. After all, they must say they have all the answers to every question, even if they really don’t believe they know what they are talking about. Still, we can excuse some of the vainglory pride in our candidates because history indicates our political system dictates any admission of weakness is tantamount to political suicide.
So, we look at the record of our politicians, see a pattern in their statements and behavior, and decide we can trust their ability to make careful, deliberative decisions in our behalf, even if we do not always believe in their political persuasion. In short, the aggregate of their behavior has is ethical, marked by honesty, integrity, courage and compassion. Character is measurable but is never perfect but trust is always fortified with hope.
In our presidential candidates the level of narcissism takes a step up, and understandably so. While we admire modesty, we definitely do not want a timid, indecisive leader filled with self-doubt and uncertainty. In truth, some mild to moderate narcissistic traits are necessary to be considered electable. After all, if you are not for yourself, who is going to be for you?
However, we are currently experiencing a new and distressing level of potential presidential narcissism. The evidence is there: Donald Trump is a full throated, out of the closet, Narcissistic monster. Yes, he is a well-known racist, misogynist bully that his supporters seem to admire. But can he be trusted in the face of his aggregate behavior which lacks honesty, integrity and compassion? As a bully his courage is reserved for those he can belittle, dismiss or out-yell. Here is the evidence.
- A narcissist is a person with a persistent and pervasive (in all aspects of their life) pattern of grandiose self-admiration, self-importance and who lacks empathy. He exaggerates his achievements and talents.
- A narcissist is excessively preoccupied with the belief (fantasy) of unlimited success, power, brilliance and beauty.
- A narcissist believes he is special, unique, and can be understood only by other special people.
- A narcissist needs constant and excessive admiration and becomes angry when he does not receive the adoration he feels he deserves.
- A narcissist feels he is entitled to special treatment; unreasonable expectation of special treatment and compliance with his desires.
- A narcissist is interpersonally exploitative; taking advantage of others to achieve his own ends.
- A narcissist lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others; while he is envious of others, he also believes others are envious or him.
- A narcissist is arrogant, overbearing, dismissive, easily angered at any question of his own self-importance.
The above list constitutes the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as published in the DSM-5, the diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association. But let’s not unjustifiably label Donald Trump with this diagnosis. It is clear, however, by his own statements and observed behavior, he does meet all the criteria.
It is important to state this essay is not a statement of my own personal political proclivities. Narcissistic traits are not confined to the Republican side of the spectrum. To balance the scale, Bill Clinton had, and probably still has, a sizable measure of narcissistic traits that pushed him up to the line of an impeachment – ultimately no denial of his narcissism. However, in aggregate his beliefs and behavior did not add up to the designation of an impulsive, self-absorbed and dangerous egomaniac. The behavior, for me, that prompts the most concern about the present presidential candidate is what I have observed most commonly with NPD males who responded to any disagreement with the statement: “I’ll show you.”
This is not an elegant critique of Donald Trump. I am not a seasoned observer of the political environment. I have, however, spent the better part of my life observing behavior. So, I will add an extended quote from a more eloquent political observer I admire. David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed column in the February 26, 2016 edition of the New York Times entitled The Governing Cancer of Our Times.
The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It’s messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.
But that’s sort of the beauty of politics, too. It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way….
And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.
Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of “I’d like to punch him in the face.”