This is part two of my attempt to deconstruct Donald Trump. If you haven’t read it already, please read part 1 here, as it provides context for what’s below.
Read it? All right… let’s begin!
In trying to deconstruct Trump himself, to me there’s an obvious starting point: he is, or is he not a narcissist. Before I go any further, three things need to be said.
The first is that narcissism in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Psychologists have pointed out that there is such a thing as “healthy narcissism“. Studies have shown that many world leaders, from politicians to businessman to professional athletes, have a certain level of narcissism, but one that provides a deep-seeded sense of self-confidence to face a given task, and a sense that they are up to it and can properly lead those around them.
Secondly, there is a huge difference between having narcissistic tendencies, like taking a dozen selfies whenever you use the bathroom, and having an actual diagnosis of Narcissistic Personal Disorder (NPD).
Finally, while there has been much debate online about Trump’s mental health, there are very few qualified mental health professionals that will come out and say “this is the truth about Trump” because of what’s called the “Goldwater Rule“, which states that unless you have personally examined a person, you are not qualified to make an actual diagnosis of them.
I have talked to friends who work in the mental health field, including one with a PHD in Psychology, specifically focused on personality disorders. When we compared notes he said “while I haven’t obviously examined Trump in person, there’s enough public evidence that a reasonably justifiable case could be made that he has narcissistic personality disorder”. While this isn’t a formal diagnosis, and nor should it be seen as such, I agree with my friend that there is enough evidence to say it’s a possibility.
Here are the traits from the DSM-5:
1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
4. Needing constant admiration from others
5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor
I’ll leave it to you as to whether or not they describe Trump. What I can say is that because of his 40 years in the public spotlight, there is a trove of public record information to go through that we rarely have with political figures. Trump has shown himself to be fixated with power, recognition, and with people knowing who he is. He has shown a need to be center of attention, for people to be awed by his wealth and power, and the inability to handle either being questioned. He has shown that he takes any slight, real or not, as a deeply personal attack, and has shown a need to get back at anyone who feels has wronged him. He has shown that he has no problems purposely stonewalling anyone who dares question his authority, legality or decisions.
When it comes to the Goldwater Rule, there are some who believe that this specific situation requires a breaking of normal ethical protocol. John D. Gartner, a psychotherapist who has taught at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, said in an interview with US News & World Report that Trump “is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president” and has “malignant narcissism,” which while not listed in the DSM, has been studied and described as NPD, but with severe anti-social and self-destructive tendencies and a need to see any opposition not just overcome, but humiliated.
From the campaign trail to the Oval Office, Trump has consistently referred to himself as “the best”, having “the best temperament”, being “really smart”, and so on. When challenged on photos that indicated that his inauguration crowd was smaller than the one for Barack Obama in 2009, he and his staff retorted that it was the “biggest crowd in inaugural history”, with an attendance figure of “1.5 million” but failing to offer any credible data as evidence. It’s been similar responses when he’s been challenged about practically anything to do with himself, his business success or his campaign.
A particular sore spot for him has been his losing the election’s popular vote by 3 million votes. His response was to say that “3 to 5 million illegal immigrants” voted and that is what cost him the popular election. The Washington Post reported that there have been only 4 verifiable cases of vote fraud in the 2016 election.
This brings up a point that needs to be addressed: If Trump does have NPD, it needs to be stated that people with NPD literally can not see a negative side to any of their actions. They are incapable of it. For someone with NPD and/or malignant narcissism, the one and only litmus test of whether a choice is good or bad is “will this get me what I want”, with the goal being instant gratification.
That desire could be power, it could be adoration, but whatever it is, it’s all that matters. Beyond that, the person themselves is the only one who matters. Their ego being given the attention and praise it deserves is all that matters. If someone gets hurt or negatively affected in some way, it’s their own fault for not agreeing with that need or desire in the first place. Simply put, there is no empathy, no consideration of others, just selfish, self-indulgent behavior.
Tapping into that self-need is the basis for why facts are so easily and quickly dismissed by him. Facts don’t matter to Trump because “facts” are simply a means to an end. If someone disagrees and says “no, here’s the real truth” and provides facts and data to back it up, Trump simply says publicly “this person is lying to you and trying to hide the truth from you”. For those who don’t trust the media, or see academia as full of self-serving know-it-alls, his discrediting of their countering his statements takes on an almost religious effect. “I alone hold truth, and I alone can protect you from all the evil lies that see to hurt America being great again”.
Another cause for concern is that NPD also voids any sense of loyalty. Loyalty exists to the extent of “are you giving me what I want” in some fashion. As soon as that enabling ceases, that person no longer has any function for someone with NPD and is usually removed from the inner circle. This is very dangerous in a political sphere because it means that those in high-ranking positions (such as advisory positions) are only there because they play into, in some fashion, Trump’s ego or paranoia.
This might also shed light on why he has been nominating people to head government departments that they have previously shown hostility towards: it’s a show of force, a “you don’t think I’ll do it? Just watch” power play, and way to automatically create fear inside that department of showing any public dissension. A leaked memo from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the EPA had been effectively given a gag order, along with almost every science-based government office except for NASA. Why do this? So you can control the flow of information.
If you can control the flow of information, you can much easier control what people think. This also explains his attacks on all forms of media, calling any outlet that disagrees with him or provides evidence contrary to what he says as being “fake news”. If Trump does have Narcissistic Personal Disorder, it makes complete sense that he would try to deny and belittle anyone who goes against his own self-proclaimed reality. Simply put, he doesn’t handle “no” very well, no matter the evidence or legality that challenges him.
While he doesn’t handle any situation where he’s told “no” very well, he has a predictable pattern here as well: he’ll often threaten “see you in court!“, as he instantly tweeted when an injunction was handed down against his travel ban, but history shows the threat of legal action often has no follow-through.
While he has been the target of several investigations by various government agencies over the years, his preferred tactics against them won’t serve him well here. When the Justice Department would go after him, he would keep pushing back court dates time and time again, saying he needed more time to get the requested files ready. He’d repeatedly do this until the delays became so lengthy that the Justice Department would drop the case because of a lack of evidence, meaning little chance of conviction, and how costly the delays had become. This doesn’t mention the fact that there’s evidence Trump used delays to destroy documents the Justice Department had requested.
The problem for him now is that there are big differences between how a government official can act, as opposed to a private citizen. If Trump, let’s say, is found destroying evidence that’s been subpoenaed, that’s grounds for impeachment. If he interferes with an on-going investigation the way he has in the past as CEO of the Trump Organization, that too is ground for impeachment.
Despite all this, I have no doubt that Trump will remain in office until the Republican party stops finding him useful. As long as he’s in power, Republican party leaders will do everything they can to look the other way and they’ll do so because it suits their interest. In regards to this, a quote from Upton Sinclair comes to mind: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it”.
The question now becomes trying to fathom what would be enough for the Republicans, who have political power now that they haven’t had since 1928, to say enough is enough. With the new revelations that Trump’s election campaign team was in contact with known Russian political figures will definitely put those bonds of loyalty to the test.
Will even that not be enough? We’re in a time when there has been a strong current of obstructionism from the Republican party for the majority of Obama’s presidency. It didn’t matter what was, if the Democrats were for it, the Republicans were against it. It really did feel like that if the Democrats put forward a motion saying “kittens are cute”, Republicans would decry it and put forward their own motion saying “kittens are adorable”. It’s never a good thing when American politics remind me of the divisions between the nations of Lilliput and Blefuscu in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, with their biggest political argument being whether you should crack an egg at the bottom (the Big-Endians), or the top (the Small-Endians).
Unless something causes Trump’s presidency to fall apart, or there is a massive changeover in the midterm elections in 2018, we’re in for a very long few years, politically speaking. If things don’t change, we’re going to find ourselves run by a government that is ultimately in favor of the rich and the privileged and those who have the most money to invest. Trump promised to “drain the swamp”, to rid Washington of the corruption, but instead all signs point to him pursuing self-enrichment in a way never before seen.
Despite Trump’s claim of making America great again, it remains a simple fact that you can not make a society great by ignoring those who are most at-risk and most vulnerable. A Great Society is built not on how the richest or the most influential are treated, but by how those who have the least to give are treated.
Taking away rights and services, imposing threats on freedom of speech and dissension, and willful ignoring of science can not make a society prosperous… those are not the signs of progressive government, nor one that has its citizens’ interest at heart.
The truest sign of a Democracy is not the right to vote, but understanding the responsibilities that the freedom to choose inherently brings: the responsibility is not on the government to make the country better, but on her citizens. That is, after all the intent behind Lincoln’s famous words of “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. Lincoln was saying that our fate isn’t in the hands of our government, despite the power they wield, but in our actions towards each other.
While Trump and his inner circle may do all they can to ignore marches, protests, social media posts and the like, there is one thing the average citizen can do that they have no power to do anything about: treating your neighbor with kindness and respect, no matter their race, color, or creed.
Do that and, believe you me, it will be just a tremendous success.
Author’s note: since the publication of this post, the debate among mental health professionals about publicly diagnosing Trump’s behavior has only increased.