Narcissism and Politicians

When Trump announced that he was running for president, it didn’t take long for folks to announce that his narcissism made him unsuitable, a clear and present danger, an unacceptable risk.  Whether licensed psychologists with doctorates, or just solid political partisans, they didn’t like Trump’s narcissistic traits.

Personally, it seems likely that you’re likely to have quite a few narcissistic traits if you want to be president.  In a nation of 330 million, probability suggests that there are at least a million people who could handle the job better than you or I.  As a generality, if you think you’re the best qualified to be President of the United States, you probably have some narcissism in your soul.

With Trump, I deferred to the guy who edits the professional journals on personality disorders – Allen Frances.  The headline reads “The psychiatrist who wrote the guide to personality disorders says diagnosing Trump is “bullshit”.  What’s missing in Gartner’s diagnosis, according to Frances, is the key element to diagnosing all mental illness: suffering.  “Everyone has a personality,” Frances says. “It’s not wrong to have a personality; it’s not mentally ill to have a personality. It’s only a disorder when it causes extreme distress, suffering, and impairment.”

Trump’s willingness to lie and endless self-promotion are traits that have, so far, worked out largely to his advantage.”

Still, there seem to be some shrinks who agree that narcissism is fairly common in the political realm:

 “Consider that two of the things narcissists most desire are money (i.e., lots of money) and power (the more the better). And these two assets can be tightly interwoven. Consider also that many of the individuals entering the political arena have already made their fortune, or inherited it. So what typically drives them is a lust for power, prestige, status, and authority. These (let’s call them) “objects of admiration” not only gratify their need for self-aggrandizement by feeding their oversized ego. They also provide them with compelling evidence to confirm their sense of superiority to others—probably their most coveted need of all.”

Kind of makes sense to me – the idea that politics  (particularly high level politics) would attract people who are a bit narcissistic.  Another paragraph explains one of the true horrors:  “One of the primary characteristics of narcissists is their exaggerated sense of entitlement. It’s hardly surprising then that so many politicians (or narcissist-politicians) somehow think they “deserve” to game the system. After all, from their self-interested perspective, isn’t that what the system is for? In their heavily self-biased opinion, if they want something, by rights it should be their’s. So, nothing if not opportunistic, they take from public and private coffers alike whatever they think they can get away with. And given their grandiose sense of self, they’re inclined to believe they can get away with most anything. Sad to say, in today’s world of capitalistic politics their judgment isn’t that skewed. Which is to say they’re much more often right than wrong.”

In that case, if memory serves, Trump left the Presidency with less money than he entered it.  We’re not sure yet on President Biden – but it looks like his political positions have been money makers.  An internet search of “Obama net worth 2008 2016” shows that the Obamas were worth 1.3 million in 2008.  A Forbes article says his wealth increased by 20 million while he was in office.  It looks like the psychology today article may well be correct.  

“But finally, is it possible that narcissism might just be an unintended prerequisite for being a successful politician? For to be elected to public service would seem to require a level of ambitiousness that may intimately relate to core narcissistic drives. As Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington, reflects: “How many of us would have the desire, much less the ability, to promote ourselves ceaselessly? You have to do that as a politician. It’s an amazing level of self-love . . . and need for affirmation.”

DSM has this to say about the folks who qualify as having a narcissistic personality disorder:

“People with NPD tend to exaggerate their skills and accomplishments as well as their level of intimacy with people they consider to be high-status. Their sense of superiority may cause them to monopolize conversations and to become impatient or disdainful when others talk about themselves. In the course of a conversation, they may purposefully or unknowingly disparage or devalue the other person by overemphasizing their own success. When they are aware that their statements have hurt someone else, they tend to react with contempt and to view it as a sign of weakness. When their own ego is wounded by a real or perceived criticism, their anger can be disproportionate to the situation, but typically, their actions and responses are deliberate and calculated. Despite occasional flare-ups of insecurity, their self-image is primarily stable (i.e., overinflated).”

Allen Frances explains that Trump doesn’t qualify – but I think we could afford to check some of our other national level politicians.

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