Imagine a man [1] who is a father, an employer, and a mayor. Oh…and he is a narcissist. What does that personal condition [2] imply for the three roles I mentioned?

Let’s start at the other end of the question. In two of those instances (employer and mayor) there are expectations and permissions that go with that status. A person comes to occupy that status and learns, suddenly, that he is expected to behave in this way and that way and that quite a few behaviors that were previously criticized are now expected or forgiven. He may very well begin to act in those new ways not so much because he needs to, but because he is expected to and finds that he gets a kick out of it.

If I had to have a name for that sequence, I think I would call it “role-oriented narcissism-4narcissism.”  But the case I presented is not like that. This guy—the father, employer, mayor—IS a narcissist. It is what he is like ; he overestimates his abilities and has an excessive need for admiration and affirmation. [3] And that means that he will be a narcissistic father, a narcissistic employer, and a narcissistic mayor. He brings his condition, in other words, to the statuses he occupies and as he plays out the roles those statuses demand, characteristic traits of NPD show up at home and at the workplace and at city hall.

What should we look for? Here’s a series of signs rather grandiosely labeled “the seven deadly sins of narcissism” by Sandy Hotchkiss. [4] She names them

  • shamelessness
  • magical thinking
  • arrogance
  • envy
  • entitlement
  • exploitation, and
  • bad boundaries.

Let’s take the mayor’s role for our example. Hotchkiss’s descriptions overlap a bit, so I will choose the ones that seem most distinct from each other. [5]

Shamelessness: the mayor does things he should be ashamed of, but he is not. This lack of shame is seen as a deficiency. When shame works properly, it signals that important social norms have been transgressed. Being “shameless” means having to do without those cues.

Magical thinking: the mayor uses distortion and illusion to maintain his image of himself and his office and he projects faults, personal and political, onto others.

Entitlement: the mayor feels that he is entitled to particularly favorable treatment and is not to be held to the standards to which most mayors are held.

Exploitation: the mayor exploits the vulnerability of others, without regard for their legitimate interests or the interests of their departments.

Poorly defined boundaries: The mayor sees his office as central to everything that is going on—whether it is or not—failing to realize that other people and other offices are not just extensions of himself and his office.

The point to notice here is that this is “person-oriented” narcissism. The person who is the mayor—and the employer and the father—is a narcissist, so he takes these traits with him to every status, every position, he holds. He is a narcissist no matter what, but the effects of his narcissism are magnified as he has access to statuses that give him power over others.

It would be a really bad thing to elect a narcissist to be President of the most powerful nation in the world. That would be a very bad thing. And it would not be, in the way I have been defining it, because this man would be less narcissistic without these roles to play; it would be because the effects of his narcissism will be more widespread as he gets access to more and more powerful roles.

narcissist-5That brings me to Donald Trump. And for those of you who are wondering why it took me so long, the answer is that I am trying to distinguish between the effects of narcissistic behavior, on the one hand, and the causes or the signs of it on the other

I saw a short news story on the Rachel Maddow Show a few days ago. [6] She showed a collection of interviews with Republican candidate Donald Trump (not President Trump) in which he said that as long as we were in Iraq, we should just take the oil. I think that’s a bad thing to say, even for a blowhard jingoist like Trump, but that isn’t what horrified me. It was the justifications that horrified me.

There are two. First, that there is no entity that can be meaningfully identified as Iraq. This will come as a great surprise to Mohammed Ali Ahakim (below), who serves at the United Nations representing the Republic of Iraq. “Iraq” is just a bunch of tribes who spend their time killing each other, according to Trump. And if there is no legitimate entity called Iraq, then “Iraq” cannot own the oil and therefore there is no reason for us not to take it.

Second, if there were a nation of Iraq, they owe us for the security services we provided them. They didn’t pay us for all the money we spent there and all the lives we lost there, so we should just take the oil as our just payment.  So the event that I always saw as an invasion–President Bush called it that at the time and gave some democratic cover for it–is now recast as “security services.”

Are there, in these remarks, any evidence of the traits Sandy Hotchkiss saw as associatednarcissism-2 with narcissism? It seems to me that we can find three there at least. Shamelessess is the first. We have done grievous harm to the nation of Iraq and to the Iraqi people. Some U. S. President some day will apologize for what we have done. We have been aggressive beyond any modern precedent in a great power democracy in our behavior toward other nations. Some Americans are ashamed of what we have done. I am one of those. My President is not.

Exploitation, clearly, if it is defined as behaving toward other nations without any recognition of their legitimate interests. If the weakness of a nation whose defenses are not adequate to defend itself against our military is seen as no more than the ripeness of a banana that is ready to be picked, then “exploitation” seem a fair charge.

I think what I called “poorly defined boundaries” (and Hotchkiss or her editor called “bad boundaries”) is indicated as well. What can be taken militarily and what can be purchased financially and what can be negotiated diplomatically seem all to flow into each other. “Why is it,” the narcissist asks, “that you persist in saying that you have legitimate needs when they clearly oppose my wishes? Why is that?”

narcissism-3I need to find a way to get off this horse before I disappear over the far horizon and I have an idea. There is hardly a more innocuous movie that The Wedding Date, starring Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney. Messing takes Mulroney to the wedding of her sister, pretending that he is her fiancé when in fact he is a professional escort. Messing is concerned that the proceedings will go well, but they start going badly as soon as she and her “wedding date “ arrive.

The house is crowded with guests and over the speaker system comes the voice of Messing’s mother, a woman with no social sense whatever. “Oh sweet Jesus,” says Messing, “Who gave that woman an amp?”

Now the mother, the person herself, is who she is. And if she were that person in a receiving line or huddling quietly in a corner with long-time friends, that would be one thing. Giving her the tools to dominate the auditory space of all the guests at the same time is another thing entirely.

And that’s what I’m talking about. President Trump isn’t newly narcissistic. But he is newly President.

[1] Men more than women, according to a recent study. I doubt that, myself. I haven’t done any studies and I don’t know the literature, but I am quite certain that as interest in this topic proceeds, we disc”over that there are “different kinds of narcissim (depending on the trait being measured) and that men are more commonly afflicted by some kinds, women by other kinds. Watch and see.
[2] That is the first line or so of Wikipedia’s very chaste account of the condition.
[3] I am referring here the the full-blown personality disorder now being called NPD, which probably does not please the German political party (Nationaldemokratische Deutschland) with shares the acronym.
[4] That is, in fact, the subtitle of her 2008 book, “Why is always about you?”
[5] For the record, I deny the charge that I chose these particular traits because they spell SMEEP and are, therefore, easy to remember.
[6] Rachel Maddow is a commentator/new anchor of the far left, a proponent of what I called in my most recent post “niche journalism.” I am not relying on her judgment about the merits of the news clips, only that they are, in fact, circulating on social media in the middle east and that they are subtitled in Arabic, as shown.


About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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