Donald Trump: narcissism, persecution complexes and the backward cult of personality

The psychological and sociological underpinnings of Trumpism

by djerrid

Donald Trump announces his candidacy for  president during a rally at his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York, on Tuesday June 16, 2015. Mr. Trump also announced the release of a financial statement that he says denotes a personal net worth of over 8 billion dollars.

Donald Trump announces his candidacy for president during a rally at his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York, on Tuesday June 16, 2015. Mr. Trump also announced the release of a financial statement that he says denotes a personal net worth of over 8 billion dollars.

There has been much head-scratching and hand-wringing from rational folk when it comes to understanding Trump and his supporters. And rightly so. What the hell are they thinking!?! Well, they aren’t. Not in the traditional sense. This kind of groupthink hasn’t been prevalent in Western Civilization since World Wars I & II.

So, way back then, there was much more attention paid to this kind of phenomenon in sociology and psychology. Sociologist Max Weber was well known for identifying the underlying concepts we find in Trumpism.

As for The Donald himself, he is undeniably tethered to narcissistic leadership. His candidacy is all about him, not the people he is supposed to “serve.” When he says whatever horrible thing is on his horrible mind, he listens as the crowd reaffirms his belief in his greatness. This is a positive feedback loop. The crazier things that he says, the more he is adored. The more he is adored gives him the legitimacy and incentive to say even crazier things.

A cornerstone of narcissistic leadership is the lack of leadership for disaffected groups. So, for those that see that the current system is irrevocably broken, the only solution is to completely tear down the system instead of trying to find ways to fix it. Who then can be their standard-bearer? Trump fills that vacuum. So, the masses cling to the concept of him, more so than his policies.

It’s crazy to see how much mental origami Trump supporters have to do to justify their support of his policies. Samantha Bee takes a shot at trying to find out if there is anything behind their foreheads.

The first line in the Wikipedia article notes that “a cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create an idealized, heroic, and at times worshipful image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.”

Wait. That doesn’t sound quite right. Trump doesn’t have a monopoly on the media. They aren’t required to say worshipful things about him. Quite the opposite, actually. In fact, he’s demonized and ridiculed at every turn. And he couldn’t be happier. His supporters believe that if The Establishment is pushing back against him and his ideas it proves that he’s on the right track. And so his cult of personality is working – in reverse.

How is this possible? A severe persecution complex that’s shared by his supporters. And he uses this complex to get the same result as others would a cult of personality.

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I once was connived into going to an Amway pitch at a friend’s house. The slick presenter showed us his big gold watch and pictures of the founder’s mansion to appeal to our greed. But anytime someone asked a critical question, he always went back to “Either you get it or you don’t.” The implication is that if you don’t instantly buy into the appeal, you are not smart or “with it” enough to belong. This preys on our need for belonging, with the entrance fee being an agreement not to question how they operate. The Cult of Trump works off of the same principle. Join for the sake of joining and don’t ask why.

You can’t be a narcissistic leader without being narcissistic. Have a look at this Narcissistic Personality Inventory. You’d be hard pressed to find one where Trump wouldn’t say yes.

I would prefer to be a leader.
I see myself as a good leader.
I will be a success.
People always seem to recognize my authority.
I have a natural talent for influencing people.
I am assertive.
I like to have authority over other people.
I am a born leader.
I rarely depend on anyone else to get things done.
I like to take responsibility for making decisions.
I am more capable than other people.
I can live my life in any way I want to.
I always know what I am doing.
I am going to be a great person.
I am an extraordinary person.
I know that I am good because everybody keeps telling me so.
I like to be complimented.
I think I am a special person.
I wish somebody would someday write my biography.
I am apt to show off if I get the chance.
Modesty doesn’t become me.
I get upset when people don’t notice how I look when I go out in public.
I like to be the center of attention.
I would do almost anything on a dare.
I really like to be the center of attention.
I like to start new fads and fashions.
I can read people like a book.
I can make anybody believe anything I want them to.
I find it easy to manipulate people.
I can usually talk my way out of anything.
Everybody likes to hear my stories.
I like to look at my body.
I like to look at myself in the mirror.
I like to display my body.
I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve.
I expect a great deal from other people.
I want to amount to something in the eyes of the world.
I have a strong will to power.
I insist upon getting the respect that is due me.
If I ruled the world it would be a much better place.

Happy voting everyone!!!

16 replies »

  1. I wouldn’t argue your premise that Trump is a grandiose narcissist but I do question your conclusion that narcissism in a candidate or elected president is necessarily a bad thing. Historically it seems to be a prerequisite up to and including the present administration. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/opinion/the-narcissist-in-chief.html?_r=0

    Also, while accepting the distinct possibility that Hillary Clinton is about to become our new commander in chief I believe you have left out a significant voting block of people such as myself who would vote for _anyone_ before Ms. Clinton.

    Not because of Benghazi, or Whitewater, or blow jobs and blue dresses. Simply because she is a snaky corporate tool who has spent a lifetime enriching herself and her family in (wink wink) public service. The preponderance of evidence for such an assertion is simply undeniable.

    Whatever happens, whoever gets elected, it’ll be alright. We tend to give the office of President much more power than it actually affords. In truth setting pomp and circumstance aside, the office is basically cheerleader in chief. Congress is the country’s checkbook and that’s where our scrutiny should really be focused. Follow the money.

    Interesting thought piece, thanks for taking the time and energy to write it.

  2. Thanks, Frank. I’m glad you liked it.

    The problem with the idea that you’d vote for _anyone_ before _______ is that there is always a worst candidate. Never ye stoop so low in your absolutes. Between W. Bush, or Nixon, or Andrew Jackson, or Warren G. Harding, or Ted Cruz I would pick any of those others in a heartbeat over Trump. But I wouldn’t against Nero, or Pol Pot, or King George the III, etc.

    There will be a lot of “lessor of two evils” and “holding one’s nose” come November, and there will be those grumpily staying home and watching anything but the news channels. But when it comes down to it, one of these two not-fine folks will be the face of America for the next 4 years.

    One of the biggest differences between these two is that Clinton will hold herself accountable to the people and Trump will not. Clinton will always have an eye on a second term and getting a majority in Congress, and so will adjust her policies to reflect that. Trump will do whatever the hell he wants and will only look at the polls that will show him what he wants to see. All those crazy ideas that he has been spouting? Doth quote on his council on foreign policy, ““I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.” http://www.politico.com/blogs/2016-gop-primary-live-updates-and-results/2016/03/trump-foreign-policy-adviser-220853 He believes that he doesn’t need any help on crafting policy and making decisions. He is overly confident on he ability to make good choices. And that is when you start acting like the kings of old who disregarded the glaring warning signs and “did it anyway.”

    The presidency is not just a figurehead. The head of the Executive Branch is the one who enacts all of the laws that Congress passes, nominates judges to the Supreme Court, signs bills into laws, etc.

    I believe that I am truly going to miss Obama over the next four years, and I wished that Biden emotionally recovered enough to enter the field with enough time, but you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got. So, I hope folks don’t follow wherever their knee jerks to and take a serious look at what the next four years will be like.

    • One of the biggest differences between these two is that Clinton will hold herself accountable to the people

      What in Clinton’s record would you offer as evidence to support this claim?

  3. The fact that she was elected to a second term as Senator of New York. If she did whatever the hell she wanted without taking the will of the people into account, then she would have gotten a strong primary challenge. She won 83% vs her opponent. She also won 67% vs her Republican challenger in the General.

    • So your argument is that if someone gets reelected, that means they’re taking the will of the people into account. Which is, apparently, important.

      As I recall, George Bush got reelected. And he didn’t get primaried at all.

      In other words, I’m not sure your criteria here are compelling.

      • What criteria would be legitimate in your eyes? She didn’t just get reelected, she got reelected by a landslide of a landslide in both the primary and the general. That wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t generally do what the people wanted.

        And who said Bush didn’t respond to the people’s wishes? A plurality of voters thought he represented them enough to keep him there for another four years. If he didn’t periodically change tacks or create the PR to change the narrative based on what the people wanted, not as many people would vote for him. Remember Powell’s smoke and mirrors at the UN to legitimized the Iraqi invasion? They wouldn’t have bothered if they didn’t respond to the people’s perceptions of him.

        The difference with Trump is that he won’t change his actions one iota based on the will of the people. Clinton will.

    • 1: You’re making the argument, so you’re responsible for your own measuring stick.

      2: Get back to me on this after you see the piece I have going up in the morning, which I think surfaces some of the lingering problems I have and which speaks to her responsiveness to the people.

      3: That said, the cynical (and honestly, maybe even the best) answer here is that when people like me bitch that she changes her mind every time the polls shift, we’re actual proving your point. I mean, if you believe X and the polls come out and show that the public believes Y, arguably the most responsive thing you can possibly do is change your position to Y, right? You might take some flak for not being a LEADER, but you’re very pointedly responding to the will of the people.

  4. 1. Yup, I gave you my measuring stick and you found it wanting. I’m not responsible for making your measuring stick.

    And damn, I wrote a much longer response here and it never came up. That sucks.

    3. Consider that Lincoln didn’t call for abolition when he was first running for president, even though he believed it should be done. He just sought to halt it’s expansion in the West. It was only as public sentiment shifted that he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He wouldn’t be able to do so earlier or there would be a revolt just as the Civil War began.

    Ideology purity can only get you so far. That’s not to say solely political pragmatism is any better. There’s a happy median there where one can slowly but surely shift public perception and policy.

    • I guess my measuring stick is fairly simple. Look at the record and the policies: do they make life better for the people?

      Now, go see my list of grievances on the post this morning and you get some sense for where my head is.

      • Let me add one thing. Your criterion was centered on people reelecting the candidate. This is certainly a measure to consider, but we also know, without any argument, that Americans have this bad habit of electing and reelecting the very people responsible for making their lives worse. This has been the RULE with GOP voters in the past 40 years, and it happens with Dems, as well. I hate to get all patriarchal, but all too often people have no fucking idea what’s good for them. So she got reelected isn’t that compelling for me. I care more about the outcome of the policies.

  5. Interesting discussion folks, that’s why I hang around. Not because I agree with all or even most of what is said here, but because it’s good to question our own world views. Keeps the mind limber. And now two parting shots:

    1) Bernie’s doing better. If somehow he miraculously wins the nomination I will seriously consider him. Barking moonbattery and pixie dust aside, he’s obviously a better human than Trump.

    2) Brandon in your list of “lesser evils than Trump” you included Andrew Jackson. Besides being our first Democrat President (at a time when admittedly Democrat meant something entirely different than today) he was also our first great white American ethnic cleanser. His policies, particularly the Indian Removal Act of 1830 led directly to the effective destruction of the entire native American culture. You might rethink that one.

    • Hmm, I thought I put Andrew Jackson on the other side of the equation. Thanks for the catch.