The madness of the Donald - John Samuel Tieman

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Donald Trump is running for president again. Because of that, I'd like to revisit a question I first asked years ago. What is wrong with Donald Trump?

Folks have asked that since he announced his candidacy in 2015. Who calls Mexicans “rapists”? Shortly after his election, there was Charlottesville and that “very nice people on both sides” thing. Then there was the planned cruelty of "kids in cages". Let's not forget white nationalism, the Muslim ban, and Antisemitism. Remember “Pocahontas”? Trump called climate change a “hoax”. He called soldiers, who died in World War I, “suckers” and “losers”. And on and on. Some of Trump's defenders describe him as crude. I've also heard that “a bull in a china shop” cliché. Trump isn't simply crude. Harry Truman could be crude. Trump is dangerous. The former president just had dinner with Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist and Christian nationalist, a misogynist, an Antisemite who denies the Holocaust. What kind of person dines with Nick Fuentes?

What is wrong with Donald Trump? You hear that question a lot. We also hear “malignant narcissism” a lot. So, simple question. What characterizes malignant narcissism?

Malignant narcissism is a theoretical category. There is debate about whether it exists at all. Is it plain old narcissism with some characteristics of other disorders, that ever popular combination of sociopathy and narcissism for example? Is Trump a sociopath, what we used to call a psychopath? Malignant narcissism is not listed in the “Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders”. In 1964, it was first discussed by the social psychologist Erich Fromm, and in 1968 described by Otto Kernberg in the “Journal Of The American Psychoanalytic Association”. It is the subject of papers and panels too numerous to list here. In sum, malignant narcissism may be, as Kernberg thinks, an extreme on the narcissism spectrum. Or it may be a thing unto itself. Call it what you will. In any case, such people exist, and it is often painful, even dangerous, to be around them. The name of the thing is secondary to what folks experience. Thus the expressions of the disorder, listed below. These we experience.

What follows is a list, a compendium of symptoms. I make no claims of originality. In some cases, I have taken one characteristic mentioned by theorists, and listed it as two or three characteristics for the sake of the lay reader. There is no particular order to the list.

Briefly, people with malignant narcissism may exhibit many of the following symptoms:

  • They lack sympathy;
  • There is an exaggerated sense of entitlement and self-importance;
  • There is a vacuum where there should be an inner core;
  • They have fantasies of power, and a chronic need for power;
  • They have fantasies of self-control;
  • They exhibit cruelty and even sadism;
  • People are seen as objects to be manipulated;
  • They project their personal qualities, positive and negative, upon others;
  • They bully;
  • They blame others;
  • They shame others;
  • Envy is a constant;
  • They elevate people, then lash out at them;
  • They are deceitful;
  • Paranoid traits are common;
  • An absence of a conscience is common;
  • They are aggressive;
  • They display grandiosity;
  • They have a chronic need to be viewed positively by others;
  • There is an indifference to social norms;
  • There is little introspection;
  • They have insecure social attachments;
  • They often suffer from low self-esteem;
  • They may on occasion be charming;
  • And, lastly, they are often rather successful in their chosen field.

Of these symptoms, the most disturbing are summarized by G. H. Pollock, who said in the “International Journal Of Psychoanalysis”, "The malignant narcissist is presented as pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism.”

What is wrong with Donald Trump? We can put a check next to every characteristic. So I'm going with malignant narcissist, check. And I'm going with Shakespeare, “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

Narcissism is a rather permanent state. But the characteristics that make it malignant are, in my opinion, floating traits, traits which on occasion can manifest themselves in sufficient enough quantity so as to make a person dangerous. That same person may also, on another occasion, be a charming dinner companion. Good luck with that.

One more thought. We must be careful not to lump everyone, with a mental disorder, in the same category as a malignant narcissist. Abraham Lincoln suffered overwhelming depression, but he was a pretty good president. James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce, and Calvin Coolidge may also have suffered from depression. Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Woodrow Wilson seem to have suffered anxiety disorders. Teddy Roosevelt suffered a debilitating masculinity. Each day millions wake up and go to work, all the while suffering from a mental illness.

It is well worth repeating that we must take care not to lump everyone, with mental illness, in the same class as a malignant narcissist. What is under consideration here is a disorder of such magnitude that it makes a person dangerous. In this case, that person wants to be reelected to the office of the President of The United States.

2022.12.05 / 10:37
John Samuel Tieman
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