We have endured an extremely long and difficult election and transition season. The polarization of the two sides has resulted in strife within our families, relationships and communities. How do we reconcile what seems irreconcilable for many? There are deep divides related to differing value systems that, at the moment, seem challenging to cross. Yet we are one people and embrace a tradition that honors our differences and shows respect for multiple points of view. It is with that spirit that I write this post.
My comments in this post may be controversial and I invite dialogue. Civil discussion and debate are essential as we venture forward at this critical time in our history.
I have written multiple posts about character types on my website over the past few years as a way to facilitate understanding of our own styles and coping patterns and as an aid to understanding those around us. I will use character typology as a point of reference as we think about the election. President-elect Trump has been a highly controversial figure who has evoked feelings of idealization, hope and excitement as well as feelings of alienation, repugnance and disdain. His character type, his life-long defensive structure, incites strongly polarizing sensibilities. As president-elect, he is in a position to lead the country and the free world – yet his personality problems have overshadowed, for many, any sign of inherent potential to be an effective, gracious and respectable leader.
Donald Trump can be described as a Narcissist (see post: Reich’s Character Types: Phallic Character Types and the Narcissistic Character). His character pathology has defined his campaign and his transition. I would further define his brand of Narcissism as a devaluing type due to his habitual tendency to attack, insult and demean others on a regular basis. His habit of devaluing and attacking has alienated large segments of the population while exciting others who feel empowered by this style.
Narcissists, and particularly devaluing Narcissists, speak impetuously, often with provocative rhetoric that expresses contempt for others. This character type devalues others as a way to increase his perceived value and worth. He devalues in an attempt to appear confident while hiding his semi-conscious shadow/weak, empty, anxious side that feels inadequate and insecure. The shadow side is projected onto others allowing him to feel superior and contemptuous of them while denying his own inadequacy issues. Constant smirking and artificial good-old-boy smiling coupled with a pasted-on smugness are defensive expressions that perpetuate his façade. These expressions are habitually cemented into his demeanor. Many people feel repelled by this obviously insincere and arrogant façade.
Narcissists act with grand bravado, inflating their abilities beyond true capacity. Donald Trump lacks intellectual breadth, often speaking inarticulately without measured content, thought-out ideas and depth formulations. Rather, he speaks in an uneducated manner, relying on repeated, simplistic, short phrasing sardonic comments with provocative messaging, crass innuendos and biting sarcasm. His impetuous style results in chronically poor judgment based in his impulsivity. Quick, provocative off-the-cuff comments marked his campaign and current approach – an inappropriate style for someone in the leadership role of the presidency. On the other hand, he has demonstrated cunning and shrewdness is his climb to the top.
Narcissists rely on their image of superficial glamour and reliance on external image and status to entice and seduce others, rather than authenticity, sincere interest in the other and offering substantive, productive ideas. Other notable problems of some Narcissistic personalities are: Lack of empathy and real feeling for others, insensitivity, and entitlement – as others are viewed as necessary extensions that can accommodate the Narcissist’s insatiable quest to fulfill his own needs, aggrandize his own image and inflate his status. He pretends to care for others but the purpose of his life is actually to gain personal advantage, dominance and status.
Our president-elect, although masquerading as an excellent businessman, has a patchy past filled with over-extension, high debt volume, lawsuits, and personal and business bankruptcies that illustrate long standing integrity issues and questionable business habits. For example, recently he has agreed to settle multiple lawsuits totaling $25 million for fraud allegations directed at his defunct for-profit venture, Trump University. This is a credible example of his history of shady dealings, high-pressure sales and deceptive promises, which target those that are naïve, buy in and lose. Narcissistic personalities have no problem with manipulative, slippery and sleazy dealings in order to gain wealth and status. Narcissists can be quite creative and successful and Trump does demonstrate business prowess, at times, in his wheeling and dealing. He has made and lost lots of money for sure. But his lack of integrity is a serious flaw and is often rationalized – ‘that he is entitled to manipulate to get what he wants, even if it hurts others, and that is a personal trait of which he is proud‘. Not paying federal income tax is another misdeed in a long-line of compromised integrity; with that choice he does not even express shame that others with so much less, pay so much more; he is proud that he has cheated the system.
In his current transitional state, he is already defying laws. For example, he has defiantly expressed that he has no legal obligation to establish boundaries between his business empire and his position as President. In fact, he brags that his brand is becoming more lucrative than ever. He seems to enjoy his renegade status and gloats about his intention to override established guidelines regarding seeking profits from his position as president-elect. His narcissistic defiance and entitlement show little respect for the office of the presidency. He will do as he pleases, ignoring appropriate protocols and necessary conventions. It appears that there is no ‘firewall’ between his business endeavors, his family, and his political position.
He professes to represent the little guy, the coal miner and union worker, the impoverished rural family that is going-under, but he has little, if any, authentic proximity to their lives and issues as he has lived a life of privilege. By sucking on the silver spoon, he was set up early in his father’s successful real estate company, elevated in his glitzy towers above the common man. He identifies with gold, glitz, gaudiness and glamour while masquerading as an advocate for the poor. His claim to fame is that he is wealthy. The people that are marginalized in poverty, marginalized in society, marginalized due to suffering, angry, feeling powerless, and wanting change, voted for him and see him as their champion. He capitalized on their fears. I wonder if they studied the factual history of his life – I don’t think so as his historical experience doesn’t match up with their concerns. One’s character façade works wonders to hide truth. That is always the risk in politics – the false self is quite seductive unless you penetrate the façade with your own insight.
Through the lens of character, we can see his flaws and, taken together, they create a cohesive picture: A pervasive insecurity that shows up in whining and pouting tweets when he feels put down, inadequacy covered by false bravado, lack of impulse control, lack of intellectual prowess due to difficulty concentrating, defiance and slipperiness that pushes him to thwart conventions like revealing his tax returns during a presidential election. His pervasive insecurities keep him up at night tweeting absurd comments worthy of an anxiety-ridden teenager. Using twitter to communicate as a presidential candidate certainly cheapens what should be a critical exchange of substantive ideas. The use of repeated clichés and provocative slogans are easy fodder – junk food for the mind – but reveals his lack of gravitas and respectability.
Narcissists often fly by the seat of their pants and hope it will all turn out because they are entitled and endowed! During the campaign, he depended on his children to hold him up – shades of nepotism, which is still an issue. He is utilizing loyal cronies rather than bringing in qualified others with long-standing public office experience who would engage a broad coalition. Loyalty is the most essential quality as there are strong elements of paranoia in the devaluing Narcissist.
Narcissists get inflated with little ground underneath them. The smiling and smirking is the cover for an angry, defiant, disrespectful, inadequate character underneath. There are many more items that could be covered in this analysis of devaluing Narcissists, however my intention is not to indict the president-elect but rather to expose personality traits in order to encourage thoughtfulness.
This is a character portrayal that needs to be part of our community dialogue. I know many of you do not view him in this light. But I suggest you consider this lens as a point of personality observation and use it as a guide as he proceeds. Take a moment to ponder and observe. These traits have caused many to experience intense aversion towards him – this sketch may help you understand those that reject him.
Now … this post is not about taking a position of gloating over the ‘bad’ guy because guess what, what we don’t like in him we must own in ourselves. The dynamics at play represent our collective shadow sides for us to view front and center. How is this shadow manifesting in all of us? Is he exhibiting our own arrogance and inflation, our chronic defiance and habitual habits of disrespect and contempt? What about our judgments of others, our racism and hidden prejudices as we maintain an insincere PC attitude on the surface? Do we demonstrate a lack of sensitivity towards others? What about our own need to dominate? How often do we use people and take advantage? How about our feelings of righteousness? Do we act with integrity? Do we cheat on our taxes too, lie here and there for our own advantage? Are we determined to play by our own rules – as renegade individualists – regardless of consequences for the many?
Our insecurities may consume us with thoughts of what other people think of us and we may be up at night, online, checking our ‘likes’ and ‘follows’. How about our superficial approach to life, acting-out our lack of knowledge and information yet speaking righteously when we haven’t devoted real time to study and research? Do we activate to make the world a better place? Or do we hide in our own towers, content with our resources and materialism where others with less are not included? Do we lack generosity and what about our greediness? Are we indulgent, creating a huge carbon footprint because we want to be comfortable at the planet’s expense?
We are our collective shadows and must peer into our own darkness. If we are not familiar with our inner and outer darkness, we will not recognize the distortions outside of us. We can look back in history at Adolph Hitler and learn – a man who was extremely narcissistic, psychopathic, pathologically impaired with extreme delusions, grandiosity, thought disordered and paranoid, and consumed with pervasive sadistic hatred for the other – yet he was on the edge of conquering a large swath of the world. The vast majority did not sense his sickness and malevolence because they themselves were out of contact and therefore unable to actually observe his true and obvious nature. Why? Because they lacked real perception, sensitivity, insight and awareness of self and other: Their hatred, prejudice, need to devalue, need to inflate themselves over others, their smallness, and their insecurity led to bitterness, rage and a strong feeling of impotence, which drove them to idolize a man like Hitler. If we are submerged in our defensive structure, with all its denial, then we are unable to see clearly and face what is right in front of us. (see post: Reich’s Map of Body Armor: Ocular Segment)
Because of our fears, and sense of helplessness and powerlessness, we desire a strongman (Putin, Assad, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un, etc.) – daddy-figures to ‘give us’ a false sense of potency. After the devastating loss of WWI, many in Germany felt deeply humiliated and angered by the harsh treaties, steep reparation payments, the war guilt clause and strict limitations on the military. The penalties imposed on Germany created an onerous backlash and stoked right wing parties such as Hitler’s Nazi Party. The citizens of the Central Powers felt marginalized, broke, angry, and bitter. Hitler promoted a dreamscape that the underdog would be able to rise up, become powerful, be redeemed and have a better life. The caveat was that only the pure Caucasian (Aryan race) would be allowed into the promise land. Only the Aryan race was seen as special and worthy of being saved; everyone else was excluded from the heights afforded the master race. What was he really doing? Did he kidnap innocent people, en masse, removing them from their homes, their communities, stealing their hard-earned possessions, moving the stolen goods into idyllic castles and displaying the spoils stolen from innocent people and then did he proceed to burn those innocent people in ovens or starve them? These were all justified ‘programs’ directed by a character-disordered individual. Yes, yes, yes, that is what happened! And masses and masses of people across the globe looked up to him or looked the other way – put up with him and/or pretended that the ethnic cleansing was not happening. Wasn’t it obvious that there was something terribly wrong with him? Just look at his face, his gestures – can you see the pathology in his physical manifestations?
I am not comparing Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler but rather exposing similarities in the conditions and interpersonal dynamics that nurtured Hitler’s rise to power. I am also saying the public can be naive and unable to recognize obvious deviousness. We don’t want to face the truth of what is going on; we would rather hide in our smallness and be dishonest about who we have been and who we are now – after all, we can always blame others instead. Let’s take apart our shadow sides and see our smallness first, then we will have understanding about the situation we find ourselves in today.
We must protect our environment and planet from those that debunk climate change and protect our delicate and vulnerable planet from irreparable damage. If a Narcissist and his loyalists lack sensitivity and contact as they move toward unregulated, selfish, opportunistic materialism then we must be the clear eyes and warm beating hearts of our planet in order for us to survive. Or… we will all be burned to a crisp in the oven again or choked in the rising tides of global warming.
We remain at a crossroad and must continue to move ahead with our own activations, our political will that benefits our communities, our values, our integrity as a global community – while respecting the government that we elected. We must build understanding across the divide. We must be in good faith to stay awake yet support the best that may be offered by the new administration – or fight it if injustice, lack of social and international conscience, and denial of environmental stewardship become normative in this administration.