Trump’s alarming mental condition: A clinical psychologist explains why the president's 'malignant narcissism' imperils us all
Donald Trump seems to think he deserves to be enshrined on Mount Rushmore because, as he has said, “I’m the greatest, most successful” president ever.
Trump’s Fourth of July festivities were a choreographed celebration of him, not America.
To make matters worse, the lack of mask wearing and social distancing put supporters and employees at high risk for COVID-19. And there was the risk of a wildfire from the fireworks as well. But nothing could keep Trump away from his faux coronation.
Trump’s phone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan have come to light in recent days. According to Carl Bernstein, Trump is heard pandering and bragging to these murderous, authoritarian thugs that he is “rich” and “a genius.” I guess that’s what Trump believes is the “Art of the Deal.”
A number of mental health professionals have written about Trump’s narcissistic personality pathology and its impact on his governing. Forensic psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee and psychiatrist John Zinner are two prominent psychiatrists who have voiced their views.
Duty to warn the public about an unfit political figure is an overriding motivation for those of us who are speaking out. This is especially salient now since the presidential election is only four months away. This is no time to shy away from our concerns. The country and democracy are at stake.
When Trump looks out at the people, all he hears and sees is their boisterous applause, praise and reverence. He loves basking in the adoration of the masses.
I have not met and interviewed Trump. But I have had access to his statements, speeches, tweets, recordings, pictures, documents and much more. Books and articles have weighed in as well.
Trump is incapable of being our pre-eminent public servant because he has malignant narcissism. His symptoms are obvious: He
- has a grandiose sense of self-importance
- is guided solely by his needs and wishes
- strives for control and power
- has an insatiable need for praise and adoration
- holds the view that people are inherently untrustworthy and that they are out to harm him; people are either loyal sycophants or menacing enemies.
The Best and the Brightest
Trump thinks he is the best. He thinks he is the smartest. He feels entitled. He is always right. He is vain. As Trump says, he knows more about war than the generals, more about the environment than the scientists, more about international affairs than our allies and more about the coronavirus than the medical experts. Trump sees himself as the closest thing to God.
Trump is compelled by his needs, his wishes, his desires, his hunches. He does not abide by boundaries, norms or laws. He thinks his conspiracy theories and magical thinking are the truth because they are his truth. Science and data do not matter; what he thinks and wants is much more defining for him. Listening to medical experts during this pandemic is unacceptable to him because their recommendations run contrary to his personal and political narratives. Drinking disinfectant and inserting light to the body counteract the coronavirus were his brilliant ideas. The fact that all medical experts dismissed his ideas as foolish did not dissuade Trump; he just double-downed and then shifted to another conspiracy theory. One example is his assertion that the pandemic is a hoax concocted by the Democrats to hurt his re-election chances.
Trump has held 89 political rallies during his presidency. They are really pep rallies intended to laud his importance to his supporters. When Trump looks out at the people, all he hears and sees is their boisterous applause, praise and reverence. He loves basking in the adoration of the masses. He has said these rallies are his favorite activity as president. It’s not because he is governing, it’s because his unrelenting need for adulation makes it to the grand stage.
Power and Control over Others
Trump wants to control people. He relishes power. Others are considered lesser beings who deserve to be treated with contempt, especially after their usefulness to him is depleted. He especially degrades women and calls them “fat,” “ugly” or “low IQ.” Any woman who asks a probing question is seen as a challenge to his superiority. The turnover rate in Trump’s administration has been the highest in history; he fires staff publicly and with overt disdain. People are just objects to be moved around at his behest.
To Trump, people are dupes to be lied to and exploited for his own gains. He has told over 19,000 lies to the American people. He sows division among people as a way of wielding his control and power. He loves to have a foil, like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Gaslighting is his modus operandi; he tells people, “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.” Saying one thing and doing the exact opposite is his subterfuge in action. One minute he is the “wartime president,” then he contradicts himself by stating that the federal government is only “backup” to the states in fighting the pandemic.
Trump is not emotionally moved by the 132,000 American deaths due to the coronavirus. He is not touched by others’ sadness and pain. He does not seem to have naturally warm, positive feelings. What he often experiences are the emotions of hostility, contempt, envy and vindictiveness.
He is renowned for his outbursts and rages in the Oval Office. He cannot even express condolences to the families of lost loved ones without a scripted speech and a teleprompter. Trump seems to be incapable of compassion. He does not respect others. He claims that he engineered “the best economy the world has ever seen” at the same time that thousands and thousands of Americans are dying each day from COVID-19.
He isn’t just tone-deaf, he is out-of-touch and disconnected.
‘Good’ Supporters, ‘Bad’ Enemies
Our country has become increasingly tribal and chaotic under this president.
Trump’s use of psychological splitting divides people into “all good” supporters vs. “all bad” enemies. He uses his loyal sycophants to enable his dishonesty and lawlessness. He is openly contemptuous and hostile to his perceived enemies.
Trump cannot unify the country because he is unable to perceive people as whole, nuanced and loving. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions went from “all good” loyal sycophant to “all bad” hated enemy right before our eyes.
Trump does not want to lead or govern. His leadership has been totally absent during this pandemic. If anything, he has stirred the pot with his divisive and accusatory rhetoric. He has not led on the aftermath of the George Floyd homicide and subsequent policing controversies. He has not led against racism. He has not led on the nationwide protests. What we got was a staged political prop with the Bible. Trump’s primary interest is in being exalted and glorified, even if undeserved.
We have not had a real president in four years. The narcissism has not allowed him to lead and govern. He spends most of his time tweeting about his false and fake accomplishments or his dreaded enemies. His self-promotion and showmanship have failed. His proclamations, like “Nobody has ever done for the black community what President Trump has done” or “We have the coronavirus contained,” ring hollow. It is because they are hollow.
We need a president who is psychologically healthy. Trump’s malignant narcissism will not allow him to lead. It has caused enough anguish, polarization and fear in the country. Nov. 3 is fast approaching. We must repudiate Trump at the polls. And Mount Rushmore is off the table, I trust.
Alan D. Blotcky, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Ala. He is clinical associate professor, Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham.