The Narcissists Are Running Amok: Many Politicians Are Narcissists -- And Many of Their Followers Are, Too

We have become more narcissistic as a society. And narcissistic attitudes and behavior can be induced in people when the conditions are right.

Trump voters (CNN Screengrab)

Sunday Daily Kos readers were treated to an epic troll diary this morning (I will not link to it) by someone who was offended by a post our own ursulafaw wrote about Green Party candidate, Angela Green, dropping out of the Arizona senate race and endorsing the Democratic candidate, Kyrsten Sinema.  The diarist was promptly flagged and boJo’d.  If you have been around DKos for more than one election cycle, you are well aware that trolls promoting third party candidates or not voting come out of the cellar the weekend before Election Day.  What I noticed about this troll in particular, was that he turned the whole diary into a me, me, me, I want my way diatribe.  He’s been slighted, offended, and his supreme intelligence insulted!  Gee, doesn’t this remind you of our comb-overed, orange hued Narcissist In Chief?

This made me think about a diary idea that I’ve been mulling around for some time:  How so many of our politicians, public officials, and pundits in the media are actual, clinically diagnosable narcissists. So let’s do this.

As I have shared in several comments over the past few years, I have a grandparent (now deceased) with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), as well as a sibling who falls right on the boundary line of having the full blown disorder.  It hasn’t been fun.  They have both hurt many people, ruined relationships, and done lasting harm to their children that followed them into adulthood.  

When Trump began his run for the presidency, and the media began to give him 24/7 uncritical coverage, to say I was triggered is putting it mildly.  I have watched all too familiar behavioral patterns and relational dynamics that in my personal life were uncomfortable and stressful play out on our national stage.  Some days are better than others, but the baseline is always bad.  And there has been an increase in the bad as we approach Election Day, as our president, who cannot tolerate the thought that he is anything less than the savior of America, is trying to avoid an election loss for his party that may show, for all the world to see, that a majority of Americans think he is anything but our savior.  Losing the ability to pass more tax cuts or repeal Obamacare means nothing to Trump.  Preserving his psyche does.  But the crazy isn’t just coming from Trump.  It’s also spewing forth from the misfits in his administration, his media promoters, and his followers, because crazy attracts crazy, and crazy creates crazy.  We are awash in narcissistic rage.

First a definition from Psychology Today.

The hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their own success, beauty, brilliance) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. These characteristics typically begin in early adulthood and must be consistently evident in multiple contexts, such as at work and in relationships.

People with narcissistic personality disorder believe they are superior or special, and often try to associate with other people they believe are unique or gifted in some way. This association enhances their self-esteem, which is typically quite fragile underneath the surface. Individuals with NPD seek excessive admiration and attention in order to know that others think highly of them. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat, and may be left feeling humiliated or empty when they experience an "injury" in the form of criticism or rejection.

And the symptoms.

Narcissistic personality disorder is indicated by five or more of the following symptoms:

Exaggerates own importance

Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence or ideal romance

Believes he or she is special and can only be understood by other special people or institutions

Requires constant attention and admiration from others

Has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment

Takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals

Disregards the feelings of others, lacks empathy

Is often envious of others or believes other people are envious of him or her

Shows arrogant behaviors and attitudes

Our culture may be creating more of them than ever.

In one article published in the APS Observer, psychologists W. Keith Campbell and Jean M. Twenge explore the apparent rise in narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).  They point to culture as part of the cause.

Research on NPD suggests that Americans in their 20s are three times as likely to have experienced NPD than people over age 60.  Comparing similar-aged people across decades also shows a dramatic increase in narcissism.  As evidence, the researchers discuss some of the impact that increased narcissism has.  Young people are more likely to focus on achieving success, making money, and personal fame.  They are more likely to have cosmetic surgery, report higher levels of self-esteem, and measure lower on empathy.

How can culture contribute to a rise in narcissism?  Well, certainly media is to blame, with its focus on personal image. And, the rise of social media may also play a part.  In many ways, social media is “all about me.”

From an interview in U.S. News in 2009, of research psychologist, Jean Twenge, co-author with W. Keith Campbell of, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.(Bolding mine)

This all started when we did a study a couple years ago finding that narcissism was increasing substantially among a nationwide sample of college students. We compared that effect to the obesity epidemic, and we found that the rise in narcissism was just as big as the rise in obesity in adults. That got us thinking: If obesity is an epidemic, then we may have an epidemic of narcissism on our hands. This past summer [a study of] a nationally representative sample of 35,000 Americans found that 6 percent of Americans, or 1 out of 16, had experienced [clinical narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)] at some point in their lives. And there was a big generational effect. You'd expect that people who are older would have a higher percentage of having experienced this because they've lived so many more years. But only 3 percent of people over 65 had had any experience with NPD, compared with almost 10 percent of people in their 20s. Given that you can only diagnose this when someone is 18, that's a pretty short number of years in which to have this experience. That was another pretty big indication that this was an out-of-control epidemic.

So we have more than a few people who crave attention, admiration, and think they are special and important.  They have fantasies of power.  It’s not surprising that many narcissists seek out fame and fortune in politics, sports, and the media.  Once they gain success in their field, it becomes a cyclic environment that can make their narcissism worse.  The likable but cocky kid that makes it to the big leagues, then becomes an insufferable jerk that friends from childhood don’t recognize.  In the case of Trump, many mental health professionals have noted that his narcissistic behavior will only get worse.  Isn’t that one of the reasons we fear republicans keeping congress after this election?  Trump will feel validated and empowered!

But Trump isn’t the only narcissist who has been elected to office, he’s just the most toxic and obvious.  We have other elected and appointed officials in our country who demonstrate their sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and need for often undeserved admiration every day.

The book, The Narcissist Next Door:  Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed-in Your World, by Jeffrey Kluger, was published in 2014.  I highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling with a person, a spouse, parent, sibling, neighbor, or coworker, who is making life hell and you know there is something just wrong with them.  I read this book when it first came out.  After Trump ran for and won the presidency, it hit me how prescient the author was when he used real estate developer and reality TV celebrity, Donald J. Trump, as THE example of a narcissist in his opening chapter.  (You can read the first chapter for free on amazon.  It’s very enlightening.)

Mr. Kluger on some of the politicians in our lives:

So we get Ted Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas, conducting a twenty-one-hour filibuster—perhaps democracy’s greatest “Look at me!” spectacle—in 2013 to oppose a health care law he couldn’t repeal, couldn’t defund and wouldn’t sit down quietly to try to amend and improve, because that would mean weeks and months of collaborative work in private rooms with no cameras rolling or headlines flashing, and where’s the fun in that? So we get Marlin Stutzman, a back-bench congressman who helped engineer the two-and-a-half-week federal shutdown that followed Cruz’s spectacle and who, when asked why he and the rest of his faction wouldn’t back down despite the cost to the nation, answered, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Because when 800,000 federal employees aren’t allowed to go to work, when food inspections are being canceled, when the country is losing over $1.5 billion a day, what really counts is whether the politicians themselves are feeling the love.

Kluger, Jeffrey (2014-09-08T22:58:59). The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed-in Your World (Kindle Locations 124-131). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Let’s consider Chris Christie, who as governor of New Jersey (and resultant unindicted co-conspirator) caused gridlock for four days for his constituents in Fort Lee, NJ, by restricting access to to the George Washington Bridge.  All because the town’s Democratic mayor declined to endorse him for re-election in a race he was winning by a landslide.

“I am a very sad person today,” he said. “That’s the emotion I feel. A person close to me betrayed me. . . . I probably will get angry at some point, but I got to tell you the truth, I’m sad.” Christie also shared that he hadn’t been sleeping well as a result of the scandal and that he felt “humiliated” and “blindsided” and found it “incredibly disappointing to have people let [him] down this way.” The Washington Post ran a word count on Christie’s first-person references in the course of his long, on-camera ramble and reported 692 uses of I; 217 repetitions of me, my or mine; and 186 uses of I’m or I’ve. Thousands and thousands of Fort Lee residents suffered, but the big story to Chris Christie was, apparently, Chris Christie—and that hurt him badly. “I had a donor say well ‘Who gives a shit about you?’” said one GOP finance official, according to Politico.com. “What about all the people who are stuck on the bridge?”

Kluger, Jeffrey (2014-09-08T22:58:59). The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed-in Your World (Kindle Locations 136-144). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Now for my least favorite people in politics:  Third party candidates who screw up winnable races for Democrats. 

Narcissists are the vanity presidential candidates—the likes of Herman Cain and H. Ross Perot, people with more money and name recognition than governing skills, but who fancy themselves up to the task of being the most powerful person on earth because, well, how could they not be? It doesn’t even require wealth to go on that “Vote for me or at least pay attention to me” ride. Did anybody believe Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich had any chance at all of ever taking the oath of office—did they even believe it themselves?—or was it just the naked craving to be on the presidential stage? In 2000, Ralph Nader ran quixotically for president on the Green Party ticket, winning 2.8 million votes nationwide—and 97,488 of them in Florida, the large majority of which surely came out of Al Gore’s hide. That Florida haul would have been more than enough to overcome the paper-thin 537 votes by which Gore lost the state to George W. Bush and, ultimately, the presidency. Yet when Nader was asked afterward if he felt like he had cost Gore the election, his answer was succinct: “I think that Al Gore cost me the election.”

Kluger, Jeffrey (2014-09-08T22:58:59). The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed-in Your World (Kindle Locations 157-166). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

How about Greg Orman, who is polling no higher than 10% as an Independent candidate running for Kansas governor, who sends his lackey out on social media to tell Democrat Laura Kelly that she is the one who needs to drop out.

Which brings me back to the troll who dropped the narcissistic rant of a diary here on Sunday morning.  He was angry that a well read diarist here (and on other sites) wrote a diary celebrating that a liberal third party candidate actually did the right thing right and dropped out of a race, where she could have been a spoiler, and endorsed the Democrat.  Because dammit, HE had endorsed the Green Party candidate on HIS blog!  And he was still “holding a grudge” that the Democrat had soundly beaten another of his favorites in the primary.  The nerve!  

The troll diarist’s underlying thinking, “it’s about what I want,” is the same grievance, entitlement, lack of empathy, and the desire to punish rivals that animates too many of Trump’s most ardent supporters.  The rally attendees who menace the reporters covering it because they report the truth of how Trump lies.  The conservative bloggers and their online followers who think what defines a policy success is did it own the libs?  

Now consider over paid pundits, who never venture far from their tony offices in Manhattan and DC, who write pieces chastising Democrats for “blowing the election” before one vote is tallied.  Never Trumpers on TV, who will never canvass a block, text messages to voters, or volunteer full time to support a candidate, who feel they are entitled to have Democrats save the country from Trump after they failed to.  Yes we know the country needs to be saved.  Would it kill them to offer to help or at least acknowledge the sometimes superhuman efforts of ordinary citizens?

It’s all being spewed into the public space in spades, starting with Trump himself.  But it’s not just a problem on the right.  (Granted, there are fewer observable narcissistic trolls on the left than the right, who seem to be multiplying like roaches.)  Sometime in September, I saw the most self indulgent display of aggrievement ever from a left wing activist on twitter.  He had decided that he could not support Ben Jealous in his race for governor of Maryland because there was one box on this guy’s checklist that Jealous did not fill.  At that point, I realized something, and decided that I was not ever going to waste time trying to convince third party dead enders, and purity zealots who sit out elections, to vote because it’s coming from a place of narcissism in them that can’t be cured, much less convinced.  

We have become more narcissistic as a society.  And narcissistic attitudes and behavior can be induced in people when the conditions are right.  I have noticed this with my sister.  When real life circumstances, even in a small way, start aligning with her fantasies of grandeur, she is insufferable and her delusions and demands for attention and affirmation get worse.  When she has been humbled by life, her pumped up self image crushed, she lashes out and goes through an anger and blame phase.  Then she returns to a baseline where she still displays some symptoms, but not enough to be in full blown clinical NPD.  

This is what I believe Trump has done.  He has brought out the narcissistic tendencies in some of his followers, whether that follower is a cabinet secretary, a congressman, or an average supporter at home.  My sister just loves Trump.  Because if his worst behavior is celebrated, why shouldn’t her’s be?  But like my sister, Trumpy narcissists will be brought low by life.  It’s inevitable, and I hope it happens Tuesday.  If it does, turn off your laptop, set the phone to mute, and avoid your Trumpster neighbor.  Because the whining, blaming, deflecting, and anger could get epic.

There is no cure for a clinical narcissist.  If one is making your life hell, the only things you can do are set firm boundaries, modify your reactions, limit contact, or cut them off altogether.  So, ignore the narcissists online and in the media.  Deny them access to your mind.  There is great wisdom in the saying, “Don’t feed the trolls.”  And let’s vote out republicans.  The narcissists and the enablers who feed the crazy of the biggest troll of them all.

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