Race for the White House 2016: Narcissist-in-Chief?

The Iowa Caucus has passed, and the surprise of the week reveals that Ted Cruz won overall while Donald Trump slipped to second, despite every prior poll suggesting a different outcome. While this is a bit of an upset, there may be a few reasons not related to positions, policies, or promises that could explain the phenomenon. Americans are clearly upset at “the establishment.” But many Americans are also frustrated that the current administration seems to be taking the country down a primrose path, with a very uncertain destination. Barrack Obama was elected on a cult of personality, among other reasons, and certainly not on past achievements. Could it be that America is becoming wary of personality factors when it comes to the upcoming election, especially in the case of Donald Trump?

By David Rogers
By David Rogers

Just prior to the 2008 election I reviewed an interesting article written by a clinical psychologist. He was worried about the candidacy of one Barrack Obama. This author’s concerns did not revolve around political positions or policy issues, but around perceived personality flaws. This prominent psychologist opined that Obama displayed the major markers of a severely narcissistic personality. Such a personality would exhibit traits that could be problematic in an individual placed in a position of high leadership and power. A person with these personality tendencies will be an ideologue to the extreme, and act only according to their vision of the world and their perception of the proper order of things, discounting the inputs, boundaries, opinions or warnings of others.

The past seven years of an Obama presidency could be seen as the fulfillment of this psychological prophecy. An extreme leftist agenda, repeated deceptions in policy (such as Obamacare’s real impact) and a blatant disregard for law, the Constitution and opinions that do not jive with his personal world view are the real hallmarks of Obama’s presidency. And America has been placed in a much more tenuous position because of it. An insider’s view of the individual in the office (Ronald Kessler’s tell-all books “The First Family Detail” and “Inside the White House” describe the President throwing temper tantrums when things did not go his way) would likely further enforce this doctor’s original diagnosis.

But now we are faced with a choice of potential candidates to replace the current Narcissist-in-Chief. And a Clinton versus Trump card poses similar challenges in the upcoming political race. Let’s put Hillary Clinton, or any other Democrat, aside for the moment and focus on the Republican front runner Donald Trump. Is his personality and his personal approach to issues something that might engender concern when trying to select an effective leader of the free world? It seems Iowans were suspicious.

What exactly are the symptoms of what is clinically defined as “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”? Here is a list from the Mayo Clinic website:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

In watching debates and interviews with Trump, he seems to check every box on the above list. His recent decision not to participate in a Fox News debate because of past “mistreatment” by Megyn Kelly is stunning for a person who is vying for the most diplomatically important job in the world. Bill O’Reilly spent the better part of one of his programs unsuccessfully trying to encourage Trump to reconsider his position and show the leadership required to allow Iowa voters just prior to their Caucus to hear about and question his positions. A number of reasons, including his boycott of the last debate, are tagged as reasons for his second place finish. The O’Reilly interview is quite revealing and can be seen here:


One characteristic that stands out in this interview, and has indeed graced almost all of Trump’s public appearances, is an almost complete lack of logic or any concrete position that can be tied to a reality other than his own. Anger against the “establishment” or the press is not clear enough reason in itself for his actions. A depth and grasp of the many challenges said establishment has created and real, workable solutions based on bipartisan cooperation is what is needed most. The emphasis in the majority of Trump’s diatribes centers on himself, who he believes he is and general truisms that will “make America great again”. In other words, he is reinforcing a clinically defined impression of narcissism in almost everything he says or does. His responses revolve exclusively around “the world according to Donald”.

Compare Trump to the last two heads of state here in Utah. Jon Huntsman Jr. was a true statesman who bridged the gap between classes and factions within the state. He built tremendous relationships with China and other foreign visitors to the state. The first Chinese student to graduate from BYU (a man born and raised in Singapore and currently engaged in import and export trade with Singapore and China) once told me Governor Huntsman was the best Ambassador to Singapore he had ever seen. He was a master of diplomacy and was tapped by President Obama, despite being a moderate Republican, to be the Ambassador to mainland China, perhaps one of the most crucial positions in his cabinet.

Governor Herbert could be classified as a true “man of the people.” Whether one agrees with his policies or not, his relationships with constituents across the state, especially in more rural districts is undeniable. He has deep roots in the community in Utah County and was very respected before he ascended to the Lieutenant Governorship and eventually the top office. Both of these men are the antithesis of a narcissist, and Utah has prospered far more than most states under their leadership. These facts are difficult to deny. It is a history we should all take note of.

This begs the question: “Where does self-confidence end and an unhealthy level of narcissism begin”? What we are seeing at least in this mid-point of the next election cycle has to generate some concern. Trump’s talking points and overall behavior generate more questions than answers at times. His website has more defined and polished positions, but those are likely edited, reviewed and maybe even originated by paid professionals that are tasked with making him appear a certain way. His rapid downplay in the media of his blustery rhetoric in the last two days might be the most revealing. How long will such feigned humility last?

Ad hoc public dialogue is the best method to assess personal character. The words we speak extemporaneously often reveal what we are really thinking.  President Obama has long been criticized for having few original insights or remarks when the teleprompter is turned off. Perhaps Trump’s problem is just the opposite. His spontaneous remarks point more towards his own exaggerated egocentric views than any actual answers to issues that need to be resolved. He believes he has all the answers, and the only right answers despite any lack of details. Could a change in strategy be in the wind?

A narcissist is likely effective when their view coincides with the correct answers to a problem or situation. But the needed flexibility to admit error and shift in perception or opinion when confronted with new facts might be more evasive. And those are, unfortunately, necessary tools of a leader in a rapidly changing world. We live in very trying times, and rapid flexibility will undoubtedly be a key to future leadership challenges. The question hangs in the air: “Do we have a candidate that is qualified to address the many concerns of our nation”? We certainly do not need four more years of current problems, personality driven or not.

Our next President must be the leader par extraordinaire that can be both a breaker of establishment vices and a world class diplomat. It seems unlikely that a self-centered narcissist would be effective in such a role. The last seven years of history has presented us with a clear test case. We should carefully consider repeating our own historical errors. Trump should consider reaching outward to the concerns of every American, even those who disagree with his perceptions, if he is to be ultimately triumphant. This is a lesson every candidate needs to learn, but more important still is the idea that our next President must get it right on all counts, both policy-wise and on a personal level. A prosperous future depends on it. They got it in Iowa. How about the rest of us?

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