Trump’s Weakness: Narcissistic Personality Disorder
An Essay by Hans Royal
This essay is a thought experiment to explore whether a political advantage may be gained from exploiting or exposing Donald Trump’s potential personality disorder, called “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”, or “NPD” for short.
This essay is not intended to diagnose anybody. I am not a licensed psychologist, nor am I a professional political strategist.
However, those with experience interacting with people with NPD will know the limitations of such a mind. People with pathological NPD are mentally impaired in a way that not only explains a lot of “why they do what they do”, but also specifically limits them from being able to do certain things that others are able to do.
While NPD does seem to affirmatively explain why Donald Trump does a lot of what he does, this essay focuses on whether or not a psychological limitation could be exploited as a weakness for political gain against him.
NPD vs Narcissistic Traits
First, it’s important to understand the difference between narcissistic personality traits and NPD with a capital “D”. Many people, or perhaps most people, display or can display narcissistic traits or actions, but this wouldn’t obviously mean they have a disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are nine criteria for NPD, five of which a person must meet to be diagnosed with the NPD:
grandiose sense of self-importance
preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
belief they’re special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
need for excessive admiration
sense of entitlement
interpersonally exploitative behavior
lack of empathy
envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
As mentioned in the introduction, this is not intended to answer the questions as to whether Donald Trump actually has NPD, since I’m not licensed to in any way make a determination like that. There’s a possibility he does not have NPD, or has something else, or simply has narcissistic traits. Perhaps he is an extreme narcissist but doesn’t have the psychological barriers and handicaps associated with someone who is disordered. Then, perhaps there’s nothing that could be done to exploit this weakness, besides doing everything everyone is already doing to fight against the political happenings in this country and discuss how he’s unethical, unempathetic, authoritarian, or worse.
However, for the sake of argument and exploration, let’s assume that he does in fact have diagnosable, pathological NPD. What would that mean? What would he be able to do, and what would he not be able to do, as a result? And how could this limitation be used as a political weapon against him in the upcoming election?
What People with NPD Can’t Do
Simply put, those with NPD cannot or will not ever admit that they’re wrong and apologize. Surely a trained psychologist would say there are varying degrees of this limitation, but those who have dealt closely with those afflicted with NPD understand the lengths they will go to, to avoid admission of guilt or heartfelt apologies. Someone with NPD would rather do anything else than admit they’re wrong, even when it’s abundantly obvious to everyone else.
They employ all kinds of tactics to evade such an admission, including changing the subject, deflecting blame, playing the victim card, attacking others, and so on. Even in scenarios where admission of guilt would be in their own self interest, someone with NPD simply cannot psychologically accomplish the feat.
In a hypothetical scenario, if you put someone with NPD in a room with a jury of peers, and offer them $1 million if they can share a time where they did something that was wrong and prove that they are truly sorry/remorseful about it. If they can do so genuinely without blaming anyone else, or providing excuses or arguments that they were the victim of circumstance, they get to keep the $1 million. Even a tremendous narcissist could probably pretend to be genuine enough to own up to something in their past to win the prize. But for someone with NPD, this would be excruciatingly difficult if not impossible. It doesn’t even matter if they don’t believe deep down they were wrong and make something up: someone with NPD will not be able to even pretend long enough to make it out of the room.
Trump and the Results of His NPD
Much has been made of Trump’s narcissism and sociopathy, with some believing he is a “malignant narcissist”, which is the subject of the upcoming documentary “#Unfit.” As Ted Cruz put it in 2016, Trump is “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen”. This has been analyzed and thought about at length, and in combination with sociopathy and being a pathological liar, certainly combines to explain a lot of the behaviors Trump exhibits.
Yet most would agree that many politicians, the rich and famous, and other ultra-successful or high-status individuals have big egos. Anyone running for president, for example, thinks they specifically are the best person on earth to lead the country. And this is not inherently bad; confidence and ego have led to hard work and greatness, as seen recently in “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan’s incredible drive and competitiveness.
Trump has obviously also benefited from his uber-confidence and grandiose posturing. Having unprecedented, direct access to millions of potential voters and telling them over and over “I’m the best” and “only I can save the country” indeed has the power to convince some people that it’s true. For all of his faults, Trump has charisma, is a master manipulator, and is an entertaining figure.
But unlike Michael Jordan, who was able to actually follow through with hard work to prove to the world that he is, in fact, the greatest of all time, Trump has failed miserably in becoming a great President, or even a decent President. Somewhat ironically, his rise to the top and failure once there, is caused by and is the result of his mental handicap.
The lying, attacking, projection, deflection and gaslighting behaviors Trump has exhibited can be explained by his pathological, untreated NPD. Recent events show clearly that he cannot admit fault in any scenario. This is not a grand political strategy per se, although ‘showing strength’ and ‘always fighting back’ certainly have been an effective tool to convince dimwitted followers to support him. This is most clearly the case in times when admitting guilt would absolutely be in Trump’s own self-interest.
Trump and his Psychological Inability to Admit Fault
Presidents don’t like to admit to mistakes, and perhaps politically it only makes sense to do so rarely. But Trump is not psychologically able to do so given his disorder, and thus, he never has.
Sure, he “apologized” for the Access Hollywood incident on camera by reading a prepared statement, insincerely, and then used the opportunity to attack Bill Clinton. This was a political strategy, and was not an admission of doing anything wrong. The excuse that “it was just locker room talk” shows that Trump doesn’t believe it was wrong, because everyone does it, and two guys in a room are entitled to say whatever they want in a locker room without retribution. This is a classic tactic to avoid admission of any guilt whatsoever, and essentially “apologize” for being caught. What the Access Hollywood tape exposed, and the reason it was so appalling, was that Trump uses his power to abuse women and brazenly admitted to it on tape.
Locker room talk, per se, is not the issue, and the scope of the scandal would not have been as large if Trump had “merely” been saying disgusting things about women generally to Billy Bush. Afterall, there are recordings of Trump saying he’d have sex with his own daughter and it was barely news.
So the true apology, which Trump is 100% incapable of issuing due to his NPD, could have been something like: “the Access Hollywood tape exposed a truth in American society that men of power and status can, and often do, use their power inappropriately with women, including making sexual advances that are uncomfortable or frightening for women. I used my status and wealth to make such advances at times as a bachelor, and while adults may freely engage in romantic relationships, I recognize now that taking advantage of disproportionate power is wrong. I have grown a lot as an individual since then, and am sorry to anyone who felt negatively affected by my behavior in the past, or listened to the tape and were reminded of difficult situations in their past with other men of influence.”
This, as an example, would be actually admitting the guilt in question and not employing an avoidance tactic. Could/would Trump be able to read the above words off of a teleprompter? Maybe. But he would never be able to convince a jury of his peers of genuine admission of guilt.
Imagine if Trump, following a political gaffe, was able to own up to a mistake and look the camera in the eye and express remorse. On rare occasions, this might tremendously benefit him politically. Regardless of the political strategy employed following Access Hollywood (which was the only instance in my research where he was able to muster up the words “I’m sorry”), there are other times where admission of guilt could have helped him. For instance, admitting he made a mistake by telling the nation the Coronavirus would be miraculously gone and we’d only have a total of 14 cases could help Americans forgive him for the disastrous handling of the epidemic. He could have expressed regret for gassing American citizens for a photo opp, or risen above to try and unite the country against systemic racism with empathy and admission of his own privilege and use it for positive change. There are probably plenty of other examples where Trump could have benefited politically from remorse, empathy and admission of being wrong. Honorable men do it all the time and gain respect from it.
Instead, he employs any number of tactics to avoid admission to anything short of perfection. It was a “perfect call”. I “never lie”. I’m a “very stable genius”. When challenged with obvious facts of wrongdoing, mistakes or mismanagement, he attacks reporters, or walks out of the room. His NPD makes him incapable; he’d rather do anything else than admit to being wrong, even if it’s worse for him politically.
If he had the mental capacity to overcome his NPD and use fake empathy to convince Americans that he cares about them, that would be to his own benefit. As a raging self-interested narcissist, why wouldn’t he lie (as he’s done 20,000 times) to gain political advantage in this specific way?
It’s because he is mentally impaired to such a degree that he can’t.
Weaponizing Trump’s NPD Against Him for Political Gain
There are other cynical and evil world leaders that can lie or feign empathy even if they’re otherwise psychotic or dangerous. Vladimir Putin could say anything to the Russian people if it were to his political benefit. Many within Trump’s own circle, such as Bill Barr, are cunning, smart, and have the full psychological tools to advance a corrupt agenda. While these people may have the same goals and interests of Trump, they are not disordered in the way that he is. They do not have the same weakness. Mike Pence is capable of admitting fault and showing empathy at times. But Trump’s NPD doesn’t allow for it.
So the question: how can this psychological barrier be used against Trump in the upcoming election to maximum effect? This is where the reader of this essay may play a role and help. Which ideas can be weaponized to exploit this weakness, rather than simply pointing out that Trump is “crazy”, or sociopathic, which everyone already does?
Idea 1: Debate
In the event that Joe Biden debates Trump, a debate question asked of Trump could be: “You’ve been president for 3.5 years, and have made many decisions. Without blaming anyone else or attacking someone else, tell us a time in your Presidency where you did something wrong and are sorry about it. What was it, why were you wrong, why are you sorry, and what did you learn from it?”
Trump inevitably will avoid admission of any guilt because he has NPD. Who knows how he’d answer it exactly, but it would be any number or tactics that those with NPD employ. He would potentially attack Biden, or say he was wrong for hiring XYZ person because they’re terrible, or “I’m sorry the fake news is so dishonest, and I’ve learned not to trust CNN”, or he’d apologize for not being appreciated by the media enough, or some other tactic to avoid admission of guilt.
Joe Biden would have the opportunity to point this out in his next response. “The American People just saw a President that lacks the ability to admit he was wrong, for anything, ever, due to mental impairment. Donald Trump has a mental disorder. Here it is on display. Everybody knows it, everybody has seen it in practice for years. I’ll answer the question myself, Interviewer: [Biden proceeds to show genuine empathy and remorse in the form of a story where he made a mistake and learned from it without blaming or attacking anyone].
So now, Donald, instead of [insert Trump’s answer from above where he deflected or attacked someone else], the American people want to know: without blaming anyone else or attacking someone else, tell us a time in your Presidency where you did something wrong and are sorry about it. What was it, why were you wrong, why are you sorry, and what did you learn from it? And to the American people: Donald will not be able to answer this question because he is mentally impaired. He cannot do it. Let’s see if I’m right. Donald?”
Idea 2: Political Ad
Create a political ad that summarizes the key points in this essay about NPD or his disordered brain. Point out the incapacity he has, and provide examples and evidence of this. Challenge him directly on this, and call for him to prove that he can, like a normal person, admit faults and learn from them. Expose this weakness for what it is, and frame up why it’s detrimental and dangerous to the country. Frame up “why this matters” with specific examples, including why his NPD has resulted in the disastrous handling of the Coronavirus.
Idea 3: Reporter Question
Try to get a reporter to plant a question to him like the debate question above and pin him down. The next time he makes an obvious mistake, and doesn’t admit to it, keep asking the question of “do you admit that what you did was wrong” and he’ll employ a predictable avoidance tactic. If the reporter is aware of NPD, that reporter should ensure the question is repeated by the next reporter, and should not give up until Trump storms out. Ask a question like “the American people are concerned you have a mental disorder where you can’t admit fault and apologize. Can you provide an example of when you were wrong?” “I’m wrong for listening to a nasty reporter like you” would be the answer. Expose it, and keep asking the question to expose it further.
Other Ideas and Next Steps
If Trump does have NPD, and this condition can be used against him, I would welcome input to help me think through how to sharpen the knife, refine this essay and argument, and see what might come of it.
Do you have creative ideas to maximize the political effect of exploiting this weakness? Am I way off base in some way? Are the smart democratic strategists already on top of this issue fully and is this redundant or already been crossed out as an angle of attack? Feel free to comment with ideas, thoughts or feedback. Thanks for reading.
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