Friday, December 04, 2015

Trump's Narcissism and the Suspension of Disbelief

If you search “Trump” and “narcissist” on the web you get dozens of hits linking the two words. Many posts are from therapists.

(Vanity Fair recently posted an overview story on the subject.)

But a therapist I know says dismissively, “Every politician is a narcissist.” It comes with the turf, she maintains.

The difference is that Donald Trump is a pathological narcissist. He lies, he bullies, he is self-absorbed, he has little or no empathy…and he flaunts all of that in public. None of that “comes with the political turf,” at least not publicly.

Clearly Trump is not fit for polite or political company, let alone the oval office.

But significant numbers of people don’t see it that way.

He has the backing of roughly 30 percent of polled Republicans. One poll has him winning 41 percent of the vote in a match-up with either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.  Thankfully, Democrats “win” over Trump in the poll. (Interestingly, Sanders draws more votes that Clinton against nearly every other Republican hopeful…but that’s another story)

So what’s the deal?  Why doesn’t Trump’s extreme public narcissism sink his candidacy? Indeed why does it seem to have contributed to his being the Republican front-runner.

The list of reasons is long, but right up near the top I’d put our media-manipulated culture.

Much of the public “understands reality” from what it gleans from TV and radio. A media fantasy world becomes “reality.” "The News" is a distorting mirror of politics (and crime, and success, and war, and health....)

Celebrities (and Trump has made himself one) are unquestioningly worshipped. For the media, they attract audiences and that attraction translates into advertising dollars.

What Trump and other celebrities say is taken as a priori truth, often because of their perceived “success.” Fans relish celebrity errors…and forgive them: “My celebrity, right of wrong.”

Deception becomes the stuff of plot lines, humor and scripts. When Trump demeans others he seems serious. But then he answers criticism by insisting he was “joking” or “acting” or “misunderstood.”

The public is willingly being gamed, largely to be entertained. (The absurdly popular Rush Limbaugh exhibits much of the same narcissistic public profile. He too is entertaining, particularly if you harbor prejudice and tolerate lies. Like Trump, he is self-obsessed, dangerous and panders to and feeds hatreds.)

When we enter the world of entertainment and fantasy we sometimes knowingly, but more often unknowingly, “suspend disbelief.” In other words, we let down our guard. We make ourselves vulnerable. And that’s what a sizable portion of the American public has done with Donald Trump…to everyone's peril.

The world of politics and governance is no fantasy and no game. It should be no place for celebrity worship and game-playing. Frankly, governing is not much fun, but it is important, vitally important.

Think global warming, war and peace, terrorism, poverty, inequity and injustice.

Now think of Donald J. Trump and his pathological, posturing, psychological state.

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