Malignant Narcissism and Epochal Change
We are in the process of an epochal change. Narcissism, as indicated throughout the world, is on the march and in many places – Turkey, Russia, and now the U.S. Malignant narcissists (MNs) occupy the highest political positions in the land and threaten to do so in many other places, facilitated by minor non-malignant narcissists who already dominate the corridors of power. The new media somehow have helped dismantle the institutional intellectual checks that worked and were designed to keep such personalities away from the apex of power. When the personality who occupies the top political office in the land and the centre of political authority, when the self-centredness that was supposed to be the essential character of the economic order – though it was really not – becomes the predominant trait envisaged as dominating all orders, then the seeds of rot and disorder have invaded the central hub to allow destructiveness rather than constructivism to become the order of the day.
Narcissists love themselves more than anything, and malignant narcissists love only themselves or those considered to be reflections of themselves. All energy is expended in self-confirmation rather than in efforts to understand and comprehend the mysteries of the universe. Immune to falsifiability, MNs disparage science, the essence of which is a willingness to be open to self-criticism and critical self-reflection. The MN is very capable of pivoting and tactically adjusting to setbacks, but will never admit that the initiative of the Executive Order on migration was just a terrible and inept expression of governance. An MN not only dislikes restraints and government rules to protect the citizenry in the economic sphere, but he expands this dictum into a transcendental principle of understanding altogether. A new executive order on migration will be written and issued to get around the obstacles, but these are not regarded as constitutional limits on actions, but as barriers to be crushed in due time.
If the empath is inherently shy and is embarrassed by praise, the MN cannot live without it. The thirst for accolades is insatiable in proportion to the distance of any personality traits or accomplishments from deserving such praise. While empaths seek solitude to restore their equanimity, MNs need to surround themselves with courtiers, supplicants and sycophants who are loyal, not to any idea or ideal, but to The Donald.
But what about friends. Brian Mulroney, once Prime Minister of Canada, is a friend of Donald Trump. Whatever his failings as a blowhard, Mulroney was not a self-serving malignant narcissist. Self-serving perhaps, so when I first met him, within 30 seconds he had sized me up and, having determined I was of no use to him, abruptly terminated our contact. The Donald would not have needed that initial handshake to even make such a determination.
Further, an ordinary egocentric character like Mulroney could still bestow US$5 million on Nelson Mandela of the ANC after he was freed from years in prison. An extraordinary person like Brian Mulroney was also one of the rare statesmen who, without fanfare, was the only world leader we knew who wrote two, not just one, letter to President Habyarimana of Rwanda urging him to retreat from the persecution of Tutsis. So why and how could Mulroney be friends with Trump?
Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, is another personal friend of Donald Trump. By virtually all accounts, Kraft is a fair and generous man, highly successful and well loved and respected. During Super Bowl week, he explained his friendship with Donald Trump. “When [Kraft’s wife] Myra died [in 2011], Melania [Trump] and Donald came up to the funeral in our synagogue, then they came for memorial week to visit with me. Then he called me once a week for the whole year, the most depressing year of my life when I was down and out. He called me every week to see how I was doing, invited me to things, tried to lift my spirits. He was one of five or six people that were like that. I remember that.”
This is not a false memory. This is true. And there are many other such testimonies of individuals who have remained loyal to Donald Trump in spite of what they regard as his eccentricities, his bad taste and his often oafish and insensitive behaviour. Further, Trump offers these loyalists, these Red Tories, reasons to identify with his political platform. Kraft said of DT’s planned remake of America’s inner cities: “Working class people and lower income people, we have to help more. They’ve gotten hurt over the last decade a lot. We have to create jobs and a vibrant economy that helps those communities throughout America. I really believe and hope that the new administration is going to do that.”
Kraft is not an empath. He is just a very successful good-hearted citizen who cannot recognize a practiced manipulator for what he is. Kraft can evidently not pick up false empathy, empathy which is practiced as a craft rather than as an expression of the inner soul. The reality is that Trump populates his universe with worshippers, courtiers and billionaires, the later as the necessary icing on the cake to ensure that he can bathe in the shadow of another’s celebrity at the same time as he demands, as he needs, their acceptance and applause. When he interviewed billionaires for important positions in his cabinet, the ultimate selection criterion was not whether their policies were in accord with his or, when different, could be well-defended, but whether they would truly and fully acknowledge DT as leader of the pack.
That is why money matters. That is why glitter matters. That is why gold matters. They are, for a malignant narcissist, the ultimate symbol of success – not academy awards or honorary doctorates, but money. DT has the Midas touch, the golden touch precisely because he cannot really touch or be touched as I noted in an earlier blog discussing Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XI. What I did not write is that Midas had been very generous and kind to the drunken poet, Silenus. Midas entertained him, wined and dined him and extended to him an unprecedented 10 days of hospitality to an otherwise fall-down-dead-drunk. When Dionysus offered to reward Midas for his generosity and granted him one wish, that wish was that everything he touched should turn to gold, including the presidency of the United States of America. The roses in his huge garden lost their suppleness, their colour and their velvet feel as they turned to gold upon his touch.
And when his daughter came to weep about what had happened to the roses, as in one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories, when Midas went to touch his daughter, she too turned to gold. Donald Trump has five children. Some evidently keep their distance or, as much as possible, are kept at a distance. But the three oldest have been converted to the belief that the pursuit of gold is the highest achievement, even though there is no evidence, however accomplished Ivanka Trump may be, that they possess the Midas touch. Trump’s children are props for him, to be cited and used as testaments, for one, to his lack of anti-Semitism. They are the only courtiers he can trust.
But they dare not disabuse him of his deep conviction that he got the most electoral votes ever, that larger crowds attended his inauguration compared to that of any other president-elect. He could not stand, he could not tolerate a blatant visual image that Barack Obama in 2009 had attracted much larger crowds than he had. He had a fit, a temper tantrum, and berated The National Park Commission for issuing false images and pictures. Most of all, he took to task the media with their fact-checking and continual replay of the pictures that told more than a thousand words. The replays only made Trump more furious and he declared open warfare on the false, on the lying, media – with the exception of the small number of TV stations that continued to pour accolades on Donald Trump without reserve.
Most of all, in the central focus on themselves as the reference point for not simply assessing value, but for establishing himself as the ultimate value, Donald Trump offers no praise of past history or even acknowledges it or the institutions developed by that history to protect against the exercise of power by a narcissist. In that sense, he is akin to the empath, but with this major difference. The empath can see and foresee. The Donald can and must play and replay. The more nostalgic, the more comforting, the less challenging, the more often it is replayed. On 20 January 2017 began the first day of the New Common Era and the beginning of draining the swamp into which DT had thrown all of history.
In both the film The Arrival and in the world of Trump, history is problematized. However, whereas in the movie time can run backwards as well as forwards, in the Trump world, linear time is deconstructed into recurring existential moments to create a repeated existential presence, an image of action more akin to the hell Sisyphus suffers in rolling the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll down the next day, making it necessary to repeat the action. Only in this ultimate inversion, this state of hell is depicted by Trumpists as the other side of the Pearly Gates.
Frenetic in motion and in speech, Trump cannot and will not sit still. Most of all, he has to restore his energy as he feeds on the applause of the crowd. But what happens as the applause begins to die out. Desperately, he will search for more rallies in an attempt to still the discontent within. We now live in this inverted world and have passed irredeemably into a new epoch. How can we cope?
With the help of Alex Zisman