Trump’s sadistic, malignant narcissism

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The most recent Trumpology column, How Trump’s compartmentalization may work against him. Dec. 7, 2018.


I am hearing more and more commentators on MSNBC talk about Trump’s narcissism when they address his self-centered response to the MAGA bomber. It is true as far as it goes. However, Trump is not a garden variety narcissist.

His narcissism is so extreme that it overrides any awareness that this is a time to at least pretend to be presidential.  His sarcastic dog whistles at his rallies showing his supporters he doesn’t mean what he reads off a teleprompter are proof of this.

Just this morning, when asked by reporters for his response to the Squirrel Hill synagogue murders his rambling unscripted answers show a lack of empathy. He focused on how he thought having an armed guard inside the temple could have prevented any deaths, and how we should have the death penalty for such crimes. He refused to answer questions about gun control and the NRA.

I am sure that what was on Trump’s mind was that he again lost control of a news cycle, and that coverage of this was going to be linked to his inciting his followers to act violently.

Wikipedia explains that “a notable difference between “narcissists” and “malignant narcissists” is the “feature of sadism, or the gratuitous enjoyment of the pain of others. A narcissist will deliberately damage other people in pursuit of their own selfish desires, but may regret and will in some circumstances show remorse for doing so, while a malignant narcissist will harm others and enjoy doing so, showing little empathy or regret for the damage they have caused.”

Malignant is one of the most frightening words many of us have ever heard. It usually refers to cancer which has spread and may be life-threatening.  When the preface malignant is applied to the word narcissism it describes Donald Trump.

Nearly two years ago one of the first mental health professionals to warn about the dangerousness of Donald Trump because of his psychopathology was clinical psychologist John D. Gartner. Over two years ago he started an online petition Mental Health Professionals Declare Trump is Mentally Ill And Must Be Removed which eventually had over 70,000 signatures.

On Jan. 27, 2017 US News and World Reports published Temperament Tantrum: Some say President Donald Trump’s personality isn’t just flawed, it’s dangerous. The article quoted extensively from John Gartner. This was the first mainstream media article to address the alarming situation of having a president so psychologically unfit he represented a grave danger to the nation. Here’s an excerpt:

“Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president,” says Gartner, author of “In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography.” Trump, Gartner says, has “malignant narcissism,” which is different from narcissistic personality disorder and which is incurable.

Gartner acknowledges that he has not personally examined Trump, but says it’s obvious from Trump’s behavior that he meets the diagnostic criteria for the disorder, which include anti-social behavior, sadism, aggressiveness, paranoia and grandiosity. Trump’s personality disorder (which includes hypomania) is also displayed through a lack of impulse control and empathy, and “a feeling that people … don’t recognize their greatness.

“We’ve seen enough public behavior by Donald Trump now that we can make this diagnosis indisputably,” says Gartner.

On May 4, 2017, in USA Today, Gartner had an article published titled “Donald Trump’s malignant narcissism is toxic: Psychologist” which explains what he means by malignant narcissism.

Much has been written about Trump having narcissistic personality disorder. As critics have pointed out, merely saying a leader is narcissistic is hardly disqualifying. But malignant narcissism is like a malignant tumor: toxic.

Psychoanalyst and Holocaust survivor Erich Fromm, who invented the diagnosis of malignant narcissism, argues that it “lies on the borderline between sanity and insanity.” Otto Kernberg, a psychoanalyst specializing in borderline personalities, defined malignant narcissism as having four components: narcissism, paranoia, antisocial personality and sadism. Trump exhibits all four.

His narcissism is evident in his “grandiose sense of self-importance … without commensurate achievements.” From viewing cable news, he knows “more about ISIS than the generals” and believes that among all human beings on the planet, “I alone can fix it.” His “repeated lying,” “disregard for and violation of the rights of others” (Trump University fraud and multiple sexual assault allegations) and “lack of remorse” meet the clinical criteria for anti-social personality. His bizarre conspiracy theories, false sense of victimization, and demonization of the press, minorities and anyone who opposes him are textbook paranoia. Like most sadists, Trump has been a bully since childhood, and his thousands of vicious tweets make him perhaps the most prolific cyber bully in history.

One of the most aptly titled books about the psychopathology of Donald Trump was published in the Fall of 2017: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. In 27 essays by mostly mental health professionals, the book explained how Trump was affecting the mental health of the people of the United States, how he put the country at grave risk of involving it in a war and of undermining democracy itself because of his psychopathology.

I think that what “The Art of the Deal” author Tony Schwartz told MSNBC host Ari Melber is part and parcel of Trump’s malignant narcissism:

“Given the time you’ve spent with him, what do you see as his relationship with the specter of violence?” MSNBC anchor Ari Melber asked. “Explain what you understand to be his fascination of violence and the way he’s infused that in his politics.”

“So when I go back to the late 1980s, his obsession were — he had two obsessions, one was with football … and the other boxing,” Schwartz recalled. “He was a huge boxing fan and boxing promoter.”

“He loved black people to commit violence against other black people — while he watched,” he explained.

Schwartz summed up Trump’s view as, “You do the violence, I’ll watch the violence. I wouldn’t go near it because it would terrify me, but I love watching it.”

“Why? Because underneath that is rage,” Schwartz concluded. “This is a man of great rage and the rage is, he’s aggrieved.”

“He’s in the business of being aggrieved, and he’s using that in these 10, 12 days leading up to the midterms in trying to bring it out in all the people that are possibly going to vote on the Republican side in this next phase,” he explained. AlterNet

Added to his malignant narcissism where those so inclined can find examples of every diagnostic criterion are the following other behaviors:

  • lack of any demonstration of having the ability to empathize
  • total lack of introspection
  • history of pleasure touching women’s private parts against their will (clinically called Frotteuristic Disorder)
  • his pathological lying
  • his impaired reality testing often to the level of having paranoid beliefs
  • his lack of verbal impulse control
  • his reckless ideas (as leaked from White House) stopped before he could act on them
  • and other characteristics that lead me to suggest he needs a diagnosis of his own.

One can argue about the clinical accuracy or ethics of making a distant diagnosis of a president, however, his behavior this week should dispell any doubt that there is something severely amiss in the psychological functioning of Donald Trump.

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P.M. Update:

On Day Of Mass Shooting, Trump Jokes He Nearly Canceled Speech Due To ‘Bad Hair Day’: Trump made the comment at the Future Farmers of America Convention in Indianapolis.

He recalled for the crowd (at the Future Farmers convention) that earlier in the day, he had been holding a news conference about the mass shooting ― which he referred to as a “very unfortunate news conference” ― when he became drenched from the wind and rain. The elements apparently left his hair looking not exactly the way he likes it.

“I said, ‘Maybe I should cancel this arrangement because I have a bad hair day,’” he told the crowd. “And the bad news ― somebody said, ‘Actually it looks better than it usually does.’”

Though he drew laughter from the crowd, many people found the joke to be in poor taste, given the circumstances. Read some of the social media reaction here.

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