Posted June 1, 2016; Filed under: Ideas Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments on “Trump’s Narcissism Is a Feature, Not a Bug

  1. Hi, John —
    thank you for your interesting post. I wanted to respond on HuffPo, but the FB comments often do not show up on HP, from what I noticed.

    A couple of comments (or maybe just one, in two parts):

    Trump appears to suffer from narcissistic psychopathy, the far end of the narcissistic spectrum: https://medium.com/@Elamika/the-unbearable-lightness-of-being-a-narcissist-251ec901dae7#.xcfg6fbiy

    There are no discernible “moral intuitions” to talk about there. If anything, immorality is the feature of this particular character defect.

    One thing missed by those who focus on the seemingly positive aspects of narcissism is the fact that narcissism is, by definition, accompanied by deficits of conscience. Those deficits range from relatively moderate to extreme, as in narcissistic psychopaths, but they are always there.

    It means that narcissism is not just elevated self-confidence and exuberant optimism about one’s mission in life, but a condition that leads to contempt and dehumanization of others, which, to paraphrase your title, is the feature of narcissism, and not a bug. Without that feature, we would not be talking about narcissism, but just elevated self-confidence and exuberant optimism, which may or may not be foolish, but are not really pathological (i.e., detrimental to individuals and society in general).

    Understanding this should inform our verdicts about any “usefulness” of narcissism, such as it may be. This curious omission — of the deficits of conscience inherent in narcissism — has led many American (though not only) mental health experts to promote the notion of “healthy narcissism,” which, I believe, is erroneous (and harmful).

    I agree with you that Trump, like all leaders with his character defect, is tapping into something specific — and profoundly destructive — in his followers.

    1. Ela,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Sorry about the problems with comments on HP; I’m new to that venue and still learning.

      I agree with essentially everything you wrote, and I enjoyed the piece to which you linked. One point I might be able to clarify: when I wrote of narcissists that “Their moral intuitions are different from those of most people,” I meant that the “social part” of a narcissist’s brain, the part that in most of us gives us our moral intuitions, works differently than in normal folks. Narcissists do have a sense of right and wrong, so strictly speaking it could be called “morality”. It’s just that what they see as “right” is anything that serves their goals of self-aggrandizement, pleasure-seeking, manipulation, and exploitation of others. Most of the rest of us see such behavior as disastrously wrong.

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