Yes, the hallmarks of narcissism are painfully obvious in the president of the United States. The endless projection. The delusion of grandeur masking a paper-thin skin that punctures under the most benign criticisms. The nonstop gaslighting. But you know who else every single one of these attributes describes?
Trump’s deplorable, unmovable base are cult-like followers who could watch him shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still follow him, who give no shits that he is a serial sexual assaulter and defender of molesters, who get fleeced by his tariffs, by his family’s blatant disregard for the emoluments clause, and yet continue to vote for him even when it seemingly serves no interest of their own. Kool-Aid drinkers in the most macabre sense of the metaphor, they will follow him right to hell and never look back. None of it makes any logical sense, until you realize they are serving their own interests. Because none of the details matter if you see yourself in the narcissist delivering the rhetoric that feeds your own sense of narcissism.
Trump’s base is nothing more than a collection of narcissists, and I find this a lot more interesting than the fact that Trump himself is a narcissist. Trump simply represents the abhorrent qualities of his entire base.
All these qualities listed under the narcissistic personality could not only describe Trump, but the party that props him up, and let us count the ways. (The list was compiled from the traits listed in this article from Psychology Today on “Understanding the Mind of a Narcissist”; the parentheticals are my own.)
*Has a grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerates achievements and talents. (White supremacy. Patriarchy. Rulers of every uterus everywhere. Neo-Confederates who still see the South as heroes of the Civil War.)
*Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. (The great Steinbeck paraphrased quote about the poor seeing themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires comes to mind. Even the slogan “Make America Great Again” smacks of a nostalgic, over-idealized dream of what this country should strive towards.)
*Believes he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions. (cough literal Nazis are winning primaries cough)
*Requires excessive admiration. (Ever notice how white Republican men need constant validation they aren’t being repressed in some way, and how our media happily obliges, writing puff piece after puff piece over poor, misunderstood Trump voters?)
*Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes. (An unwillingness to compromise on even the most inarguable of issues—gun control’s a great example. Because, you know, a Republican’s freedom is more important than your children being safe from massacres that may or may not happen in their classrooms.)
*Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends. (They support deregulation of everything, at the expense of human health and life.)
*Lacks empathy for the feelings and needs of others. (Racism, homophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, bullying, straight-up hate crimes.)
*Envies others or believes they’re envious of him or her. (Paranoid views of immigrants, people of color, feminists, etc. “They’re taking our jobs!” “We’re the minority now!”)
*Has arrogant behaviors or attitudes. (“Fuck your feelings!” “Snowflakes!”)
After having this revelation, I consulted Dr. Google and realized, like most revelations, this was not an unprecedented thought. In fact, there is an entire, fascinating entry on Wikipedia on something called “Collective narcissism” that describes Trump’s base to a T.
In an article from Washington Post, co-author and researcher Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, who has highlighted and studied collective narcissism, defines it as such:
Collective narcissism is a lot like individual narcissism in that it involves emotional dependence on others’ admiration. The difference is that collective narcissists seek privilege and recognition for groups they belong to. They constantly monitor their environment for validation and are hypersensitive to threats to the in-group’s image.
Collective narcissists’ default reaction to having the in-group image threatened is intergroup aggression. When the in-group is, in their view, criticized or insufficiently recognized, collective narcissists attack back and rejoice in the out-group’s misfortunes.
Collective narcissists are also prejudiced toward groups they perceive as threatening. For instance, Polish collective narcissists who endorsed conspiracy theories about Jewish efforts to undermine Poland evaluated Jews more negatively.
Agnieszka Golec de Zavala’s article was written in 2017, and there, through a fascinating study and its analysis, she links Trump’s followers to this concept of “collective narcissism.”
Political psychologist Jerrold Post coined the idea of a symbiotic relationship between narcissist and this group:
An important characteristic of the leader follower-relationship are the manifestations of narcissism by both the leader and follower of a group. Within this relationship there are two categories of narcissists: the mirror-hungry narcissist, and the ideal-hungry narcissist—the leader and the followers respectively.The mirror-hungry personality typically seeks a continuous flow of admiration and respect from his followers. Conversely, the ideal-hungry narcissist takes comfort in the charisma and confidence of his mirror-hungry leader. The relationship is somewhat symbiotic; for while the followers provide the continuous admiration needed by the mirror-hungry leader, the leader’s charisma provides the followers with the sense of security and purpose that their ideal-hungry narcissism seeks. Fundamentally both the leader and the followers exhibit strong collectively narcissistic sentiments—both parties are seeking greater justification and reason to love their group as much as possible.
I’ve been pondering this, though, from an individual point of view. How are people encouraged to deal with narcissists? You can’t treat them. You can’t teach empathy. You can’t cure them. While many suggestions from many psychologists and self-help experts exist, one of them I come across time and time again in both anecdotes and the interwebs is to sever ties with them. Do not play into their delusions. Do not attempt to argue with them. Call them out, sure—and sever all ties. That, to me, seems like really the only way forward with an entire group of narcissists.
And guess what? We’re seeing that plan in action already, and it works. Government-employed kleptomaniac Scott Pruitt cited attacks on him as a reason he stepped down as head of the EPA, only days after being publicly confronted by a brave mama holding her child. Manboys with MAGA hats cry into their pillows because nobody wants to date gross Trump supporters. Dead-inside Sarah Huckabee Sanders boo-hoos because she was asked to leave the Red Hen, human-shaped ghoul Kirstjen Nielsen is shocked protesters would chase her from her Mexican food, and all Trump’s minions whine about civility (for me, not for thee, of course). And news broke today that Stephen Miller threw 80 bucks’ worth of sushi in the garbage because a bartender at the restaurant displayed his two middle fingers at him. Why is “they don’t like me and my feelings are hurt” BS from Trumpians even news? Because underneath their tough, braggadocious exteriors, they are marshmallows and they are hurt by even the tiniest bit of criticism. Resistance, protest—it works, folks, and it’s all we have. So call them out. Shun them. Sever all ties. Don’t give them your business. Don’t serve them food. Don’t reward their behaviors and their abhorrent beliefs with anything except ridicule and absolute rejection.
There’s no use for logic or empathy when you’re dealing with a delusional sect of a country that is sprinting toward a fascist ‘Merica. It’s not just Trump who is a narcissist beyond help, it’s everyone who still follows him. Do yourself a favor and give them all a view of your gorgeous middle fingers.