People feel strongly about Donald Trump — either they believe truly that he will, as his hat proclaims, make America great again…or else they have viewed his ascension in the GOP primaries with amusement that has slowly turned to horror. After all, many wonder, is a willingness to say whatever a person is thinking without actually thinking about it a virtue, if what is being said is cruel or has no factual basis?
According to clinical psychologists, no. It is not. In fact, it should be of great concern to anyone watching the presidential primaries.
Vanity Fair asked several psychologists to weigh in on Donald Trump, and their diagnosis of the potential GOP presidential candidate is far from pretty. In fact, they say, Donald Trump is an obvious diagnosis.
“Remarkably narcissistic,” said developmental psychologist and Harvard Graduate School professor Howard Gardner.
Clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis echoed the sentiment, referring to Trump’s diagnosis as “Textbook narcissitic personality disorder.” In fact, Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder is so textbook that another clinical psychologist, George Simon, who conducts lectures and seminars on manipulative behavior, is saving clips of Trump.
“He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his characteristics. Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”
So what does having a narcissistic personality disorder entail? Michaelis explained the potential diagnosis in full, pointing to Donald Trump’s “bullying nature,” such as taunting Senator John McCain for his capture and status as a prisoner of war during Vietnam, or constantly saying that GOP candidate Jeb Bush has “low energy.”
“In the field we use clusters of personality disorders. Narcissism is in cluster B, which means it has similarities with histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. There are similarities between them. Regardless of how you feel about John McCain, the man served — and suffered. Narcissism is an extreme defense against one’s own feelings of worthlessness. To degrade people is really part of a cluster-B personality disorder: it’s antisocial and shows a lack of remorse for other people. The way to make it O.K. to attack someone verbally, psychologically, or physically is to lower them. That’s what he’s doing.”
Recently, Donald Trump again made headlines for openly mocking a journalist with a physical disability — and then, in classic narcissistic style, denied that he had made fun of the man and demanded an apology.
But Donald Trump is a winner, right? After all, he is a billionaire who consistently divides the world’s population into winners and losers, and he is quite clear on which side he believes himself to be.
I would like to wish everyone, including all haters and losers (of which, sadly, there are many) a truly happy and enjoyable Memorial Day!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2015
Joseph Burgo, psychologist and author of The Narcissist You Know, agreed with the narcissistic personality disorder diagnosis in an interview with the Huffington Post and explained that this division of “winners and losers “is actually a symptom.
“Narcissists like Donald Trump… are constantly driven to prove themselves among the ‘winners’ of the world, often by triumphing over or denigrating other people as comparative ‘losers.’ If you examine Trump’s language in his public statements as well as in the debates, you will hear him proclaim his winner status again and again while sneering at his detractors as losers.”
And, Burgo explained, this type of “me-versus-everyone” mentality and behavior is often a narcissist’s way of trying to hide feelings of emptiness and shame. As Burgo explained, people with high levels of narcissism tend to be driven by unconscious feelings of unworthiness.
“The constant self-aggrandizement reflects an ongoing, non-stop effort to build up and support a self-image that contradicts this unconscious sense of defect. You don’t need a doctorate in psychology to wonder whether a man who feels the need to forever trumpet his superiority might feel an entirely different way underneath. The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.”
The fact that respected psychologists are willing to speak out and diagnose Trump at all is an indicator of their concern over a potential Trump presidency. The American Psychiatrist Association has declared it unethical for psychiatrists and psychologists to “comment on an individual’s mental state without examining him personally and having the patient’s consent to make such comments.” This is referred to as the Goldwater rule, which was established after a magazine published an article in which it polled psychiatrists about Senator Barry Goldwater’s “fitness” to be president in 1964. Goldwater sued the magazine and the publisher and was awarded punitive damages. The willingness of many mental health professionals to break that rule indicates the level of their concern.
As Michaelis explained, there should be concern.
“He’s applying for the greatest job in the land, the greatest task of which is to serve, but there’s nothing about the man that is service-oriented. He’s only serving himself.”
So what does that say about those who support Donald Trump? For one mental health professional, the Trump “enigma” may arise from the fact that some Americans believe that Trump is some sort of bellwether, that a man whose own website refers to him as the “the very definition of the American success story, continually setting the standards of excellence” has an appeal to a certain mindset.
“For me, the compelling question is the psychological state of his supporters. They are unable or unwilling to make a connection between the challenges faced by any president and the knowledge and behavior of Donald Trump. In a democracy, that is disastrous.”
What do you think?
[Image credit: Ty Wright/Stringer/Getty Images]