While speculation regarding the state of Donald Trump’s mental health may be called for, balance and humility may also be just what the doctor ordered. It is one thing for the general public to banter about labels such as “narcissist,” “sociopath,” and “psychopath.” The general public can also call him crazy, dangerous, and just about anything else they want to call him. However, journalists are supposed to report reliably in a way that allows readers to form their own opinions. Therefore, when journalists use loaded language and apply clinical labels to a man they have no qualifications to evaluate psychologically, there may be a problem.
In claiming that Trump is a narcissist, we could say that journalists are merely using the clinical labels applied to Trump by psychologists who are qualified to make such determinations. And it appears that the psychologists are weighing in publicly.
— David Wallace (@DWallace4USP) August 4, 2016
Yet, calling Trump a narcissist may not be damning enough for some Trump critics. Huffington Post blogger Daniel Berger responds to the lengthy and detailed assessment of Trump’s psychological fitness to be president, published in the June 2016 issue of The Atlantic. The article covers a wide variety of personality factors, one of which is narcissism.
The piece was written by psychologist Dan P. McAdams, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University. Berger thinks the psychologist is being soft on Trump, and he makes his own diagnosis of sociopathy, or in professional lingo: antisocial personality disorder. One may wonder at the credentials that give Berger the right to challenge McAdams without conferring with any other psychologist; Berger describes himself in his byline as a lawyer, writer, journalist and book critic. Which of these professions makes him qualified to say that the psych prof is wrong?
“Unfortunately, McAdams’ analysis completely missed the point.”
In fact, it seems there is little doubt that Donald Trump is narcissistic. Too many psychologists are gleefully declaring that he is to ignore that possibility. In a Vanity Fair article from November 2015, six mental health and psychology researchers weighed in on the question. Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner called him “remarkably narcissistic” and clinical psychologist George Simon was thrilled that he can use videotapes of Donald Trump in his teaching seminars, relieving him of the need to hire actors who pretend to be narcissistic.
Gardner was no less interested in the mental state of Trump’s supporters than in the candidate himself.
“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.”
That is all very interesting, but it avoids dealing the fact that in 2008, candidate for the Democratic nomination Hillary Rodham Clinton was also labeled as being narcissistic. Of course, there are those who object to that.
— Marianne آرزو (@Mwforhr) August 3, 2016
However, in 2008, the Huffington Post reported that CNN‘s Jeffrey Toobin took issue with Hillary’s behavior, seeing it as narcissistic.
“On CNN’s election night coverage Tuesday, political analyst Jeffrey Toobin called Hillary Clinton’s refusal to concede the election ‘deranged narcissism.'”
This was not just a case of a journalist speaking unprofessional nonsense. In 2008, and again this year, Hillary has been found to be narcissistic. Rylee Pool and Aubrey Immelman conducted a study of her personality for the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics (USPP).
“A psychological analysis of Hillary Clinton… revealed that Clinton’s predominant personality patterns are Ambitious/self-serving (a measure of narcissism) and Dominant/controlling, infused with secondary features of the Conscientious/dutiful and Retiring/reserved patterns. In summary, Clinton’s personality composite can be characterized as an adaptive elitist narcissist.”
That doesn’t sound very good: adaptive elitist narcissist. What it means is that Hillary is extremely ambitious and controlling and has a sense of entitlement. She believes that she knows best and lacks empathy for others. However, the public is served, Immelman claims, because of “her embrace of humanitarian political issues as a vehicle for political expression.” That is, perhaps, her saving grace — the fact that she invests her narcissistic energies in pursuing causes that are commonly regarded as altruistic.
Now, let us compare Hillary’s personality assessment with one conducted by Immelman and Hannah Hoppe on Donald Trump.
“A psychological analysis of… Donald Trump… revealed that Trump’s predominant personality pattern is Ambitious/self-serving (a measure of narcissism) with secondary features of the Dominant/controlling and Outgoing/gregarious patterns. In summary, Trump’s personality composite can be characterized as a high-dominance charismatic.”
The dominant elements, ambitious/narcissist and controlling, are similar for both Hillary and Trump. Hillary, however, is less of a people person, something her campaign advisors have apparently been trying to work on with her during the current election campaign.
In some ways, Trump’s assessment parallels that of former President Bill Clinton, who is similarly socially skilled, driven, undisciplined, more attuned to his own needs than those of others and a superficial thinker who expresses himself in generalities. Perhaps it is not coincidental that the Clintons and the Trumps have been friends for so long.
[Photos by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images & Ted S. Warren/AP images]