Over on Medium this weekend, N Ziehl, someone who has dealt extensively with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, wrote what I thought was an illuminating piece on the disorder that not only helps to explain Donald Trump’s actions, but perhaps even gives us a rough guideline on how to approach coverage of Trump over the next four years.
Most of what N Ziehl writes about NPD is evident from Trump’s behavior, but to see the symptoms laid out before us at least confirms our fears about the President-elect. Here are the symptoms, as described by Ziehl, and examples I’ve provided.
He will say whatever feels most comfortable or good to him at any given time.
There’s no rhyme or reason to his beliefs. He says whatever best suits him given the situation, regardless of whether it conflicts with previous statements.
The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2012
The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2016
Does it feel good to weigh in on the relationships of celebrities? Sure! Or to make absurd observations about diet soda drinkers?
Everyone knows I am right that Robert Pattinson should dump Kristen Stewart. In a couple of years, he will thank me. Be smart, Robert.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2012
I have never seen a thin person drinking Diet Coke.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2012
You can influence him by making him feel good.
“General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, ‘What do you think of waterboarding?’” Trump told The New York Times on Tuesday. “He said — I was surprised — he said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful.’ He said, ‘I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.’”
And just like that, Donald Trump is reconsidering his position on torture.
Indeed, note who his first cabinet positions went to: Not those most qualified, but those who were most loyal to him during the campaign. The few people who spoke well of him all got jobs, and he’s only going outside of that circle now because the pool of sycophants has dried up.
Entitlement is a key aspect of the disorder.
Donald Trump feels he’s entitled to anything that he wants, including women. He feels he has the right to grab a woman “by her pussy,” or that he can walk into a women’s dressing room during a Miss Universe pageant or corner a journalist in his home and force himself on her or force himself onto a woman sitting next to him on an airplane.
We should expect that he only cares about himself and those he views as extensions of himself, like his children
This one is fairly self evident. He’s bilking taxpayers for millions to house his wife and son in Trump Tower; he’s allowing his children to continue to run his company; the kinds of people who would benefit most from his scant policy proposals are himself and those like him. He has zero empathy for others, including the millions of legal and illegal immigrants he wants to deport; the Muslims he wants to keep out; the black people he wants to stop and frisk; and the women whose bodies he wants to control. He’s dead set against corporate and Wall Street regulations, but wants to pass more regulations on individuals.
Moreover, the conflicts with his business are perfect examples of both his entitlement and his narcissism. As Ziehl writes, “He will have no qualms *at all* about stealing everything he can from the country, and he’ll be happy to help others do so, if they make him feel good. He won’t view it as stealing but rather as something he’s entitled to do. This is likely the only thing he will intentionally accomplish.”
People with NPD often recruit helpers.
Stephen Bannon is not a helper; he’s someone who has figured out how to exploit Donald Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder to advance his own agenda. Kelllyanne Conway is a “helper,” Reince Priebus is a “helper,” and so are Joe Scarborough and Sean Hannity — people who enable Trump and help him perpetuate his bad behaviors by justifying, excusing, or normalizing those bad behaviors. His Vice President, Mike Pence, is probably the biggest “helper” of them all, someone who has been “unwittingly recruited” to serve his needs.
People with NPD often foster competition for sport in people they control. Expect lots of chaos, firings and recriminations.
We’ve already seen this in the firings of Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort, in the behavior Trump has exhibited toward Chris Christie, and now, in how he is dealing with Kellyanne Conway. Whenever Donald Trump fails, expect him to blame those closest to him. We should also expect four years of head rolling and revolving doors within his Administration and cabinet.
Gaslighting — where someone tries to convince you that the reality you’ve experienced isn’t true — is real and torturous.
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
This is the ENTIRETY of Trump's statement on birtherism. I am gobsmacked. pic.twitter.com/0KjrqFfkiO— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) September 16, 2016
Whenever possible, do not focus on the narcissist or give him attention.
This is the real conundrum where it concerns Trump, and why running for the Presidency feeds right into his NPD: We can’t ignore him, especially now, because he’s the President-Elect. People have been talking for the last year and a half about ignoring Trump in the hopes that he goes away. That’s no longer on the table. Our chance to do that was in the summer of 2015. Now, his every move, action, and statement will be covered as a matter of routine: He’s gotten exactly what he wants.
How do we combat that? I have no idea. As N Ziehl writes, NPD is “not curable and it’s barely treatable. He is who he is.” We cannot change him, we can only hope to influence those around him. Trump will not bow to pressure. He will double down. He will gaslight. He will redirect our attention.
We have to keep the focus on those who enable him. The helpers. Congress. Moderate Republicans. Those who stand to lose the most by Trump’s reckless behavior. We have to build a wall, and we have to keep Donald Trump inside of it.