America and Mr. Trump – A cautionary tale on relationships and narcissism
He won – and he may win the whole thing.
Nine months ago I was derided when I shared my belief that Trump had it in the bag. “The American people are too smart for that…..” “It’s flash in the pan Ramani, people will get bored” “Stop being Chicken Little, there is NO way, he is a buffoon….” If the Kardashians are in their 12th season on TV, we have sufficient evidence that the appetite of the American people for lowest common denominator superficiality is insatiable. Most people misunderstand narcissism, and so they fall for the bait more often than not.
It’s fun to watch the Republicans squirm – that is making for some amusing and gratifying sideshow antics. I am not a Republican and I don’t tend to care for them – fiscal conservatism feels mean spirited, social conservatism feels stifling, and the thinly veiled bias held by the party as a whole makes me squirm. My prototype of the standard bearer of Republicanism is either paunchy White country club guy or scary dude with a gun rack. Trump is both – and he is entertaining to boot. He tweets instead of speaking and as soon as real issues are raised he reaches into his standard bag of tricks and insults women/immigrants/ethnic minorities/Ted Cruz.
But I am not a political strategist, pollster or media wonk – who breathlessly and ridiculously opine on his “strategy” – narcissism is not a strategy, it is a personality. They are all becoming repetitive, and frankly it’s time to bring in the psychologists to let America know how this is going to go down. America is about to enter into a relationship with a pathological narcissist – and these relationships always have the same natural history – so here is how it will unfold (I wrote a book about this – no one read it – so let me give you the punch line).
Narcissists use charm, wit, and their privilege to draw you in, then they use fear and degradation to keep you in. They are masterful at making you believe that they understand you better than anyone else, and then break you down and leave you believing that you are lucky to have them because no one else would want you. They are prone to rages, insults, deflection, deception, humiliation, double standards, and hypocrisy. They believe empathy is for losers. They label their cruelty as “honesty,” And they make lots of promises they will never keep. They lie, apologize, and then lie again. (anyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissistic cheater knows how that goes “it was just one night, I was drunk baby…..I’m so sorry….it won’t happen again”).
Narcissists do have “friends” – not the way you and I have friends – they are more like “acolytes” – people who live in fear and awe and share in the creepy discourse of the narcissist (e.g. most cult leaders are narcissists). I do not envy his Cabinet.
In my clinical practice, I really do try to work with my clients to keep them out of these narcissistic relationships, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and they think “my story will be different.” It never is. So I help them clean up the mess afterwards. More often, I get the clients after they have endured the narcissist. The stories are always different, yet exactly the same. Seduction, followed by dismissal, desperation, desolation.
The media pundits did not take a course in abnormal psychology, so their beliefs, and the hopes of the RNC and the American people that he will now “change” and become more “presidential” is hogwash. He may posture and fake it –narcissists are like chameleons, they can turn it on and off with cold precision, because they care about the win, not the process, and definitely not authenticity. Narcissists as a rule do not change. There is no incentive for them to do so, because they believe nothing is wrong. Trump is the same spoiled trust fund child who dodged the draft, a reality TV star, a gaudy developer – he has been the same guy all along. The likelihood of change is minimal. And that may be a good thing for him. His constituencies seem to like his vitriol and his divisive rhetoric. He may not want to change a thing – his narcissism is working for him. It tends to work for most narcissists. We have created a world in which material success and insults eclipse compassion in all arenas. We don’t tell our kids to be kind, we tell them to be successful – perhaps we all need to take a long look in the mirror. Perhaps Trump is a symbol of what this country is becoming.
Relationships with narcissists NEVER end well. The other people in the relationship lose themselves. Doubt themselves. Are always apologizing. Never get a fair shake. Are often deceived, lied to, or are the victims of verbal, emotional or physical violence. Get ready America – this is not going to be Beauty and the Beast. The Beast will not become a compassionate President, instead things will get scary. Walls will be built – literal and metaphorical.
I am scared. Very scared. I actually don’t know if Trump is a racist, sexist, genderist, isolationist guy –I have never spoken with him. I am sure he has some ethnic minority friends, he may have some women he respects. Maybe he has even talked to a Muslim. I bet he has even been nice to one or two Mexican immigrants and did not call them a rapist to their face. This isn’t about his personal preferences and relationships. What terrifies me is that he has given national permission and encouragement for treacherous playground insults and divisive invectives which in turn will inform Trump administration policy and represent a slow evolution to even more calcified structural injustice. People will harness his rhetoric and continue to poison the well with unfettered bias. He has frothed up the waters and tempers of an electorate which is (rightfully so) angry about income stagnation, lack of jobs, economic insecurity – and Trump gave them an enemy. Not the corporations who are actually to blame for their woes (Trump is not going to throw his friends under the bus), but rather the immigrants, the poor, women, Muslims, LGBT groups, and ethnic minority communities. Easy targets. Dangerous possibilities.
We very recently lived in a world of Jim Crow laws, ethnic slurs, restrictions in voting rights, union violence, and immigration bans. The pendulum may start swinging back to these eras and policies of fear. Trump harnessed the most potent force in the world – hate. And in a world that venerates billionaires, maligns the impoverished, reveres consumerism, and has lost its spiritual true north – Trump will be a shoo-in.
I am scared. Scared for my children growing up with this kind of venom and division. Scared for my students, who want to work with diverse populations and disadvantaged communities but will likely find little funding. Scared for my Muslim friends who will be traversing even more treacherous territory. Scared for immigrants who like my parents, just wanted a crack a bat to pursue their dreams.
Ask anyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist, it not only hurt them, but also those around them.
I think he can win. Americans are angry, dispossessed, disillusioned, and drunk on the anti-intellectual “earth is flat” polemics that are the stuff of social media fodder. He harnesses this disenchantment with the finesse of the Wizard of Oz.
And it may take 4 years before we remove the curtain on the Wizard. By then it will be too late, the scars of narcissistic relationships last a lifetime.
I suppose there is a bright side – maybe I will sell a few more books…….