Let us think about what is happening to us. What has happened is that we have elected to the presidency what appears to be our first narcissistic personality disorder (If he is not narcissistic he has managed to incorporate all the characteristics of one who is). Over the last three years, the whole functioning of the Free World has become transformed by one energetic man’s personality needs.
Those narcissistic characteristics include the need for excessive admiration, a sense of entitlement, lack of empathy for and about others, arrogance, and a fascination with unlimited power. A narcissist’s lack of real empathy does make it difficult for them to work in any sustained way for the good of others.
The pandemic we face would be a challenge for any president. With its arrival, a great deal of attention has been focused on the Trump administration’s response. But, before our memories fade, we should not forget how little was accomplished before its arrival. The great programs and goals (remember the upgrading of the infrastructure, the cleansing of the Washington Swamp, the great return of industrial jobs) disappeared in a frenzy of chaotic management changes. Congress, left on its own, but supported by the White House, did manage to pass a disastrous tax “reform”. The deficit soared.
That failure to perform is hardly surprising. Those voters who good heartedly voted for Donald Trump and for all those positive goals, elected a man with no experience in government at all. Nothing about directing a family branding and construction business from a remote gold tower in New York could prepare him for the kind of detailed knowledge in the multiple areas he would need to be a successful president.
And, tragically, he would have little interest in learning. Narcissists can learn but their learning centers on only those things which enhance themselves. They can feel no real need to learn much beyond that. Donald Trump’s talk of “going with his gut”, of being a “stable genius”, of knowing more than almost anyone about almost everything is par for the narcissistic course. Narcissism can make learning both unnecessary and impossible.
An example: Once a presidential candidate is elected in November, the Presidential Transition Act provides for the creation of an elaborate office and staff to prepare the new president to take office. That office for Trump was chaired and directed by former governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. In the end, the product of millions of dollars of tax payer’s money and thousands of hours of work was thrown into dumpsters unread because Donald Trump felt no need to consult them (Trump normally refuses to read). He simply assumed he already knew everything he would need to know.
The corona virus did for Donald Trump what nothing else has done. He has felt constrained to publicly assume personal leadership. With what had gone before, he could remain locked in the tantrum stage, and others would carry on. His staff could cover for him. Here, his need to be visible (with an election looming) meant that both his strengths and his weaknesses as a leader would be on display.
Donald Trump’s inability to effectively take charge has become increasingly obvious. His clear desire to leapfrog ahead to the revival of the economy and his beloved stock market has been repeatedly made clear. His inability to summon much feeling for the multiplied thousands who have died and for the bereft that they have left behind must be obvious to anyone watching his nightly briefings.
The corona virus knows no boundaries. With more than 70,000 dead, it is really a national problem. In the countries which have most effectively dealt with the pandemic it has been dealt with by the central government (see South Korea). Facing a pandemic without a real mastery of the machinery of his own government, Trump has been forced to leave fighting the virus to the overwhelmed governments in the states. The states have ended up competing for scarce medical supplies amid well-founded reports that federal help disproportionately goes to states controlled by Republican governors.
The natural response of many voters will be to be angry with Trump. They should not be. It seems like Donald Trump is choosing not to care about all those stricken people. Narcissists don’t have the capacity to care, the president doesn’t have that choice. Ideally, upon coming into office, he should have buckled down and done the real work required to understand how the vast federal system really works. He did not. But, that was not a choice either. With his whole mind centered on tending himself, the parts of the government not visible from his office faded into the distance.
So, being angry with Donald Trump is emotion misplaced. He is what he is. He has either another eight months or another four years and eight months to be in office (till January of 2025). As president he will continue to operate as he has. He simply is not equipped mentally or temperamentally to do anything else. He is not going to change.
Trump has done a great deal of damage to federal protections of citizens and their environment that are invisible to the voters who supported him. The pandemic is clearly being badly handled. With the Republicans in Congress rendered publicly uncritical of any White House dysfunction, the rest of us need to think clearly about what has gone wrong.
The pandemic will eventually pass. The government, hugely burdened by debt partly as a result of the pandemic will be terribly damaged. Getting the economy back to healthy functioning will be a huge challenge. But, if we concentrate together on what is real, we can ultimately rebuild. We will survive!