The lull in presidential activity over the Thanksgiving break has given me opportunity to develop more thoughts on why I began this blog. One of the reasons I started it is my concern about the personality characteristics of the president-elect.
Obviously, I am not the only one to conclude this man is a narcissist, authoritarian, sexist, racist, paranoid individual, and for years he has been a celebrity in our pop culture. Usually when a commentator talks about him as an authoritarian, for example, that is the unique focus. Or for another, the unique focus is on his being a narcissist. So far, I have not seen anyone warning about what the combination of these characteristics might mean for our society and government.
Celebrity in our society is a big deal. People wittingly or not pay attention to celebrities to a far greater extent than is warranted. Free publicity is a valuable commodity in our contemporary world and celebrities (aided by their publicists) are masters at getting it regularly. Witness the election of a totally incompetent man to the highest office in the country, at least in part because his celebrity status kept the media and the population in general from holding him accountable for his comments and actions.
I think adding the fact that he is a celebrity in our pop culture to his most prominent personality traits could be an explosive, or at the very least, dangerous combination, and that requires awareness and wariness on the part of every citizen.
Recently, Patricia Smith Melton published a blog post explaining what narcissists are like and articulating the dangers of what we are faced with as a result of the election. Although there are others with more expertise we can turn to for understanding of this disorder (such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and scholars of narcissism), I found Melton’s post particularly helpful.
After re-reading her post in preparation for writing this, I am wondering if a narcissist can be anything else but that. If I understand her take on narcissist personality disorder correctly, a narcissist is incapable of having any consistent ideology. That would mean all ideological statements a narcissist makes are only temporarily believed because it is expedient at the moment. Nothing is permanent. So, all the racist, sexist, authoritarian, etc. statements over the past year during this past election cycle were a means to an end – promoting himself. Each day will bring new circumstances that may well negate or support any one of those ideologies, but again temporarily. One could take some solace in that volatility, as it would mean our worst fears would be less likely to be realized. However, I am not persuaded the danger is not real. I think there is enough public evidence that he believes misogyny and autocratic behavior works for him consistently. As long as that is the case, he has no reason to change. I believe abuse of the legitimate authority of the president to issue executive orders is the most likely means to his autocratic ends, so I intend to monitor such actions closely.
Evidence of his ideals are fairly obvious in his first selections for members of his staff and cabinet. Many appear to be committed, long-term authoritarians. They also are able to inflict damage to our culture and society through autocratic actions in their roles in the executive branch. They will be buoyed by the vocal support from some, now labeled the alt-right, and that gives these authoritarians confidence in their cause. I don’t believe the alt-right contingent of the right-wing is a high percentage of conservatives or certainly the general population, but they are brazenly asserting themselves, speaking up, acting out in unacceptable ways, and attracting enough attention to be a serious concern.
Authoritarian followers make it possible for autocrats to gain and keep power.
Nearly a decade ago, I more or less by accident ran across the book by John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience. The basis of what he was saying in that book came from scholarly research done by Bob Altemeyer, a Canadian scholar at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Altemeyer subsequently published a book on his findings – available free online here. Ever since reading this years ago, I have been noticing the prominence of authoritarians, both leaders and followers, in our popular culture as well as in politics.
In the same vein, I recently ran across the following. When it comes to understanding how to live under autocracy, Masha Gessen has a unique background. She has posted a helpful guide for us based on her experiences.
What does all of this mean for responsible citizens?
We cannot rely on the possibility that the president-elect’s narcissism will make him suddenly shift perspectives. The sycophants around him have enough power to play to his desperate need to be liked/adored that they can and will continue to keep him marching us toward autocracy.
We who see this clearly must speak out forcefully, calling our political representatives to resist any challenges intended to disrupt the system enough to allow for an autocratic takeover. Events in other parts of the world in recent years, as well as in the more distant past, should be enough of a warning that it could happen here.
We all also need to hold our news media accountable for their role in our society. They failed to do their job adequately in this election cycle – totally miscalculating how their providing free publicity gave him the platform to spew the vitriol he sensed a neglected segment of our nation wanted to hear. The media business model – controversy/sensationalism sells – is a perfect fit for a populist demagogue. Shortly after the election, the media rushed to normalize him by reporting how “moderate” his post-election statements were (some Tweets not withstanding). Most recently his Tweets make it clear he has not changed; he is as paranoid as ever. The media have lowered the bar so much, they have already in effect excused themselves from delving deeper into the substantive issues the “moderate” comments mask.
Using his celebrity status to gain publicity anytime he wants (needs?) it has been a feature of this man’s behavior for decades. Unfortunately, he is correct in asserting he does not need the mainstream media. He can get his “message” out via Tweets, or more slickly by professionally produced media with just the spin he wants us to believe.
Equally, if not more profoundly, unfortunately, the media falls into the trap every time treating his utterances and publicity releases as real news when most often they are just rants of an unhinged mind. In this age of diminished resources for investigative journalism, it is difficult to have confidence now that they will become the watch dogs they are theoretically supposed to be, according to the first amendment of our constitution.
Therefore, we must educate ourselves and guard against the dangers of autocracy that are now imminent with the coming administration of an autocratic, narcissist, misogynist, paranoid, celebrity president. Vigilance and public action are required now; bemoaning our fate and moving on to other non-political endeavors to avoid the pain are far from adequate as a response.