Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images
Here they come, in droves.
In truth, though, they have never left. The paranoid style of American politics that goes hand in hand with the authoritarian personalities* of a substantial subset of the American population is a well-known phenomenon, although it can be puzzling to outsiders — and no more so perhaps than today, in the era of Donald Trump’s seemingly inexplicable rise to power.
Last year, most Americans (and not only) sniggered at the prospect of Trump’s presidential run. It was considered “good for the laughs.” Now the previously amused no longer laugh, but start to process the possibility of the inevitable.
For people familiar with history and psychology, however, Trump’s rise to power does not surprise, although it frightens. And it should.
Disregarding the prudent Goldwater Rule, American mental professionals recently threw caution to the wind and stated the obvious: Donald Trump is a narcissist. A textbook example of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
That’s hardly news to anyone — apart perhaps from his supporters who either deny this painfully obvious fact, or minimize it in various predictable ways (“Every great leader is a narcissist,” etc.).
I’d wager that it takes a fairly sensitive average person about 5 seconds, if not less, to realize that Trump is an egotistical blowhard sucking out the oxygen from the universe around him. If presented with the diagnostic criteria of NPD, that average person would most likely correctly match Trump’s observable behaviors with the checklist, saving somebody hundreds of dollars on professional expertise. If such were needed. Trump is so textbook NPD that, I’d wager again, if he showed up to illustrate the disorder to, say, psychology students or psychiatric residents, a la Kramer in Seinfeld, they would call it an over-the-top caricature and ask him to tone it down. Because, c’mon, you can’t be that obvious.
But enough wagering.
There is more to Trump’s narcissism than the above quoted (linked) professionals are willing to discuss. There is also his sadistic cruelty demonstrated in his rape of Ivana, his first wife; in his glib mockery of a disabled reporter; in his open and callous disregard for the humanity and dignity of immigrants and women; and in his bragging (taunting?) that he could shoot random people on the street and his supporters would not abandon him. (Frighteningly, he is right.)
That cruelty, and his clear and proud relishing in it, without a smidgen of remorse, demonstrates a deficit of conscience that goes beyond “simple” narcissism, veering into psychopathy, thus suggesting that what ails Trump is malignant narcissism (Steven Becker calls Trump a charismatic psychopath).
The question, then, is how is it possible for so many Americans to not only disregard this man’s obvious narcissistic psychopathy and its dire implications should he become American president, but to champion it in their enthusiastic responses to his ever-more primitive displays of its symptoms?
The answer lies in not just socio-political dimensions, but in the personality characteristics of the authoritarians who by virtue of their psychological needs are drawn to narcissists and psychopaths like moths to a flame:
the authoritarian followers are both men and women, who tend to be highly conventional, always and easily submissive to authority, while willing to work aggressively on behalf of such an authority. They tend to be very religious, with moderate to little education, trusting of untrustworthy authorities, prejudiced (e.g., with respect to gay marriage); they are typically mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, uncritical of their chosen authority, hypocritical, inconsistent, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, moralistic, strict disciplinarian, severely punitive; they also demand loyalty and return it, have little self-awareness, and are typically politically and economically conservative Republicans.**
That description applies not just to the political right-wing adherents, but also — and obviously — to the religious fundamentalists of all stripes as well as most members of the so-called manosphere. It is no surprise that so many of the religious as well as the manospherians are enamored with Trump.
Narcissistic psychopaths, who exude extreme confidence that comes from not being burdened by such silly obstacles produced by human conscience like empathy, guilt, shame, remorse, doubt, and critical self-reflection, are the epitome of authoritarianism — specifically of the socially dominant end of its spectrum — and as such they coalesce the submissive authoritarians’ hopes and dreams. The Leader who exhibits those highly desirable, for the authoritarians, characteristics, represents the alluring ideal of The Strong Man or The Father, and will inspire unquestioning devotion so strong that it will override whatever remnants of conscience and independent thought they may have possessed. And so history repeats itself.
**There are left-wing authoritarians as well. Those are the people who made Communist atrocities possible. For example.
Edit: You can find out how authoritarian you are by taking this fun test.
Edit 2: On a more positive note, check out #NeverTrump — a growing collection of voices from the entire political spectrum opposing Trump.