Alan Zendell, April 19, 2017

According to the Mayo Clinic (

“Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

More specifically, the American Psychiatric Association uses the following criteria to diagnose this disorder (

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

It must be clear to everyone except Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters that he could be the poster child for this disorder. Most of us have encountered people like this, perhaps a family member, an employer, a subordinate, a rival, or a competitor. Whatever the relationship, we probably wished we could sever it as soon as possible, though often that could only be done at a steep cost. Can you imagine being married to such a person or have to depend on him or her for sound judgment in a crisis? Every American, in fact every citizen of planet Earth is now in exactly that position.

When I encounter such people I see self-loathing that can only be compensated for by demeaning everyone else. When that need is extreme, it affects every decision they make, every action they take, often unaware and uncaring of how they are received by the people they affect. I’ve said in the past that Trump had no moral center. He may actually have one, but if he does it is so deeply submerged in his narcissism, it is virtually invisible.

He spent a year-and-a-half demeaning everyone but the sycophants who jumped aboard his bandwagon. All fifteen of his Republican rivals were incompetent losers. Women were objects to be used for his pleasure, the handicapped were objects of derision, and immigrants, especially Muslims, wanted only to steal jobs from deserving Americans and destroy our democracy. Presidents Obama and Bush (43) were stupid and weak. Congress was inept and corrupt, our economy was a disaster, and our military a shambles. NATO was useless, and China and Mexico were evil incarnate. Only Donald Trump had the answers. Oddly, the only prominent world figure who Trump praised was Vladimir Putin, who is probably our most dangerous adversary after the lunatic who rules North Korea.

During his first two months in office he allowed himself to be led (astray) by extremists like Steve Bannon and the ultra-right wing Freedom Caucus, and Kelly-Anne Conway made him look bad once too often. When, as a result, he discovered that people were liking him less every week, they dropped out of favor quickly. Now Trump’s two most senior advisors are registered Democrats, but according to the president, everything in the west wing is running smoothly. Chaos? Not in Trump’s White House.

Throughout his life, Trump was respected only for his ability to make money, usually at someone else’s expense. He barged through life as an insensitive buffoon, leaving a trail of smoking debris and shaking heads in his wake. I can’t recall any of the people history reveres as memorable leaders behaving that way.  Most of the people we remember as great statesman rose above the petty and the mundane once they reached the top. But Trump continues to be thin-skinned, reactionary, mean-spirited and venal, secretive about his business and personal affairs, flaunting every tradition of visibility and transparency that he campaigned on. Rather than rising above, he has been sinking, with record low approval ratings.

He has some real challenges ahead. Our adversaries surely see through his façade, and understand that beneath it lies insecurity and inexperience. Will he even be able to tread water swimming with those sharks?

For all our sakes, I hope so, but I’m scared.

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