The Pitfalls and Dangers of Narcissism

Alan Zendell, October 14, 2022

Narcissists tend to be arrogant, overconfident, impetuous, and impulsive. They are incapable of empathy or accepting defeat. They’re often good at reacting and adapting to changing circumstances, but their tendency to ignore information they don’t like and surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear can make bad situations worse, even catastrophic for them and everyone around them.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are two such men who have the potential to destroy everything around them. Joe Biden is not, and that’s fortunate for the rest of us. Biden has the unhappy responsibility to protect the world from both of them. Amid his disappointing approval ratings, (he’s at about 45% now,) concerns about his age, (he’ll turn 80 in five weeks,) and constant threats from the far right, I’d ask where the world would be today if Biden hadn’t been there to re-unite NATO and repair the rifts with our traditional allies that he inherited from Trump. Pundits talk about how Putin badly miscalculated when he invaded Ukraine. What they don’t say explicitly is that he seriously underestimated Biden’s leadership.

Back in February and March, NATO countries were divided over how much they were willing to defend Ukraine. Most notable was Germany, which was more heavily dependent on Russian oil and natural gas than any other country as well as being the most influential NATO member on the European continent. When the war started, Germany resisted making a total commitment to defending Ukraine – the cost to its people might have been too high to bear. But Biden forced our allies to confront publicly what everyone already knew, privately.

No one knows better than Germany that the world cannot survive another Neville Chamberlain, especially when Biden convinced them that cutting off the income Russia needed to finance its war, while accelerating Europe’s conversion to renewable energy was their best path forward. Future historians will not fault NATO’s determination to stand firm against Putin’s bullying, regardless of the risk of the war expanding beyond control. That possibility exists only because of Putin’s recklessness and his ability to suppress his opposition, while failing to note that his traditional armed forces had degenerated into a substandard fighting force. Ironically, his battlefield losses are the most dangerous thing that could have happened, because Putin doesn’t know how to lose, and he owns the world’s largest nuclear weapons arsenal.

Donald Trump doesn’t know how to lose, either. He demonstrated to everyone but the most ignorant, bigoted, violent elements of his base that he has no more respect for the rule of law or the conventions that have kept us from destroying ourselves than Putin. Anyone watching the January 6th committee hearings with a shred of objectivity can see that Trump was willing to destroy our democracy and our Constitution to enrich and empower himself, and he still is. The groups he calls on to defend him, like The Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers, are the political equivalent of urban street gangs and mafia thugs. These people couldn’t care less about America or the vast majority of its people. They subscribe only to their own inbred values, a sick mixture of twisted honor and loyalty, and a horribly distorted version of Christianity.

Are these the people we want controlling our country or serving as a private army to a self-serving narcissist? The consequences of failing to stand up to them, if not crush them entirely may be less serious that a nuclear war, but they are equally catastrophic to the future of our republic, which leads me to my second question. Where would we be today, weeks away from a national election, if Joe Biden hadn’t successfully kept his party united, rather than let it fall into civil war the way the Republicans did? Lies and right-wing hype aside, where would we be if our unemployment rate was still close to ten percent, if millions had been left destitute and homeless by COVID? Where would we be if a far-seeing president hadn’t had the vision and fortitude to pass legislation to rebuild our infrastructure and take actions that would finally achieve complete energy independence?

The battles to put down both Putin and Trump are still raging. We don’t know how they will turn out, but two things are clear. When a narcissistic leader continually relies on personal loyalty as the only qualification for joining his team, it will ultimately come back to haunt him. Neither Putin’s traditional armed forces nor Trump’s vengeful army of haters possess the substance required for victory, but they do possess the ability to disrupt and destroy everything they touch unless someone stops them. One could argue that the self-serving narcissism of Trump and Putin constitute the most serious threats the world currently faces.

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