Trump, Putin, and Malignant Narcissism

Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Pasadena, California


Trump, Putin, and Malignant Narcissism

Yesterday’s disastrous Helsinki summit displays Trump’s greatest gift to the world:

A terrific, global demonstration of what severe narcissistic personality disorders look like.

You’ve seen the footage by now, including how Trump contradicted his own national security team’s messaging, compared the US to Russia, and avoided confronting Putin on his country’s interference in the 2016 election.

The examples of malignant narcissism–the most severe type of narcissistic personality disorder resulting from a combination of early childhood trauma and genetics–exceed arithmetic’s capacity to enumerate them. Here are just a few highlights:

    1. Narcissists only love themselves, no one else. Think of the community of nations as like a family. Not only can Trump not connect to any of his relatives (nations), he can only think about himself. He critiqued his own national security advisors by failing to confront Putin on election meddling, saying, All I can do is ask the question. Trump proceeded to re-litigate the 2016 election, to brag of his winning it, and to ask what happened to Clinton’s email servers. This was a key, horrible, embarrassing moment–a distinct example of pure, focal self-interest, an inability to see anything other than the self.
    2. Narcissists fail to understand context. In the press conference after the summit, Trump said of the Russia-US problem: I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think that we’ve all been foolish. Of course we’ve misbehaved in various ways. BUT, we do not kill rival politicians, jail journalists, enrich oligarchs, poison ex-pats living in Britain, rig elections, or have a dictatorship–yet!
    3. Narcissists do anything they can to achieve power. Even before yesterday, Trump has dangerously shown a respect, almost an admiration for dictators. He congratulated Putin when he won a bogus election, described Kim Jung-Un as a strong leader and a good man, and supported Erdogan for consolidating power and weakening counterbalancing, democratic forces in Turkey. Meanwhile, only earlier this week, Trump denounced the leaders of the UK, France, and Germany–strong US allies since WWII. Narcissists betray their friends, in a hot second, if it elevates their own standing.
    4. Narcissists only perceive self-interest. Trump hailed the summit as a success, proclaiming the world wants us to get along and I think we’ll end up having an extraordinary relationship. He said that Putin’s denial of hacking into the 2016 elections was extremely strong and powerful. Here, Trump displays the child-like naivete of the malignant narcissist. Many political commentators believe Putin played Trump. He likely did, and Trump proves an easy man to play. He wants to be loved. He wants to be liked. These needs trump all over considerations–friends, family, or the community of nations.

Fellow Republican John McCain released a statement yesterday reading, in part:

Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate…President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.

It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

Thank you again, Donald Trump.

We can hope and pray you will somehow avoid destroying our exceptional American democracy.

Meanwhile, we can at least appreciate your help in bringing key psychoanalytic ideas, like the concept of malignant narcissism, into the entire world’s consciousness.





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