Bryan Gould
Bryan Gould, CNZM, writes an occasional column on current events

Bryan Gould: Narcissism shadows Trump's campaign

Donald Trump is now down to one opponent to insult - not nearly as much fun. Photo / AP
Donald Trump is now down to one opponent to insult - not nearly as much fun. Photo / AP

Bryan Gould was a Labour MP in Britain before returning to New Zealand.

The American presidential election has been dominated over recent days by speculation about the mental fitness of the two main candidates. First, Donald Trump has picked up on a stray remark by Hillary Clinton that she had "short-circuited" a process over her emails when she was Secretary of State so as to suggest that "she wasn't all there". On the other side, and perhaps with rather more substance, there is an increasing chorus of voices, including a number from the Republicans themselves, concerned that Trump is "unfit to be President".

Of even more immediate concern to the Republicans, however, must be the growing evidence that Trump is not only not fit to sit in the Oval Office - he's not even fit to be a candidate. What's more, his deficiencies in this regard are likely to be increasingly exposed the longer the campaign goes on.

It is not so much a case of mental illness as of personality type. It is clear that Trump has a very unusual personality, perhaps best described as narcissistic. Those with this kind of personality are entirely self-absorbed. They establish an image of themselves that is often at variance with reality and they use all their energies to try to build and conform to that image. They have no regard or concern for others, except to the extent that they support the image.

The narcissist goes to extreme lengths to feed his ego. He not only welcomes but demands flattery. He is prepared to embellish the truth and to invent stories that show him in a good light. He invents and endlessly repeats complimentary remarks made about him by others, and if others do not do this in sufficient numbers, he will do so himself. He insists on being seen as successful, rich and a great lover, even if the facts do not support such opinions.

For Trump, the primary elections were a godsend. They were tailor-made to feed his need for fame and recognition. They allowed him endless television exposure every day across the whole country (and beyond). He had adoring crowds at his rallies, waiting to be roused to anger, amused and above all shocked by the unexpected things he would say. And, best of all, he could confirm his self-image as a winner.

In state after state, he could take on a series of challengers - lesser mortals - who, one by one, were vanquished and fell by the wayside. He took risks, exhibiting a behaviour that would normally have condemned a would-be President as unbalanced, and got away with it - indeed, his supporters rewarded him for it. And then, with only a couple of hiccups at the convention, he was nominated - quite clearly against the wishes of the Republican hierarchy - as the Republican presidential candidate. What greater evidence did he need that he was indeed unique and unstoppable?

But the American presidential campaign is very long. There are still three months to go. And insulting one opponent is not as much fun as insulting 16. Nor does it command so many headlines and popular support.

And what does a narcissist do when events contrive to suggest that the self-image is at risk? What does Trump do when the polls begin to show that he is significantly trailing behind his opponent - that he looks more like a potential loser than a winner? What does he do when even some of his own side indicate their reluctance to support him?

What he is most likely to do is to return to the behaviours that earned him such success in the primary elections. But to make yet more outrageous statements, to alienate opinion - even friendly opinion - by showing that he would be prepared to insult and trash friends, allies, neighbours, war heroes, would only confirm in the correctness of their judgment that growing number who regard him as unfit to be President.

And can he really contemplate three months of public attention while someone who demands adulation and who "likes only winners" slowly and painfully comes apart, with only the ability to shock as the last weapon in his armoury? Campaigning was fun while he was knocking out his opponents; but can a Donald Trump personality really bear to go through three months of purgatory while he - and the world - watch the polls turn against him so that ending up as a loser becomes inevitable?

The Republican Party must be asking itself these self-same questions. Many Republican leaders no doubt foresaw this scenario. Their concern will not be for Trump's psyche but for the damage that his unravelling could do to Republican candidates in this and future elections. The very existence of the party itself as a contender for political power could be in jeopardy.

So, stand by for some interesting further twists in this saga over the next three months. What is likely to unfold is not quite a Shakespearean tragedy - Trump has significantly more than one fatal flaw - but it is by no means certain that he will last the distance. What is unclear is precisely who will pull the rug from under his feet - his so-called supporters or the man himself.

- NZ Herald

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