Letters to the Editor

How the narcissist reflects our own worst impulses

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. AP

In speech after speech, Donald Trump proclaims grandiose opinions of his intelligence, talent, achievements and abilities. He refuses to be wrong. If anyone disagrees with him or criticizes or displeases him, he tweets a personal insult and dismissal. He can’t let go of an issue until he has “won.” He appears incapable of empathy, of recognition of the impact on others of tragic events or of what he himself says and does. (When an NBA star’s cousin died in a crossfire in Chicago, Trump tweeted: “What I’ve been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”) He makes everything that happens about him.

Google “narcissism,” and you’ll get a list of these symptoms, among others.

Trump is appropriately credited with tapping into the widespread fear, frustration, grief and anger over terrorism and uncertainty in our world. The mechanism is called “projection”: Those with such feelings exhibit them, project them outward, and Trump’s exquisite antennae pick up the vibes. He then co-opts them and gives them voice. As a presidential candidate, he legitimizes them. People see their own dark sides legitimized by a presidential candidate, and cheer. A narcissist feeds off the energy in those projections, and off the admiration in the cheers. Narcissists are called “energy vampires” for this reason.

The Trump we see is an image composed of reflected projections of our own dark sides. Without them, he’s a hollow man. People say they appreciate his authenticity. But that’s unjustified self-confidence dressed up to look like authenticity. There is no authentic Donald Trump.

He doesn’t “tell it like it is.” He tells it like we are — in our own dark interiors, which most of us would be unlikely otherwise to present publicly.

Trump has also released the righteous anger and hate of his opponents. The content is different, but the nature of both Republican and Democratic dark sides appears similar, both given legitimacy by Trump’s expression of them. The issue for both sides, then, is the same: reclaiming our true authenticity. Is this really who we want to be as individuals? As a people?

Vincent P. Ward

Columbia

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