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Donald Trump is an Extreme Narcissist

by Hans-Jurgen Wirth Sunday, Sep. 10, 2017 at 8:05 AM

Hans-Jurgen Wirth, b. 1951, is a psychoanalyst with his own practice, a professor of psychoanalytic social psychology in Frankfurt and a publisher. His most important book is "Narcissism and Power" (2002).


Interview with psychoanalyst Prof. Hans-Jurgen Wirth

[Donald Trump wants to use nuclear weapons. What should we do? Psychoanalyst professor Dr. Hans-Jurgen Wirth in a PULS interview 8/5/17 explains how Trump ticks.]

Not a day passes on which Donald Trump does not say, post or tweet something to which the large part of the world asks: Is he serious?!? His speeches and appearances are so absurd that the men of action of the "House of Cards" couldn't have done better. Trump is a textbook narcissist, says Prof. Dr. Hans-Jurgen Wirth. Prof. Wirth is a psychoanalyst who researched the theme narcissism and power for a long time. Wirth also gives hope in the PULS interview. Many narcissists fail in a grandiose way.

PULS: Mr. Wirth, let me blurt it out, is Trump a narcissist in your opinion?

Hans-Jurgen Wirth: Many insist Donald Trump shows typical characteristics of a narcissist. He has many characteristics of a narcissist personality disturbance.

What features of a narcissist do you see in Trump?

Narcissist characteristics include an exaggerated notion of one's significance, inability to sympathize with other persons and develop empathy and compassion, and his tendency to exaggerate, lie and deceive. He basically acts like a con-man or a fake. He has great problems in reacting to criticism. He is immediately offended and strikes back. These are all features that are striking in narcissist personalities.

How do narcissist disturbances arise?

In general, narcissist personality disturbances originate in early childhood. The parents were often insensitive, psychically misused their child, took advantage, manipulated and exploited the child for their own interests. The self-esteem or ego of the child was deformed and this was later expressed in certain behavior.

In your book "Narcissism and Power: On the Psychoanalysis of Psychic Disturbances in Politics," you write that narcissistically disturbed persons strive for power. Why is that?

Narcissist personalities strive for power because they can induce or force other persons to give them acknowledgment in this way. Narcissists want to be admired. When they have power, they can then buy this recognition and admiration from other persons. Therefore power and narcissism are very closely coupled.

Do you know politicians who are not narcissists?

A healthy narcissism in the sense of a healthy self-esteem and a pathological, obsessive narcissism that is excessive must be distinguished. Narcissism is a quality that every person has. That can be more or less good and subject to fluctuations. A healthy esteem and a desire to prevail are very helpful if one wants to gain important positions in the economy, society or politics. All leading personalities in politics and other areas have a marked self-esteem and even a narcissist ego. With Trump, this is a very distinct, obsessive and exaggerated form of self-importance.

Narcissists are often persons who are rather unsympathetic to many other people. How can Trump be so successful?

All narcissists are not unconditionally unsympathetic. Many persons admire narcissists. When they identify with narcissists, they can even imagine themselves in a different way. "I would like to be that ruthless. I would like to be someone who presents himself unabashedly in public and demands admiration." This is something one can admire and find very attractive in a figure like Trump.

In your book, you predict for narcissists "a sudden and unexpected crash following a brilliant victory because the narcissist ruler fully conscious of his omnipotence overplays his hand." Are there signs that something similar could happen to Donald Trump?

I really hope Trump will overplay his hand so he ultimately breaks down and endures what nearly all narcissists endure when they overstep the mark. They meet with resistance or are tripped up because they are abandoned by their best friends, comrades and ultimately ever ultimately everyone. Everything suggests this could happen with Trump. His party members are distancing themselves from him.

[Translator's note: AP Michael Biesecker and Joan Lowy, Associated Press August 30, 2017. Two weeks before Harvey's flood waters engulfed much of Houston, President Donald Trump quietly rolled back an order by his predecessor that would have made it easier for storm-ravaged communities to use federal emergency aid to rebuild bridges, roads, and other structures so they can better withstand future disasters.
Now, with much of the nation's fourth-largest city underwater, Trump's move has new resonance. Critics note the president's order could force Houston and other cities to rebuild hospitals and highways in the same way and in the same flood-prone areas.
"Rebuilding while ignoring future flood events is like treating someone for lung cancer and then giving him a carton of cigarettes on the way out the door," said Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental and climate change law at Columbia University. "If you're going to rebuild after a bad event, you don't want to expose yourself to the same thing all over again."
Trump's action is one of the several ways the president, who has called climate change a hoax, has tried to wipe away former President Barack Obama's efforts to make the United States more resilient to threats posed by the changing climate.
The order Trump revoked would have permitted the rebuilding to take into account climate scientists' predictions of stronger storms and more frequent flooding.
Bridges and highways, for example, could be rebuilt higher, or with better drainage. The foundation of a new fire station or hospital might be elevated an extra 3 feet (about 1 meter)…]

By Hans-Jurgen Wirth

[This article published on August 21, 2017, is translated from the German on the Internet, In this second part, the author describes Trump's childhood and youth. This led him to identification with the aggressor" and formation of an elite consciousness.]

The Case of Donald Trump
Now I will turn to the Trump example. I begin with Trump's biography. I refer to two biographies written by noted American journalists who researched Trump for years and had personal conversations with him. He had a bad fight with both. One book is by David Johnston and is titled "Trump's Acts" (2016). The other is by Michael D'Antonio and is titled "The Truth about Donald Trump" (2015). I garnered suggested interpretations from the book let "Trump! Populism as Politics" (2017) of the journalist and culture critic Georg Seesslin.

Donald Trump was born as a son of a mother and was "craven for attention, obsessively intent on social status" and extremely ambitious – according to Michael D'Antonio (2015). "She was sick for extended periods in the early life of young Donald. Father Fred was […] "extremely strict and imperious and also cultivated, manipulative and hypocritical" (D'Antonio 2015). With brutal and partly criminal methods, father Fred built up gigantic wealth as a real estate property giant which Donald Trump could use as a starting point for his career as a real estate magnate. His father imparted an elite consciousness and a killer instinct to him. He gave his son the life motto "Be a killer." He also recommended that he become a "king." Trump seems to have taken both to heart.

"At home, Trump showed his methods and priorities when he did business until late at night. Fred taught his son to "act just as unscrupulous, ambitious and aggressive. […] According to status, Donald was chauffeured (to school) in a large limousine. Donald developed "into a quarrelsome, tyrannical and physically aggressive little youth" (ibid).
"Donald attended an exclusive private school. He constantly interrupted the instruction and was very rebellious" (ibid). Finally, the teacher and his parents could not manage with the rebellious and refractory youth. They sent him to a remote Internat school (with students of different ages), the New York Military Academy. The Internat was well-known for its brutal educational methods and the paramilitary drill. "Sons of Mafia bosses and offspring whose fathers served a Latin American dictator" were among his schoolmates – but no black or Asian student" (ibid). His older mentor reported Trump always wanted to be the first and best at every occasion, in sports and in the line before served meals" (ibid).

Donald Trump recalled this time with the words "They fought over my bones" (ibid). He mainly remembered the Internat time with acknowledging and even glorifying words. He is proud of passing through this severe school. He said he served the military although he actually avoided military service (which could have led him to Vietnam" (D'Antonio 2015).

Trump got over the drill and the brutality with the help of a psychic strategy described by psychoanalysis as "identifying with the aggressor." He identified with the assailant to inflict humiliation and insults that he previously had to endure himself. He reversed the victim-role into a perpetrator-role. This process was accompanied by the formation of an elite identity that enabled students to endure humiliations since a master- and elite-identity later beckoned as their compensation.

He already described himself in this time as a student with a grandiose self-portrait. This is documented. He had "always been the best player" in baseball, Trump boasted. His self-praise rose to the assertion "the best in every sport, not only in baseball" (D'Antonio, 2015). When he gained a headline in the local paper in his third year at school ("Trump wins a game for the NYMA" (New York Military Academy), Trump experienced this as absolutely intoxicating. "It was good to read my name in the newspaper," he recalled 50 years later. "How many persons are in the newspaper? No one comes in the paper. This was the first time I was ever in the newspaper. I found that fascinating," he told his biographer D'Antonio. Appearing in the newspaper was a kind of revival experience for him. In his further life, he did everything to be present in the media and to establish his name as a brand. In large letters, his name emblazons the Trump Tower that he financed. His presidency crowns a career as a celebrity figure for decades, so to speak.

Already in his school days, an obviously unquenchable hunger for self-confirmation came to light with Donald Trump as is so characteristic for narcissist personalities. Narcissists crave for attention and admiration and are permanently focused on how good they are, how good they look, how much money they earn and how above-average is their sexual power.

With Trump, this need leads to grotesque statements like: "It is hard to attack me on account of my appearance because I look very good."… The paradox between the self-glorifications presented with fervor and the almost childish need for admiration is that narcissists like Trump have a very fragile self-esteem. The fact that a grandiose and inflated structure is involved with the narcissist self amounts to its special vulnerability.

This enormous narcissist vulnerability appears with Trump in his extreme sensitivity toward criticism of his person that is already striking to many observers. Basically, he is unable to deal properly with critical journalists. He answers criticism stereotypically with an aggressive counter-attack. His motto is "offense is the best defense." The first press conference after his inauguration that flowed into chaos was a great example of his lack of sovereignty in associating with journalists. One of his essential communication strategies is the aggressive disparagement, devaluation and insult of others – his opponents, his critics and even journalists. The devaluation of others and his over-sensitivity are two sides of one coin. The fear of being devalued underlies the pressure of devaluing others. This reflects his fragile self-esteem.

Another of Trump's communication strategies is excessively praising others to the skies. His own conceit shimmers through in the disproportional praise expressed by him according to the motto: whoever praises enthusiastically must be a great celebrity himself. Otherwise, he could not speak that way. There is always a fragment of self-praise in all Trumpian praise. In the mentioned press conference, he ascended to the boast: "We will be the best job creators God ever created." Basically, Trump meant: "I am the greatest God has ever created." The self-eulogizing goes so far he seriously believes God endowed him with special gifts. So Trump firmly believes he can do many things better from playing golf to profiteering on account of his genetic makeup. He told his biographer D'Antonio: "I assume my inheritance predestined me for higher things."
Megalomania appears undisguised with Trump. He speaks of himself and of the persons and events connected with him almost exclusively in positive and negative superlatives. He regularly describes the positive events to himself and the negative to others. He likes to speak of himself in the third person because his self-praise sounds more convincing that way. His motto is: "No one can praise me as much as I praise myself in the superlative."

The most powerful non-nuclear bomb - called the mother of all bombs - represents a superlative whose first military use Trump commanded in Afghanistan. A greater enhancement now would be the use of nuclear weapons. The spiral of mutual threats of violence is dramatically intensifying in the conflict around North Korea. This conflict will escalate further according to Trump's philosophy of life. Trump always describes life as a struggle. "Life always involves survival." "I always assume the worst of people because I have seen too much" (D'Antonio). "One should answer every blow one must take with a harder counter-blow" (ibid).

Trump basically relies on a strategy of escalation that should intimidate the opponent and force him to climb down. Such a basic attitude can only be successfully practiced from a position of superiority and strength. Partnership eye to eye, development of trust, cooperation and diplomatic solutions to conflicts with the goal of reaching compromises and a balance of interests are alien to Trump's personality and political style ("America first!"). Consequently, he only has a very limited arsenal of political means. The fact that his politics was so unsuccessful and none of his great bills could be passed is connected with that incapacity for cooperation and compromise.

The strategy of absolute escalation in a conflict with an adversary who follows a similar aggressive strategy of confrontation as is the case with North Korea is very dangerous. That both Trump and the North Korean head of state Kim Jong Un openly threaten the use of nuclear weapons represents an escalation of the threats with few open possibilities. This is an extremely dangerous situation. The danger exists that a spark could be enough to convert the verbal threats into real military actions in a tense situation where both sides have already threatened ultimate force.

Marked narcissists like Trump are not trustworthy and do not trust others. They build on power, control and at best on "deals" without trusting other persons because their own conduct is determined by mistrust, threats and cold calculation. Therefore they could not even imagine community action based on mutual trust. Relatives are an exception. For that reason, Trump made members of his own family his closest advisers. Since trust, reliability, and credibility play no part for narcissists, they are not full of integrity but find their way as they like. Brazen lies and shameless presentation of "alternative facts" are striking power-techniques of strongly developed narcissists.

The Relation of Reactionary Ideology and Private Psychopathology with Trump

Trump is doubtlessly close to right-wing extremist ideologues and made the right-wing extremist head of the malicious broadcaster Breitbart News Steve Bannon one of his closest advisers. That Trump has separated from Bannon does not mean he does not strongly agree with him. He only distanced himself half-heartedly from the former head of the racist and violent Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. His racism is expressed in his disparaging comments on Mexican migrants, his tirades against Obama and his resentment and contempt for the disabled. His macho-attitude and his disdain for women are part of this context.

Although his political opinions and his view of humanity are marked by reactionary, homophobic, misogynist and racist notions, Trump does not feel obliged to any religious or consistent political ideology.

My thesis is that Trump's political visions and his claim to power have a purely private narcissist character. He will live out his own very private lust for power and show to the world that he is a clever lad. This means the private personality disturbance has an enormous influence on Trump's political decisions. This is greater than with other authoritarian and populist political leaders for whom the religious or ideological commitment has a greater influence, for example with Erdogan. In that, he is more incalculable than other political leaders.

This idea could be formulated differently. A narcissistically disturbed leader like Trump holds to his own political convictions even if he keeps an emotional distance outwardly as an emotional defender of an ideology. Ultimately, his own fanatically-represented ideology is only a means to an end of his own expansion of power. The narcissistically-disturbed leader is a cynic of power who strategically cultivates his own political-ideological convictions.

The juxtaposition of individual personality on one side and social orientation on the other side should not be conceived as absolute. The most private psycho-structures ultimately develop on the background of cultural, religious and political ideologies. I propose the thesis for discussion that racism is the ideology that convinces and influences Trump most strongly. For him, racism is not up for debate. He is deeply convinced of his accuracy because he fits perfectly his narcissist personality structure. Trump's narcissist conviction of his biological superiority finds its correspondence, foundation, and confirmation in the racist belief in the biologically-conditioned superiority of the white race. Why he relativized the racist excesses of violence in Charlottesville and expressed his hardly concealed sympathy with them is understandable on this background even though most of his advisers and Republican officials discouraged him. With that, Trump is also interwoven with the two central unconquered US traumata, the genocide of the indigenous Native Americans and slavery. Trump represents the psycho-political currents in US society that cling to racism as a key idea and strictly rejects a self-critical elaboration of the collective trauma of slavery and its trans-generational consequences. Trump's presidency gives legitimation and a boost to racist and violent groups.

By Hans-Jurgen Wirth

[This article published on August 22, 2017, is translated from the German on the Internet, The psychoanalyst Hans-Jurgen Wirth's new book is titled "Narcissism and Power."]

"The exercise of power becomes problematic when the leader is defined by pathological narcissism. The leader then uses his power to stir up revolts or to resist his unconscious narcissist conflicts." All we seem to have is a short-winded shock and indignation over the current slips of the president. We miss deep analyses of Donald Trump's motives and nature. The psychoanalyst Hans-Jurgen Wirth closes this gap by turning to the inner biography of the president. In this third part, the author asks about the reasons for Trump's success. How can anyone who is so obviously absurd and reprehensible be successful n the US as a "fisher of men"? His diagnosis is collective self-poisoning."
How Can Trump's Success Be Explained?

If Trump is so ridiculous, offensive, unsympathetic and politically dangerous and incalculable, why did so many Americans vote for him and why do populist movements celebrate? Why is such a puffed-up personality characterized by trifling emotional controls and hate-filled and vulgar appearances and frenetically acclaimed by a mass public?

The concept of resentment could offer helpful explanations.
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