But now I’m thinking Trump is more than a text-book narcissist. With every next reckless, audacious pronouncement tumbling from his provocative mouth, I’m thinking differently. With every next glib utterance meant simultaneously to exploit and stoke herd-like fears and anxieties, I’m thinking differently. With every next display of jaw-dropping contempt and the glib demonization of huge swatches of populations to whom he ascribes inherently frightful qualities, I’m thinking differently. With every next manifestation of his callousness and remorselessness, I’m thinking differently.
What I’m thinking is, Trump really is quite psychopathic, not just the “narcissistic carnival act” I thought he was. Trump meets the criteria of the “charismatic psychopath.”
I see him, paradoxically, as a “deeply shallow” man which, of course, would be just fine (as there are millions upon millions of “deeply shallow” men)–except that when you’re a charismatic psychopath, “deep shallowness” enables the “perverse rubbernecking” self-amazement at seeing oneself pulling the “puppet strings” of gigantic, susceptible, suggestible audiences; and if you’re a charismatic psychopath, as I believe Trump is, that is as good as crack to a crack addict, which is to say it is the charismatic psychopath’s equivalent “crack high.”
Charismatic psychopaths aren’t deeply, personally invested in what they’re selling or preaching. As they witness the succumbing of their adherents to their glibness, charms and persuasiveness, they may convince themselves that they’re dedicated to their “cause.” But this is mostly a self-delusion. What most intoxicates them is their power to manipulate others.
I question seriously whether Trump has deep convictions about much of anything he says. I’m with those who question whether he really wants to be President. I think it’s possible that Trump, on some level–because I don’t really think he wants to be President–might even be a little unnerved, sub-consciously, that he’s getting himself in “too deep” in a direction he neither anticipated nor wanted to be moving-in, with what is now a somewhat building, chilling momentum.
Now…I could be wrong about that. Maybe Trump really wants to be President and win this thing. But like all charismatic psychopaths, Trump strikes me as embracing and enjoying this “presidential run” as a “big game.” He seems to be enjoying the deployment and impact of his considerable manipulative powers with a perverse delight, perhaps even with a certain incredulity as he sees what he’s doing–even factoring in a malignant ego one would think would be unsurprised by any effect he could pull.
But most importantly, and most indicative of the charismatic psychopath, Trump relishes “the game.” Like so many psychopaths, he positions himself as “persecuted,” in this case making the “liberal media” (among others) his adversary, provoking and waging battle after battle with the latter more for his own amusement–to spar, shock, brandish his oozing contempt–than from a deep conviction about anything.
Trump’s positioning of himself as the “misunderstood, maligned outsider” is a classic stratagem of the charismatic psychopath, a calculated way to recruit, with cult-like cunning, the “disenfranchised” who feel unheard, misunderstood. It is his way of saying, “I, like you–we together–are outsiders! So, you see, I can relate to you! Now follow me and watch what we can do!”
This is his calling card. It’s almost eerily similar to how terror organizations, yes like ISIS–against whom Trump fulminates with his reckless bravado–recruit their followers, appealing to their primitive feelings of estrangement with promises to be heard, taken seriously, taken care of.
When does a joke no longer become funny? When it’s starting to be taken seriously–when the joke-teller, and his audience, no longer recognize the joke, and the joker.
Donald Trump was an absolute joke. But now he’s not so funny. Now he’s not such a joke.
Now, he’s a charismatic psychopath with a real grip that’s really scary–with a real grip on enough people that to talk about him as a serious presidential prospect is now real, and very unfunny.
(This article is copyrighted (c) 2015 by Steve Becker, LCSW)
Here are links to my website, and my latest book (available on Amazon), “The Inner World of the Psychopath: A Definitive Primer on the Psychopathic Personality.”