I inadvertently shouted ‘Lock Him Up’ at my screen yesterday because I believe the world needs protecting from President Cheeto von Tweeto. Armchair psychologists like myself have called him a narcisisst as a means to better know the tools which might work to defend ourselves and our world. Ridicule might. Denying him adulation might. Forcing reality upon him might. And if putting a label on him helps people arm themselves in a time of war, then I’m all for it.
But for others, the diagnosis is not a means to an end, it is the end. Pathologizing Trump-like behaviour as opposed to his alleged condition, facilitates a dangerous denial and conflation. If someone is clinically diagnosed with a mental disorder then it creates distance; we are better able to dismiss it. Cruel and abusive behaviour can be explained away and the narcissist is somewhat absolved of responsibility for his actions, as are we. That’s always comforting, isn’t it? Yet there’s a whole goddamn portion of society who exhibit the same narcissistic traits; extreme self-interest, exploitation, entitlement and a lack of concern for others. I’ll wager that most of them are not clinically ill. So what is the difference between narcissism and privileged assholery? For me the difference is between Trump and Bannon.
Despite pushback, I’ll stick with my researched but unqualified opinion that Trump is a narcissist and a privileged arsehole, but the two are not mutually exclusive and make for an evil marriage. Because all these traits are increasingly revealed on a daily basis in every action, order and reaction. Not only by Trump but by his supporters, and yes, also by his opponents. Privilege marred for example, the otherwise laudable ethos behind the women’s march. It’s not easy to distinguish narcissism from abusive, power-grabbing behaviours due to bog-standard privilege. The reason I suspect I am able to, was because I was brought up by a maternal narcissist and as part of the white entitled middle class, whilst my passion for seeking the difference was because I needed different tools to deal with the different traumas as a result of both.
My mother fashioned her own ambitions on politicians like Margaret Thatcher and taught me by example, to do the same. As a pillar of the christian community she preached ‘love thy neighbour’, whilst it was clear that she disparaged what she called ‘the lower classes’ and dissasociated us from their ilk by every means possible. Had I not been utterly objectified by her, I might have learned her lessons better but in the end my desire to break free from her grasp propelled me to virulently reject everything she stood for. Moreover her vicarious ambitions were thwarted by her love of the mediterranean culture; for though she married an academic, my father was also a Greek-American and in those days people like me, who were white but had a foreign sounding name were stigmatized. The question ‘…but where are you really from?’ was so commonplace in my childhood that it became second only to ‘what’s your name?’. After two failed mediterranean marriages, my mother finally found happiness with a quintissentially british and highly cultured man who she felt was emminently suitable for someone like her. The point being that he allowed her to believe in the reality of who she truly thought she was.
For me one of the real differences between narcissism and privilege is not therefore in the actions of the individual, but in the extent of their internal distortion of reality. Privileged assholes like Trump believe in the truth of their lies and they need constant adulation to feed into their own fantasy of being loved. Privileged assholes like Bannon know full well they are hated and divisive but don’t care because they are entitled pricks whose goals ARE hatred and division. Trump cares what people think about him and his emotional instability makes him vulnerable. Trump is dangerous because he has the money and power to effect the changes he needs as a form of narcissistic supply, but he will never truly be satisfied. He is thrashing in a sea of hate desperately clinging to those who help him perpetuate his illusion. Bannon is cut from a different cloth. He thrives on and fuels the sea of hate because it furthers is own supremacist agenda.
Trump may well be boundary testing and distracting as so many have called the immigration ban, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he is himself a distraction. I doubt Bannon and other privileged assholes will care that Trump–a narcissist AND a privileged asshole–gets caught in the crossfire. And we must not allow ourselves to be distracted or otherwise remain in denial because there are many privileged assholes out there who are not narcissists, but know that any diagnosis of Trump can be used as a cover for their own privileged assholery. At least until such time as they have enough power that they become unstoppable.