Posted Friday morning, February 17, 2017.
Donald Trump’s trouble isn’t that he has a personality disorder. It’s that he’s a rotten human being.
Our Mr President Trump holding what John Cassidy of the New Yorker an “alternative reality press conference,” Thursday, February 16, 2017. Photo by Andrew Harnik, courtesy of AP, via the New Yorker.
Naturally, I'm an enthusiastic proponent of social media but I’m not an uncritical one. There are things I dislike about the online life and things I absolutely hate, and one of the is how it encourages bad writing.
Sloppy writing and sloppy thinking.
Not just encourages. Teaches.
We tend to mimic the speech we spend our time with or, to put in another way, we talk like our friends. This is true for our offline lives as well as our online ones. It’s how a 17 year old uptalker complaining about how her teachers are, like? so unfair? becomes a 37 year old oncologist reassuring a patient and laying out plans for treatment.
In our twittering, facebooking, commenting, snapchatting calls gabfests, we infect each other’s vocabularies with stock phrases, catchphrases, slogans, fad words, cant words, cheap slang, pseudo-jargon, and instant cliches that we then use reflexively as if they're actual words with clearly defined and universally shared meanings and connotations. What they are at best are sounds that match the users' feelings at the moment. Often they're signifiers of the users' political or cultural or social associations, a way of informing readers I'm one of the in crowd, verbal equivalents of lapel pins, club ties, and secret handshakes. Usually they mean only what the user wants them to mean. As many of you know, one of my least favorite of these types of words---that is I don't like it and I don't like anybody who does---is neoliberal.
As far as I've seen, it's just a highfalutin insult leftist idealogues use to assert their moral and intellectual superiority to any actual liberals (as opposed to the neo- kind) who disagree with them. Try to call them on this, and they have a canned definition at the ready. that sounds almost genuine, until you unpack it and realize it means “anybody who doesn’t agree with my political and economic views is no better than Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher,” and given that they know how liberals feel about Reagan and Thatcher, it’s as good as saying, “You’re corrupt, evil, dumb, or all three. Take your pick.”
The only response to this is, “Same to you, fella”, at which point rational debate fails.
That’s one. Another is “pathological narcissist”.
What does that mean?
What are you saying when you call Our Mr President Donald Trump a pathological narcissist?
“I mean, Lance, he's a lying, cheating, thieving, racist, egomaniacal son of a bitch who’s in it for the money and cares only about himself.”
Oh, well, why didn't you say so?
Why do we need a special word or phrase to describe Donald Trump? We don’t need one to describe Richard Nixon. Nixon is a pejorative. His name connotes everything ugly, mean, despicable, and contemptible about him. The same’s increasingly true for Trump. His name is becoming the most succinct way to sum up his bad character and bad behavior. To say his name is to exhaust the thesaurus of synonyms for louse.
“Pathological narcissist” isn’t one of them. It’s a clinical term that shouldn’t be tossed around lightly by professionals let alone people whose understanding of what it means is based on a vaguely remembered article from Psychology Today. And as such it’s only halfway useful if you’re talking with someone who read the same article and shares your opinion that Trump somehow meets on the criteria for the diagnosis. Really, it’s just an expression of your mutual agreement that you don’t like Donald Trump and don’t like anybody who does. That aside, though, it’s not useful for purposes of debate or enlisting allies in opposing him and his policies because it doesn't describe him. It categorizes him. Worse, it abstracts him. It makes him an example of the condition and the condition and the condition becomes the subject of the discussion. Even worse, it's inaccurate.
Here’s a letter to the editor of the New York Times from Allen Frances, a professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College who was chairman of the task force that wrote the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (D.S.M.-IV). Frances knows from narcissistic personality disorders because he “wrote the criteria that define the disorder” and he doesn’t think Trump meets them.
According to Dr Frances, what’s wrong with Our Mr President Trump isn’t that he’s suffering from narcissistic personality disorder.
What’s wrong with him is he’s a rotten human being.
To the Editor:
Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.
Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.
Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).
Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.
His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.
From my own department of amateur armchair psychiatry:
I’ve been carelessly in the habit of referring to Our Mr President Trump as nuts, but after the lunacies of yesterday’s press conference, I’m beginning to wonder if he really his nuts!
Probably not, although he may be losing his grip. What I really think is that he’s not nuts, he’s simply a not really all that smart or capable old man, pathetically insecure at the same time he’s wildly impressed by himself---not mutually exclusive qualities. They feed each other.---who’s in way over his head and knows it and has begun to panic. What was on display yesterday wasn’t a madman in the grip of his delusions but a conman on the brink of hysteria. He’s in the process of being found out and the only thing he can think to do to save himself is to try what’s always worked in the past: lie wildly to his base of suckers and hope they’ll continue to fall for it and come to his rescue.
Then again, encroaching senility can’t be ruled out.