Donald Trump’s narcissism is a large concern, but the Goldwater Rule says we should ignore the 300 pound gorilla in the Oval Office.
Donald Trump’s Narcissism
We’re not supposed to talk about Donald Trump’s narcissism. This is not because Trump’s projections, of his mindless, repetitive practice of accusing his opponents of his miserable failings as a human being; particularly of blurting out that someone is “a liar and a crook!” before Trump’s followers can realize that he is, in fact, the ultimate liar and crook. No, when it comes to Trump’s narcissism, there are actually professional injunctions against speaking the obvious.
Hard to believe, but true. It’s the First Amendment and obvious truth, vs medical ethics and political correctness.
The Goldwater Rule
Those contradictions began in the 1964 Presidential campaign, when over a thousand polled psychiatrists declared that Barry Goldwater was unfit to be President. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) objected to this behavior, and passed the ‘Goldwater Rule’: a psychiatrist should not offer a professional opinion on a patient she has not personally examined.
It was a nice ‘Catch 22’, because psychiatrists are also not allowed to reveal anything they know about patients they have examined, at least not without the patient’s permission. A bit of a problem, that: given the outsized egos and other dysfunctions of those seeking power and fame, knowledge of a candidate’s sanity might be even more important than, oh say, knowledge of his tax returns.
Fortunately, in considering Donald Trump’s narcissism, the Goldwater Rule is not a problem.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
First, consider that different international professional bodies have issued varying criteria for narcissism. Currently the APA officially labels the problem as ‘Narcissistic Personality Disorder’ (NPD) and lists the following diagnostic criteria:
- Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
- Fixation on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
- Self-perception of being superior, unique, and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Needing constant admiration from others
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
- Intensely envious of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Pompous and arrogant demeanor
Arguing Against Trump’s Narcissism
Some critics, including some mental health workers, argue for Trump’s narcissism. In a letter to the New York Times, a supposed expert in the field claims that Trump does not fit the criteria.
I say ‘supposed,’ because his letter gives reason to question his judgment. The author starts with a problem, claiming that “Most [italics added] amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump…” I seriously doubt there is evidence to back up that statement. That would be a small concern, except that this error appears to be the same sort of intellectually reckless statement that the writer criticizes with the word ‘amateur’.
The psychiatrist then says that he wrote the criteria for NPD, listed above. To invoke the polite name for a popular card game, “I doubt it.” A committee wrote that criteria; he simply chaired the committee. This, too, would seem a minor problem, except for the itching irony: it suggests a touch of narcissism in an expert on narcissism.
The writer, unfortunately, then moves on to a couple of stunners. First, he argues against Trump’s narcissism, that he does not qualify for NPD, because “he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose the mental disorder.”
If those are required considerations, then why aren’t they included in the diagnostic criteria?
The Goldwater Rule Must Work Both Ways
Finally, the writer himself is violating the Goldwater Rule. By publicly rejecting Trump’s narcissism, he is giving a professional opinion on a patient he has not examined. The APA may wish to consider professional action.
I am no psychiatrist, so I’m not bound by the Goldwater Rule. I have, however, spent some years studying narcissism and the dark tetrad for my own writings on mental dysfunction in government throughout civilization. But even then, the point is moot. I don’t need to argue for Trump’s narcissism. I merely need to point out that the APA requires that to make the diagnosis of NPD, the subject must meet five of the above criteria. Or to reverse the process, the clinician needs to eliminate five of them.
So I need say nothing about Trump’s narcissism. I simply invite the reader to try to eliminate any five of them.
Personally, I’m not sure anyone could convincingly eliminate even one.
The historical roots of narcissism in government, and of much other mental illness and horror throughout civilization, are covered in depth in my recent book, Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation, available at The University of Louisiana Press and Amazon.
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Picture courtesy of Max Goldberg.