Trump’s Personality

Greenberg and Baron’s textbook ‘Behavior in Organizations’ defines personality as ‘the unique and relatively stable pattern of behavior, thoughts and emotions shown by individuals.’  Psychologists don’t agree on exactly how and when a person’s personality is formed.   In the famous ‘nature-nurture’ controversy two schools of thought are opposing each other, one that believes that personality is genetically inherited, and one that believes that it is formed by an individual’s environment, primarily during the early childhood.  It is one of those frustrating problems where researchers know how to find a definite answer but cannot do the appropriate research for both practical and ethical reasons, because it would involve separating a large sample of identical twins at birth, having them grow up in very different environments, and subject them to personality tests over a long period of time.  But while there is disagreement about the origins of personality, there is full agreement that someone’s personality doesn’t change during that person’s lifetime and that the behavioral pattern is stable and repetitive.

The dominant traits of Donald Trump’s personality appear to be narcissism and megalomania, each at a psycho-pathological level.  Narcissism is defined as ‘extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration,’ and megalomania as ‘a delusional mental disorder that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur.’ It is obvious that the two traits enforce each other and Trump has displayed them all through the presidential campaign: the bragging about wealth and properties (“I have built a great business,” “I own the world’s best golf courses,” “I’m very rich”), the need to be adored by the crowds and to exaggerate their size, and the habit to enlarge himself by diminishing others (‘low-energy Jeb,’ ‘sleepy Ben Carson,’ ‘little Marco’ and ‘lyin’ Ted’).  Additionally, every narcissist considers him- or herself perfect and cannot accept any feedback that would suggest otherwise.  When Marco Rubio joked about Trump’s undersized hands he felt compelled to brag about the length of his penis, and kept showing the crowds his hands long after Rubio dropped out of the race.

It is the latter aspect of Trump’s personality, his absolute conviction that he’s perfect, that will ultimately doom his presidential bid and until then cause major headaches for the leadership of the Republican Party.  It is amusing to hear Paul Ryan talk about how much Trump will have to change before he can endorse him, and John McCain about how he sees it as his task to guide the nominee through the intricacies of GOP policies.  They have no clue what they’re dealing with.

Every psychologist knows that behavioral modification almost never works on a narcissist, because it all starts with the recognition that there is a problem and therefore something imperfect.  And why would Trump change, even if he could?  He has just crushed a field of alleged heavyweights for the Republican nomination, so he must be on the right track.

As Robert Costa of the Washington Post correctly observes, Trump doesn’t want to be changed by the GOP but he wants to remake the party in his image. The only ones who understand that are the Republicans who are defecting in droves by declaring that they cannot support him.

Hugo Kijne

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