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Tuesday, March 10, 2020


It is now a commonplace among the left-leaning Commentariat that Trump is a malignant narcissist, a pathological liar, a misogynist, a crook, an incipient fascist, and also, by some medical standards, morbidly obese.  All true, to be sure, but none of this quite captures what I find to be his most genuinely weird trait, a trait that, I am sure, has a place in an Encyclopedia of Psychopathology, if such exists.

I am referring to his repeated descriptions of himself as a genius, as knowing more about war than the generals, as knowing more about the coronavirus than the doctors, as having a brilliant intuitive understanding of whatever subject is raised in discussion.  This is not boasting, it is not resumé inflation, it is not braggadocio.  It is  crazy [to use a technical term.]  It would be pathetic or risible were it not so poisonous.

Has anyone come across a really good analysis of the phenomenon?


Jay said...
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Howie said...

It is part of grandiose narcissism, clearly. Like you, I was in analysis in my youth- I'd say part of it is a reaction to his strong father and part of it is the attitude of a New Yorker, particularly one who thought of himself as building the town, like Sinatra's anthem for New York, part of it is patriotism and aggression.
You'll have to lure the man to the couch, and listen toi him, or just give him a lobotomy and examine what spills out

Jay said...

Tried to leave a link but I messed up the first post.

I'm no psychoanalyst, but I've heard similar sorts of pathologies be referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Wikipedia entry for the Dunning-Kruger effect

Dean said...

Delusions of grandeur?

Michael Llenos said...
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RFGA, Ph.D. said...
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I. M. Flaud said...

The origin of his success is divine?

Enam el Brux said...

Don't feed the trolls, Flaud. The question concerned the diagnosis, not a case presentation thereof.

Howie said...

We all need our heroes to worship RFGA. Tell me one nice thing about him that justifies your affection for him and cite proof he did these miraculous deeds, assuming a police state of people who think they are Christians is a good thing, and anything you heard on Fox is inadmissible

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

I'm not sure why it isn't explained by his pathological narcissism. So picture Narcissus staring into the pond believing he is the most beautiful, and another person comes along asking why he's doing that. Narcissus tries to explain himself, but the interloper exasperatedly says, "You must be an idiot!" After he thinks about it for a minute, Narcissus replies, "Not only am I the most beautiful, I am also the smartest as well." I would assume Trump has responded to the question of his intelligence since he was little kid and had to defend himself from the charge of stupidity to maintain his self-image. Besides, nothing works like projection.

I don't know if grandiosity is a characteristic of narcissism, but it seems logical. (I used to have a DSM-5 in my office at work, but, rats, I'm retired.) It all seems to be of one package : the smartest (thought he is clearly massively ignorant), knows the best words (thought he never uses any of them), is the only one who can save the country (thought he's done nothing but [expletive deleted] it up), is a germaphobe (and won't get infected), etc.

It isn't, as you note, bragging or such. I suspect it is a deeply ingrained defense mechanism that's intrinsically related to his narcissism.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...
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ES said...

Dear Prof. Wolff,

Please do not delete RFGA's posts. I find them terribly amusing.

Dean said...

I'm an anarchist and a communist, hence I'm inspired to retrieve my copy of Russell Kirk's compilation for Penguin Books, Portable Conservative Reader, and reread it. I remember long ago finding it instructive. Being a librarian, I feel a strong connection to a true exercise of conservatism. I find that folks who align or identify themselves politically with conservatism are often woefully misguided. That's okay; so are we all in various ways. I only want to work for no state and approximately equitably shared obligations among all of us. What's the big deal? How is that not conservative?

Danny said...

I would stress how only a few of Trump’s big speeches are scripted. At many of his rallies, you get a lot of unscripted moments, with fractured, unfinished sentences, moving quickly from thought to thought. He makes vague implications with a raised eyebrow or a shrug, allowing his audience to reach their own conclusions. It's bursts of noun phrases, self-interruptions, sudden departures from the theme, flashes of memory, odd side remarks.

I don't really doubt his actual lack of intellectual discipline and analytical skills. This is actually a man with scattered thoughts. This is actually a man with a short span of attention. He goes off topic way more often than the average person in conversation.

But still, there is maybe a question worth considering here -- why Trump’s style of speaking is so appealing to many. Maybe it's relevant that he has 50 years of experience as a salesman who doesn’t care who he is selling to. Thus, he calls his supporters "folks," to show he is one of them (though many politicians employ this trick). Or when Trump keeps calling Clinton "crooked," or keeps referring to terrorists as "radical Muslims"..

Take, for example, Trump’s frequent use of "Many people are saying..." or "Believe me" — often right after saying something that is baseless or untrue. This tends to sound more trustworthy to listeners!?

Is he reading cognitive science? No. But, Trump seems to have mastered authenticity and spontaneity. He's confident enough to address large crowds conversationally and ad-lib on stage. He has been doing this for a very long time as a salesman — that’s what he is best at.

Now, maybe from looking up the thread, I know to expect a reply like 'He's an undisciplined narcissist who craves power but doesn't have the intellectual capacity to exercise it wisely.' Well, sure, I agree, that seems fairly obviously even, but still, this man talks honestly enough that you can see what he's like.

Dean said...

I totally get the attraction to Trump's delivery. He is on the one hand an inarticulate buffoon, a drooling moron, yet on the other hand somehow unflinching and scandalously genuine! He says shit that is designed to piss people off, and it does the trick. Compare Obama, that monster who thought nothing of slaughtering innocent unknowns and justifying doing so in glib academic terms. How is anybody supposed to choose between these two?

Danny said...

'Compare Obama, that monster who thought nothing of slaughtering innocent unknowns and justifying doing so in glib academic terms.'

I'm not sure what terms you prefer, but surely Pakistanis following news of the war got a completely different picture than those in the United States. And perhaps war reporting is one of journalism’s highest callings. I gather that there had been a drumbeat of death in the Pakistani media, the victims are often impoverished teenagers who have gotten caught up in the Taliban -- “U.S. Drone Kills 22 in North Waziristan”; “U.S. Missile Attack Kills 30”; “Death Toll in U.S. Drone Strikes Climbs to 19.” However, I inclined to picture this as incremental killing of bandits, drug dealers, and marginal characters by airborne missiles. Nevertheless, sure, maybe when the Western media did attempt to cover drone strikes that missed any high-value targets—and which, consequently, no US official was willing to discuss—their stories were thin. But I also recall when resident Donald Trump revoked a policy set by his predecessor (who was under pressure to be more transparent) requiring US intelligence officials to publish the number of civilians killed in drone strikes outside of war zones. The order applied to the CIA. It required the head of the CIA to release annual summaries of US drone strikes and assess how many died as a result.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...
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s. wallerstein said...

It's strange that in spite of his advanced age, Professor Wolff gets invited to lecture at Columbia University, at the University of North Carolina, etc., while you, with your doctorate, don't get invited anywhere. Now it all could be a commie plot to exclude an unrecognized genius like yourself or it just could be that you're just not on Wolff's intellectual level.

As to why he doesn't want to debate you, maybe he's not into arm wrestling. You seem to want to arm wrestle everyone. Not all of us have your macho insecurities which we need to test at every moment. I can see why given your psychological make-up, you identify with Trump because he's an arm-wrestler like yourself.

Anonymous said...

Its his M.O. He wants people to discuss, argue, talk, debate, troll places, etc. and he even has done it here. He wins again. Trump has always been in the public consciousness, he practically owned N.Y. in the eighties, went bankrupt a few times, called Rosie a fat pig, did the apprentice and now he is in politics. He is owning his existence at the expense of many. He is, whether we like it or not, an American icon. Everyone talks about him, I can't wait until they don't more so than I can't wait for the christmas bell ringers outside store to stop their holiday ringing. My best days are when I don't hear that name. He wants us to talk, and has done so on this blog as well. He wins.

Anonymous said...

Many may have seen this article, but I post it as a refresher:

RFGA, Ph.D. said...
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Michael said...

(Feel free to delete this if it's unwanted or too tangential, but it came to my mind in light of RFGA's bizarre preoccupation with abortion, and buffoonish insistence that Prof. Wolff is corrupting his readers' minds on the issue...)

I've been reading this blog for maybe a couple years, and (not that I'm keeping close track, but) I'm not sure I've seen Prof. Wolff mention abortion rights even a handful of times. I think it's just presumed that the pro-choice position is so obviously sound that it would lend undeserved credibility to dangerous, backwards, superstitious misogynists to even insinuate that there could be prima facie considerations in favor of the pro-life position. Given the way RFGA conducts himself, it's easy to see why this would be the case.

In order for the pro-life position to be intellectually honest and ethically sound, the pro-lifer would have to regard abortion, in most or all circumstances, as plainly equivalent to - i.e., a practically unmistakeable instance of - murder. The pro-lifer (or at any rate, the advocate of the position RFGA represents) would therefore have to persuade him- or herself that every woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy sees the matter more-or-less as follows: "There is, living inside my body, an individual person distinct from myself; given this, I have an ethical duty, all else being equal, to promote the wellbeing (or at minimum, the life) of this person; nevertheless, I choose to flout this duty for the sake of my own, less important purposes."

After all, abortion is (supposedly) murder, and the word "murder" serves to nullify the possibility of debate, discussion, nuance; if it is possible for an honest, informed, competent language-user to ask, "Is X really murder, in light of circumstances A, B, C...?", then the chances are quite good that X is something other than murder, e.g. a regrettable but well-intentioned ending of a life, taken to produce significantly less human misery than any immediately available alternative.

It might be open to the pro-lifer to use less problematic language (i.e., language which does not signal sheer contempt for women, and/or sheer obliviousness to the basic character of moral deliberation), e.g., by saying that abortion is (not murder, but) an instance of killing which an ideal moral reasoner would likely consider ultimately unjustified. And it is a philosophically interesting question, capable of yielding insightful discussion, in my opinion, whether the pro-life position in THIS sense has anything to recommend it. For instance, if I'm remembering at all accurately, I read an interesting argument by (I think) George Mavrodes along these lines in a bioethics course: What might make abortion problematic is its nullification not of a life that (presently, intrinsically, robustly) should not be nullified, but rather its nullification of a "future like ours." Plus there are strange questions (is strangeness an objection?) like, "If it's permissible to terminate the life of an embryo/fetus on the grounds that it isn't fully sentient, then on what grounds would it be wrong to kill an ordinary, healthy adult in her sleep?"

But at the end of the day, my hunch is that RFGA's version of the pro-life position is by far the more common one, and I do indeed worry about the appropriateness (indeed the dangers) of lending an undue appearance of legitimacy to this position. So, I take it that it's best to be pro-choice with few qualifications - and the qualifications are only of minor, philosophical interest.

Analogously, I hesitate to say anything sympathetic to religion (though most of history's greatest philosophers have believed in some form or another of the divine!), because it's seemingly too easily identified with a dangerous, backwards fundamentalism.

David Palmeter said...

I find myself wondering if RFGA, PhD got his doctorate from Trump University.

Nicola Rebagliati said...

As someone who had seen Berlusconi running his country for so many years I got to the conclusion that this narcissism is just acting that has many advantages:

- It signals you won't change anything in your country.
- It makes your life easier since you don't have to *really* know stuff, and you can get away with literally anything.
- It makes your opposition talking about you, but without giving them anything factual to deal with, because your capability of piling up garbage is far superior to their capability to deal with it rationally.
- Last, but not least, I think it makes you an unlikely target for attempted murders. In Italy this happend with mafia and "brigate rosse", and being a rich man I suppose one doesn't really feel the sacrifice for its country. On the other side, a political murder would be pointless if the person is considered a clown.

Conclusion: it's not as pathology, it's a tried and true acting with precise objectives.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. said...

The mass psychopathology of Trump supporters is even more confounding---with the degree of virulence of belief correlating positively with the number of heedless moments of exposure to FOX.

GJ said...

"Besides, that institution is almost completely controlled by Leftists like him, who hate people like me."

I would guess that most people hate you, RFGA, but not because you espouse asinine views.