Although Donald Trump’s future impeachment attorney Alan Dershowitz was saddened in 2019 that the then-president would never refuse to step down after a losing election, psychologists and other mental health experts who spoke to Salon ahead of the 2020 election repeatedly made the opposite prediction. Because Trump exhibits many narcissistic traits, they anticipated that he would respond to loss as if it were “psychic death,” as psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee put it at the time.
As we all now know, the mental health experts were right.
“Pathological narcissism … means an inability to put the interests of the nation ahead of self-interest and prone to dangerous violence.”
Now, as Americans sort through the rubble of the unanticipated coup attempt that resulted from Trump’s swagger, a new study in the Journal of Conflict Resolution (JCR) by researchers from Ohio State University and Ripon College shows a different way in which the presidential Narcissism has direct effects that changed the course of history – and took lives.
The study found that presidents who displayed more narcissistic traits kept America in wars longer than their less narcissistic counterparts. Indeed, as Salon learned when he turned to experts, these presidents can also bring out the narcissistic traits of their own supporters in order to get them to support these wars.
Led by then Ohio State PhD student in political science John P. Harden (now teaching at Ripon), the JCR study examined every president from William McKinley (who oversaw America’s rise to superpower status in the late 1890s) to George W. Bush cross-references a wide array of known facts about these presidents’ personalities with a record of narcissistic traits. It found that the eight presidents who were on the more narcissistic end of the spectrum (among them Lyndon Johnson number one) spent an average of 613 days at war, while the 11 presidents who were on the lower end of the narcissistic spectrum (with McKinley as the least narcissistic) spent an average of just 136 days in the war for their tenure.
In an email conversation with Salon, Harden noted that the researchers were criticized for not including Barack Obama or Donald Trump in their analysis. “It also strikes me that most people don’t care if [Joe] Biden is included in the data,” Harden said. Harden explained that “a benefit of this approach is that it minimizes bias.”
Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to Salon’s weekly newsletter, The Vulgar Scientist.
“The study proves with certainty that grandiose trait-level narcissism affects the duration of interstate wars,” Harden told Salon. “While I started out supporting the claim that narcissism affects foreign policy in a previous article, this JCR article goes a bit further by showing that narcissism can affect something as overwhelming as the length of a war.” Albeit scholars of international relations tend to downplay the role of individual figures in determining broader global events, Harden argued that his research joins a larger field, “suggesting that this perspective may be far too simplistic to explain movements in global politics.” to be taken into account”.
dr David Reiss — a psychiatrist and mental fitness assessment expert who contributed to the book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President — told Salon via email that the conclusions were so make a lot of sense, “they’re almost a tautology.” He commended the authors for using biographies and other historical research to analyze presidents rather than actual psychological assessments, which made their conclusions seem reasonable.
“Not surprisingly, the behavior of those who meet these qualifications demonstrated a lack of caring for others, a lack of humility, and a lack of straightforwardness, etc. in fulfilling their duties as POTUS.” [President of the United States] as the war lengthened, Reiss added. Indeed, “since the entire legacy of a POTUS will be very strongly linked to wars/conflicts he engages the country in, narcissistic traits (whether minor or major) could be expected to be amplified in a situation recognized as a direct impact on the historical heritage of the person.”
“It follows that to the extent that Trump supporters invest their own narcissism in Trump’s persona … any sort of ‘defeat’ or setback is very poorly tolerated,” Reiss pointed out.
dr Bandy X. Lee — a psychiatrist who also co-authored “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” and was one of the first prominent psychiatrists to call attention to Trump’s narcissistic traits — argued in writing that narcissism itself is not inherently dangerous is a political leader, “Pathological narcissism, by definition, makes you dangerous and unfit for the office of President, to say nothing of many other far less consequential positions. It means an inability to put the interests of the nation ahead of yourself – interest and will be dangerously violent This is even more true for psychopathy, which can be defined as the extreme end of narcissism.
Lee added, “I believe this indicates the great importance of fundamental mental health considerations in relation to our senior national leaders, most notably the US President. The same should apply to the Commander in Chief.”
Not only are the presidents who commit to prolonged wars themselves narcissistic, but they can also persuade citizens to support those prolonged wars by stimulating their own narcissistic traits.
dr Jessica January Behr, a licensed psychologist who practices in New York City, said it’s reasonable to assume that “based on the dataset,” many people supporting these wars “could be motivated, at least in part, by their own narcissistic traits.” “
Behr added, “Furthermore, identification with the presidents or other leaders who support and prolong the war may be proxy narcissism or a kind of Stockholm syndrome on a mass scale.”
“My general tendency is that citizens will support a narcissist because of their overconfidence, willingness to simplify complex problems into dubiously simple solutions, and tendency to report that a war is going well when it isn’t.” .”
Proxy narcissism refers to a condition in which a person—or a group of people—thinks and acts in a way that benefits a narcissist’s own goals, despite not necessarily being a narcissist themselves. Often, those affected by proxy narcissism adapt narcissistic behavior while acting on the narcissist’s behalf. Some psychologists believe that proxy narcissism explains the cult-like devotion some supporters of President Trump expressed toward him.
Harden offered a slightly different take on the intersection between a leader’s narcissism and his ability to garner support from the masses.
“That’s an interesting question,” Harden wrote. “My general bias is that citizens will support a narcissist because of their overconfidence, willingness to simplify complex problems into dubiously simple solutions, and tendency to report that a war is going well when it isn’t . For these reasons, citizens may support war under a narcissistic leader because they are not fully aware of the costs and consequences.
Harden concluded, “In a way—yes—pro-war sentiment is fueled by the behavior of a narcissistic leader.”
To the extent that Trump’s Big Lie could be described (at least in the minds of those involved) as analogous to war, the study’s conclusions offer ominous implications for America’s ability to overcome Trump’s attempted coup.
It follows that to the extent that Trump supporters invest their own narcissism in Trump’s personality, ‘success’ and ‘legacy’ (which Trump actively encourages and strongly encourages others to do), any sort of ‘defeat’ or setback greatly “Being will be poorly tolerated,” Reiss pointed out. “This is likely to lead to a range of dysfunctional behaviors” unless the people acting out another’s narcissism develop a sense of self, which is rare in narcissists.
About politics and psychology