#105 Addiction to Attention

On September 1, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Almost a year ago, I suggested that Donald Trump exhibits many of the symptoms of “narcissistic personality disorder” and provided the criteria delineated in the American Psychiatric Association’s definition as evidence (Obamagram #100).

As the presidential campaign runs its course, it seems to me that we need only one construct to understand Mr. Trump’s motivation for running for president and his unconventional behavior – his insatiable need for attention.  It’s an addiction.

That’s the only possible explanation for his brief appearance yesterday with the president of Mexico, during which he assumed a diplomatic posture, followed hours later by a return to his inflammatory build-a-wall-that-they-will-pay-for rhetoric.

It is validating to see that a number of other observers are now talking about Mr. Trump’s apparent mental disorders.  After the Republican Convention, David Brooks wrote, “I almost don’t blame Trump. He is a morally untethered, spiritually vacuous man who appears haunted by multiple personality disorders.”

On the NewsHour not long ago, Mr. Brooks said, “…in public, he obviously displays extreme narcissism.”

In the June issue of The Atlantic, Dan P. McAdams, wrote a piece entitled, “The Mind of Donald Trump.”  Prof. McAdams is the chair of the Psychology Department at Northwestern University.  Here are excerpts from his article:

In creating this portrait, I will draw from well-validated concepts in the fields of personality, developmental, and social psychology…

For psychologists, it is almost impossible to talk about Donald Trump without using the word narcissism. Asked to sum up Trump’s personality for an article in Vanity Fair, Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard, responded, “Remarkably narcissistic.” George Simon, a clinical psychologist who conducts seminars on manipulative behavior, says Trump is “so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example” of narcissism…

As nearly everybody knows, Trump has attached his name to pretty much everything he has ever touched…Self-references pervade Trump’s speeches and conversations, too…

To consider the role of narcissism in Donald Trump’s life is to go beyond the dispositional traits of the social actor — beyond the high extroversion and low agreeableness, beyond his personal schemata for decision making — to try to figure out what motivates the man. What does Donald Trump really want?…

Who, really, is Donald Trump? What’s behind the actor’s mask? I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations [emphasis added] and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.

I have long thought that Mr. Trump doesn’t really want to be president – he is simply in this race because it is the ultimate means to draw attention to himself.  His dilemma, were he to win (which is extremely unlikely) would be akin to the proverbial dog catching the car.

I think that Mr. Trump’s recent halting attempts to “soften” his tone on immigration and reach out to African Americans is not a pivot to the general election phase of the campaign, but rather a pivot to his post-election aspirations.  His claim that if he loses, it is only because the election was rigged or stolen is also an attempt to set up his post-election narrative.

In that vein, I came across a column last month in the New York Times by Neal Gabler, a journalist and academic.  For me, he has connected the motivational dots.

People run for the presidency for all sorts of reasons. But Donald J. Trump may be the first to run because he sees a presidential campaign as the best way to attract attention to himself [emphasis added.] There seems to be no other driving passion in him, certainly not the passion to govern.

Mr. Trump is no fool. He couldn’t possibly have thought that insulting the Khans, who had lost a son in combat, or dithering over whether to support the speaker of the House, Paul D. Ryan, or disingenuously hinting that the only way to stop Hillary Clinton was to shoot her, would have boosted his prospects for winning. They only boosted the attention paid to him.

Nevertheless, that attention, as we are seeing, won’t necessarily help Mr. Trump win the election, which isn’t to say that there might not be a method to his narcissism. Winning means different things to different candidates. It doesn’t always mean winning the vote.

Mike Huckabee used the attention he got in his losing campaign to land a gig on the Fox News Channel. Sarah Palin used hers to get a reality show and enormous speaking fees. Ben Carson used his to sell books. Losers at the ballot box, they were all winners in a manner of speaking.

If you think of his campaign as a real-estate negotiation, the man who coined the term “art of the deal” has taken a huge edifice, plastered his name all over it without investing much in it, and is very likely to abandon it as a troubled asset once the election is over and its value is diminished, leaving others holding the bag, just as he reportedly did during his serial bankruptcies. Only, in this case, the edifice is the Republican Party. It is Mr. Trump’s biggest deal ever.

And Mr. Trump leaves not only with 18 months of headlines and cheering crowds, but with an even bigger brand. Sarah Ellison of Vanity Fair and Brian Stelter of CNN have speculated that Mr. Trump may want to use his new notoriety to build a media empire. His alliance with Mr. [Stephen] Bannon [of Breitbart News] may help him do that. So may his reported linkup with Roger Ailes for campaign advice.

And, I would add Sean Hannity to the duo of Bannon and Ailes as a third adviser who could help him launch a Trump cable channel.  What better way would there be for Mr. Trump to continue to feed his addiction to attention.

Please, as always, pass it on.  And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com





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