How Donald Trump’s Presidency Reflected the Epidemic of Narcissism in America

A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and stumbled across an IGTV video made by music artist Lana Del Rey. I rolled my eyes. I assumed that the singer was in some sort of hot water again. Earlier last summer, she made controversial statements shunning black female artists, then faced backlash for wearing a transparent mesh mask during a meet-and-greet a few weeks later. Shortly after that, she made a tone-deaf statement about how she’s not racist because she ‘has friends who are rappers.’ As I sighed and tapped on the video, I didn’t really know what to think or expect.  

Lana began her rant apprehensively, stating that earlier in the week she had been interviewed by BBC Radio One, during which she was asked exclusively political questions. This was inevitable given the circumstances; just days earlier, our country experienced an attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol building. Lana explained that she told the reporter that when people are so devoid and deficient of empathy, they may not know that they are the ‘bad guy,’ hinting at former president Donald Trump’s reaction to the riots on Capitol Hill. 

She then took a moment to acknowledge that what she said may be a controversial opinion, but firmly clarified that it was unnecessary to take her perspective out of context and think that she was ‘defending’ Trump, or that he ‘didn’t mean’ to incite the riots. She went on to explain that in our country narcissism and sociopathy have always been reflected in our government officials. She referred to this concept as ‘the second pandemic,’ and went on to say that during the current pandemic, 911 calls and domestic abuse rates have increased almost 300%. Del Rey then added that she wants people to know her side of the story, and not the five words the media took out of her forty minute interview. To conclude the interview, she said: “I have the finger on the pulse. I watch the news just like everybody does. I was deeply concerned about the storming of the Capitol. F*ck you.”

As I clicked off the video, I bit the inside of my cheek. It had been a long time since I had agreed with the artist’s political statements, despite me being a fan of hers since I was in eighth grade. In my eyes, she made very captivating points regarding the current nature of the government, especially those concerning former president Donald J. Trump. To me, Lana Del Rey perfectly explained why he is the way he is. A person devoid of empathy cannot be left in charge of making decisions that do not exclusively benefit him or people like him. Period. This was proven during the four years of Trump’s presidency.

I can spend hours, days, possibly even weeks psychoanalyzing Trump’s mind, but the one outstanding detail about his personality, which has been discussed by critics and psychologists alike, is that Donald Trump likely suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissistic personality disorder is a disorder characterized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5) by “one having an elevated sense of self importance, an excessive need for admiration, cruel and insensitive behavior towards others, preoccupied fantasies of unlimited success and power, lack of empathy, and risk-taking behaviors.” The origin of this personality disorder is unknown, but specialists speculate that having an unstable and traumatic childhood, as well as having a genetic predisposition to the disorder (for example having a parent who has NPD), can increase one’s risk of meeting these criteria. The lack of self-worth and self esteem growing up often manifests itself into extreme attention seeking behaviors and the constant need for admiration in teenagers and adults. As a child, Donald Trump was described as rambunctious, cocky and aggressive. At school he misbehaved so often that by the time he was thirteen, his father, Fred C. Trump had enough and pulled him out, enrolling him at a strict military academy. His biographer, Michael D’Antonio, described this banishment from his childhood home as a ‘rough start’ to his adult life. Upon reflecting on this point of his life, Donald Trump often refers to it as a necessary wake up call that ‘whipped him back into shape.’ Furthermore, spending time at the military academy taught Trump another important lesson: you can get away with anything if you play your cards right.

Narcissists stand out from the average person because they lack the ability to take accountability for anything they do wrong. These are the people who will go extreme lengths to prove that they are right, even when the truth is far from it. Narcissists will never feel guilt or apologize for anything, no matter how much damage they cause. These people will go above and beyond to gaslight, manipulate and trick people into thinking that they are a special person with no flaws, when in reality they are lost, cold-hearted and incapable of loving anyone, including themselves. Narcissists are liars, often exaggerating personal achievements and successes in order to lure people into their delusions of perfection and grandeur that only exist in the realms of their twisted minds. When confronted about their behavior, they suddenly have a plethora of excuses for their unjust acts. Narcissists are also charmers; despite being foul and tainted human beings on the inside, they often have an overwhelming amount of friends, lovers and connections at their fingertips. To build this network, they employ a special tactic—everyone must be kept at arm’s length. They can never risk letting someone know who they really are, because if they do, the narcissist’s worst fear will come true: people will no longer admire them and give them that attention they so desperately crave. 

Narcissists are also dangerous. Despite having little to no leadership qualities (in order to be a good leader you need to care about people) they often fulfill their fantasies of unlimited power and control by pursuing careers that will provide them with it. Narcissists only think about themselves, never about the needs and interests of others. They always self-inflate their image as they put themselves on a pedestal and convince their followers to idolize every word that comes out of their mouth. 

Donald Trump’s professional career is probably one of the most extreme examples of this phenomenon. Before announcing his run for president on June 16, 2015, he was known for making a multi-million dollar fortune off of real estate. He built the infamous Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and pursued other projects in Mumbai, Istanbul and the Philippines. Trump also developed hotels and casinos, of which several ended up filing for bankruptcy. Aside from investing in buildings, Donald Trump also owned a few beauty pageants, with Miss Universe and Miss USA being the most recognizable. After announcing his intent to run in the 2016 presidential election, he made promises to the American people about how he would repeal Obamacare, dig America out of debt, build a huge border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and bring offshore companies back to America. None of these things happened. 

Let’s face it. Presidents usually never keep any of their campaign promises. They are just utilized as tactics to lure the American people in, enticing them so that their votes will be secured. Hell, I’d be shocked if Biden kept 1/16th of the promises he made during his campaign. Nonetheless, Donald Trump stands out. Throughout his presidency, it wasn’t the lack of promise fulfilling that set him apart. It was the fact that he managed to wiggle himself out of any bad situation that he was confronted with, even the ones that pinned him down with factual evidence. Despite some of the controversies having enough power to destroy anyone’s reputation, Trump still got away, all while his following remained relatively stable. Trump’s strategy to deal with these scandals was to deny, manipulate and gaslight. A narcissist does everything they can to avoid taking responsibility for their wrongdoings. 

Despite his best efforts, however, Trump’s lies landed him two impeachments. Here is brief rundown of all the other lies he told, starting with the countless sexual assault allegations that were filed against Trump before, during and after his campaign. To all of these allegations, he either responded with ‘that was totally false’ or ‘she’s not my type’ or ‘that never happened.’ Next came the accusations of tax avoidance by the New York Times. Records revealed that during the first year of his presidency (and the year before that) he paid $750 in federal income taxes. Despite his accusers having physical proof and documentation, he brushed the evidence off, blaming it on the ‘fake news’ and a plethora of other scapegoats. Perhaps one of his most shocking examples of Trump’s dishonesty took place during the Jeffrey Epstein trials, when tons of information began spewing out about the pair’s long friendship and joint endeavors together. Despite this evidence, Trump said that ‘he wasn’t a fan’ of Epstein’s, and how he knew him ‘like everybody in Palm Beach knew him.’ Shortly after Ghisaline Maxwell’s arrest, Trump responded: “I don’t know. I haven’t really been following it too much. I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach. I guess they lived in Palm Beach. But I wish her well. Whatever it is. I don’t know the situation with Prince Andrew. Just don’t know. Not aware of it.” When his statement inevitably caused serious backlash, he quickly defended it, saying that he didn’t want her to die in jail like Jeffrey Epstein. If you don’t want someone to die in prison, you say, ‘I hope they don’t die in prison.’ You do not send them well-wishes. One would think that people would understand this, but some  use the ambiguity of previous statements to their advantage. It is easy to say something that seems very straightforward, and then twist your words to make it seem like you meant something entirely different. This is a typical gaslighting technique that a lot of narcissists utilize. 

Perhaps one of the most dangerous and historically significant moments that happened during Trump’s presidency was the storming of Capitol Hill. A massive group of domestic terrorists made their way to the country’s capitol building, of which many were armed, and successfully made it inside the building, seeking out politicians. Many of the rioters came from the “Save America Rally” that was held by Donald Trump further down the National Mall. Trump spoke to rioters for more than an hour, insisting that the election had been stolen, and that “Our country has had enough,” and that “we will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about. To use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.” Shortly after he was finished, supporters headed for the capitol building. This led to Trump being charged with incitement during his second impeachment trial. During the riots, he sent out this tweet.

Narcissists hide their low self esteem with charm and talk, but will ruin anyone who does not agree with them or give them the admiration they desire. The riots on Capitol Hill were a perfect example of this. Despite losing and having multiple recounts confirm it, Trump continued on with his delusions of him winning by a landslide. Narcissists never admit to being wrong, to losing or to having any sort of weakness. They will always blame their losses on other people or circumstances. 

Narcissists will never change their behavior, no matter how many people are harmed in the process. They will continue to berate, harass and gaslight the ones around them just for a feeling of power and authority. Upon being confronted for their inappropriate behavior, they will often lie their way out or gaslight the accuser, often by calling them ‘crazy’ or telling them they are overreacting. These people are foul, yet it seems like everybody loves them and are able to look past their many flaws. In Trump’s case, he was a bigot and lacked basic respect towards others, often outwardly insulting them to their faces. Despite this, his supporters still kissed the ground that he walked on. The reasoning behind this is simple: narcissists are extremely good at manipulating others by telling people what they want to hear, exactly how they want to hear it. The sad reality of this is that not only do most supporters of Donald Trump hold similar values as him, but they are also extremely gullible. Hence why he managed to keep such a strong following through the years. 

The irony is that there is beauty that comes with all of this. As Lana Del Rey mentioned in her interview, this madness was necessary for America because people will finally begin to understand and realize this bigger issue that America is dealing with. Unfortunately, Donald Trump isn’t the only narcissist in the world. Anyone can fall victim to these lies and be manipulated to believe them. The narcissist could be your boss. It could be your parent. It could be your significant other. Your best friend. Millions of people are caught in these horrible cycles of lies, manipulation and gaslighting, all while thinking that this person gives a damn about them. Newsflash: they don’t. A person that truly cares about you will always respect you and your boundaries, and will also treat everyone around them with respect. A narcissist only cares about their emotional suppliers; the people they know will always stick around to stroke their egos. Everyone else is irrelevant. This very much applies to former president Donald J. Trump. If he truly cared about America, he would care about all Americans—not just the ones who supported his rhetoric—by fighting for their rights and quality of life.