We’re a nation of narcissists, this is true. Christopher Lasch wrote as much in his bestseller The Culture of Narcissism in 1979. But he was only examining American culture between the end of World War II and the 1970s, the “Me Decade.” Lasch wasn’t looking at obsessive individualism as a unique and historical American trait, one with roots as far back as Jamestown and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” (1860). He was looking at how the American obsession with self had evolved into “self-love” and a constant need for either attention or navel-gazing, as evidenced by the rise of pop psychology in the 1960s and 1970s.
Too bad Lasch isn’t around in 2016 to see how far down the rabbit hole America has gone. Between Kim Kardashian-West (at least for the moment) and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, it is obvious that we have a national crisis of narcissism on our hands. The two of them are the same side of a two-headed coin. One has traded on their family and beauty in exchange for millions of fans and tens of millions of dollars. The other has built an empire based on his father’s fortune and his brand of self-love. Both have taken advantage of White privilege and class privilege to drive their constant need for fame and attention. And since game knows game, they have both earned themselves an audience of millions who themselves are obsessed with themselves. Or at least, with seeing themselves as successful by living vicariously through the likes of Kim K and The Donald.
The New Material Girl
Kardashian “broke the Internet” again this past week, this time with a tweet that included a “naked” picture of her posing in front of a full-length mirror. I say “naked” only because she redacted her breast and privates, so that while she was naked when taking the picture, it’s not really a naked picture. Obviously Kardashian can do whatever she wants. Anyone with an objective eye can see that Kardashian has as much beauty as genetics and plastic surgery can muster. Anyone who objects to her taking photos of herself in the nude on moralistic grounds is either a prude or a hypocrite, given the number of people who pay attention to her and her brand.
Donald Trump posing with Kim Kardashian at Celebrity Apprentice event, New York, 2010. (Mathew Imaging/WireImage via http://eonline.com).
Kardashian is a narcissist, and those millions of folks who follow her on Twitter, watch her shows on E!, buy her products and/or jack off to her are narcissists as well. Not because she has maintained a slamming body despite pregnancy, reaching her mid-thirties, or her five-three frame. Kardashian is a narcissist because she embodies most of the clinical symptoms it. According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), narcissistic personality disorder (under the code 301.81) is “a persistent manner of grandiosity, a continuous desire for admiration, along with a lack of empathy.” In order to determine if a patient may have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a psychiatrist must determine if that patient meets at least any five (5) of the nine (9) standards below:
1. A grandiose logic of self-importance (✓)
2. A fixation with fantasies of unlimited success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love (definitely ✓)
3. A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions (see her collection of friends, lovers: ✓)
4. A desire for unwarranted admiration (✓)
5. A sense of entitlement (✓)
6. Interpersonally oppressive behavior
7. No form of empathy
8. Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
9. A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes (✓)
(American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
It would be hard to know for sure where Kardashian would stand on 6., 7., and 8. without some serious time on a couch or knowing her beyond her public displays of all things herself. Still, it was easy enough to get to six standards without the need for a PhD in psychology or a psychiatric license.
What is worrisome about both Kardashian and Trump, though, is their endless legions of fans and supporters. Kardashian has been peddling herself as Whiteness personified, an entitled upper-class Beverly Hills daughter of O.J. Simpson friend and defense lawyer Robert Kardashian (of Armenian descent) and Kris Houghton-Kardashian-Jenner. Despite the ethnic contradictions, Kardashian’s success has been based in the idea of the glamorous life, the ability to be ostentatious, to rub shoulders, elbows, and other anatomical parts with the rich and famous and the up-and-comers. Between the sex tape with Ray J. that made its way to the Internet and the start of Keeping Up With The Kardashians (both in 2007), her brand of narcissistic Whiteness has been on display now for a full decade. There’s no way that someone whose only job prior to reality TV was as a stylist would be doing this well without the blind support of millions of Americans who have the narcissism, but lack the funds to fuel it.
Damien Meets The Donald
The same is true of GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. He would not be in the position to run against either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders were it not for his four decades in the public eye. Between his casinos, his business ventures (which include numerous failures and five Chapter 11 filings), his immense number of interviews, his three marriages and extramarital affairs, and his NBC TV show The Apprentice (2003-15), Trump’s name is legend. At least for 1990s rap artists and generations of Whites who have bought his books on entrepreneurship in the millions.
Trump, or to go back to the original (thank you, John Oliver), Drumpf, would fulfill all nine standards for narcissistic personality disorder. His constant expressions of misogyny, his equating of Mexicans with rape and criminality, his belief that all protesters need to “get a job,” his insistence that the world is divided between winners and “losers.” All while Trump believes that his very name equals success, no matter the amount of evidence that contradicts his inverted reality. On the 40-point-scale of the Narcissistic Personality Index, Drumpf would likely score between a 38 and a 40, a perfect or near-perfect score. A score, by the way, that no one other than a narcissist would be proud of.
Drumpf, though, is a snake-oil salesman who benefited from his father’s slum-lording ways, inheriting a company in 1971 and part of Fred Trump’s $200 million upon the latter’s death in 1999. If Bill Gates isn’t a self-made billionaire, then Drumpf was born two marathons ahead of Gates in the human race for wealth. Yet Trump has presented himself for years as the epitome of Horatio Alger, and to the detriment of millions of Whites who actually believe that Trump’s life is a rags-to-riches story. The bankruptcies don’t matter. The failures of Trump Shuttle, Trump University, Trump Entertainment Resorts, none of that has mattered. All that matters, apparently, is that Trump is a billionaire (no one really knows how much he’s worth; could be anywhere between $250 million and $3.9 billion), and that he promises to “Make America Great Again.”
Unlike Kardahshian, Trump openly attacks anyone who contradicts his narcissistic image of himself and his world. He has for years. The so-called Central Park Five wrongly convicted in the 1989 wilding gang rape case — Yusef Salaam Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Korey Wise — can attest to the impact of Trump’s money, one-page ad calling for the death penalty, and narcissism on their lives. Even after the courts overturned their convictions in 2002 and they finally settled their lawsuits against the city for $41 million in 2014, Trump still blamed the five for a crime that they obviously did not commit. “Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts. These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels,” Trump wrote in an op-ed for the New York Daily News in June 2014. Apparently, a narcissist who always sees people of color in the worst possible light can never be wrong.
Even with his so-called friends, Trump’s narcissism is beyond the pale. When supposed friend Rev. Al Sharpton disagreed with Trump’s law-and-order stance on Ferguson in 2014, Trump responded with a personal attack during an interview with Fox News. actually addressed their relationship during a Fox News hit last December. “Al’s a con man. He knows it. I know it. Don King knows it, his friend, who I go to with fights with — with Al. And they all know it,” Trump said. He added, Sharpton’s a “professional con man” who has “gotten away with murder.”
We Are The #1s
Should we ever wonder why Trump’s rallies are a who’s who of White supremacy and privilege attracting every form of bigotry, like a nuclear missile fully fueled and ready for launch? Should anyone be surprised that whenever Drumpf blows his dog whistles to his mobs about immigration, the US-Mexico border, yells at a protester, “get them outta here” like a drunk-ass White supremacist, calls President Barack Obama “a disaster,” his audience responds with angry delight? This isn’t just racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, or misogyny at work. No, this is also a collective obsession with the self, a self that yearns to be like Drumpf in interviews, and on stage at rallies, and in proclaiming the self to be richer, greater, more successful, and more right than every other self.
Donald Trump greets supporters after a rally, Mobile, Alabama, August 27, 2015. (Mark Wallheiser/Getty via http://www.telegraph.co.uk/).
It isn’t the fault of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (2010) that Trump is on a glide path toward the GOP nomination this summer. Nor is it the fault of Obama, or Black Lives Matter, or even The Donald himself. No, it is the fault of millions of narcissistic Americans whose billionaire and celebrity worship has trumped all sense of reality.
As psychology professors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell noted in their recent book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009), millions of Americans live in the “land of grandiose fantasy,” with potentially disastrous results (pp. 3-4), like the rise of Trump. Given that March Madness 2016 begins in earnest this week, would anyone really notice if Trump decided to make Kim K. his vice-presidential running mate? She turns thirty-five this October, after all.