The narcissism of Donald Trump's candidacy

Story highlights

  • Alan J. Lipman: Donald Trump, throughout his career, has been noted for his inability to tolerate disagreement
  • He is guided by impulse, the search for praise and vengeance, and the wish for personal grandiosity, Lipman says

Dr. Alan J. Lipman has been a professor at Georgetown University and The George Washington University, and has held positions at Yale University School of Medicine and The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the founder of The Center for the Study of Violence and Washington Psychotherapy. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)Donald Trump's statement in the final Presidential debate that he would leave the nation in suspense over whether he would accept the election result is merely the most recent example of the narcissism that has marked his candidacy. But while some might be tempted to dismiss such remarks as simply bluster, their extremity and breadth reveal something fundamental -- and critical -- about how a President Trump might perform in office.

As a clinical psychologist, I have worked with many narcissists over the past 30 years, and have taught how to detect and treat such behavior. That's why it isn't hard for me to spot some of the signs, even from a distance, in Donald Trump.
For a start, there is the severe inability to focus on consequences other than those which directly affect him. There is a significant lack of empathy for the nation, and the impact that personal decisions made in rage would have upon the nation and its citizens. There is also the impulsivity with which Trump makes decisions of sweeping consequence, as well as the inability, even with the most stringent preparation, to prevent eruptions. All of this suggests narcissism. And together these traits make the candidate profoundly unfit for the Presidency.
    Alan Lipman
    The reality is that being president requires both discipline and self-discipline. Given the constant flow of expected and unexpected events that beset a president -- crises, demands, new threats and circumstances demanding immediate yet thoughtful and informed response -- he or she must have the ability to focus on each new situation without being distracted by personal slights, arguments and vendettas.
    Trump, though, has shown himself to be markedly impulsive, to the point that those who have worked with him have reportedly found it difficult to guide him to focus on essential preparations and learning. This belies the much touted idea by supporters that he would be guided by experts. He is instead guided by impulse, the search for praise and vengeance, and the wish for personal grandiosity.
    Trump's ever-present need for praise, meanwhile, makes him extremely vulnerable to manipulation; look to his response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions. Of greater significance is his draw to conflict. Once engaged, he finds it extraordinarily difficult to pull back for fear of a loss of perceived power, a trait that would be easily provoked in a host of foreign and domestic policy situations.
    In addition, the presidency requires knowledge of foreign and domestic policy, of American and foreign systems of governance, history and culture, and of the essentials of American civic law. Yet Trump, by his own admission -- with the exception of his ghostwritten work -- does not like to read. He has shown his degree, level, and depth of knowledge of American governance in the apparent citation of Constitutional articles that do not exist<