Columns » Gene Lyons

Narcissist supreme

An ordinary sociopath would have known to pretend shock and sorrow after the terrible mass murder in Orlando.

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An ordinary sociopath would have known to pretend shock and sorrow after the terrible mass murder in Orlando. Shielded from ordinary human interaction by his arrogance and wealth, however, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump had no clue how to act. So he sent out an instinctive, self-serving reaction on Twitter:

"Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!"

Meghan McCain, Arizona Sen. John McCain's daughter, reacted incredulously: "You're congratulating yourself because 50 people are dead this morning in a horrific tragedy?"

Even more pointed was GOP consultant and TV talking-head Ana Navarro: "Translating Trump: '20 people [sic] are dead. 42 people are injured. But of course, 1st, it's all about Me. Me. Me.' Ugh."

Both women spoke for millions. Is there no tragedy so grave, no sorrow so profound, that it can penetrate the hardened carapace of Trump's ego?

Clearly not. Unless polls showing a steep drop in Trump's chances to win the presidency are all wrong, many Americans are just now awakening to that reality. Unless they find some way to save themselves, Republicans are on the verge of nominating a psychological cripple: an ego-driven, self-obsessed narcissist preoccupied with fantasies of power, and incapable of empathy.

Too harsh? Overnight, Trump doubled down. In an interview on Fox News, he allowed as how President Obama had not only failed to prevent ISIS-inspired homophobe Omar Mateen from massacring 49 innocent souls in Orlando's Pulse nightclub, but that he's probably a traitor.

"Look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind. And the something else in mind — you know, people can't believe it," he said. "People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can't even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There's something going on. It's inconceivable. There's something going on ... [Obama] doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands — it's one or the other and either one is unacceptable."

In his withering fashion, the president dismissed Trump's "yapping" while pronouncing the supposedly forbidden words "radical Islamists."

"It's a political talking point," he said. "It's not a strategy ... Not once has an adviser of mine said, 'Man, if we really use that phrase, we're going to turn this whole thing around.' Not once."

Obama's mockery makes Trump crazy precisely because it diminishes his shaky self-esteem. People who are genuinely self-confident don't feel the need for constant boasting. The clinical term for what ails the candidate is "Narcissistic Personality Disorder."

Improperly — shrinks aren't supposed to diagnose public figures they haven't met — but no doubt accurately, a growing number of clinicians have used the phrase to explain Trump's disturbing personality traits.

"He's so classic that I'm archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there's no better example of his characteristics," psychologist George Simon, who conducts seminars on manipulative behavior, told Vanity Fair.

"He's like a dream come true."

And that was back last fall during GOP debates, when Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush and Megyn Kelly were Trump's targets of choice. Having bluffed and bulldozed his way into the Republican nomination, the candidate now finds himself in a new world where different rules apply. He appears incapable of adjusting.

"Success emboldens malignant narcissists to become even more grandiose, reckless and aggressive," writes psychologist John D. Gartner. "Sure enough, after winning the nomination, there has been no 'pivot' towards more reasonable behavior and ideas, just the opposite. He has become more shrill, combative and openly racist."

Trump's unprovoked attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel's ethnicity appear to have repulsed even voters resentful of liberal cant about racism, but who do think of themselves as fair. Fully 56 percent in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll had a "strongly unfavorable" view of Trump — the kind of judgment that may be irreversible.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo sums things up from a political perspective: "Almost every day since he clinched the nomination almost six weeks ago has been a surreal tour through Trump's damaged psyche — the insecurities, silly feuds, the mix of self-serving lies and attacks on people he's supposed to be courting. ... The daily particulars are so mesmerizing that you have to step back to see that Trump isn't even running a campaign."

So now we learn that the Trump campaign is flat broke. How can that be? This is a guy claims he's worth $10 billion and who was supposed to be self-financing his campaign. Except now he's not.

Ten billion is 10,000 million. If Trump were anywhere near that rich, the $42 million in Hillary Clinton's campaign coffers would be chump change.

Can he sustain this act until November? Can Trump's fragile psyche risk losing to a girl?

I'm starting to have my doubts.

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