A psychiatrist explains how Donald Trump’s "extreme narcissism" forces him into unnecessary battles

"People like that just want 'yes' people," Dr. Steven Moffic says of the president

Published April 3, 2019 2:20PM (EDT)

 (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

This article originally appeared on Raw Story

On Wednesday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted to issue subpoenas for the full Mueller report. Their vote caps a contentious battle following Attorney General William Barr’s conclusion that there’s not sufficient evidence that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

The President declared full exoneration and complained about being the unfair target of a Russia hoax.

Raw Story spoke with Dr. Steven Moffic about the President’s reaction to the findings of the Mueller probe and his pivot back towards the Southwest border and eliminating the Affordable Care Act, as well as the alarming spike in hate crimes.

Dr. Moffic is a graduate of Yale School of Medicine, one-time designated “Hero of Public Psychiatry” by the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association, recipient of the Administrative Psychiatry Award, and founder of Climate Psychiatry Alliance. He contributed his insights on leadership styles and climate stewardship to “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Professionals Assess a President,” edited by Bandy X. Lee, which was released last month alongside a major, interdisciplinary conference on presidential fitness in Washington, DC (dangerouscase.org).

Raw Story: After AG Barr issued the brief memo that found no evidence of collusion with Russia, Donald Trump gloated and claimed he’d been the target of a “Russia hoax”. What accounts for the president’s mean-spirited reaction to a valid investigation?

Dr. Steven Moffic: The expected reaction might be to be relieved and thankful for the findings. However, those with extreme narcissism can feel attacked just by the very nature of the investigation in the first place, and therefore gloat as if they’ve won the battle. Surely, then, the other side was stupid in wasting time and money. On top of that, those who feel publicly humiliated in the process will often react with some sort of pushback and a desire for revenge. And what if there is still a possibility of something undesirable to be found? Get onto something else, quick!

Your question really gets at something important as far as psychiatrists are concerned. Why is it so important for psychiatrists to be involved in our society’s politics and our political leaders in the first place? It is really not to publicly diagnose. After all, when you look at personality disorders, most of the criteria is in the overt behavior that anybody can see. Secondly, how much does a psychiatric diagnosis matter anyways in terms of being a successful politician and leader? As psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi has researched and reported in his book, “A First Rate Madness,” sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t.

Raw Story: Trump also returned to his major priorities, gutting the Affordable Care Act and taking action on the Southwest border, including threats to completely shut it down. Why do you suppose the President is so desperate to enact these agendas, even against the wishes of advisors and experts?

Dr. Steven Moffic: Once people with extreme narcissism win a battle, whether that’s in politics, corporations, or sports, it’s time to move on and try to win another to show how great they are. Giving up on a project or promise is losing, so naturally such priorities still need to be addressed. Advisors and experts who disagree are once again a threat to an underlying shaky self-esteem that has to be boosted up again and again. People like that just want “yes” people.

Raw Story: The latest controversy revolves around the unorthodox way that individuals gained security clearances in the White House. 25 individuals reportedly got high-level clearances against the advice of career staffers. Once again, it’s Trump flouting traditional channels, which many worry puts national security at risk.

Dr. Steven Moffic: “Once again,” as you say, is the key phrase. Why go through traditional channels when you can get those security clearances done in another way? Sure, some say that can put national security at risk, but those with extreme narcissism feel that they know better anyways. They are the security. No one else is really needed. If you add in a little tendency for sociopathy, then there is no sense of guilt for taking a risky or unethical path. Add in a little impulsivity, and the process can’t wait for the usual timetable. And, if that goes awry, just blame someone else for the bad result. It couldn’t possibly be you.

Raw Story: Speaking of national security, the Washington Post reported research revealing that counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent rise in hate crimes. What do you make of this new information?

Dr. Steven Moffic: Last fall we in the United States had the worst hate crime of all, the cold-blooded killings in the Pittsburgh synagogue. Such hate crimes have even spilled into New Zealand with the recent killings of so many Muslims in the mosques of prayer. Both tragedies were conducted by so-called white nationalists.

I have recently edited the book, “Islamophobia and Psychiatry,” and have started work on its sequel, “Anti-Semitism and Psychiatry.” There is no surprise that there seems to be such a rise of hate crimes, many of them directed against Jews and Muslims, but also toward other immigrants and Black Americans. When a leader does not criticize such behavior, followers tend to feel that it is appropriate and possible to do so. When there is verbal animosity and belittling of the “others”, that makes them fair game, too. When leadership says that they are invaders, invaders must be stopped one way or another.

In the case of narcissistic-based leadership, there are very close emotional ties between followers and leaders. The followers tend to either idealize the leader who promises to make things better for them, or the followers will mirror the behavior and ideas of the leader. To loosen that bond, other leaders have to emerge that will convince the followers that their new plan is better.

So, what kind of leadership is needed to stop such scapegoating and solve such global threats as climate change? That is called servant leadership, where the leader is not serving him or herself first and primarily, but where the leader views their role as one of being a servant to the needs of all: of all people, other living things, and the environment.

By Tana Geneva

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