Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Shortly before the Indiana primary, The Wall Street Journal’s “Notable and Quotable” published a brief squib lifted from the Mayo Clinic’s online entry regarding narcissistic personality disorder:
If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement—and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having “the best” of everything—for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care.
At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection. . . .
[The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5] . . . criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:
Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
Exaggerating your achievements and talents
Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate . . .
Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
If there was no commentary, it was because there was, in fact, no need – for it was self-evident whom the editors of that daily had in mind. It is nonetheless worth noting that, had they published the same squib at any time between April, 2009 and January, 2015, everyone would have recognized that the target was Barack Obama. Never in the history of the American Republic has there been a President as devoted to self-referential pronouncements and to self-praise. Nor have we ever had a President before who supposed that his knowledge and ability was superior in every particular to that of the experts whom he had hired to advise him. The self-confidence of Barack Obama knows no bounds.
There is, to be sure, this difference between our current President and the aspirant targeted by The Wall Street Journal. The latter is deficient in self-discipline. Incontinence ought to be his middle name. He is incapable of marital fidelity, and he has long advertised the fact. He is a model of indiscretion, and he responds to criticism with uncontrollable rage. By way of contrast, the former exercises iron self-control. Rarely if ever does he let the mask drop. He is discreet to the point of being secretive. If he is guilty of infidelity, he has kept the thing under wraps, and his every move is choreographed and calculated.
That the Mayo Clinic description fits is nonetheless obvious. A few years back, David Maraniss published a volume on Barack Obama’s early life titled Barack Obama: The Making of the Man. Although Maraniss was among the President’s most unabashed admirers, the book was informative, and it conveyed just how strange a fellow he was. There was a chapter entitled “The Moviegoer” that demonstrated how, from early on, Obama conceived of his life as a film or novel and of himself as its author. As he acted, he was always standing two or three steps back, in the shadows, watching with delight as his performance unfolded on stage.
In a sense, everything about Barack Obama is fiction. It is telling that, early on in his Presidency, he was always fretting that he might be losing what he called “the narrative.” More recently, as David Samuels has shown in detail in the most recent issue of The New York Times Magazine, Obama managed — with the help of his advisor and alter ego, the aspiring novelist Ben Rhodes – to play an elaborate con on the journalists on the foreign affairs beat and through them to mislead the country with regard to the deal his minions negotiated with Iran. If there are any “moderates” in the Iranian government, they have no leverage, and he and his close advisors knew that all along. He wanted his way, and he got it — as always by lying to us.
One might respond to what I have said here by noting that all aspiring politicians think highly of themselves. Vanity is simply a part of the picture – and this is true. But very few of them are as vain as Barack Obama, and no one before him supposed that words trumped deeds, that everything is ultimately fictional, and that saying that something is so is good enough to make it so.
The crisis that is rapidly approaching – in domestic and in foreign affairs – is a function of the fact that we have a President who sees us as pawns in a work of fiction designed to demonstrate his greatness. Most politicians think of themselves as public servants. Most suppose that any glory they will achieve will be a function of the actual service they perform. In Barack Obama’s world, those of us who make up the public are simply extras, and he is the impresario, staging a drama for his own adulation. If he has been careless in a thousand ways, it is because he really does not care at all about our welfare.
I have belabored this because we face a similar prospect with Donald Trump. Like Barack Obama, he is an accomplished actor, and he has one remarkable gift. He can spin a tale of his own greatness, and he can make the credulous believe it. Furthermore, like Barack Obama, he has devoted his life to aggrandizement. He is not a promise-keeper; he is a promise-breaker. He seduces others, uses them, and dumps them. Look at the women in his life; look also at his record as a businessman. In business, when he fails, his partners are always left holding the bag. When he speaks of “the art of the deal,” he has in mind “the art of the steal.” It is not clear that he has ever cared – really cared — for another human being: apart, perhaps, for his children whom he considers extensions of himself. It is all about winning, all about humiliating opponents, all about showing off, all about commanding the stage.
I can see why those who recoil in horror at the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming President (as I do) are inclined to suppose that The Donald would be better. He might be. He just might be. But if he is elected, it will be The Donald Show, just as we have lived through The Barack Show. The chief difference will be that Trump will be erratic – driven this way and that by his anger at perceived slights. The man has no principles whatsoever, and he has no self-control. Barack Obama has systematically exploited us in support of the narrative he is intent on constructing. There will be no system to what Donald Trump does. Under his direction, our government will be as chaotic as his romantic life, and we will once again be extras in a drama staged by and on behalf of someone else.
Can we trust the man? If you think so, I believe that you are deluding yourself. His record in affairs both public and private shows that he does not keep his word. He will make a commitment for the purpose of getting what he wants, and he will break that commitment the moment he has what he desired. In the end, he will betray everyone who relies on him. He always has.