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entirely logical for narcissists to seek alliances with authoritarian leaders.

Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump meet in Hamburg, Germany on July 7
2017. Credit:
CC BY 4.0.

After leaving allies rattled at the NATO
Summit in Brussels and dodging mass protests in the UK, Donald Trump is now traveling
on to meet with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki—a meeting he
has said
“may be the easiest of all.” Trump’s boorish behaviour in Brussels
fits a now well-established pattern of attacks on democratic allies and praise
for authoritarian leaders that has left the rest of the world struggling to
make sense of his seemingly incomprehensible conduct. Viewed from the
perspective of Trump’s possible mental state, however, his foreign policy makes
perfect sense.

From the beginning of his involvement in
politics Trump’s behaviour has prompted questions about the state of his mental
health. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, three
psychiatrists wrote
to then-President Barack Obama warning that Trump’s “widely
reported symptoms of mental instability—including grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to
slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy
and reality—lead us to question his
fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office.”

After Trump was sworn in as President, 27
psychologists and mental health professionals published
a book
called “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” in which the authors expressed
their collective professional opinion “that anyone as mentally unstable as this
man simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the

While a range of conditions have been
mooted by mental health professionals as possible explanations for Trump’s
disturbing behaviour, the condition that most concerns these psychiatrists is a
disorder known as ‘malignant
.’ This disorder combines extreme narcissistic behaviour and
acute paranoia with the absence of conscience that is usually exhibited by

One of the distinguishing traits of malignant
narcissism, as the psychiatrists’ letter to President Obama noted, is a
hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, which results in what is known as ‘narcissistic
rage’ towards anyone who disagrees. When
exhibited by someone in a position of power, this would manifest as a kind of fury
towards one’s political opponents, the press and the courts, together with
active measures to curtail their dissent.

Individuals with acute paranoia are
characterised by a worldview that sees other people as inherently untrustworthy,
along with an unshakable conviction that these others are out to harm them. A paranoid
leader would therefore recoil from alliances and seek to fortify their
territory against internal and external threats. Leaders who combine both extreme
narcissistic and paranoid traits characteristically hold deeply racist beliefs,
viewing others unlike themselves as not only inferior but also as existential
threats to this territory, or to ‘the nation’ and ‘our values.’

A third feature of malignant narcissism is
perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the condition, namely an inability to
distinguish between fantasy and reality. Leaders with this condition tend to
view themselves as world figures capable of bending history to their will, and
the blueprint they have in mind for reshaping the world is typically a dangerously
simplistic, narcissistic and psychopathic vision.

Adolf Hitler’s
narcissistic fantasy
, as laid out in Mein
and later enacted in the Second World War, saw the ‘true’
international order as one where ‘pure’ nations fought to the death. In his
view, war was a means by which the strongest nations on earth assumed their
rightful position as overlords. In preparation for such a war, nations must ‘purify’
themselves of their ‘polluting elements’—whether Jews, homosexuals, the
disabled or ‘inferior’ races. Hitler’s ambition was to conquer Europe and
eliminate the ‘inferior’ populations of Russia and Eastern Europe, while
retaining a minority as slave labour, becoming ‘Emperor of all Europe’ in the
process. In pursuit of this fantasy, tens of millions of people were killed.

Trump is not Hitler, but the debate on his
mental health must consider the possibility that he too harbours a terrifying narcissistic
fantasy. The outline of that fantasy is beginning to become clear:

That the world is a dangerous and
threatening place; that alliances are treacherous; and that only strong nations
standing alone can survive. That in this dangerous world the ‘superior’ white
Christian civilisation is existentially threatened by ‘inferior’ civilisations,
chiefly non-white people, Islam and China. And that under these circumstances,
the US must ‘purify’ itself, build up its military strength and seek new
alliances with ‘strong’ powers in place of the ‘weak’ nations with which it is
currently aligned.

That America must therefore seek the dissolution
of its alliances with NATO and its small East Asian allies, along with the
breakup of the European Union, and form a new and stronger alliance with white
Christian Russia. And that an alliance of the US and Russia, which would
command 92 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, would be unassailable in the
coming confrontation with Islam and China. In this narcissistic fantasy, Donald
Trump would become ‘Emperor of the World.’ But while this may be a fantasy
there’s a definite logic to it, albeit one that is distorted and pathological.

Malignant narcissism is a dangerous mental
disorder. In their quest for and exercise of power, the malignant narcissist’s
greatest weapon is the fact that psychologically healthy people are not able to
believe that any individual could harbour such insane ideas. But our tendency
to dismiss the unthinkable without serious consideration leaves us without a
frame of reference to interpret and address the malignant narcissist as they
relentlessly pursue objectives that are clear and consistent. Our refusal to
think the unthinkable leaves us confused, disoriented and unable to resist

History clearly shows how extreme the
danger from malignant narcissistic leaders can be. Tyrants such as Hitler,
Stalin and Mao each displayed traits associated with psychopathy, extreme
narcissism and acute paranoia. The lethal mixture that each of these leaders
displayed in terms of their total disregard for human life, their pathological
paranoia, their narcissistic inability to doubt their own beliefs, and the
pathological fantasies that propelled them, were significant factors that led
to the Holocaust, the Gulag, and Mao’s Great Famine.

If, as it appears, Trump came to Europe to
undermine NATO and align the US more closely with Russia,
we urgently need to begin to think the unthinkable, before the unthinkable
happens again. The NATO Summit and Trump’s meeting with Putin should mark a
turning point in the Republican Party’s support for this dangerous President. Recognising
that a distorted logic may be driving Trump’s every decision should unite
democrats on both sides of the aisle to curb his actions and remove him lawfully
from power.


[1]Does Donald Trump’s foreign policy actually make sense? | openDemocracy ....[2] ....[3]Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0 ....[4]Trump says Putin meeting 'may be the easiest of them all' - CNNPolitics ....[5] ....[6]The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President: Bandy X. Lee, Robert Jay Lifton, Gail Sheehy, William J. Doherty, Noam Chomsky, Judith Lewis Herman M.D., Philip Zimbardo Ph.D., Rosemary Sword, Craig Malkin Ph.D., Tony Schwartz, Lance Dodes M.D., John D. Gartner Ph.D., Michael J. Tansey Ph.D., David M. Reiss M.D., James A. Herb M.A. Esq., Leonard L. Glass M.D. M.P.H., Henry J. Friedman M.D., James Gilligan M.D., Diane Jhueck L.M.H.C. D.M.H.P., Howard H. Covitz Ph.D. A.B.P.P., Betty P. Teng M.F.A. L.M.S.W., Jennifer Contarino Panning Psy.D., Harper West M.A. L.L.P., Luba Kessler M.D., Steve Wruble M.D., Thomas Singer M.D., Elizabeth Mika M.A. L.C.P.C., Edwin B. Fisher Ph.D., Nanette Gartrell M.D., Dee Mosbacher M.D. Ph.D., Stephen Soldz: 9781250179456: Books ....[7]Fire and fury: the psychodrama of a very stable genius | openDemocracy ....[8]Hitler and the Psychology of Evil | disorderedworld ....[9]Does Donald Trump’s foreign policy actually make sense? | openDemocracy ....