For God knows how many months now Donald Trump has been denounced in liberal media and by public figures for his narcissism. He is a narcissist, says Michael Moore, for example, who makes feature documentaries where he is the central character.
Well, maybe he is. I am intrigued though about where this preoccupation with narcissism comes from. I’m no expert on psychoanalysis but from what I recall narcissism was a term that described a tendency, or maybe a striving, inherent in everyone but one that could prove destructive if it could not be somehow transcended. So there is something that sounds a bit wonky to me when someone in particular is identified as a ‘narcissist’.
To me (yes, to me) what seems more important is the fact that Trump is the ultimate incarnation of a greedy capitalist pig (with apologies to pigs). So I wonder why It is self-regard, and not greed, that seems the more deplorable characteristic.
One possibility is that the charge of narcissism is one of the few things you have left in a world where greed is taken for granted. If everyone is compelled to be greedy then no-one needs to be, as they say, called out on it.
Once you assume that the capitalist market is a fine invention then you can view greed in instrumental terms, the way Adam Smith did: who cares if he wants to make as much money as possible if by doing so he contributes to the greater good?
This is a viewpoint shared not only by the likes of the Heritage Foundation but also by someone like Barack Obama. But Obama and the like are able to present this as an endeavour in the service of the greater good, and anyway it seldom gets challenged by whoever is interviewing him or writing about him.
What must make Trump so obnoxious, in this regard, is how he does not play along with this game and instead boasts about how rich he is. It also appears that quite a lot of people like him for it. Maybe they feel a sort of inner liberation from having someone say: I’m really rich, I do whatever the hell I need to to get even richer, and no, I don’t give a shit about anyone, and neither should you if you don’t feel like it.
Then it comes as a shock to people who believe in the magic of representative democracy that so many people in the privacy of the polling booth, where no-one is ever going to judge you as a narcissist, think to themselves: I’m having some of what he’s having.