The Malignant Narcissism of Independence Day 2019

Thursday, July 4, 2019
Elkton, Virginia

The Malignant Narcissism of Independence Day 2019

With the ridiculous, TV-president’s, reality July 4th rally about to begin, the irony of the actual meaning of independence day explodes forth like fireworks.

The holiday means to celebrate autonomy and freedom, the liberation of a nation and the individuals within it.

Instead, we will soon witness a supreme example of unbridled narcissism.

This day, traditionally, commemorates the day the 13 then-British colonies in America claimed their independence from England, an event later leading to formation of the United States. Meanwhile, in the midst of a year-old armed conflict between American revolutionary soldiers and British troops, the Continental Congress—the initial, federal governing body of those colonies—met in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall), on June 7, 1776.

On that day, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented this famous resolution:

Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

Over the following weeks, the resolution morphed into the Declaration of Independence. Revisions continued through all of July 3 and into the late afternoon of July 4, when the Declaration, authored primarily by Thomas Jefferson, was officially adopted.

The day demarcating independence from England, July 4th, became official. The tradition of patriotic celebration gained in popularity after the War of 1812, in which the United States again faced England. In 1870, the U.S. Congress made July 4th a federal holiday; in 1941, the provision was expanded to grant a paid holiday to all federal employees.

Jumping forward almost 80 years, our country’s current president, qualified by his stature as reality television star and real estate developer, will soon display what mental health professionals call malignant narcissism—all part of his official celebration of what should be a day of independence, not self-aggrandizement.

Narcissism is a term of art referring to an excess of self-valuation. A good, positive sense of self is a good thing. It correlates with self-esteem, self-worth, and pride. Having too much self-interest, particularly if grandiose, can extend into the downright pathological.

According to the DSM-V, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder display nine behaviors which meet the criteria for the diagnosis.

(The term, malignant, simply magnifies the severity of this condition).

Every single one of these criteria will be evident in today’s “independence day celebration” in Washington, DC. I provide the descriptions followed by how the rally, which more accurately celebrates Donald Trump Day, meets these diagnostic criteria:

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from other people: Previous presidents have avoided partisanship during Independence Day Celebrations. This president will present a speech at the Lincoln Memorial, hoping to elicit superior treatment.
  2. Fixation on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc: The last time any parade of US Military assets occurred during a July 4th celebration was in 1950. Trump has directed funds from the National Park budget to pay for a parade of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military hardware as well as a fly-over by fighter jets. Even this one element of the event demonstrates his fantasies of power and success.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions: This feature can be seen primarily in the Tweets touting the meaning of today’s event, as well as behaviors evident since he was elected as well as in just the last few days. The Tweets pronounce today’s rally as showing our unique superiority to the world; meanwhile, just recently, Trump associated himself with a person he considers “high-status,” namely Kim Jung-Un—the single most autocratic, dictatorial, and repressive leader on the planet.
  4. Need for continual admiration from others: OMG, who needs examples of this criterion! It is embarrassingly self-evident. The creation of a “celebration” when the entire nation already celebrates July 4th punctuates the multiple extant examples.
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others: See numbers 1-4.
  6. Exploitation of others to achieve personal gain: Mostly evident today in the relative silence of military officials who dislike such public displays of military power. Members of the Armed Services, generally, have high levels of conscientiousness. They see little need for arrogance. Even conservative media cannot argue against the obvious self-serving nature of today’s DC celebration, and its intent to personally benefit Trump’s future electability.
  7. Unwillingness to empathize with the feelings, wishes, and needs of other people: See numbers 1-6.
  8. Intense envy of others, and the belief that others are equally envious of them: Pathological narcissists protect themselves against envy through their own grandiosity. Therefore, the envy they feel is more difficult to find—even for themselves. They tend to project it so they don’t have to feel it. In other words, they project their own envy outwards, into others. A simple way to view the behavior of narcissists is through their attempt to elicit a feeling of envy in those around them. Although they often end up behaving in a buffoonish fashion, they cannot see this themselves. They have extremely limited capacities for introspection. Trump’s pre- and post-rally Tweets demonstrate his envy by having to so clumsily show off, brag, and otherwise grandiosely show the alleged superiority of the US.
  9. Constantly demeans, bullies and belittles others: This has been a theme of the entire Trump presidency. If you watch his facial expressions over time, the facade of the middle-school bully emerges with the greatest consistency. And, his verbal and written (only through Tweet, it seems) expressions speak for themselves.

Perhaps we can take solace in our heightened knowledge of the meaning of Trump’s behavior today.

In fact, understanding what’s occurring, even while wincing, allows us to shine with what independence really means on this July 4th holiday.

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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP

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