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We have just received a live
demonstration - in the person of Donald Trump - of the destruction that occurs
in the wake of malignant narcissism.
Such a leader is commonly driven by unyielding arrogance, a desire for constant admiration, self-absorption, hostility, and an uninhibited, egotistic pursuit of power and dominance. In severe cases, as we saw with Trump, such people are easily bored and often change course. They lack a capacity for emotional self-regulation and any respect for limits. However, in many persons, the pathology is more hidden and less overt, although the destruction they wreak eventually becomes a tell-tale sign of their mental illness.
Donald Trump's character was transparently on display throughout his campaign for president. The 70 million American citizens who voted for him were either in denial about his destructiveness or simply didn't care. Clearly, we have a large portion of electorate that spectacularly vulnerable to demagogues and cynical political manipulation. Not a good sign - at all.
Mary Trump, the President's niece, recently said:
"He's directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans," she said. "He's got blood on his hands and he needs to be held to account so I hope President-elect Biden keeps that in mind come January."
I am reminded of something social psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in The Sane Society. That - in a society which betrays basic human needs - insanity might not be an aberration, but the norm:
""the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane."
Erich Fromm first coined the term "malignant narcissism" in 1964, describing it as a "severe mental sickness" representing "the quintessence of evil". He characterized the condition as "the most severe pathology and the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity."
Let's begin by first looking at the word "evil." The issue of "evil" is ancient and still contested. It is an unpleasant topic to contemplate. In fact, one our natural human reactions to this phenomenon is the emotion we call "revulsion." However, there is a price to pay when we avoid and turn away from it.
The word "diabolos," from the Greek, means to throw apart or separate. Four years after Trump's election, we have 256,000 people dead in the U.S., countless careers ruined, poverty stalking the country, a nation profoundly divided, and rifts with many of our country's allies. Many people, particularly in the Republican party, aligned themselves with Trump and refused to call him out. The country has seldom been more divided.
In his book, People of the Lie psychiatrist Scott Peck, went out on a limb to explore the nature of "evil" (a non-scientific term) Though the topic of evil has historically been the domain of religion, Peck made substantial efforts to keep much of his discussion on a scientific basis, explaining the specific psychological mechanisms by which evil operates.
He was also particularly conscious of the danger of a psychology of evil being misused for personal or political ends. Peck stated that such a focus should be used with great care, as falsely labeling people as evil is one of the very characteristics of evil. He argued that a diagnosis of evil should come from the standpoint of healing and safety for its victims, but also with the possibility, even if remote, that the evil themselves may be healed.
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