There are people on the Left who criticize the President. Rightly so, we can’t all agree all the time with everything coming from the White House. There are policies that didn’t go far enough; foreign engagements and wars we want resolved; this or that agency we want to function better or less expensively. These criticisms are part of the public discourse and we all have the right to engage in them. Luckily for us, we have a President who actually listens to people even when he doesn’t necessarily agree.
It was then surprising to me to learn that there are a group of people from the far left who are spending all their time and energy trying to discredit our President for everything he and his administration does and says. The criticism is relentless and makes no account for changes or actions that correspond directly with Liberal ideals and the Democratic Platform. Nothing the President does is good enough or right in their eyes. These same people claim that they represent the Liberal ‘base.’
Developing an Understanding
To satisfy a need on my part to understand the underlying psychology of people who claim they represent the Progressive Left but who have a singular focus of berating our Democratic President, I embarked on a small research project to learn why this happens.
It turns out the answer is fairly simple. The cause of this phenomenon is narcissism. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has quite an array of symptoms and behaviors that easily match those demonstrated by a host of pundits, professional demonstrators and keyboard warriors all claiming to represent the ‘base’ of the liberal population in this country.
Given a list of symptoms from any one source, the dominant symptom is a pathological need for attention that far surpasses that of ordinary people. Secondary symptoms include extreme envy of others or belief that others envy them; inability to recognize boundaries or experience empathy; hypersensitivity to insults and criticism; an over-inflated sense of self-importance; unrealistic expectations and a preoccupation with success and power.
The profound need for attention drives everything a narcissist does, and makes the professions of politics, acting and sports particularly attractive to these individuals. It’s the spotlight they seek. Narcissists take the need for attention a step further by seeking out situations where they can develop and maintain a following. Social media (Blogging, Facebook, Twitter) is an ideal medium for a narcissist. There are no barriers to entry into this bazaar of potential followers beyond a connection to the Internet. Anyone who has spent any time at all reading the comment sections of any political or news content has come into contact with a multitude of narcissists in search of followers and attention.
There is no known cause that can be definitively ascribed to this extreme personality type; but it is commonly believed that the genesis of this disorder can be traced back to some form of extreme parenting such as over-the-top pampering, or some form of abuse, neglect or trauma that inhibits normal emotional development of healthy self-esteem.
Who hasn’t at some point come into contact with someone who believes that they are always right or somehow an expert about every topic of discussion they engage? The know-it-all narcissist tends to be very crafty with their speech patterns and deliver their pronouncements with absolute conviction. This type of approach is especially effective in the arena of politics because the average person spends very little time becoming familiar with the details or history of most any political topic.
A know-it-all exploits this lack of information by substituting his or her own version or interpretation of a particular issue for general knowledge. Those who are basically uninformed have no context for mounting any credible argument and are prone to believe a know-it-all simply because the level of commitment to the stance is so firm or stated with such authority. The know-it-all simply must be right because they sound so certain. The uninformed become the foundation of the narcissist's following. A narcissist craves and seeks out enthusiastic believers who won’t challenge their self-anointed authority. The uninformed followers seek out the strongest voices that tend to speak to their own underlying belief system. The person that has the courage to say out loud what they are thinking, or what they believe, is an inspiration. The narcissist fulfills their need for a voice that they don’t have the courage to use. They reward the narcissist with their unshakeable loyalty and will defend the narcissist against any perceived attack or challenge.
Authority Figure Equals the Enemy
The know-it-all narcissists don’t recognize any authority because they believe themselves to be the only authority. Chronic problems with authority dog narcissists throughout their entire lives. They never outgrow this even if they live to be a hundred. Narcissists are fond of thinking of themselves as renegades, and even above the law. This is particularly true with individuals who grow up with excessive pampering or are never allowed to experience consequences for their behaviors.
Parents, teachers, law enforcement and the government are the principle enemies of a narcissist. Adolescent rebellion tends to be their only consistent weapon against these enemies. Problems with all forms of authority, but in particular the government, are what make the Libertarian Party so attractive to many narcissists. Elimination of State and an all access pass to complete liberty and freedoms comprise the ultimate solution to hatred of authority. If they do away with authority all together, then the enemy is defeated. Strangely enough, narcissists tend to be themselves very authoritarian.
Leaders of countries or corporations or militaries are the ultimate authority figures and are prime targets for the narcissist in the political arena. In the United States, no target is more hated than the President, regardless of Party or ideology. Even if the President were a card-carrying Libertarian, he or she would become the narcissist’s target of hatred and vitriol. A narcissist is incapable of making a distinction between a President who represents the belief system of the narcissist and one who does not. Once the office is taken, the target is affixed.
The first step to dealing with narcissists is learning how to recognize them and their behavior and the futility of their arguments. The argument of a narcissist can only exist in the form of opposition. They will remain in rebellion mode even when what they were rebelling against no longer exists. They simply move the goal posts to another location. Their followers won’t challenge any leap of logic needed to accomplish the move. It’s all in a day’s work to stay relevant so that their following will listen to them and validate everything they say and do.
The goal is to appeal to the followers and those who are actively paying attention to the message of the narcissist but who have not yet made up their mind. Followers and actively listening audiences are looking for strongly stated beliefs and commentary. The narcissist is a master at dominating this commentary. Their beliefs are stated loudly and with hyperbole because those tactics are effective, but also because they are the tools of a rebellious adolescent, something all narcissists are doomed to remain. It is for this reason that the Media love narcissists. They make good video, good sound bites and good copy.
The key to appealing to the audience of a narcissist is to stick to the message and stay on topic and never, ever attack the narcissist. Present and frame any counter-argument as simply another opinion. Never call a narcissist naïve or stupid, especially in front of his or her followers. If the audience perceives that the narcissist is being attacked they will circle the wagons and stop listening. There’s nothing a narcissist loves better than to play the role of the victim because when they are attacked their followers validate for them, once again, that they are right.
It is impossible to deal directly with a narcissist. It is possible to deal directly with an issue, however, and that is where we can make headway with influencing people who are seeking out information that will help them decide how to vote or with whom to agree. What is most important is that we push our agenda instead of reacting to the agenda of the narcissist. If we concentrate on responding to outrageous remarks with better information presented with reason and conviction, free of personal attacks, our message stands a better chance of resonating with an audience.
In the end, it’s not the narcissist who claims to represent us that matters. What matters is the message, who is presenting that message and who is listening. If we remain calm and focused, we can peel off the outer circles of those followers with our own firmly stated beliefs. Along the way we can save ourselves a lot of time and angst by not reacting to the crazy.