You go to stores now, you don’t see the word “Christmas.” It says “Happy Holidays” all over. I say, where’s Christmas? Remember the expression “Merry Christmas”? You don’t see it anymore. You’re going to see it if I get elected, I can tell you right now. I can tell you right now.
Donald Trump, September 15, 2015
I vowed to create a Trump-free space on Christmas day, to nurture the holiday spirit and to get out from under the toxic presence of everything associated with the President-elect. In this regard I found I was at least partly aligned with most Americans, who according to the pollsters at Rasmussen were overwhelmingly ready for a joyous Christmas. There was a time when I dismissed Rasmussen’s findings—their data widely understood to be skewed toward Republicans and therefore not fair and balanced. But that bias paid off for them in November, as Rasmussen along with a poll attributed to the Los Angeles Times were among the few that accurately predicted the election results, so reluctantly they are back on my radar.
My plan was derailed before the day barely got underway. David Lichtenstein, the psychoanalyst and editor of the excellent quarterly Division/Review sent me a piece I’d missed earlier in the week, in which a number of credentialed psychiatrists expressed grave concerns about Trump’s mental stability. That led to the loss of almost an hour, as I read up on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The stockings could wait.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, people afflicted with NPD exhibit a grandiose sense of self-importance, retain fantasies of unlimited success, believe they are unique, crave excessive admiration, have a sense of entitlement, are interpersonally exploitative, lack empathy, are unwilling to recognize the feelings or needs of others, are envious of others or believe others are envious of them, and display arrogant behavior.
Trump was reportedly an indifferent student, but he scored 100 percent on this test, and according to the psychiatric literature you only need to meet five of these criteria to receive a confirmed diagnosis of the incurable illness.
If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential.
So what, I’ve heard people say, you almost have to be a narcissist just to run for office in the first place. Okay, but this isn’t the Sheriff of Maricopa County we are talking about. What are the implications for the country, and the planet, that the incoming President of the United States has an extreme case of NPD? The three psychiatric experts, all associated at one time or another with either Harvard Medical School or the University of San Francisco, offer a bleak preview.
They point out that people with NPD are extremely sensitive and insecure, and that if Trump perceives that a domestic opponent or a foreign leader is “criticizing him, mocking him, calling him ‘weak’ or threatening his ego in any way, he is capable of ordering some kind of impulsive, vindictive, punishing and immediate response,” because a person afflicted with this incurable and progressive disease simply cannot help himself. They add that “there is no healthy way of interacting with someone with this affliction. If you criticize them they will lash out at you and if they have a great deal of power, that can be consequential. If you compliment them it only acts to increase the delusional and grandiose reality the sufferer has created, causing him to be even more reliant on constant and endless compliments and unwavering support.”
Family members were beginning to stir, and I thought I’d make up for having broken my vow by getting a fire going downstairs. I stacked the kindling and a few logs and reached for the pile of discarded newspapers. Staring back at me was another article I’d overlooked in the frenzied run-up to the holidays, this one about a memo Trump’s transition team had sent the State Department demanding details about programs and jobs aimed at promoting gender equality. The transition team had sent another chilling memo earlier in the week to the Energy Department, asking for the names of people who had worked on climate change or attended UN global climate talks in the last five years. Reading the political tea leaves before a newly-elected President has been sworn in can be speculative at best, but when these sorts of requests are coming from the representatives of a man who based his campaign on degrading women and denying climate change, it’s not just the sleigh bells that are ringing.
We managed to get through the rest of the crisp, clear winter day without too many more Trump-related intrusions. I confess to another brief relapse, when I spent maybe a half hour reading up on how Trump appointments of military alums spell the demise of civilian oversight of national security, including especially Michael T. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and rabid anti-Islamist whose documented antics include inflammatory behavior and disingenuous public statements. Flynn’s reported meetings in recent weeks with representatives of European political parties sympathetic to neo-Nazis—meetings a Trump spokesperson subsequently denied—marked him as a fellow to watch as the incoming administration picks up speed.
Partly to compensate for being a such a lame Santa to my wife and children, and partly for the sheer Zen of the task, I spent the afternoon hours working on this year’s Mexican-themed Christmas dinner. Every ten years or so my wife lets me sneak in the Mexican option, but only after long stretches of more traditional birds and game and the various gratins she produces with the flourish of the artist she is. Toasting and grinding the pumpkin and sesame seeds, and hydrating the dried chiles, my mind wandered. Suddenly I was more focused on the politics of the border with Mexico than the mole pipian—and could not remember if I’d added a quarter or a half teaspoon of ground cloves, a potentially fatal error.
But I did remember a quote I’d read in the Times from Beto O’Rourke, a Congressman from El Paso, describing the diminished influx of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. “We have the lowest northbound apprehensions in modern history,” Beto had recently observed, and this despite spending a record $19.5 billion on border enforcement. I’m not sure if it was his unusual name, or the concept of “northbound apprehensions,” but I set the mole aside to check up on the known status of Trump’s plans for a “big, beautiful wall,” and his threat to extradite millions of Latin American immigrants who are living here illegally. Trump appears to have tempered his campaign posturing, and both the deportation threat and his vow to pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton are probably off the table. Not so apparently with the wall, which is still a “priority” according to Reince Priebus—the former Republican Party functionary and Trump apologist who was rewarded for his fealty with the top job on the White House staff.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ll be glad to hear everyone was happy with the food, or kind enough to say so. But we didn’t make it past the first course before the conversation turned to the Narcissist-in-Chief and the effect he is already having on American life. David, the culprit who got the day off to a bad start with his email on Trump’s mental illness, described how his colleagues in the field of psychoanalysis were anxious about the adverse impact of right-wing policies on vulnerable segments of the population. Left unsaid was the matter uppermost on everyone’s mind—Trump’s psychotic tweets threatening a new nuclear arms race. A few of us had read Command and Control, Eric Schlosser’s unsettling account of the history and instability of the nuclear-launch protocols, some of which he reprised in an indispensable and timely piece the Friday before Christmas in The New Yorker. It wasn’t long before we were railing over the billionaire cabinet and the perfidious James Comey and the threat to civil liberties posed by an authoritarian and vengeful president, and guessing at how long it would be before the Trump voters realized they’d been conned, again.
In our household the calamity of the people’s choice cast a shadow over a day normally reserved for cherished rituals of family and friends. Yet there was also a sense of the resistance that is building and acquiring shape. Everyone I know is thinking about their essential part in this and how they can be most effective. The legendary gospel and blues singer Mavis Staples, in an interview published Christmas Day, observed the same thing—“I can turn on the news and I can swear I’m back in the ’60s. The way things are going, every day it’s something. I feel like all of this is happening because of the way Mr. Trump is. He’s bringing it on.”
I wonder if we will look back on these past weeks as a time when we recommitted ourselves to fight for the ideals that really make American great—including equity and fairness, tolerance, the struggle for equal opportunity, and the defense of our natural resources.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if we have Donald Trump to thank for that.
Hamilton Fish is the Washington Spectator’s publisher and editorial director.