People with narcissistic personality disorders expect everyone around them to sing their praises. They are, after all, superior beings. They find it impossible to accept criticism so they view it as a threat instead. Instead of dealing with negative comments on their merits, narcissists prefer to attack their critics, denigrate them and ascribe ulterior motives to their critique. They can be prime ministers, like Benjamin Netanyahu, who refuses to concede any misdeeds on his part and prefers to attack the journalists and investigators whose job it is to uncover them. They can be a president-elect like Donald Trump, who prefers to depict a unanimous intelligence assessment of Russian intervention in the elections on his behalf as political ploy aimed at diminishing his historic victory.
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Among political and economic leaders, who include an inordinate number of narcissists, the inability to deal with criticism is compounded many times over after they achieve a resounding success that confounds their critics, as Netanyahu did in the 2015 elections and Trump in November. The clash between their grandiose, I’m-better-than-all-of-you view of themselves and public officials and watchdogs that refuse to recognize their supposed infallibility is multiplied several times over. Those accused of corruption do not hesitate to hit back at freedom of speech and the rule of law. Those described as the preferred candidate of a hostile dictator like Vladimir Putin are willing to savage U.S. intelligence agencies, even if that means harming America’s national security.
Over the weekend, following the 90-minute briefing he received on Friday and the special public report issued by the NSA, CIA, FBI and Director of National Intelligence, which stated unequivocally that Putin orchestrated a campaign to damage Hillary Clinton, Trump was forced to take a step and a half backwards. He may have also been surprised by the extraordinary special hearing of John McCain’s Armed Services Committee last week, which came down on the side of the intelligence chiefs and against Trump’s efforts to diminish their findings. Unlike Netanyahu’s spineless Likud party members, who are terrified of saying a word against him for fear of his swift retribution, right-wing Republicans didn’t bother to hide their disdain for Trump’s absurd denials. A few days before the Senate starts hearings on his cabinet appointments, Trump was reminded that it takes only one or two GOP defectors for his nominees to fail.
For the first time, Trump halfheartedly conceded that the Russians might have hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee and of Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. But he asserted, without a shred of evidence to back him up, that Putin’s campaign, which included vicious leaks and fake news on social media and on the Kremlin-controlled RT television network, had no influence on the outcome of the elections, a preposterous statement given that less than a hundred thousand votes in the opposite direction would have given the presidency to Clinton. Trump even intimated that it was the Democrats’ own fault that their computers were hacked. What McCain described as an act of war, Trump insisted, was no big deal at all.
But Trump’s small retreat won’t last. Even if he isn’t Putin’s poodle, as many suspect, his inflated but ultra-vulnerable ego won’t tolerate a claim that his electoral victory wasn’t achieved solely by virtue of his political genius and captivating personality. He views the ongoing discussion of Putin’s intervention, along with the annoying reminders of Clinton’s three million vote advantage in the popular vote, as a malicious campaign to delegitimize his presidency. This is another characteristic reaction of narcissists: they project onto their critics the same kind of motives and calculations they would have had if the situation were reversed. It’s like Netanyahu and his confidants, who are now angrily rebuffing calls to suspend himself from duty because of the ongoing police investigation against him, after he made the same call in 2008 when he was leader of the opposition and Ehud Olmert was the prime minister under a cloud.
Nonetheless, there is a big difference between Netanyahu and Trump: The former has already amassed 30 years of experience in politics and more than 10 as prime minister. Trump, on the other hand, hasn’t served a single day in office and has yet to prove any capability whatsoever of handling his complex responsibilities. Instead of devoting the time since his election to allaying fears and quelling concerns about his presidency, Trump has kept up the same impulsive and irresponsible behavior that characterized his presidential campaign. When he wasn’t actively undermining his intelligence chiefs, Trump was creating mischief and mayhem elsewhere, from needlessly antagonizing China to commenting on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings as host of "The Apprentice" reality show. He still can’t distinguish between the crucial and the trivial, he still takes everything personally and he still reacts like a child in kindergarten.
This is perhaps the most disturbing element of the masterminding Putin as he is revealed in the intelligence report released on Friday and Trump’s feeble responses. On one side we have a cold, calculating and ruthless dictator who will stop at nothing to undermine democracy, destabilize the West and manipulate elections in the United States and Europe as if these were the bad old days of the Soviet Union. On the other side, in less than two weeks he will be faced by a vain, impetuous and inexperienced narcissist who acts first and thinks later, if at all, and whose exact dependency on Putin remains unknown. And these are supposedly the twin messiahs of Netanyahu and the Israeli right, the leaders who will lead us from the darkness of Barack Obama to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Most other world leaders are looking at Trump right now and muttering to themselves, like Achish the King of Gat when he met an erratic David, “Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence?” Of course, David was only putting on an act meant to save himself, while the madness of President Donald, at this point, still seems completely authentic.