There are, certainly, compensations to being Donald Trump. You're fabulously wealthy; you have a lifetime pass to help yourself to younger and younger wives, even as you get older and older — a two-way Benjamin Button dynamic that is equal parts enviable and grotesque. You own homes in Manhattan; Palm Beach; upstate New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Rancho Palos Verdes, California; and you're free to bunk down in the penthouse suite of any hotel, apartment building, or resort that flies the Trump flag, anywhere on the planet — and there are a lot of them.
But none of that changes the reality of waking up every morning, looking in the bathroom mirror, and seeing Donald Trump staring back at you. And no, it's not the hair; that, after all, is a choice — one that may be hard for most people to understand, but a choice all the same, and there's a certain go-to-hell confidence in continuing to make it. The problem with being Trump is the same thing that explains the enormous fame and success of Trump: a naked neediness, a certain shamelessness, an insatiable hunger to be the largest, loudest, most honkingly conspicuous presence in any room — the great, braying Trumpness of Trump — and that's probably far less of a revel than it seems.
Jeffrey Kluger's The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding the Monster in Your Family, in Your Office, in Your Bed — in Your World is available from Amazon.
Contented people, well-grounded people, people at ease inside their skin, just don't behave the way Trump does. They go easy on the superlatives — especially when they're talking about their own accomplishments. Maybe what they're building or selling really is the greatest, the grandest, the biggest, the most stupendous, but they let the product do the talking. If it can't, maybe it ain't so great. They use their own names sparingly, too — even when they're businesspeople who have the opportunity to turn themselves from a person into a brand. There is no GatesWare software, no BezosBooks.com; it's not Zuckerbook you log on to a dozen times a day, it's Facebook. But the Trump name is everywhere in the Trump world — on his buildings, on his helicopters, on the side of every single plane in the fleet that was once known as the Eastern Air Shuttle until Trump bought it in 1989 and renamed it the Trump Shuttle. It's been on Trump Mortgage, Trump Financial, Trump Sales and Leasing, Trump Restaurants, Trump vodka, Trump chocolate, Donald Trump The Fragrance, Trump water, Trump home furnishings, Trump clothing, Trump Books, Trump Golf, Trump University and yes, Trump the Game…
To call Donald Trump a narcissist is to state what seems clinically obvious. There is the egotism of narcissism, the grandiosity of narcissism, the social obtuseness of narcissism. He has his believers, yes. "Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants, and sets out to get it, no holds barred," said one. "Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money." But it was Trump himself who spoke those admiring words, which makes them comical, sure, but troubling as well.
Trump may be an easy target, but he is also, in some ways, a sympathetic one. Narcissism isn't easy, it isn't fun, it isn't something to be waved off as a personal shortcoming that hurts only the narcissists themselves, any more than you can look at the drunk or philanderer or compulsive gambler and not see the grief and ruin in his future. Trump is unlikely to suffer such a fate, but it awaits plenty of other narcissists — and increasingly, they seem to be everywhere.
Narcissists are corrupt public officials, and honest ones too; they are the criminals who fill the jail cells, and sometimes the police who put them there in the first place. They are in industry, in media, in finance, in show business. They are artists, designers, chefs, scholars. They are the people we work with and the people we work for; the people we love and the people we bed; the people we hire or marry or befriend, and soon want to fire or leave or unfriend. They are the people who love us — until they betray us.
The very word narcissist — once the stuff of Greek mythology and psychology texts —has entered the cultural argot as a shorthand descriptor for all manner of unpleasant characters, and we recognize each of them. It's the windbag drinking buddy who can go on for an entire evening about himself and his work and his new car and new house, but whose eyes glaze over and whose mind wanders the moment you begin to talk about yourself. It's the mirror-gazing friend who insists on modeling every stitch of clothing she owns for you but never seems to notice — or comment on — whether you're wearing a new dress, a favorite business suit or a giant garbage bag. It's the bombastic relative who sucks the air out of Thanksgiving dinner, holding forth on politics from the pumpkin soup through the pumpkin pie and tolerating neither interruption nor contradiction. It's the lover who charms the pants off of you — literally — and never returns your calls after that…
For too many people, the very idea of love — that greatest and most other-directed of human impulses — is folding in on itself, with admiration turning to exhibitionism, charity to greed, altruism to appetite. We are more and more living in a mirror world—with the most prominent sight being the reflected one. And too many of us like that view just fine.
Reprinted from The Narcissist Next Door: Understanding The Monster In Your Family, In Your Office, In Your Bed—In Your World by Jeffrey Kluger by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Random House Inc., Copyright (c) 2014 by Jeffrey Kluger.