Trump vs. Obama: A Study in Narcissistic Contrasts
In response to my post about President Trump’s “Tariff Man” boast about China, a great friend notes that Trump’s public statements (primarily tweets) almost invariably emphasize the first person singular, a mannerism he shares with his predecessor, and one very much in keeping with both men’s entrenched narcissism.
I would only qualify that reasonable comparison with the observation that if there is one difference between Obama’s “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” narcissism and Trump’s “Look at me, look at me” narcissism, it is in the motivating attitudes.
Obama really seems to believe, without any doubt, that he is cut from a superior cloth, and that everyone would agree with that self-assessment without hesitation. Trump, by contrast, is a classic example of short man syndrome, or small hands syndrome in his case. Unlike Obama’s insouciant smugness, Trump’s tone is always suggestive of one begging his audience to believe he is as impressive as he says he is. He boasts of being great friends with all of the world’s tyrants partly because he truly admires their power, but also because he needs you to know he has really, really met and talked personally with all those important people, and they liked him! So you should too!
To which my friend responded with what I believe is the most relevant question, given the view I have recently explained regarding the real danger of modern demagoguery, namely:
How do the false followers of the false leaders fit into the equation? E.g. the Germans were much more likely to fall for the superior cloth narcissist Hitler and support him, act accordingly and go to the limit than the Italians were likely to fall for, support, act accordingly and go to the limit for the narcissist [and Trump’s closest historical analogue] Mussolini. How would you compare the followers of Obama and the followers of Trump?
I suppose it’s a question no one can answer until after the fact, i.e., after we have seen the limits of what those respective followers would do to remain true to their idol.
Having said that, Obama’s following was motivated by a combination of ideological sympathy and illusions of cultural hipness. Those quasi-fascist posters of Obama that became popular iconography and T-shirt logos throughout his “reign” were a perfect crystallization of those two sides of his support base.
Trump’s supporters are more of a personality cult, in the literal, unqualified sense. Beliefs, trendiness, and so on have little or nothing to do with his base. They love him because he is Trump, period.
So for Obama to test the limits of what his followers will support, he has to couch his proposals in ideological rationalizations, even if they are mostly based on emotions, e.g., “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Trump, meanwhile, would have his base’s support regardless of what he proposed. In other words, if Obama came out one day in favor of eliminating the minimum wage and reducing corporate tax rates, most of his followers who were actually paying attention (rather than just wearing the T-shirt) would express outrage and possibly even abandon him, at least if such anti-Marxist proposals became a pattern. By contrast, if Trump came out and said he favored socialized medicine, gun control, appeasing North Korea, and high tariffs, his base would say, and of course has in fact said, “Thank God for Trump,” and would viciously smear anyone who questioned the validity of these policies as mentally ill, or as “an Obama (or Hillary or Jeb) lover.”
Which faction is more dangerous in practice? I guess that depends on what Trump actually proposes, since there seems to be no limit to what his gang of hypnotized monkeys will swallow for him.
As an aside on the lengths to which Trumpsters will go to cushion their idol’s and their own fragile egos, just today I was hit by another instantiation of the standard Trump witticism in the face of a challenge: “Your mother wears army boots.”
Okay, not literally that, but similarly beside the point and suggestive of a complete unwillingness or inability to defend Trump without personally smearing and misrepresenting his critics. One Right Scoop commenter defended Trump’s honor against a mild rebuke from Trump fan Laura Ingraham, over his fawning praise of Xi Jinping, by remarking that “If it comes to kissing someone’s butt, I’d prefer Xi to David Hogg.” (Ingraham was intimidated into apologizing to “school shooting survivor” Hogg after mocking him on air.)
In other words, this Trump defender would rather appease and fawn over a totalitarian despot on the level of Mao or Stalin than smile and play nice with a smug teenager who shoots his mouth off but has no real power.
Yes, that sounds about the right speed for Trump and his cult.
In reply to my critique of his judgment of relative evils, this gentleman revealed his true blue Trumpery, and the essential logical problem of the cultists from day one: “And all you Trump haters seemed to be just fine when Obama was kissing butt in MANY countries, including Russia and China.”
This is a standard and inevitable mantra of Trump supporters: Anyone who disagrees with Trump or dislikes his character is a “hater” who was “just fine” with Obama. Really? Do the people ritualistically throwing that bromide around actually know any conservative or classical liberal critics of Trump who were “just fine” with Obama? I know I don’t. Tribalism is a dangerous mindset, not least because it fosters a weakness for painting everyone who disagrees with one’s tribal position as “Them,” without individual discrimination. For example, anyone who would accuse me of “seeming to be just fine when Obama did this or that” clearly has no idea what I think about anything, no idea what I’ve ever said about anything, and also no idea why I am criticizing Trump now.
That is, when you lob verbal grenades at your interlocutor from such depths of ignorance about who or what he is, you only undermine your own case.
The amusing thing is that people frequently defend Trump’s hardcore supporters against legitimate criticism of them as a relatively monolithic cult following by falsely accusing the critics of exactly this offense, namely unfair generalization. Interestingly, I encountered this phenomenon today as well. A Right Scoop moderator (no, not the infamous “K-Bob”) defended Laura Ingraham against a typical Trump Derangement Syndrome smear by pointing out that Ingraham has actually been a very staunch Trump defender, but that “Anybody that agrees with someone one hundred percent of the time can never be counted on to be truthful.” I noted to this moderator that his statement “violated the heart and soul of Trump’s support base,” namely their insistence on unwavering adulation and deference to the alpha male genius president.
And as thanks for my moral support, I got this slap from the moderator in return: “How little you know about Trump’s support base. It’s assumptions like you just made about others that helped Trump become President.”
I should have expected that, given my recent observations, in the “K-Bob” article linked above, about the current trajectory of Right Scoop. So call me a fool for being so naïve; but don’t tell me, on the other hand, that I know nothing about Trump’s base!
When I say “Trump’s base,” I obviously mean the people Trump himself meant when he said his supporters wouldn’t leave him if he shot a man on Fifth Avenue. I believe he was right about those people then, and I haven’t seen any evidence that they have ceased to believe in him with equal blind devotion today.
As for “how little I know” about those people, actually I know quite a lot, and have an unusual amount of firsthand experience dealing with them — not as private individuals, but as a political faction, which is the relevant context. I have observed them up close, as an outsider in their midst. Call me the Margaret Mead of Trump Cult Island — except that unlike hers, my story is factual.
A large portion of the more active members of Trump’s base took over a very popular conservative website where I used to be a regular and successful contributor. They would pour in by the thousands to call me (and other popular regulars who refused to turn off their rational faculties for Trump, such as Steve McCann and C. Edmund Wright) vicious and outrageous names, and accuse me (and the others) of all the usual Trumpy lies of convenience. Many of them, strangely, were people who had read my writing for years and flattered me with plenty of generous compliments. But the moment they boarded the Trump train, and discovered that I hadn’t jumped on with them, that was it. I was persona non grata, and everything we had ever agreed on was irrelevant. I was one of “Them” now — a cuckservative, a RINO, a progressive, a Jeb supporter, an America-hater, an establishment hack, a Hillary lover, and the rest of the song and dance.
I know them. And I won’t pretend they are something they are not (i.e., reasonable Americans), just because we might agree on a few policy issues once in a while. To suggest that my “assumptions” about them — which are essentially Trump’s assumptions, as noted above — helped him to become President is both insulting and absurd. I tried to talk to them respectfully and seriously, back when it mattered. They spat in my face, as they do with anyone who tries, and would certainly have ripped me limb from limb if they had thought their orange idol willed it. So I gave up — on them and their lost souls, that is.