The American press, and to a smaller extent the whole of the Western press, finds itself in what’s almost a double bind.
I have no doubt that Donald Trump is afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you don’t know what that is, you need to read this Medium post composed by N Ziehl. American journalists are not equipped to cover a narcissist. They’d struggle to cover a narcissistic manager of a Jiffy Lube, but a President of the United States afflicted with NPD ruins a journalist’s methods.
Like most professionals, individual journalists are not trained to deal with a narcissist’s constantly shifting truth, false reality and gaslighting. (Gaslighting is a really important concept. Everyone needs to learn what it is and how it works, because Trump keeps doing it.) They are trained to deal with liars and evasion tactics, but when it comes to uncovering truth or meaning, they try to connect dots logically, to search for rational motivations and a reasonable relationship between actions and thoughts. None of that is available in a narcissist’s behavior.
Like most organizations, media companies are not armed with the assumptions necessary to tell an accurate story about a narcissist president—newsrooms assume there is always more than one take on a story, more than one angle and interpretation. The highest forms of essay writing focus on nuance. With a narcissist, there is only one story, and it has neither a flip side nor an alternative take, no nuance at all. The story of the narcissist is that he lives in his own grandiose reality, motivated entirely by self-gain and others’ adulation, unable to feel empathy for anyone. Stories about narcissists can either point out the narcissism or they can enable it. There is no gray area, so forget about nuance.
Quite obviously, journalists have to quote the words the president utters, then attempt all sorts of interpretations when applicable, present the slant they’re after. The problem is that a narcissist’s words are meaningless; the reason they’re shocking is because they don’t represent reality. He wants our adoration, and if he can’t get it, he’ll distract us by threatening our safety or by actually putting us in harm’s way. If we find ourselves identifying his tricks, he’ll burn down the neighbor’s garage and force us all to rush over with buckets. Most of us care about our neighbors. He cares about himself.
Now, here’s the double bind.
In America, the problem around telling this story lies also in the way newspapers create revenue streams. Revenue has always been tied to circulation and the size of an audience; obviously, the bigger, the better. Unlike in decades past, when print companies depended at least partially on their brand and their mission to sell a whole paper with advertisements inside, now they depend much more often on individual stories or topics that get shared by readers. The biggest story right now is Trump’s insanity and the threat it poses civilization. It’s dopamine, and media companies know it because they’ve been riding it now for almost two years.
The American press has to change the way it covers the president. Unfortunately, doing so threatens their bottom line.
I still think news companies can generate revenue and get clicks by writing about Trump’s professional enablers…essentially the rest of the federal government. Attention, or the lack of it, is the most potent weapon we can employ against a narcissist. Because they need it, they’ll throw tantrums, insult people, contradict themselves, threaten us with prison, make deals with our enemies, etc. If they perceive it going elsewhere, they become crazed with jealousy and make irredeemable mistakes.
It’s accurate to report that the Republican Party is enabling and attempting to benefit from a narcissist, just as it’s accurate to report that Twitter is enabling a narcissist. This is the brutal truth of the matter. Those who benefit from the narcissist—specifically, those who figure out a way to increase their political power or their profits by blowing sunshine up Trump’s ass—need to be investigated and exposed by the press. It’ll drive him nuts to know someone else is getting more air time, and it should still provide the American public the dopamine it needs to keep on clicking.
It is also not inaccurate, and hardly a disservice, to teach the American reading public about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It used to be that the quiet kid in class was the only one who knew about it. Now we’re all in the same ship because we decided to put one in the Oval Office.
Picture of “Ugly Building” from Wikipedia.