Will America Face “Narcissistic Collapse” as Trump Descends into Legal Hell?
He’s already using the language of narcissistic collapse, priming his cult followers to experience rage and act out revenge fantasies on his behalf in a clear call to stochastic terrorism...
When I was young, I dated a girl who, on reflection, was a classic malignant narcissist. She went from loving me to, when I ended the relationship, stalking and threatening me with both social and physical violence.
This may well be what America has in store as Trump descends into a legal hell of his own criminal creation, particularly when he’s facing real jail time; if he’s rejected by the GOP primary voters; or if he’s the nominee and loses the election while still facing jail time.
It’s called “narcissistic collapse.”
He’s already using the language of narcissistic collapse, priming his cult followers to experience rage and act out revenge fantasies on his behalf in a clear call to stochastic terrorism.
When he spoke at Waco on the March 25th anniversary of another hard-right martyrdom, the Branch Davidian siege, he said:
“[Our] enemies are desperate to stop us,” and “our opponents have done everything they can to crush our spirit and to break our will. But,” he added, “they failed. They’ve only made us stronger. And 2024 is the final battle, it’s going to be the big one.”
Last week he reposted on his Nazi-infested social media site his own words (then directed at Iran) from several years ago, this time presumably directed at Jack Smith and the Department of Justice:
“If you fuck around with us, if you do something bad to us, we are going to do things to you that have never been done before.”
And a few days ago, when asked what could happen if he were held in jail after his upcoming indictment or after his conviction:
“I think it’s a very dangerous thing to even talk about, because we do have a tremendously passionate group of voters, much more passion than they had in 2020 and much more passion than they had in 2016. … I think it would be very dangerous.”
This is the language of narcissistic collapse and the violence that’s often associated with it. He’s flailing about, grasping for a reed of power and stability in a sea of self-inflicted crisis. He’s willing to kill — to kill American democracy, even, and provoke a second civil war — to save his own hide.
Trump is a classic extroverted, grandiose narcissist of such severity that numerous professionals in the psychology field have pointed out how he could easily be diagnosed as suffering severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Narcissists of this type are often at the top of their fields, driven to over-achievement by a deep underlying sense of inferiority and shame. In Trump’s case, this probably came from his having a criminal psychopath as a father and a mother who so disliked him that she sent him off to military school at a young age and went, alone, to Scotland during the summers when he was home from school in New York.
He grew up filled with shame, lying and cheating to “win” the love and approval of others, stealing from his family and people he did business with to physically build around himself the trappings of success.
NBC taught him how to do television and turned him into a star, and he leveraged that into politics where he gets constant daily affirmation from people often damaged the same way he is.
On the outside, he seems rich, powerful, and successful.
Deep down inside, though, he knows he’s a failure. He’d failed at school; he failed repeatedly at business; he failed at marriage; he pissed away the entirety of the more than $400 million he stole from his father’s estate and still had to be bailed out by the Russians; he’d even failed at being a child loved by his parents and siblings.
His narcissism is his defense against this history of failure and the inevitable shame associated with a lifetime of it. And his narcissism is of the most severe variety — the grandiose form — where he makes grand claims to the effect of, “I, alone, can fix it,” and, “I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and my people would still love me and vote for me.”
This is the behavior of criminals and mobsters: in his father and Roy Cohn — both mobsters and narcissists themselves — he learned from the best.
When narcissists are publicly outed as failures, particularly if the outing is public and high-profile, it often provokes this condition called narcissistic collapse.
For a narcissist like Trump with considerable power, the ability to harm organizations/institutions, or who can meaningfully threaten damage to other people, this is the moment of maximum danger for those around him.
Hitler, another classic narcissist with a similarly unloved and miserable childhood, confronted his failures in the last weeks of World War II. In the movie Downfall, which portrays Hitler’s final days, you can see and hear him disintegrate (it’s a brilliant film and really worth watching!).
My dear (and now departed) friend Armin Lehmann was the 15-year-old Hitler Youth soldier portrayed in the film who handed Hitler the news the war was lost.
He wrote a book about his experience, In Hitler’s Bunker: A Boy Soldier’s Eyewitness Account of the Fuhrer’s Last Days, which we discussed extensively when he was first writing it and during the three years Armin and I traveled the world together, mostly across Europe and the Far East.
Hitler, in those final weeks — Armin told me and the historical record verifies — actually welcomed the destruction of Germany by American and Soviet bombs and tanks.
He hadn’t failed: his narcissism wouldn’t let him confront that.
Instead, in his mind, the German people had failed, his generals had failed, his soldiers had failed. They had failed Germany, but, more importantly they had failed him — and he wanted them punished for failing him.
When he was finally pushed into full-blown narcissistic collapse — the final days that Armin spent with him — he succumbed to the fate of many severe narcissists who experience a failure so undeniable that it provokes full-blown narcissistic collapse: he killed his wife and then turned the gun on himself.
In the final stages of narcissistic collapse, long before suicide becomes an option, first comes the blaming and a sometimes-homicidal attempt to punish others.
We see this now with Trump blaming the FBI, the courts, and his “political enemies” in the “deep state.”
Along with the blame, though, often comes a murderous rage.
As Trump wrote on his social media site last week:
“THIS WITCH HUNT IS ALL ABOUT ELECTION INTERFERENCE AND A COMPLETE AND TOTAL POLITICAL WEAPONIZATION OF LAW ENFORCEMENT! It is a very sad and dark period for our Nation!”
Americans are most familiar with this dynamic/process through stories of long-suffering wives of narcissist husbands who finally proclaim their intention to leave him. In a rage, the narcissist first blames his wife, then murders her, often followed by his own suicide. Sometimes he’ll even murder their children as part of his narcissistic breakdown.
This is the danger America faces today because Trump’s businesses are in crisis just as he is increasingly exposed as a thief, liar, and traitor to his nation. His business manager just got out of prison and may well flip on him. His lawyer Michael Cohen turned on him, and dozens of other lawyers he’s used in the past seven years will probably testify against him in his upcoming trials. His wife lives a mostly separate life.
His elaborate façade of competence and invulnerability is being punctured and shattered in real time for the world to see, and he’s already moved from denial to the early stages of lashing out and making threats.
Most recently, he threatened the Department of Justice with the “anger” of his followers, a claim amplified by his Congressional factotum, Lindsay Graham, who then predicted that white supremacists would “riot” in the streets if Trump were indicted for his crimes.
It’s a prediction we should take seriously, in no small part because many of Trump’s most loyal followers are narcissists themselves, which is why they resort to wrapping themselves with Trump paraphernalia to build their own “tough” identity through association with him. Strapping on a few big guns and putting huge flags on their homes or pickup trucks helps them feel strong, too.
Just like the key to his sense of self is others’ perception of his wealth and success, the key to their sense of self is their fealty to Trump. And their belief that he reciprocates it.
But he doesn’t, and when a person’s sense of self — their core identity — is threatened, they often react as if their very life is at stake.
When Trump’s mythos collapses, when Trump himself collapses, many of his most fervent followers will also suffer narcissistic collapse. When that happens — and there’s a reasonable chance it will happen — all bets are off.
Right now the odds are that Trump and his fragile ego will maintain his narcissistic façade intact through much or most of the coming times. He’ll bluster his way through court proceedings and media inquiries, proclaim his victimhood as he’s charged with crimes, and up the rate of rallies he’s doing so his followers can keep massaging his wounded self-esteem and make him feel loved.
But at some point — probably, depending on how this all plays out, when his trials begin or he’s convicted of a crime that could bring a substantial jail sentence — he’ll confront the inevitable truth that he’s a fraud and a failure, and has been one his entire life. A fraud and failure who sold out his own nation just for money, power, and glory. Who not only committed treason, but has now lost the entire game.
That will be his Fuhrerbunker moment, his abused-wife-is-leaving moment, his Jim Jones-in-the-jungle moment, when he will fully turn on America and lash out, trying to destroy whatever he can in and of this nation.
— That’s when he’ll call his people to murderous violence.
— That’s when stochastic terrorism could rear its ugly head in a widespread way across the country, with “lone wolf” murderers — themselves malignant narcissists — picking off perceived “Trump enemies.”
— That’s when the “civil war” violent attacks — on people administering elections; on well-known Democrats and “disloyal Republicans”; and on authority-figure government employees like police, judges, and members of the FBI — predicted and fretted about by so many, will be closest.
I’ll leave it to actual professionals in the fields of psychology and psychiatry to tell us how best to deal with — or even head off — this possible eventuality.
From my perspective, it seems the best thing would be to incarcerate him as quickly as possible to minimize the damage he can do (things went quiet during Hitler’s time in prison, too), allowing his narcissistic followers to retreat into the fantasy that he’s merely a martyr. It might buy some time.
But I can’t claim to have the answers; I just know the history. And I know that we should have a conversation about this — and hopefully those within our government are doing that right now — as part of our national dialogue about recovering from the damage inflicted on America by Trump and his MAGA Republicans over the past seven years.
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