Narcissism, egotism, aggression, dishonesty, far-right extremism, and white nationalism (all of which have been collectively referred to as “Trumpism”) are on the rise around the world, influencing average citizens and political leaders alike—and significantly compromising the common good. This is how to stop it…
What follows is a slightly revised, late-night train of thought on our current state of affairs. It is, in many ways, a contemplation on the complex interactions between AGENCY and COMMUNION, the two primary modes of human experience and behaviour. Many of these considerations are based on psychological research, which goes uncited this time around…
1. Imagine a human group or community (a small-scale society) in its infancy; cooperators and coordinators, working together for the purpose of survival. (Consider the value of communion here—it has been an essential means to our evolutionary success as a species. Had we not learned to work together and “get along,” it is unlikely that we would be here today.)
2. Now consider the narcissistic, power-motivated aggressor-cheater who appears in said society. In a group of cooperators, the aggressor-cheater (who we will call Subject Zero) gets ahead simply because he’s the only aggressor-cheater in the group. If there were many more like him, his adaptive edge would be lost, and society surely less functional. (This is supported by evolutionary psychology.)
3. In his transgressions against the cooperators, Subject Zero creates two responses (not one): (A) Some try to stop the aggressor-cheater or respond to the aggression and cheating in a disapproving way; (B) Others admire the behaviour, learn that it works, and follow in the cheater’s footsteps (either supporting him or imitating him, or both).
4. As Subject Zero gains power through the support of Group B, he separates himself both physically and emotionally from the group as a whole. (Consider here the scientific evidence that empathy declines as income and power increase. Rich and powerful people have a tendency to become emotionally disconnected from other members of society.) It is in this physical and psychological separation from others that the cheater-turned-leader more fully realizes his power and ability to manipulate others. (Empathy and compassion are the equalizers of the Dark Traits—narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism. Without empathy and compassion, our agency has the potential to consume us; it drives us towards greater agency and power. This is the ‘upward’ spiral of the megalomaniac.)
5. Specifically, the self-appointed, power-driven leader manipulates others in the following ways: (1) By actual force and power (physical, emotional, social), making concerted efforts to marginalize and oppress others. This is the more obvious approach. (2) By way of fear-mongering; by creating false threats (through manipulation of truth, deceit, and fabrication) in order to shift the population (especially his followers) towards authoritarianism and conservatism (and nationalism), an age-old tactic that has immediate consequences and serves to further secure his authority and power. (Consider here the research demonstrating that fear-mongering and heightened threat perception increase feelings of conservatism, authoritarianism, and nationalism. This is a demonstrably effective strategy.)
Now, in consideration of the above processes (which I argue are relatively universal among Trump-like leaders today), let’s consider the most reasonable solution….
6. The solution to the supreme narcissist and manipulator, Subject Zero, is to not attack him directly. The solution is to provide a genuine and convincing alternative to his faithful followers—to those believing the lies and supporting the hate, and to those who are scared by the false threats he has created. There is no point in going after the megalomaniac leader, especially as he gains further power. The power and authority are his air and water, they are in his blood, and he lacks the self-awareness needed in the first place to conceive of the possibility of living any other way (a defining characteristic of both narcissists and psychopaths). His ways are far more deeply ingrained, while the followers are acting on fear and false premise. The only reasonable option is to change those who have been fooled—target the followers, not their leader.
7. The followers CANNOT be changed through logic or reason. This is important. Regardless of intellect or IQ, Subject Zero’s followers will not simply be “convinced” of an alternative, as it was not logic or reason that motivated them in the first place. Let me say that again: It was not logic or reason that motivated them in the first place. The only way to alter the attitudes and beliefs of his followers is through the creation of a completely independent, alternative narrative that is (a) safe, (b) equally motivating and inspiring, and (c) not accompanied by the slightest hint of criticism of the currently followed/worshiped megalomaniac. Such division in criticism, even if only slight, immediately positions the critic as the enemy (regardless of character or virtue), rather than as a new potential leader or savior. To successfully disable Subject Zero, one must instead present a safe alternative with the same confidence as Subject Zero did in the first place. (Research has suggested that making people feel safe leads them to adopt more liberal social attitudes and feel less inclined to support authoritarian leaders.) The focus must be on changing the followers, not the followed. The followed in this scenario is unchangeable.
Remember, the power-driven megalomaniac—whether Donald Trump, Doug Ford, or Jair Bolsonaro—is powerless without his followers; powerless without those who will let themselves be led in such nefarious and indecent ways. Indeed, the only way to disable the narcissistic cheater-aggressor-leader is to leave him attention-less and unadmired. Strip him of all that he believes that he is but isn’t. And he will crumble.
Target the followers, not their leader.
TARGET THE FOLLOWERS.
Inspire. Be genuine. Listen. Demonstrate strength in honesty and humility—because there IS great strength in humility. Do everything that Subject Zero isn’t doing, but do it with strength and presence. Be humble with confidence. Make it seen. Make the alternative SEEN.