When it comes to the Republican Party, trump opened up a Pandora’s box in American politics. His behavior ultimately triggered an insurrection by his supporters, designed to overturn his presidential election loss. There are two ways to analyze Republican flip-flopping behavior since Jan. 6. The conventional way is through a political lens. A far less common approach is through a pathological narcissism lens. A political lens explains some of the why, but not much of the how. The psychological lens can often provide deeper insights into bad behavior. In my experience, pathological narcissism hides in plain sight, all over our political system.
The Political Lens
When viewed through a political lens, the Republican Party’s erratic post-insurrection behavior is explained away by calling it self-preservation, self-interest, cynicism, and raw power politics. All of these labels are true to a large degree.
In the aftermath of the violence at the Capitol, many Republicans seemed visibly shaken that trump put their lives at risk by inciting his supporters to try to overturn our democracy on his behalf. Indeed, some of trump’s biggest political sycophants and co-conspirators, like Lindsey Graham, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, were inspired to speak out against trump for setting off the first invasion of our Capitol since the War of 1812. That time it was the British who said, “We’re going to take America back.”
Certainly, self-preservation caused Republicans in Congress to have a moment of clarity. They came to understand trump would trigger his supporters into endangering their lives if they didn’t fully support his Big Lie that the election was stolen. Few can forget trump’s supporters erecting a hangman’s gallows in front of Congress and then chanting, “Hang Mike Pence. Hang Mike Pence,” for the crime of not trying to overturn their cult leader’s election loss, something Pence could not constitutionally do.
However, due to political self-interest, most congressional Republicans soon had a second revelation and quickly snapped back to their pre-insurrection trump servitude. Their polls were telling them the majority of Republican voters believed Dear Leader’s Big Lie, which meant not only did they still need trump’s support to win their own reelections, they also needed his cult’s support for the GOP to have any chance of staying in power at all. This is why most Republican outrage against trump for triggering a fascist attack to steal an election didn’t last half a Scaramucci.
When given the political choice of lying for trump to stay in office or speaking truth to power, the vast majority of Republican politicians have declared they will cynically and repeatedly lie to the American people for their own self-interest and personal raw power. This is not a power based on honor, integrity, public service, or any conservative principles they pretend to embrace. Their power is now subservient to a con man’s erratic whims. Didn’t they all take an oath and swear to God on a bible that they would never do these things?
So far there has been little to no cost to Republicans who supported trump’s conspiracy theories and lies over the last five years, so why would supporting the Big Lie be any different? Some Republicans are even getting promoted for their trump-approved sycophancy, and the costs for telling the truth are high. Truth-telling about trump in today’s GOP will cost you your Republican leadership position. trump and his minions will incite your local right-wing base against you, and he will support those who will kiss his ring to replace you. Clearly, the incentives in GOP politics are all messed up and contrary to their oaths of office.
It all comes down to people with honor versus people without it. By continuing to support the Big Lie, Republicans have proved they no longer have honor or integrity, nor are they interested in governing, principles, morals or public service. Yes, we can call it a cynical play for raw power to serve their own self-interests. You may believe Republicans will need a couple of “come-to-Jesus moments” before they will even begin to start to care about rule of law again, but then what?
The Psychological Lens
Has saying “the Republican Party is selfish, cynical and all about raw political power” ever really been an answer to anything? It now seems that if you try to use facts and logic to explain GOP inconsistencies, it’s likely to give you a headache. Combating lies and alternate realities in the trump cult era inevitably leads to few actionable answers and little to no deeper understanding.
All these descriptions ever seem to say is there is a political party funded by America’s most greedy millionaires and billionaires. These politicians feel entitled to rule and profit off the government while condemning it. They are “why we can’t have nice things” for Americans anymore, unless it mostly benefits them. It’s been clear for a while that the GOP is only interested in publicly serving those who pay them, which is why they push every day, in every way, to get more money into politics. It has nothing to do with ideology. It is the pure power politics of me, myself and I.
Psychology explains how Republicans shamelessly lie and why they are taking the party down a path that makes no logical sense and is certain to end in conservative tears and/or the destruction of American democracy. It explains why they are saying the exact opposite of what they said about trump on Jan. 6, when their hallowed workplace and lives were threatened. Their behavior makes little sense until you view it through the lens of the pathological narcissism spectrum, because what a coincidence, “me, myself and I” is narcissism.
If we filter the data through the psychological lens, it would say something like this: The Republican leadership is replacing Liz Cheney for being honest about trump’s threat to America with a “leader” who will keep willingly and falsely defending trump and spread the Big Lie. The pathological narcissist trump needs to tell himself and constantly hear people tell him that he really won. Apparently, some anti-QAnon cabal of Democrats, the media, the deep state, antifa, and every other Fox News boogeyman stole the election from trump but forgot to rig things against the Republican Party, which did far better than expected due in no small part to a surge in trump cult voters.
Narcissists can’t distinguish between their fantasies and reality, so trump must constantly convince himself that he actually won the 2020 presidential election and that it was stolen from him. If he doesn’t, his fragile house of cards, feeble psyche will completely melt down and possibly crumble to dust. This is why the buck never ever stops with trump, and he blames everyone else for everything. trump, like all pathological narcissists, is psychologically incapable of ever taking responsibility for any of his own failings, and God forbid he is ever considered a “loser.”
In The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch sends her flying monkeys to attack her enemies. In pop psychology, “flying monkeys” are a narcissist’s naïve or willing henchmen who are manipulated or recruited into doing the dirty work when the narcissist can’t or prefers to hide in the shadows. With their removal of Liz Cheney for truth-telling, Republican politicians have shown they have transformed into a party of flying monkeys for the boy who keeps crying, “witch hunt.”
It is pretty obvious that almost every Republican has been given a choice: submit and become trump’s flying monkey, or rebel and suffer the wrath of trump and his flying monkeys with a primary challenge. It is well documented that trump attacks anyone who doesn’t praise him, gets others to do the dirty work for him, and yet gives little to no loyalty in return unless he benefits. His lifelong use of flying monkeys, to attack and harass rivals, enemies, abuse victims, or anyone in his way, confirms this truth.
It is no coincidence trump shamelessly blackmails Republicans the same way he blackmailed Ukraine. “You need my help to survive? You need to do me a (2020 election) favor though.” We must learn this shamelessness is not a superpower. It is a narcissist’s tell.
I used to wonder how politicians could say or promise one thing to the American people on TV, and then go and do the exact opposite in real life. Thanks to the psychological lens, I don’t wonder about that anymore. Pathological narcissists only value what fills their primal cravings, needs, and dysfunctions, and will shamelessly and compulsively lie, cheat and steal for whatever they want or desire. How is this different from trumpism?
You may also enjoy Sam Ray’s two-part article, “Narcissism Is Trumpism.“
Image: “The Monkeys caught Dorothy in their arms and flew away with her.” An illustration by W. W. Denslow from the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also known as The Wizard of Oz, a 1900 children’s novel by L. Frank Baum on Wikimedia Commons.
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