Donald Trump is for real. When he first declared as a candidate, charging that Mexico was sending us its thieves and rapists, everyone laughed at his political naivete. Then when the primary season began no one thought that he had a chance against the mainstream favorite, Jeb Bush. And now that he has become the ‘presumptive’ candidate, it seems the door is open for Hillary Clinton, what with Trump’s negatives with women, Hispanics and African Americans. But he is running neck and neck in the polls today.
So who is Donald Trump anyway? The Atlantic ran a major piece in June by Dan McAdams a noted psychologist at Northwestern University, exploring the mind of Donald Trump. Psychologists break personality down into what is known as the Big Five (see below). How we rate on these is a powerful predictor of how we will behave.
Most of us fall in the middle of any one of these traits. Donald Trump stands out with sky-high levels of extroversion and a very low level of agreeableness. Extreme extroverts have an insatiable need for social approval, fame and wealth. Trump certainly fits this mold. And as for agreeableness, those rating high here are caring, loving and polite. Those rating low (Trump) are often callous, rude and arrogant.
McAdams previously wrote a book on George W. Bush. Bush scored high on extroversion but very low on openness. George W was gregarious and outgoing but his low score on openness reflected the fact that he was very incurious and intellectually rigid.
So what might Trump’s personality say about him as a President? Well, often extreme extroverts will take high stake risks to get the fame and social rewards they crave. Those scoring low on agreeableness are often untrustworthy and exhibit extreme levels of anger. Anger is at the core of the Trump persona. His ‘personality narrative’ is that of a warrior. The world cannot be trusted. You have to be tough and competitive. Life is a series of battles that must be contested.
As far as trustworthiness goes, PolitiFact has looked at the truthfulness of Trump’s campaign statements. They found that 75% ranged from mostly false to flagrantly so. The scores for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were 31% and 29% respectively.
A Trump Presidency is likely to be highly combustible. His extreme self love (narcissism) and warrior narrative could clash with other self-centered and volatile leaders. This is no small risk considering that the President of the United States has the finger on the nuclear trigger.
And what accounts for the success of Donald Trump? I think there are three things. First, many Americans feel that with recent technological changes and globalization they have lost all control over their lives. In addition, Washington is ‘stuck’ in a political gridlock. Trump offers them a radically new prospect of hope. And finally, Trump appeals to many who have an “authoritarian personality”, people who feel their way of life is threatened and who turn to strong leaders who promise to keep them safe. How else to explain Donald Trump’s high approval rating from Evangelicals who seem to overlook his three marriages and foul-mouthed threats.
Thomas Friedman writing in the New York Times, recently noted, “The only good thing about extremists is that they don’t know when to stop – and in the end, they often do themselves in.”
Who knows how this will all unfold. It is still a long way to November 8.