Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Narcissism and politics/ the narcissist as politician

It is commonly-understood that a significant proportion of politicians are narcissists (at least partially). Elsewhere, the author has looked into the darker side of politics, where it could be argued that politics and psychopathy meet. But there are plenty of cases in history and the present day to support this widely-accepted phenomenon.

We need look no further than the UK for evidence.
The modern-day Conservative Party is led by David Cameron and George Osborne.  These are the "power duo" of the UK, in some ways the "successors" to the domination that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had over British politics for fifteen years.
Like with Blair and Brown, Cameron and Osborne seem to have some kind of informal agreement about power-sharing: Cameron is the "front man", whereas Osborne is the "back-seat driver" or the "power behind the throne". In some ways, they could be called "amplified" or "alternate" versions of their respective predecessors.
Like Blair, Cameron possesses the charisma and statesmanlike gravitas necessary to appear as a convincing world leader; however, at the same time, Cameron appears less as the "heir to Blair" as the "Blair's bastard" - possessing many of the negative attributes that Blair was accused of having (but more amplified), and only a superficial smattering of the positives. Gordon Brown was accused by some of being dour and power-hungry; Osborne wields powers with supreme efficiency but absent of natural charm, and his ambition is nakedly plain to see. Everything he does is seen through the lens of amplifying power.

Whereas Osborne is an individual with apparent empathy issues, Cameron's personality displays an almost childish aspect to it at times. While the mask is in place, Cameron beams with bubbly charm; but when provoked by something, Cameron temper runs amok, turning into adolescent petulance. Cameron's personality has been analysed before, through the prism of his superficiality pointing to a  darker side. However, a second look at the evidence suggests that Cameron's narcissistic traits far outweigh anything else (what psychologists call the "anti-social" traits). He has no real values because he believes in nothing. He wanted to be Prime Minister simply because he thought he would be good at it - a definition of narcissism if ever there was one. His ideas are taken up suddenly, but because he lacks the will to see things through, will quickly lose interest and do something else. The "Green deal" is a great example of this: a policy announced with great fanfare, only to be quietly dropped when Cameron wanted to suddenly get rid of the "green crap". A large number of firms tied to the industry, and thousands of jobs, were cut loose as a result. In the same way, Cameron's ideas of ten years ago, such as "hug a hoodie" and sticking to Labour's spending plans, were instantly dropped when the socio-economic climate soured. It could similarly be argued that his government's key policy of "austerity" is nothing more than a moment of opportunism seen in 2008, which (fortunately for them) has worked out well for Cameron and Osborne since. Seen in this way, "austerity" is simply a tool to make Cameron and his government famous (or infamous) to posterity. All these examples point to the superficial nature of Cameron's personality: he will do or say anything to gain support. And all this goes without even mentioning the countless lies spoken from his mouth: there are too many to mention.

The God-figure

Adulation is obviously a key aspect of narcissists as politicians. The narcissist as politician sees himself as a "saviour", to his party and the country. But first of all, to his party and his army of followers. As we see with the example of David Cameron, he became the leader of his party in 2005, on the back of a third successive electoral defeat for the Conservatives. It was clear that when Cameron called himself the "heir to Blair" he was also aping Blair's ability to take a party that was on the ropes, channel their desperation and allow him to be their instrument. All that was necessary was loyalty and belief in his "vision". In this way, it can also be argued that "the party" in this psychological state sees its "visionary" leader as a manifestation of their own idealised self, discarded of its self-doubt and insecurities.
In this psychological state of affairs, it's easy to see how a narcissistic politician as party leader is able to channel that same energy to the nation at large. Thus when the narcissist politician does indeed attain the ultimate prize, he feels that his inflated sense of self-worth was in fact an accurate portrayal of his talents. The irony here is that this misguided psychology also results in him attracting others to his close circle who also wish to gain their own piece of the power; sycophants who will agree with and follow his ideas, or suggest only ideas that they think he will agree with. In short, this results in the leader promoting people who are incompetent but loyal over those who actually have better ideas. Cameron's governing circle is a case in point.

"Us and Them"

Thus in a court of yes-men, the narcissist politician sees anyone who criticises him as being an "enemy"; for this reason, we can see how narcissists suffer from irrational paranoia. It is in this state that we arrive at the point where the narcissistic leader sees himself as a victim, leading to a reliance on the tribal loyalty of his followers. In this way, there is a need for the narcissistic leader to create an "us and them" mentality. If an obvious enemy does not exist, one is created.
In the case of David Cameron, the creation of "austerity" as the government's effective religion is the way to assess how "loyal" segments of society are to the cause. Those who are against "austerity" are "deficit deniers", and not living in the real world. Society is divided into "strivers versus skivers", in George Osborne's infamous wording. This is the essence of the politics of "divide and rule" that narcissistic politicians always fall back on in the end. The sad truth is that it usually works.

At the end of the day, a narcissistic politician relies on the politics of low populism and base emotion to hold on to power. Cameron is no exception to this rule. Look at the themes that have occupied Conservative rule and their party conferences. While the attempt is made to make their theme hopeful, the "Nasty Party" once decried by Theresa May is back in full swing, even in her own terms. If not victimising young people or the unemployed, Cameron's Conservatives are blaming immigrants for social problems. Opponents are called "unpatriotic" or worse. It is in these national atmosphere that generates more violent dissent, as the cycle of division and hatred between opposing sides is fuelled by the rage of the narcissistic leader. This downward spiral of polarisation and ever harsher rhetoric has only one result in the end. The eventual end for the narcissistic politician is often a violent or dramatic removal from power.

That time has not arrived yet for David Cameron - and may not, as he has already indicated his "exit strategy". For others though, such as Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it is a different story: a man who seems intent to wielding ever greater degrees of power, come what may.

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