President Donald Trump

Since the campaign that led to his 2016 election, Donald J. Trump has defiantly flipped the presidential script, with chaos and deliberate combativeness a new mark of White House operations, manifest in hostile briefings, high rates of staff turnover, and in cultural exchanges that appear aimed at dividing the nation. The U.S. is even divided about the degree to which Trump is directly or indirectly accountable for changes in civil discourse, with some citing his rhetoric and policies as a spur to hate crimes and others claiming he is being unfairly demonized by the press. Millions of people around the globe (not to mention many Americans) express bafflement at the nature of the personality at the center of it all, and many are alarmed by tactics and policies that are not only erratic and often retrogressive but that undermine democratic practices. A large segment of the population seeks to quell emotional reactivity to the chaos of the presidency and to navigate the civic, legal and ideological battles that play out daily, from Twitter to the federal courts.   

A President's Personality

Trump’s manifest grandiosity and disregard for facts, beginning with failure to accept clear evidence about the size of the crowd attending his inauguration, put mental health professionals in the spotlight from Day One of his presidency. Mental health professionals and commentators from all ideological camps early converged on a label of narcissistic personality disorder as the condition that clearly “explains” Trump’s behavior. Many mental health professionals have came forward to make this assertion, including more than 70,000 who signed a petition warning of Trump's potential dangerousness, despite longstanding professional injunctions against "diagnosing"  public figures whom experts have not personally examined. Americans remain divided as to how authoritarian or grandiose Trump may or may not be, and who has the authority to make clinical pronouncements or draw historical parallels.

What Psychological Terms Characterize This Presidency?

Trump’s presidency has given rise to heated discussion about a range of psychological phenomena, well beyond the debate about his own personality. The term “gaslighting” refers to the manipulative attempt to make people question their own perceptions or memory, and it is now often invoked to describe Trump’s behavior, especially his statements about “fake news.” The question of whether or not Trump’s style should be characterized as authoritarian has also led to an analysis of world leaders past and present. Whatever one’s position on Trump and his policies, a narrow area of agreement for most Americans is that the political climate has never been more corrosive and it reflects, to more or less degree, Trump’s contrarian approach to leadership.

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