Our Narcissistic Politicians - should MRI brain scans be required of all candidates?

by Hank Pellissier

We want our government officials to be brain-healthy, right? With sanity, integrity, and high moral values?

Sadly, the inverse seems true. Psychologists claim many of our politicians have Narcissist Personality Disorder.

Donald Trump is regularly labeled with this affliction. Barack Obama was similarly categorized

What is a narcissist? What’s the precise definition of this personality malfunction that afflicts 1 - 3% of the population? With huge percentiles on Wall Street and in Washington DC?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines narcissism with the characteristics below. I have added a few that Leon F. Seltzer Ph.D. has additionally noted.

  • Grandiose Sense of Self Importance
  • Fantasies of Unlimited Success
  • Believes He or She is Special
  • Needs Admiration and Flattery
  • Sense of Entitlement
  • Interpersonally Exploitative
  • Lack of Empathy
  • Contempt for Others
  • Envious of Others
  • Believes Others are Envious of Him or Her
  • Arrogant, Haughty
  • Highly Reactive to Criticism
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Self-Righteous and Defensive
  • Reacts to Contrasting Viewpoints with Rage

Perhaps you’re wondering if you, yourself, are a narcissist?  There are numerous websites where you can test yourself, like this one HERE with 40 questions. 

The population in general scores around 14. Celebrities average about 18. If you score over 20, you’re a narcissist.

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A quick glance at psychological assertions online reveals many politicians as suspected narcissists, in both major parties.

Donald Trump’s narcissism is often coupled with “aggressive… socially dominant behavior” 

Bill Clinton is viewed by Jeffrey Kluger, author of The Narcissist Next Door, as a “self-destructive narcissist.”

Ronald Reagan is defined (by Kluger) as “the most highly functioning narcissist who’s ever been in our political system.”

The USA’s “most narcissistic president” according to Kluger - was Chester A. Arthur, in the 1880s. This vain man owned 80 pairs of pants, and redecorated the White House with Tiffany decor.

Kruger also names FDR and LBJ as top-tier narcissists.

A Top Ten list can be viewed HERE. The same list also presents the 10 least narcissistic Presidents.

Kluger believes Calvin Coolidge was the least narcissistic of all American presidents. “Silent Cal” didn’t seek attention for its own sake, and he claimed his goal was to merely “walk humbly and discharge my obligations.” 

You might be wondering: “is narcissism a valuable, or necessary quality in a successful politician?

My strong opinion is that they are not. I believe narcissists are unfit representatives in a democracy, for the following reasons:

1) A narcissist’s deep desire for personal attention is a distraction from serving the public, and ruins his or her ability to work collaboratively and semi-anonymously in a team.

2) The narcissist’s inherent elitism, their contempt for others, results in an absence of empathy for the public they are supposed to be representing.

3. A narcissist’s defensiveness, self-righteousness, and inability to accept criticism can lead them to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of the press to silence their opposition. Their “reaction to contrary viewpoints with anger” can lead to dictatorial demands that those who disagree with them should be silenced.

Hot-headed partisan politics in Washington DC - with Democrats and Republicans stalemating each other, and constant “witch hunts” aiming to destroy opposing party members - suggest that Congress is a dysfunctional playground for narcissists.

The USA’s relentless instigation of international wars and conflicts also hints at narcissism, via the bullying self-righteousness of the executive branch.

Wall Street’s reckless behavior, crippling the economy and requesting a bailout, indicates the “Too Big To Fail” self-entitlement of narcissism.

Minor political players are also guilty of narcissism. An abundance of hopeless candidates are presenting crowding the US Presidential race. They don’t stand a chance but narcissistically, like moths, they’re attracted to the limelight of attention heaped on anyone with a POTUS ambition.

How can we prevent narcissists from governing us? How can we stop them from even being considered as candidates?

I have two suggestions:

1)  Publish Brain Scans of All Candidates

MRI scans are increasingly able to identify narcissism. Studies since 2013 indicate that brain regions associated with narcissism can be measured. 

For example, “NPD patients had smaller GM [gray matter] volume in the left anterior insula” and “smaller GM volume in fronto-paralimbic brain regions comprising the rostral and median cingulate cortex as well as dorsolateral and medial parts of the prefrontal cortex.”  Thinness of brain tissue in these regions indicates a weakened ability in “processing and generating compassion”, i.e., a lack of empathy, an absence of caring for others.

If this is combined with excessive activity in brain regions related to self-absorbed thinking - narcissism is flourishing.

Politician’s financial records are already scrutinized, plus reports of their medical health. Their monetary and physiological data is deemed crucial enough for the public to examine.

Mental health transparency is, IMO, even more imperative to publicly view. We want trustworthy public servants to represent us, not callous, paranoid, power-hungry narcissists.

Do you regard MRI scans as an “invasion of privacy”? Please consider the risks involved. The horror of Adolf Hitler would have been prevented, for example, if 1930’s technology included MRI scanning that revealed, via transparency politics, his messy brain to the public. Psycho-Historical analysis have categorized the Nazi terror as schizophrenic, paranoid, anti-social, narcissistic, and sadistic.

2) Reform Politics So It Doesn’t Attract Narcissists

USA politicians today are celebrities, especially the POTUS with grandiose titles like Commander-in-Chief of the World’s Largest Army. Fatuous attention lavished on politicians, especially candidates for President, attracts narcissists like wet manure draws flies.

USA political discussion is superficial, of course. Attention is given disproportionately to a candidate’s personality and appearance, instead of their ideological positions and vision. Media is largely to blame for this.

The real problem isn’t the media, though. What the USA needs is a huge shift towards people-powered politics, like the referendums of Switzerland.

Direct democracy, promoted in this interview of Nicole Sallak Anderson, would empower the electorate and weaken the influence of individual politicians.

In an ideal future, politicians would only be efficient transmitters of the people’s desire; they would be out-of-the-limelight paper-snuffing clerks, assisting the enactment of referendums.

Attention would NOT be bestowed upon them, and their ranks would be liberated from the dangerous, embarrassing, and pathetic behavior of narcissists.