The Jackal in Winter

Most of us have experienced times of loss of power. Those of us who have been through divorce (either as participants or innocent observers) are particularly conscious of the dynamic of power loss. In the case of divorce, power loss usually means loss of influence — loss of influence over the divorcing spouse or a large segment of friends and family. It can be devastating for any divorcing person to witness how quickly they become irrelevant to large numbers of people.

Divorce is a difficult enough psychological landscape for an emotionally healthy and mature person to negotiate. For the narcissist it can be intolerable. For the narcissist, irrelevance is a kind of death, and the narcissist’s reaction to irrelevance becomes destructive and dangerous and amplified in disturbing ways.

Losing an election, particularly a presidential election, is divorce writ large. Only ten previous American presidents have lost their bid for re-election. Some handled it better than others, but none have exhibited such rampant denial, such bitterness and rage, as Donald Trump, now the eleventh incumbent to fail to be re-elected.

Having seen narcissists in action twice before, and both times in the context of divorce, once as a child and once as a divorcing spouse, nothing Donald Trump has done has surprised me. His behavior so far has been vintage narcissism, including but not limited to, denial, vindictiveness, lying, lashing out at allies and generally destructive and even self-destructive behavior. (Divorcing narcissists have been known to even resort to murder, though not in my direct experience.)

Many people have expressed surprise at Donald Trump’s attempt to inculpate Republican Governor Brian Kemp, a staunch Trump ally if there ever was one, in
Trump’s loss in Georgia. To me it was standard operating procedure for the narcissist. No one is safe from a raging narcissist, and Trump will turn on anyone and everyone in the course of his death throes.

No self-glorifying narcissist can resist the temptation to compare their struggles to something grand or noble. When Trump tweeted a brutal video of an elderly but virtuous lion being brought down by hyenas and jackals, the self-glorifying stamp of the narcissist was unmistakable.

Fortunately there is little that Trump can do on his way out the door that can’t be easily undone by the incoming Biden Administration. We are unfortunate in that we must endure this monster for 78 days after the election while he inflicts his outraged ego on friends, allies and on the American people. We are fortunate, however, in that his power is fading quickly and his capacity to do harm is diminishing daily.

My experience with narcissists has taught me several things. The first is, Trump will never concede. To his dying day he will claim that the election was stolen from him, and if he can he will make that claim a significant feature of his future conduct. He will continue to angrily proclaim it to anyone who will listen.

Second, he will never show remorse for the damage he has done to America and the more than a quarter of a million people who have died on his watch from coronavirus. Indeed, he will insist that he was the greatest president America has ever had. His failures will forever remain the fault of others. He will continue to insist that the buck stops somewhere else, anywhere else but with him.

Third, Trump will continue to have a core of devoted, sycophantic supporters. They will diminish significantly in number, to be sure, but not in their rabid certainty that Donald Trump is and always will be a martyr to the far right. Some of those followers will become pestilential and murderous and will need to be watched very carefully.

Fourth, Trump will never attend Joe Biden’s inauguration. A formal ceremony glorifying the victor who decisively and easily snatched his second term away from him would be impossible for a narcissist to endure. Narcissists lack the moral courage, strength of character and largeness of spirit to accept defeat with anything short of angry recriminations and bitter denials. To Trump, the construction of the inauguration platform within sight of the White House is tantamount to the erection of his own scaffold.

Despite his wish to be seen as the noble lion, and not to place undue ignominy on jackals, Donald Trump is in reality a jackal, and a jackal in Winter at that. Soon his most potent tool, his ability to garner ratings for the mainstream media, will be gone, and his impotent rage will sound across the land as a fading shriek of unfulfilled need and desperately unquenched thirst for attention.

Donald Trump has lost, and there’s nothing more pathetic than a narcissist without power. But even without power he will forever remain a narcissist. In the final analysis, narcissists are incurable, and Donald Trump is no exception. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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