This is an essay on why President Trump’s stray-voltage rhetoric, extreme actions and Executive Orders are not a surprise and are, in fact, highly predictable. His ban on people entering the US if they come from any one of seven countries is exactly what you would expect from him. His proclamation that “it is working out very nicely” despite evidence to the contrary, was delivered right on cue.
And his furious, hyperbolic, response to legitimate challenge arrived, as anticipated, by tweet:
He won’t change and cannot change. This is who he is.
He belongs to the Fellowship.
I cannot recall any conversations in the last week that haven’t featured Donald Trump. It’s extraordinary; whatever the topic, sooner or later we’re talking about him. The whole world is trying to work out what the election of this hubristic, self-proclaimed genius means in practice. And we have questions: Why does he behave as he does? Did he really say what he just said? Is he honestly blind to his own shortcomings? How did he manage to make that obscene p*ssy-grabbing comment, proclaim torture works, disrespect women and immigrants and climate change and STILL get elected as President of the United States of America? In 2016?
Then there’s the curious relationship with Vladimir Putin, a man who is undeniably, and exceedingly, hard-core; a man who, seemingly, has no difficulty with loss of human life on a massive scale if that is the Means-to-an-End he desires. Syria or Ukraine, the appalling carnage – it’s all OK by him.
In some ways, it comes as no great surprise that these uber-alpha males, Trump and Putin, respect each other. Temperamentally both given to Shock & Awe!, they are kindred spirits on the global stage they now strut.
Who are these men, and what makes them tick?
For a start, they are predictable. Once you have worked out the underlying mechanism of their psyches.
But what exactly are the factors governing that predictability?
Three Personalities in One
Psychologists describe three powerful personality traits. If they converge in one individual, they are known as the “Dark Triad“. When you understand how the traits work, separately and together, you comprehend the Fellowship to which Trump and Putin belong, and the psychological commonalities between them.
The Fellowship of the Dark Triad.
I once knew a man who lacked any moral compass. He was motivated by the size of his bank balance and his personal power and influence, and he would do almost anything if it suited his goals. Would he have offered up his own grandmother on the altar of his greed and ambition? I don’t doubt it.
He was also supremely cunning and duplicitous although that wasn’t immediately obvious. Virtually nothing he said could be taken at face value; there was always a hidden sub-plot. Some agenda you only discovered down the road. If you spoke to him in confidence, he would divulge your information immediately.
Then there was the whole vanity/sensitivity thing. Any criticism, real or perceived, was met with verbal aggression out of all proportion to the observation or remark. On his own assessment, he made no mistakes, so rarely apologized. By turn, charming and ruthless, he was a charismatic nightmare.
We are talking, of course, about a Psychopathic, Machiavellian, Narcissist.
Those three specific personality traits make up the Dark Triad and, unfortunately, they occasionally come bundled together. You will regularly find two of them in the same individual and then, every now and again, as is Nature’s way, you get a three-for-two deal. When that happens, you get a world leader in the shape of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or Donald Trump.
If these are hallmarks of your character, you’re probably a Psychopath:
- Glib and superficial charm
- Grandiose estimation of self
- Pathological lying
- Cunning and manipulative
- Lack of remorse or guilt
- Superficial emotional responsiveness
- Callousness and lack of empathy
- Poor behavioural controls
- Lack of realistic long-term goals
- Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
- Several short-term marital relationships
If this is what you are, this is what you do and this is what you believe, you are Machiavellian:
- The End justifies the Means
- When all’s said and done, it’s all one big game
- Charming & Confident
- Cynical of Goodness & Morality
- Patient & Calculating
- Avoid Commitment and Emotional Attachments
- Good at reading social interactions & People
- Rarely reveal your true intentions
- Lie & Deceive as required
You’re a Narcissist when five, or more, of these are true of you.
- Lack empathy: are unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Have a grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerate achievements & talents, expect to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Have a sense of entitlement, (unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with your expectations);
- Are inter-personally exploitative, (you take advantage of others to achieve your own ends);
- Are often envious of others, or believe others are envious of you;
- Require excessive admiration;
- Show arrogant, haughty behaviour or attitudes;
- Believe that you are “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions);
- Are preoccupied with dreams of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
Some of these traits overlap, or seamlessly blend, so that the lines start to blur. One thing’s certain: if your life is intertwined (through employment, marriage or some other relationship) with a Dark Triader’s, it will eventually grow desperate. Especially if that person is your boss, or the CEO of the firm, or your husband or your wife. Perhaps, for now, the Dark Triader likes you and shows you special favour. Feels good? Enjoy it while it lasts. A High Psych Dark Triader boss will hurl you to the wolves when you outlive your purpose. Some firms are run entirely by Dark Triaders. They’re not good places to work.
The Dark Triader – Psych/Mach /Narc
I have, in my time, had the dubious pleasure of working for, and with, a few fully-fledged Dark Triaders, and, from experience, this is how those behaviour traits show up in practice, and everyday working life:
- Gets Stuff Done! Through force of personality or manipulative charm. But they always get their stuff done – regardless;
- Is seldom riddled with self-doubt and is not averse to strongman bully behaviour.
- Favourite saying:
“a wolf doesn’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep”
- Not all Department Heads are equal! Has a close circle of trusted deputies. But will quickly dispense with them if he suspects disloyalty;
- Feels no guilt or shame and so finds it very hard to apologize even when clearly in the wrong;
- Attracts followers into his Tribe; it’s hard to resist the High Psych brand.
The High Mach
- Leans on trusted, proven, allies and confidantes. Collects acolytes and henchmen who are also skilled at high-stakes gamesmanship;
- Doesn’t reveal true plans until the last moment. Ex-employees will say: “I got let go, and I never saw it coming.”
- Promises the earth, but pivots away when it suits, explaining that the promise was never really a thing- that you misunderstood;
- Favourite saying:
“That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain” (Hamlet – Act 1 Scene 5)
- Interacts with people as though they are expendable pieces on a chess board and as if life is a game of, well, chess.
- Is very controlling, micro-managing three org-chart levels downward. Finds it impossible to “just let go”.
The High Narc
- Is happiest when someone is telling him how amazingly great he is;
- Is far more interested in telling you what she thinks, than in hearing what you have to say;
- Is obsessed with influence and connections, regarding those as a reflection of his own qualities;
- Doesn’t understand the words “Queue” or “Wait!”. Has an innate sense of Entitlement.
- Favourite saying:
“No!” means “Maybe…” and “Maybe…” means “Yes!”; so, really, “No!” means “Yes!”.
- Struggles – really struggles – with the realization that, contrary to daily hope and expectation, she doesn’t have the biggest fan club on the reservation;
- Spends long hours in the gym and at the hairdresser. Currently toying with Botox and a hair transplant. Loves getting “feedback”. As long as it’s positive.
Here’s a classic example of Trump’s Dark Triad at work:
Normal Presidential Photo
Dark Triad Presidential Photo
High Psych: “The last thing she wants to do is hold my hand, smiling like we just got engaged, so that’s exactly what I’ll make her do…“;
High Mach: “I’ll grab her hand just as the cameras start to shoot. She won’t want to wreck her trip over something as trivial as hand-holding and, anyway, I won’t give her enough time to think it through!“;
High Narc: “This will prove once more to the world that every woman, everywhere, can be brought under my control and command.“
Those Three Demons …
The Dark Triader spends large amounts of time trying to appear normal, but three demons are too many to keep under control. Just as the Psychopath is starting to realise that rudeness and low empathy combined with relentless drive and ambition doesn’t win you friends, the Machiavellian Prince confirms it’s only a game, and the Narcissist in her head gently whispers that she isn’t a psychopath; she’s high-functioning, over-achieving and misunderstood.
Dark Triad – The Upside!
The curious thing about the Dark Triadic Demons is that they often get you the top job. The chances are, you’re reading this thinking: “That’s my boss!” or “Hey, that’s my CEO” or “I work for her!” or “You just described the President!“
Or, maybe you’re thinking: “That’s me!”
Your Psychopathic You is very helpful if you need to be ruthless whilst not getting weighed down with guilt as you stab your best friend in the back. And it’s indispensable if you want to asset-strip a company even as its pension fund runs out of money, and then go home and drink Chateau Latour 2009. Being High Psych is extremely useful if you want to bomb an entire city – including women and children – into oblivion in order to help your despotic friend, who happens to be a besieged, fellow psychopath.
The Machiavellian Prince is indispensable when it comes to getting difficult stuff done. Some say Putin’s brutal audacious move on the Ukraine was strategic brilliance as he comprehensively outmanoeuvred all parties. It’s not a surprise. A High Mach Prince will easily outplay the rest. Yes, he leaves behind a trail of destruction and misery, but because he’s a Narcissist, he doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong, and, as he’s also a Psychopath, he simply doesn’t care.
The Narcissist within is a source of immense self-belief and motivation. Few dare question you (you’re also a psychopath, remember?) and, pretty soon, you end up believing the hype – which is what happens if you smoke enough of your own dope.
When they first meet you, people believe in you and join you. They love your chat. If you say you’re a genius, you probably are. In the end, they work out you’re just High Narc. If you pay them enough money, maybe they’ll stick around; but there’s no higher purpose.
The Fellowship’s Time has come
Why write about the Dark Triad now? Well, given all that’s going on, it somehow seems appropriate.
When you understand that someone is on the Dark Triad Spectrum, you can begin to fathom how they think and make some accurate predictions. This person doesn’t think like the average person and it’s a mistake to assume that they do. It is, for instance, pointless to wonder how they can do what they do and look at themselves in the mirror. In the Mind of the Dark Triader, the mirror reflects total perfection. Like those fairground mirrors that distort your beautiful face and make it look misshapen. The Dark Triader’s mirror does the same thing – in reverse.
The Dark Triader can make outrageous comments and do unacceptable things with seemingly total disregard for what anyone else thinks. Most people would resign or eat humble pie or beg forgiveness when a recording of their offensive utterances is played around the world; but a true Dark Triader doesn’t give any of that a moment’s thought: High Psych is indifferent, High Narc doesn’t believe he makes mistakes and High Mach is distracted working out his next move in the Game.
The reason the world is obsessed with the White House and the Kremlin is that, for the first time in modern history, the two most influential men on the world stage are both full blown Dark Triaders. Incidentally, as an ex-CIA operative recently mused over dinner:
“Why do you suppose Kim Jong-un has gone quiet all of a sudden? He knows this guy has the codes and will actually press the button. Best to lie low for a bit and see how things play out.”
It takes one to know one.
Obama, of course, is temperamentally miles away from the Dark Triad. He wouldn’t recognise a red line if he saw one on the White House Lawn. A Dark Triader, on the other hand, is all about red lines. He is itching for you to cross one, so that he can get out his baseball bat and bludgeon you senseless. In other circumstances, he would probably be a Goodfella.
Back to those predictions and the Fellowship of the Dark Triad. We have predictive president precedent.
Here are a few of each:
High Psych Precedent
When you say:
High Mach Precedent
- a small crowd turns up to your inauguration but you maintain that it was the biggest crowd ever;
- when challenged on the falsehood, your people say you were giving “alternative facts”
- you disrespect your own intelligence agency, but then insist the media fabricated the story;
High Narc Precedent
When you say:
- I can be more Presidential than anybody. Except, maybe, Abe Lincoln.
- Mr Putin called me a genius!
- I fully think apologizing is a great thing, but you have to be wrong … I will absolutely apologize sometime in the distant future if I’m ever wrong.
What to expect from a Dark Triadic Presidency
- There will be mutual respect between Trump and Putin. They will test each other’s resolve and it won’t be comfortable watching. They may start out as friends. They will probably end up as bitter enemies.
- Trump will hire and fire those close to him. He will do it brutally and publicly. You’ll find out you’ve been fired via your Twitter feed;
- He will generate a huge amount of chaos on Capitol Hill with a JFDI (Just Do It!) approach to his orders;
- He will get things done. You won’t hear him say: “I just couldn’t get things done“;
- If he finds he really cannot get something done, he will generate a lot of heat and smoke, but will eventually pivot away and deny he wanted to do it;
- He will engage in highly Creative/Destructive activity: e.g. creating an order that destroys the livelihoods and plans of people from seven countries he doesn’t like;
- His personal life and relationships will come under enormous strain as he runs out of bandwidth and reaches breaking point;
- His style and approach will never change. It’s hard-coded deep in his psyche and cannot be re-wired;
- He will probably get himself impeached;
- He will insult other world leaders and then make up with them. This is a classic High Mach gameplay;
- As the chaos and the stress rises, he will become tired and erratic and will lash out. He will only be soothed by words of admiration;
- We will experience a titanic clash of “enlightened liberalism” with “old-school protectionism”. Social media will turbo-charge this battle of the ideologies.
- Global Stress and Uncertainty will rise.
It won’t end well. The Voyage of the Dark Triader never does and the Fellowship of the Dark Triad is doomed. But, eventually, perhaps sooner than we expect, it will all be over and the world will get back to business as usual.
Until then …
PS: my thanks to Alexandra Haggard for describing the Dark Triad to me over lunch a couple of weeks ago
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