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Grassroots Narcissists

Natalia J. Garland

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There are two sides to every coin. Nearly one year ago, I wrote an essay about one side of a narcissistic coin which I labelled as Political Narcissists. I defined that term, in part, as follows:

Political narcissists do not tolerate discussion or criticism. The new anti-war movement has prompted a new authoritarianism: myself. If you question, challenge, or try to reason with political narcissists, their response might be a form of projection such as: Don't tell me what I should think. Of course, the narcissists are the ones attempting to subordinate others to their sense of self-importance. Narcissistic reactors cannot participate as equals among peers. The narcissistic self must be the focus of attention and command an admiring audience.

Allow me do some brainstorming about the reverse side of the narcissistic coin: I will label this group of people as grassroots narcissists. I will jot down some notes on the possible emotional undertone, mental framework, and symbolic gestures of this proposed category. Let me emphasize that these notes contain my impressions and represent a work in progress. The presented information is generalized and undocumented. I will not single out any particular individual, but will attempt to assess current political movements revolving around the concepts of hope and change (terms which have become commonly used by politicians). I will try to uncover any psychological pathology--for the purpose of understanding and not for any derailment of commitment to real improvement in government.

Is it possible, whether knowingly or unknowingly, that political narcissists have reached out to everyday narcissists? That is to say, there is a widespread grouping of narcissists preoccupied with feelings of political belonging. The artistic design of the narcissistic coin is balanced in this fashion: the political narcissist seeks his or her supply of narcissistic validation from an admiring audience, while the narcissistic audience seeks affiliation with other like-minded superior individuals. Both sides of the coin merge in mutual gratification of the need to feel special and grandiose.

The following are some notes on how grassroots narcissists might view their place in world events.

  • We are special as a political grouping of people. It's all about us because we are ready for change.
  • We can change the world because we believe in change and we are dedicated to a high purpose.
  • This is our moment. Only we can save America.
  • For the first time, we can be proud of America because our superiority has finally been noticed.
  • The American flag is only a symbol of 9/11 (a symbol of the politics of fear and not of United We Stand).
  • We respond to I love you rather than to God Bless America.

As I take a closer look at some of the political slogans and speeches, I can speculate on the levels and mixtures of psychological pathology among some of the grassroots followers.

  • A self-centered view of America--this is our moment because we are the superior ones.
  • A lack of historical appreciation--the greatness of America is measured by personal experience and selective data.
  • A softened version of the politics of fear--global utopia is the solution to terrorism.
  • A lack of tolerance for moderation or conservatism--these viewpoints are rejected as inferior, or given a patronizing nod of recognition as passé.
  • A tendency toward globalism--there is contempt for America as a world leader and a dismissal of America's achievements and contributions.
  • Admiration for anyone who supplies narcissistic gratification.

Why does this matter? The narcissistic coin is molded such that America must always be criticized as an oppressor in order to fuel narcissistic superiority. Hence, the self-importance of the political narcissist and the fraternity of the grassroots narcissists. The two sides of the coin are bonded to the same core material. Narcissists cannot feel gratitude for or give credit to the accomplishments of others. To acknowledge that America is a wonderful country would be to deflate the narcissist's specialness (unless the narcissist could claim responsibility for making America wonderful). Of course, America will always be imperfect and ever striving to solve the problems of each era. The narcissist, however, believes in his perception of himself as perfect. Nothing, therefore, can measure up to this false perception of a perfect self.

Is the narcissistic element helpful or harmful to politics? Can severe narcissists withstand obstacles and opposition, scrutiny and accountability? If the concept of a desire for something new proves to mean the implementation of standard hardcore-liberal policies, would this not reinforce rather than change the way things get done in Washington, D.C.? Can a hardcore-liberal leader be a uniter and not a divider? Will some of the grassroots narcissists grow weary when campaign momentum ceases and the hard work of governing commences?

Indeed, there seems to be a mental disconnect between the concept of change and the fact that nothing has changed in political policy statements. The proposed policies and plans of the hope-and-change movements reflect the same, old, hardcore-liberal ideas. Why are the everyday narcissists not able to see this? It is because grassroots narcissists do not primarily seek facts or evaluate policy; they seek the comfort of affiliation with their own group.

Perhaps the most serious and unchallenged weakness of the hope-and-change movements is their anger over the Iraq War and their accusations of a politics of fear. There is an emphasis on withdrawal from Iraq instead of victory. Regarding those who were against the war from beginning, it must be noted that their choice means Saddam would still be in power today. As for the preference to shift the focus to Afghanistan--if Osama bin Laden has been hiding in Pakistan, we might still not be able to capture or eliminate him. Moreover, there are numerous terrorist cells that would continue to operate without bin Laden's leadership, and the Taliban are experts at maneuvering themselves throughout the tribal areas of Afghanistan. Do the hope-and-change movements have a real plan on how to deal with the complexities of Afghanistan?

The politics of hope, therefore, might not be an alternative to the so-called politics of fear. The psychopathology of denial, entitlement, and grandiosity could be lurking beneath the message of hope. At its worst, the politics of hope is a subtle version of the politics of fear. People are afraid--of terrorism. People feel cheated--of the American dream. People feel betrayed--by government spending and the failure to resolve illegal immigration. In addition, traditional family values have deteriorated--ironically, because of the hardcore-liberal embrace of extreme cultural relativism.

Why is there apparently a large number of grassroots narcissists? It might be because many Americans are still traumatized by 9/11. Wounds have not healed. Confidence has not been restored. Reality has not been faced. Terrorism will probably be a lifelong problem for today's youth. Those of us who are middle-aged, or in our senior years, will never fully enjoy a secure retirement because of the anxiety of living in a dangerous world where terrorists want to kill us. This is an extraordinarily heavy burden. People need respite. The prospect of quick withdrawal from Iraq might appeal to the desire for gratification, and point to the failures of George W. Bush--one of the most hated presidents. The prospect of losing in Iraq might justify contempt for one's own country and energize a cowardly tolerance of religious extremism (such as is currently happening in Great Britain and parts of Europe).

Moreover, there are some people who seem spellbound by the superficial attractiveness of narcissism. Narcissists can be charming. How flattering to be worthy of their superior company, to be lifted from the daily struggles of real life, and to bask in the imitation sunshine reflected from their self-important aura. It feels like hope--or something. Anyway, it is new and exciting.

Now, I am going to continue my brainstorming a little further. I will label the above category of people as narcissist-wannabes. That is to say, they want to be and wish they could be narcissists. They are not narcissists, but are attracted to and infatuated with narcissistic personalities. If such a personality--for example, a political narcissistic--were to attain celebrity status, then the public response could swell to ever-increasing levels of adoration and enthusiasm. The result could be...could be...something like the current phenomenon of the hope-and-change movements.

It becomes clear that grassroots narcissists are only a part of the larger picture. The hope-and-change movements do not entirely consist of true grassroots, power-to-the-people, political communities. They appear to consist of combinations of different types of people: political narcissists, grassroots narcissists, narcissist-wannabes, hardcore liberals, true liberals, terror-denialists, Bush-haters, elitists, true seekers of hope and change, first-time voters, curious onlookers, and the disheartened who want to believe--in something.

In addition to the combinations of types of participants in the politics of hope, there is also a combination of factors which has enabled the participants to coagulate. Specifically, I might say that a politics of fear, albeit in a hardcore-liberal style, has created a sense of urgency regarding withdrawal from Iraq (and then those monies can be spent on America's education needs), and regarding global warming. Next, the slogan, yes we can, was adapted from the illegal immigration movement, seemingly to tap into the fears of deportation and family separation, and to blend the emotional tone of mainstream America's worries with those of non-citizens. Hope becomes a convenient catch-all rather than the unity of hearts and minds.

But, true hope is a spiritual quality. Hope is anchored in a spiritual belief system and benevolent deity. Politically, hope rests in the ongoing application of our Constitutional rights. Many of us need inspiration, motivation, and idealism to propel us forward. Sometimes, we need someone to inject or revive these qualities in us. And, a good, healthy dose of narcissism can help us to survive failures and to harness our talents. But...but...we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. The attitude is gratitude--if not for rights, privileges, and advantages, then for the potential to realize precious freedoms under our Constitution and for the sacrifices of past generations.

Sometimes progress is slow, too slow. Life can be hard and unfair. Some have suffered much more than others. We must try to understand one another's experience and perception of America, yet maintain or build positive identities as unified persons. Unified, meaning--patriotic, speaking a common language, and living as good neighbors to one another.

My hunch is that the hope-and-change movements have taken on proportions far beyond what the originators could have anticipated, or hoped for. The question is whether these movements are a remedy for or a symptom of America's problems. Anyone who seriously joins one of these movements, especially in terms of casting a vote, should do some thorough research as well as soul-searching. Finally, although some people might prefer to hear a closing of I love you, I prefer to conclude today's notes with God Bless America. (Written 02/22/08)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland