Natalia J. Garland
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:
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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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