Despite an insurmountable lead for Joe Biden in deciding states and many media organizations having called the U.S. election in favour of the Democratic challenger, President Trump is refusing to accept the results of the election. Instead, the President is mounting legal challenges with little basis or evidence in an attempt to overcome margins of tens of thousands of votes in a desperate last-ditch effort. The president is rallying his base using social media to decry the falsehoods of a “stolen election”, while his close-knit group have called for supporters to be ready for “war”. Trump’s lack of willingness to concede the election doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s watched him in office during his tenure.
“I don't think it's different than anything he's done over his four years. He bullies people, he distorts the truth, but at the heart of it all he's a narcissist,” said Allyson Harrison, an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Queens’ University.
Harrison and others have spent the past four years not only being dismayed at some of the actions of the president, but also carefully studying how he operates from a psychological point of view. Whether it was having peaceful protestors shot at by national guardsmen and federal officers so Trump could get a photo op or visiting Kenosha, Wisc. just days after the riots in honour of Jacob Blake turned deadly, Harrison thinks it’s he’s only ever got one thing on his mind—himself.
“When you get people who are way on the extreme of narcissism [such as President Trump], when they deal with things that aren't what they expected, they use no real rationalization, denial and blame as tactics,” she said.
With infighting occurring between the Trump administration on whether the president should concede or continue his legal battle, Harrison is reminded of the Emperor’s New Clothes, in which the emperor’s closest advisors are reticent from telling him the new suit he’s purchased is not real. Following an election, it’s common for aides of an outgoing president to begin searching for work, but reports indicate the Trump administration is prepared to fire anyone who considers leaving.
“Nobody wants to say anything because they don't want to offend the emperor and they want to stay in his good graces. Finally, one of the boys says, the emperor has no clothes on. Nobody wants to agree with his sound judgement because they don't want to get in trouble,” she said.
Much like Trump’s deplorable comments about women allowing him to touch their female genitalia whenever he wanted because ‘when you’re a star, they let you do it,’ Harrison thinks that his narcissism puts him in a position where denial is inconceivable.
“If you're a narcissist, you can't believe that people would reject you,” said Harrison.
In both the Senate and House, Republicans have fared better than expected, where they’ve either gained seats or been able to keep their majority (for the time being). While more than 50 per cent of voters cast their vote for Biden, it wasn’t as big a repudiation of Trump as predicted. There was still, however, some egg on the president’s face, which means a lot for someone who desires adoration.
“If you look at the popular vote he got, he still got 47% of the vote. So there's a whole bunch of people out there who trust in his abilities. When he sees that he thinks, “‘I'm great, I'm wonderful I'm doing the right thing,’” she said.
Doubling down on election fraud claims
Trump’s claims of election fraud are very well hurting the democratic institutions in the U.S. and among his base creating a bigger distrust of the political machine in Washington. As a result Harrison fears there could be some people who take his and circle’s calls to be prepared for “war” as a serious message.
“He's just threatening all these things, which, I think is more just to try and appease his fan base… of them there are a lot of his supporters there who are pretty extreme right wingers, that could start a lot of civil unrest,” she said.
While Trump’s inclination for causing doubt on mail-in ballots seems to be about protecting himself, he’s putting his supporters and election officials in a tough position. In Pennsylvania, election officials reported that they’ve already received death threats and repeated calls to their offices over simply counting votes.
“Other people only exist to serve your needs so you don't care if you endanger them. You have to protect your ego and to make sure that you still feel like you're special and powerful,” she said.
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) November 9, 2020
Trump’s base if anything are very loyal to the president, who tend to believe whatever he says no matter how outlandish. Even those that oppose him later tend to support him, Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz or former Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly have all been subjected to his wrath on Twitter and in-person, but now are staunch supporters of the President.
“He makes people doubt their own convictions, when talking to his supporters if he tells them black is white and he yells at you and berates you, eventually people start to doubt themselves and think maybe they’re wrong,” said Harrison.
Many Trump supporters are posting the 2000 Presidential Election Al Gore vs. George Bush as an example, where Gore requested a recount in Florida. One thing they omit is the fact the race was down to just a few hundred votes. When the election was handed to Bush, Gore accepted the results, but Harrison thinks Trump enjoys the chaos.
“Most of us in society have to have some degree of agreeableness that you're willing to make concessions or things you're willing to say while trying to find the common ground. He enjoys conflict and situations where he’s disagreeable and can cause some TV drama,” she said.
What could happen
While the TV drama has gone on for more than four years, Harrison doesn’t think it’s going to come to an end anytime soon, as she describes the presidency as something that is essential to keeping Trump in the limelight.
“There is no way that someone who is as extreme on narcissism and extremely disagreeable as he is, is simply going to go away. Even if they pull them out of the White House kicking and screaming, he’ll still say it was fake news and that this was a rigged election,” said Harrison.
In most cases, people who are narcissists love the media attention, and there is no position in the world that receives as much media coverage as the President of the United States. But, when Biden does eventually get into the Oval Office, Harrison thinks Trump could have an about-face on those who are closest to him.
“They try to find a new place to go where they're going to be loved and appreciated and given positive feedback, but they also can be quite nasty and abusive to the people around them. They take out their frustration and anger on the people who are near them, so that's something I'd worry about,” he said.
Case in point is the right-leaning television network Fox News, which at times has operated as a personal propaganda network for Trump, calling the election and state of Arizona for Biden. When Fox made the Arizona call, they were the first media organization to do so, and reports say the President was furious at their decision to oppose him.
“When Fox News didn't completely support him, he saw that as a betrayal. So he lashed out at them, and it didn't really work. It didn't have them come back on board. If the way he’s going to act is to attack people he claims as dissidents, he might soon be on an island of blame by himself,” she said.
With even some of Trump’s trusted folks unwilling to do his bidding, as the likes of Fox News Host Laura Ingraham lays out a path for him to hang onto his legacy while taking a defeat, Harrison admits there must be fear inside the Oval Office as legal proceedings could restart when he’s no longer protected by his office.
“I think he's also scared to death inside, because once he loses the protection of the White House, there are all these lawsuits that are gonna come down on him,” she said.
When the Trump Presidency does finish, Harrison knows she’s going to still be talking about it, as it will remain one of the biggest cultural phenomenons and a lightning rod moment within psychology for decades to come.
“All I can tell you is that this is gonna be food for psychology lectures for at least the next 20 years. There are a few examples in history where you can watch someone who is just that extreme and has the power to keep playing out the things he's been able to do for the last four years,” said Harrison.