Narcissism in American Culture

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The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and the impact he has had on American culture is what some have called the “Trump effect.” This “Trump effect” is linked to a form of narcissism. In any given episode of life many people may behave narcissistically, although they may not suffer what would be clinically diagnosed as narcissism. Clinical researcher, Agnieszka Golec de Zavala and her colleagues explain that the correlation of individual narcissism and collective narcissism are relatively low. In general, collective narcissism is a form of high, but unstable, collective self-esteem associated with inter-group prejudice and aggressiveness, emotionally invested in “unrealistic” beliefs about the in-group’s image, constantly needing “external validation but accepting no validation” as appropriate or sufficient. This seems problematic for those who may experience such an in-group, but when exactly does one know one is encountering such a group? Even more so the case, how does one know that she or he isn’t a member of such an in-group? Obviously, one should know if he or she is participating in the Polish Independence Day march, or frequently visiting Quebec City to pledge La Meute.

More importantly, understanding collective narcissism would help understand, and hopefully aid in interacting, with xenophobia which is predicted by collective narcissism. In “Xenophobia: Understanding the Roots and Consequences of Negative Attitudes toward Immigrants” Oksana Yakushko discusses the nature, and consequences of xenophobia, citing an array of studies on how it is linked to the perceived threat of the individual or in-group by the out-group, as well as how native citizens coerce immigrants into impossibly absurd conditions which result in trauma, as well as further irreversible health issues which confer intergenerationally. Karishma Vyas at Al Jazeera in discussing the experiences of immigrants whom have been American nearly their whole life confirms predictions made by Yakushko, namely, “that members of the host culture tend to demand that immigrants assimilate to their culture, leaving their own cultural heritage behind.”

Last year, the Ku Klux Klan rally in Anaheim resulted in three people being stabbed and 13 arrests. Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally resulted in similar violence.

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours has reported on subsequent Trump effects in Montreal. Various far-right groups have begun to flourish, and operate through the province with various anti-Muslim or anti-Islam sentiments. These groups operate on the contention that their culture, or image thereof, is under threat by immigration and the replacement of their way of life that it seemingly means. In interviewing a leader of a far right group, Kestler-D’Amours reports the individual as saying that the interest or pursuit of the group was to protect the “Canadian charter of rights and liberties.” Similar events have been reported throughout Toronto. Last month far-right groups protested near the Nathan Phillips Square, holdings signs that seemed like a mirror of post-Trump America: “Make Canada Great Again,” or “Trudeau Awards Terrorism.” These groups were against the policies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau which seem to threaten traditional Canadian values, and in particular they opposed the recent motion passed earlier this year, M-103, which prohibits Islamophobia. Such incidents seem to be what Golec de Zavala describes as reactions of “retaliatory hostility towards other groups whose actions or opinions undermine the in-group’s idealized image.” Golec de Zavala suggests most forms of narcissism are not related to such intergroup hostility or religious intolerance, but that collective narcissism can create an “in group” dynamic that suppresses mutual respect and understanding. The question then becomes, how can anyone living in the era of the “Trump effect” stop or deter such collective narcissism? What can we do to improve inter-group interactions, not as scientists, students or journalists, but as humans inhabiting a common region, a common continent, all experiencing common sentiments even if some of us may have narcissistic tendencies? The Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, in a brilliant and stimulating discussion with writer Carvell Wallace during a podcast, gave a simple but seemingly difficult solution, “It sounds corny, it sounds trite, but I think that we have to do a much better job of listening to each other.”

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