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President Donald Trump

Why Is the Trump Presidency of Extreme Psychological Interest?

Since the campaign that led to his 2016 election, Donald J. Trump has defiantly flipped the presidential script, making chaos and deliberate combativeness the new normal of White House operations, manifest in hostile briefings, high rates of staff turnover, and cultural exchanges that appear aimed at dividing the nation.

There is widespread debate about the degree to which Trump should be held directly or indirectly accountable for changes in civil discourse, with some citing his rhetoric and policies as a spur to hate crimes while others claim he has been unfairly demonized by the press.

Millions of people around the country and the globe have expressed bafflement at the nature of the personality at the center of it all, and many are alarmed by tactics and policies that appear not only erratic but often retrogressive and undermining of long-established democratic practices. Chief among them is a well-documented distortion of facts if not outright lies about everything from crowd size at the inauguration to discussions with foreign heads of state.

A large segment of the population seeks to quell their emotional reactivity to the chaos of the presidency and to rationally navigate the civic, legal, and ideological battles that play out daily, from Twitter to the federal courts.

The President's Personality

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Trump’s manifest grandiosity and disregard for facts, beginning with failure to accept clear evidence about the size of the crowd attending his inauguration, has put mental health professionals in the spotlight from Day One of his presidency.

Psychologists and commentators from all ideological camps early converged on a label of narcissistic personality disorder as the condition that “explains” Trump’s behavior. Among those making this assertion are more than 70,000 mental health professionals who signed a petition warning of Trump's potential dangerousness, despite longstanding professional injunctions against "diagnosing" public figures whom experts have not personally examined.

Americans remain divided as to how authoritarian or grandiose Trump may or may not be, as well as who has the authority to make clinical pronouncements or draw historical parallels.

At some as-yet-untested point, the clinical becomes the constitutional. The behavior of President Trump has sparked both legislative action and public discussion about whether and when to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which calls for the orderly transfer of power when a president becomes temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

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What Psychological Terms Characterize the Trump Presidency?

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Trump’s presidency has given rise to heated discussion about a range of psychological phenomena, well beyond the debate about his own personality. The term “gaslighting” refers to the manipulative attempt to make people question their own perceptions or memory, and it has often been invoked to describe Trump’s actions and statements, especially those about “fake news.”

The question of whether or not Trump’s style could accurately be characterized as authoritarian has sparked analysis of other world leaders, past and present. Whatever one’s position on Trump and his policies, a narrow area of agreement for most Americans is that the political climate has never been more corrosive, and that it reflects, to a greater or lesser degree, Trump’s contrarian approach to leadership.

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