Seth M. Spain Ph.D.

The Dark Side of Work

Donald Trump Is James Bond Without the Loyalty

The Dark Triad leads to success but cruelty isn't popular.

Posted Feb 07, 2017

45th President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump
Source: White House - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

…and make him American, though this is a less-important point. In her first outing as M in Goldeneye, Judi Dench describes James Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur,” and more recently in Casino Royale as a “blunt instrument.” These are remarkably accurate depictions of the character, who is well-described by the Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. Bond cares about little other than his own agenda, will use any method to achieve his aims, including threats, negotiations, and of course both physical violence and sexual coercion (e.g., Thunderball and Goldfinger), and is typically coldly unemotional. Despite otherwise shallow emotions, he can be roused to a typically quiet anger, which makes this diagnosis of his personality apt. More to the point, Bond is usually presented as, and perceived by the audience to be, a heroic figure. But this is essentially because his personal motives align with his mission for the British secret service. When those personal motives, however, conflict with his agency’s, Bond goes rogue to satisfy his own ends: in both License to Kill and Quantum of Solace, Bond resigns from the service in order to seek revenge against villains who have personally wronged him (maiming a friend and killing said friend’s wife in the former, and killing Bond’s own love interest in the latter). Furthermore, within the bounds of his agency, Bond ruthlessly and single-mindedly pursues Blofeld who was responsible for the death of Bond’s wife, Tracy, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Donald Trump also appears to be well-described by the Dark Triad. His narcissism is well-known, as demonstrated by his near-constant bragging and obsession with polls, crowd-size, and TV ratings, as well as his vainglorious lifestyle, which, personally, I would describe as a “vulgar display of wealth."  Furthermore, he is driven by a need to dominate others, notably his obsession with “winning,” description of antagonists as “losers,” and his obsession with revenge.

My colleagues and I have argued that the central feature of Machiavellianism is a kind of interpersonal skepticism, or paranoia, that manifests in a cynical point of view. A person high in Machiavellianism sees the world as harsh and aggressive, a dangerous place where nearly everyone is out to screw you over. Mr. Trump’s worldview seems to reflect this: he presents himself as a brilliant deal-maker, a vindictive and litigious individual, and a person easily consumed with ideas of revenge. One need only think back to his presidential campaign announcement, describing Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and saying that, "they’re bringing crime, they’re bringing drugs," to see his generally hostile impression of the world around him.

Psychopaths are characterized by two main features: impulsivity and a lack of empathy. Mr. Trump’s late-night tweets ranting and raving about judges and Saturday Night Live skits reflect an impulsive character. Further, his mocking of a disabled reporter and John McCain, explicitly for being captured and held as a prisoner of war, display both impulsivity and lack of empathy. This was, briefly at least, cemented in the minds of many by the otherwise-astonishing attack on Khizr and Ghazala Khan after the Democratic National Committee Convention. Mr. Trump had nothing to gain from attacking a Gold Star family, but we could argue that the perceived threat overwhelmed his limited self-control.

The Dark Triad together produce a very agentic character, a person who, by turns, is capable of charming, manipulating, or threatening others in order to achieve their own immediate desires. In the case of James Bond, this combination produces a potent culture hero, a champion of Western Civilization, or at least the liberal democratic order. In Donald Trump, we have a more polarizing figure. While still driven to pursue his own ends relentlessly, Mr. Trump seems to have no anchor to tie his whims to larger principles, unlike James Bond’s (usual) commitment to Queen and country.

There is one further point of difference. While both are well described by the Dark Triad, there is another important characteristic that Trump seems governed by that is certainly less dominant in James Bond’s character. Trump’s generally belligerent and domineering attitude towards others reflects a broad callousness, which is the core underlying feature of the entire Dark Triad, and also shows up in his overt cruelty, which the Atlantic has reflected on at length. In short, Mr. Trump displays a tendency towards everyday Sadism, rounding out the so-called Dark Tetrad. This vulgar cruel streak helps to account for Mr. Trump’s broad unpopularity and helps to explain his indifference to the worst excesses of his young administration

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