A Presidential Personality

02 November 2016

As much on this side of the pond as on the other, success on the political stage today seems to be determined by candidates’ personalities over their policies.

Never has this been more evident than in one of the most gripping leadership contests in a generation: the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Rather than an ideological, policy-based battle between Republican and Democrat, the race has been a bitter back-and-forth between arguably the most disliked candidates of all time: the brash headline-grabber and the shrewd old-hand.

The Celebrity Politician

The business magnate, Donald Trump, has quickly risen through the ranks to take the top spot as Republican nominee. One doesn’t get to his position in politics or in business without a big helping of determination, nerve and confidence. At what point, however, does determination become ruthlessness and confidence become arrogance or narcissism? Online, Trump is regularly associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): a serious psychological condition in which the sufferer may lack empathy, exploit others for their own gain and/or exaggerate their own achievements.

Could this be what has allowed Trump to shun political correctness without apology? Throughout the campaign he has seemed incapable to many of demonstrating an ability to approach sensitive issues with tact and due regard for the opinions of others. He may stand on an ideological platform with which some Americans do associate and he certainly appeals to those disenchanted with the political elite. That being said, if he is incapable of seeing beyond his potential personal gains, can he really broker important deals behind closed doors without the public recognition which he so eagerly craves?

Trump’s business experience is extensive and there are strong arguments in favour of electing politicians with skills and experience gained outside of the political environment. Nevertheless, even his commercial achievements appear emblazoned with narcissism; the majority of his exploits bear either his family name or, at minimum, his initials. Add to this the alleged use of charitable funds to purchase a 6 foot self-portrait and it becomes difficult to deny a level of self-obsession.

Arguably, all leaders are narcissistic to a point: in order to lead an inherent self-belief is vital. Since at least 2007, and probably long before, Hillary Clinton has thought of herself as presidential material. Her determination to reach this goal has been repeatedly tested, most notably when she conceded the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008.

But who is Hillary Clinton?

Unlike Trump, who expresses every emotion outwardly, Clinton appears more reserved. Throughout the campaign, she has been called "inauthentic" and whilst Trump captures and acts as a mouthpiece for populist anger, Clinton's calm and calculated responses make her appear unrelatable and symbolic of a political elite deaf to the day-to-day concerns of the masses.

Hillary lacks the natural charisma often associated with the current President and his First Lady. Whether this is due to a long political career of media management or to personal experiences (such as the accusations levelled against her husband), Clinton appears adept at managing her external impression to the point of obsession. Falling ill earlier in the campaign allowed a rare glimpse of her human side and of the exhausting internal strength required to constantly manage her outward presentation for fear of perceived failure.

The investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server whilst Secretary of State was seen by many as a severe demonstration of dishonesty and, thus far, her explanation has failed to satisfy some voters' doubts . With the FBI’s decision not to prosecute and with no believable show of remorse, Clinton's inability to ‘relate’ has cemented her in the minds of many as deceitful and part of an elite class that is above the law. The most recent discovery of 650,000 new emails announced so close to the vote will undoubtedly add to voters' confusion and could be the final chink in her armour.

Decision day

On 8 November 2016, the American people will have to choose between seemingly a serious narcissist and an obsessive controller. With personalities taking priority over policies, each of these candidates has traits which do not easily align with the job role. However, I wonder if it is fair or even desirable to expect people who are offering to take on such a high-profile role to retain the characteristics which we expect from everyday social interaction. Many of us would crumble under this intense pressure and perhaps developing exaggerated attributes is a necessary coping mechanism and a means of attracting attention in such a competitive environment. Only time will tell whether these traits stand up to scrutiny or become the candidates' downfall. 

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