The mind: Trump’s rare, explosive personality
His friends call him a ‘winner’. His children call him a ‘great dad’. His enemies call him a ‘dangerous narcissist’, unfit to be president. What do we know about the mind of President Trump?
In 1987, the journalist Barbara Walters was interviewing a wealthy real estate mogul who had just written a book explaining his philosophy of life: The Art of the Deal. There were rumours that he might enter politics, although he repeatedly said that it was not for him. But what if he could be ‘appointed’ president, she asked?
He still said no. If he had the job, he would want to run and win. ‘It’s the hunt that I believe I love.’
Three decades later, Donald Trump has finally done just that. He ran, he won, and today he will be sworn in as president of the United States. The hunt is over. What now?
Psychologists often assess people according to the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. In an in-depth piece last year, the psychologist Dan P. McAdams argued that Trump has a very unusual personality for a politician: extremely high levels of extroversion paired with extremely low levels of agreeableness. This means that he is at once desperate for fame and attention, while lacking any empathy for others: a true narcissist. Underlying it all is an ‘emotional core’ based on anger. These traits, McAdams predicts, will make him an ‘explosive, threatening and unpredictable’ president.
His biographers broadly agree. They describe him as a ‘classroom troublemaker’ who enjoys creating chaos; an ‘insecure bully’ who ‘games the system’ by finding and exploiting loopholes.
‘He’s the master of saying one thing, and then, 10 minutes later, you’re seeing the opposite.’
But it is how people see themselves that can be the most revealing. And Trump is all about making deals — as his book describes in detail. Money was ‘never a big motivation’. Instead, he looks at life as a game of winners and losers; or, as his father used to tell him, ‘killers’ and everyone else.
This is why he thinks he will be a good president: as a ‘killer’, he wins by ‘aiming high’ and then ‘pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.’ He told America that this approach will work just as well for running the country as it did in business. Now the world will find out if it is true.
The real deal?
He is right, say his supporters. His personality may not be pleasant, but it is extremely effective at getting things done. He is a tough leader who will not be afraid of making bold decisions while in power. And he instinctively understands America’s anger at the status quo because he feels it too.
He is way out of his depth, say his opponents. His need to lash out at anyone who questions him will not just lead to embarrassing Twitter spats — on the international stage, it could lead the USA into dangerous wars and political turmoil. In the end, a man whose only motivation is to win simply cannot be trusted.
- Will Trump’s personality make him a good president?
- What do you think motivated Trump to enter the White House?
- The Myers-Briggs personality test describes 16 ‘types’ of people. Trump is considered an ‘ESTP’, or an ‘Entrepreneur’. He shares this with the three people in the image above. Write down three traits that you think they might all share.
- Write a letter to President Trump, giving him advice for his first day in office.
Some People Say...
“To me it’s very simple: if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”Donald Trump
What do you think?
Q & A
- Can personality tests really tell us anything important?
- They are not perfect: our minds and personalities are complicated things, and they can change over time depending on our experiences and the situations we find ourselves in. But there is still value in assessing the traits that a person shows most often — especially when that person is about to become extremely powerful.
- What else do we know about the kind of president Trump will be?
- He can be very hard to predict, and a lot will depend on how he reacts to events outside his control. We do know that he places a lot of emphasis on his personal relationships with other powerful people. This is not totally unusual for presidents (it is a trait he shares with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon). But he cannot rely on making deals alone.
- The Art of the Deal
- Published in 1987, Trump’s book is a guide to life, business, and his own personal worldview. Journalist Tony Schwartz is credited as co-writer.
- Sworn in
- Donald Trump’s inauguration as president will take place at noon today in Washington, DC. (This will be 5pm UK time.)
- Big Five
- These are extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. McAdams explains that ‘most people score near the middle on any given dimension’. As they grow older, people ‘tend to become more conscientious and agreeable, and less neurotic, but these changes are typically slight.’
- In Greek mythology, a man named Narcissus fell so in love with his own reflection that he was unable to look away, and stared at it until he died. Today, narcissism is a term to describe people who are particularly self-obsessed.
- These quotes are based on a conversation between the Trump biographers Michael Kruse, Gwenda Blair and Tim O’Brien. You can read more under Become An Expert.
- Fred Trump, who founded what would become the Trump Organization.