Narcissm – Democracy’s Nemesis?

Jacinda Ardern’s empathic response to the bombing of a mosque in New Zealand in March this year made international headlines. The press went into a frenzy over her sensitive and visibly moved reactions to those affected by the tragedy.

It’s really telling of our age, that Ardern herself became the subject of the news when she was doing what any decent leader should be doing. We elect politicians to represent us, so surely the ability to sympathise and to imagine who we, the electorate are, what our needs, aspirations and vulnerabilities are, is a basic requirement of the job?

Why are we putting up with Johnson and Trump when we could have Ardern? We are living through an epidemic of manipulation on a global scale and there is a pattern to how we got to this point. It didn’t happen over night.

While some of my Brexit-weary friends are turning to G&T, baking or prayer, my pick me up has been Ramani Durvasala. Durvasala has been studying Trump’s seemingly erratic behaviour and is finding that it follows a set pattern. Each time Trump gets away with something outrageous, he goes one step further and the next unthinkable thing happens. Liberals are in a permanent state of shock and disbelief.

Trump, like his friends Johnston and Farage are narcissists. We hear the word bandied about quite a lot at the moment and while each of us has some degree of narcissism, at their most extreme, sociopathic narcissist have key behaviours in common. They:-

• lack empathy and compassion.
• are manipulative and will distort the truth to suit themselves
• think the law and rules are for others, not them
• are highly critical of others but don’t take criticism well themselves • are entitled and often pompous
• are quick to anger, rage and outbursts
• are superficial and shallow

Does this sound familiar? Narcissists can’t help themselves, but no-one else can either. They are damaged and damaging to those around them and we should shield ourselves from them at all costs. Politics is a magnet for them; power, limelight, influence. We need to learn how to protect ourselves as individuals and collectively and to stop them in their tracks early on.

Trump, Johnston, Farage all got to the top by salami slicing. They used an incremental and long campaign to get there. They have made provocation their weapon and each time they have got away with an outrage, it has spurned them on the an even greater one. Witness the recent vile scenes in the Commons. It will get worse because that’s how the behaviour patterns work. They have no self regulation, no moral compass.

Early intervention, with zero tolerance, is the best way to limit the damage caused by narcissists, but as they are the masters of manipulation and deceit, this is difficult. We don’t tolerate sexism, bullying, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of destructive behaviour, so why isn’t this insidious behaviour on the list?

Somehow, we as a party need to better educate ourselves to the destructive forces of narcissism and be better equipped to recognise and deal with its complex, destructive protagonists. A stitch in time……. They are a threat to our prosperity and to healthy growth.

* Hilton Marlton is the Welsh Lib Dem rep on Federal People Development Committee

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in News.


  • David Warren 1st Oct '19 - 1:13pm

    In my time as a national trade union officer I came across people who I now know were narcissists and you are right to say that anyone who has this personality disorder is very dangerous.

    I have thought for some time that Trump falls into that category, the late Muammar Gaddafi is another example. Unfortunately the political culture in many countries lends itself to this. The Libertarian former US congressman Ron Paul is on record as saying the majority of top politicians are sociopaths.

    Narcissists should be spotted at the earliest opportunity and kept away from any position of power.

  • Those with narcissist and sociopathic tendencies are hugely overrepresented in leadership positions in business and politics (and, no doubt, other walks of life) compared to their frequency in the general population. That’s because their drive, lust for power and skill at manipulating others enables the most talented ones to rise to the top or near the top in most organisations.

    That can be immensely damaging. But it can also be highly beneficial if their objectives are aligned with the organisation’s aims. Their drive and their ability to get their way then work to the advantage of the organisation.

    But their skill at disguising their true nature makes them difficult to spot. And if one or a few people DO spot them that’s no good if the majority are taken in. And if you can’t even reliably spot them, then there’s absolutely no way to vet their true objectives.

    However, there is one thing that can and should be done; namely to develop a culture and create organisational structures that demote or force out those who step beyond broadly acceptable bounds. In other words, those in leadership positions may sit on a high branch but the quid pro quo is that it should also be a very breezy branch which they can easily get blown off.

    I fear that is not where the Lib Dems are at. There is, IMO, a tendency to regard the leader as a ‘Saviour’ who will lead us to the Promised Land and the party therefore gives them far too much free rein. Arguably, that may not matter too much while the party is small and remote from power – not least because it’s unlikely to attract the serious and high-performing narcissists who will be attracted to bigger parties as moths to a flame. However, I anticipate there would be a very high chance of a serious narcissist taking control and going far off any recognisably Liberal track should the party ever manage to break though electorally – which must be a possibility at present.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

This post has pre moderation enabled, please be patient whilst waiting for it to be manually reviewed. Liberal Democrat Voice is made up of volunteers who keep the site running in their free time.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Nonconformistradical
    @Peter Martin "Raising taxes generally will, at the moment, benefit for younger people who are struggling to pay increased mortgage costs too." How, if they a...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Steve, It is the lending process by commercial banks that creates what is often referred to as 97% of the money in circulation. It also the spending proces...
  • Peter Martin
    Raising taxes generally will, at the moment, benefit for younger people who are struggling to pay increased mortgage costs too. I admit it will be a hard sel...
  • Chris Perry
    P.S. Just by way of clarification. It is my belief that although people born in these islands might identify with their place of birth they are likely to descri...
  • Simon McGrath
    Have the Tories really 'underfunded ' the NHS. According to the Kings Fund , spending was £150.3bn in 2018/19 and £181.7bn in 2022/23 (all in real terms ). ...