The dictionary defines narcissism from a psychology perspective as, "extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration."
And though this might describe an incurable affliction plaguing every single politician in America’s 241 year history, it appears that, of recent, we’re taking narcissistic political behavior to heights heretofore unseen.
Look, no one can argue that the current occupant of the White House enjoys a more than occasional bath in "Lake Me." But what has been well chronicled in the reports of Donald J. Trump’s self-aggrandizing activities and communiqués is seemingly missed — or purposely ignored — in his predecessor. There’s absolutely no debate that Barack H. Obama enjoyed a veritable love affair with the mainstream media. When the fourth estate has a particular rooting interest in a politician or his/her policies, well, it can get a bit indelicate as far as their sense of what is worth reporting on or taking notice of at all.
So, while Trump’s ego and narcissistic tendencies are legion, well, Barack Obama’s tend to get conveniently downplayed or purposefully ignored.
Take for instance the time-honored tradition that is former presidents not speaking ill of their successors. An example would be George W. Bush’s high-minded, humble, and noble refusal to weigh-in on Barack Obama’s presidency — even as Obama pilloried Bush and his policies until deep into his own second term. Bush steadfastly refuses to take the bait from interviewers who continually press him with leading questions about a controversial Obama policy or action.
Obama, of course, shamelessly adhering to the rules of Narcissism 101, elected not to pay that courtesy forward.
In a December, 2016, interview with David Axelrod on CNN, Obama teased when asked about how vocal he might be in his post-presidency, "Now, that doesn’t mean if a year from now or a year and a half from now or two years from now, there is an issue of such moment, such import, that isn’t just a debate about a particular tax bill, or, you know, a particular policy, but goes to some fundamental polices about our democracy that I might not weigh in. You know, I’m still a citizen and that carries with it duties and obligations."
Cue the High Sparrow’s judgment from "Game of Thrones." Narcissism conviction, innumerable counts. "Shame!"
Yes. There it is — the unchecked hubris and overinflated sense of self-worth attendant in every Obama utterance. Sprinkle in the pedantic messaging, and the sense of "he just can’t help himself," and we resignedly acknowledge that it simply always must be about him.
And so much for the self-prescribed 12-month, 18-month, or 24-month stand-down on speaking out. Barack Obama waited exactly 10 days following the inauguration of Donald J. Trump on Jan. 20, 2017, to make his official return to the public stage he had just exited less than two weeks prior. The emergency? Well, it was the Trump administration’s proposed travel ban. By God, the former president felt compelled to give his two-cent’s worth. This, while he has professed his public appreciation for Bush 43’s silence during the eight years of 44’s presidency.
Bush has never publicly mentioned Obama’s hollowing out of the Democrat party — losing some 1.030 seats at federal, state, and local levels during his reign — or his ill-conceived Iran nuclear deal, or his hot mic embarrassment with Russia, or his intransigency when electing to open relations with despots and dictators or his adding to the regression this country has experienced on matters of race. Nope. Old George W. Bush kept his mouth shut through it all.
But Obama isn’t Bush. And through a series of recent tweets, carefully crafted veiled assaults of Trump in speeches, and responses to sympathetic "#resistance" questions during public appearances, Barack Obama has reinserted himself into the spotlight and continues to shamelessly — and shamefully — pass judgment.
The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., once famously supplied a provocative title — "Defining Deviancy Down" — to a 1993 essay on crime. With the current occupant of the White House a former reality television star and a talented shill for his own greatness and "yuuuge" aspirations for America — results of which only he can bring about — we’re becoming accustomed to in your face, less than subtle narcissism as a condition for American leadership. We’ve almost begrudgingly become numbed to it.
But lest we forget, the origins of this acceptance of hubris as a fait accompli took root during the eight years of Obama. Make no mistake about it, it was there that we began defining narcissism down.
James A. Gagliano is a 1987 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Following his service as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army, he entered the FBI, serving in a myriad of positions in the investigative, tactical resolution (SWAT), undercover, diplomatic and executive management realms. He was a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and has posted to assignments in Afghanistan, Mexico City, and parts of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He retired in December of 2015 from the FBI’s New York City Office. He currently serves as a Law Enforcement Analyst for CNN, provides Leadership consultation for corporate clients of the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, and instructs undergraduates at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, where he earned an M.P.S. in Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Leadership in 2016. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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