(N.B.: this originally was posted in the comments section but upon reflection think it deserves its own post. No worries, no effort to impersonate Krauthammer or a certain Senate Majority Leader with the deliberately stylized prose. Just some observations).
Narcissism is an occupational hazard for political leaders. You have to have an outsized ambition and an outsized ego to run for office.
The Right’s compulsive need to maintain its Narrative within which all adherents can act out their own form of idealized Self is essentially collective narcissism. That’s offered as a lay person’s experience working, talking, and socializing with them over decades. From the Newts of the world to the most vicious ‘unknowns’ (except today the latter likely have so many Facebook ‘friends’ they have their own ‘fan’ page).
Narcissistic need to support a fantasized, grandiose self-image within a larger heroic Narrative explains alot. Not just the daily evidence of disconnect between actual behavior and the projected idealized (often censoring) personality. The post 2008 purge and radicalization are inevitable consequence. A complimentary analytical framework from a conventional political/historical perspective of Movements here and on the Continent.
Narrative radicalization and escalating vehemence through cant and acting out must — by internal logic — treble when fantasy can not surmount the limits imposed by Objective Reality (say Nov. 2008). Obama’s victory is a crisis threatening the ability to segregate their disassociated fantasized self-image with their often fragmented and undeveloped self. Why anyone remotely close to the Movement who said after defeat “now is the time for introspection” was doomed to be mau maued and kicked off the island. And Lord help you if there was a photo with you hugging Obama . . .
On one extreme one gets birthers. Another? Secession. And so on. They’re really the same. Their commonality is an irrational imperative to retreat to a safe Narrative that protects their idealized, fantasy Self. From that Barlett-esque non-emprical world adherents safely can continue to use the objective external world as a mere prop in their own internal movie.
This is in marked contrast with more normative modes of collecting and processing input, cognition and productions of ‘knowledge’ below:
When a projected idealized self-image collapses, is exposed, or threatened by either – its actions frequently are associated with violence, fantasies of violence and apparent irrationality. My guess is that many reading this have witnessed this phenomenon — even if unrecognized — in various guises in all our lives, not just the meta-political, from spouses to siblings to co-workers, ‘friends’, etc. (Notice how common the term ‘frenemy’ is now, without understanding the actual underlying dynamic). This threat environment explains why Rightist Narrative desperately projects so much of its innate nature and fears onto Obama and his purported motives.
Ailes understands all this. Fox News knows it’s not a news organization (why people waste time debating that is laughable). It’s all pretense. The network is keenly self aware it spins the Ur Narrative now for all to act out safely. We’ve said here many times: before the tea party thing started, senior Fox people talked about the reality ‘the network is [conservative/Movement] the politics’.
This phenomenon encompasses more than just politics. Other self-adhering and censoring belief groups act in potentially similar patterns and require a narcissistic reliance on externalized fantasy Narratives. Literature suggests social constructs such as certain evangelical as well as secular ‘faith’ demonstrate similar behavior. The collective ethos of the Permanent National Security State is a salient example. We don’t pretend that we’ve spent sufficient time exploring the cross-disciplinary material to correlate these manifestations with Rightist politics. We suspect a profound overlap but a declarative assertion to you Dear Reader would require future investigation. Today, it’s raised as a placeholder.
For our purposes, ‘Collective Narcissism’ for want of a better handle, is not only a seeming contradiction in terms. That contradiction is its essence and source of vitality. It’s also both descriptive and proscriptive as well. It explains and predicts why the Narcissists perpetually stand apart from and attack ‘popular culture’ while obsessively fixating on validation from it. There is alot more than book sales behind why an invite and successful appearance on The Daily Show means more to the individual Movment personality generally (and increasingly the Collective Narcissism) than ‘killing it’ on O’Reilly. Or why cognitive dissonance, to paraphrase Red Phillip here, is ‘a feature, not a bug.’
If the external world is a prop, it is used when needed, rejected and cut off when threatening and hugged profusely – if transiently – when it self-validates. The ordinary individual narcissism in empowered and given Voice when it finds compatible narratives it can either join or subsume. Hence, the Collective forms allowing individual acting out yet safe among ‘numbers’. The safety in numbers within the safe Narrative is both permission to act out and validation. That’s why the Movement exerts so much energy policing who is ‘with us’ or — like Frum found out — ‘a troublemaking deviationist’ and why such vigilance is literally life and death. A concrete parallel albeit in maelstrom with unfettered form or consequence was the Yezhovschina.
One can see why ‘humor’ doesn’t function well in Collective Narcissistic environments. It’s not just failure to scale.
Caveat repeated. No Bill Frist on the Senate floor parody here. It’s not our intent. We offer all this as a casual layperson’s perspective interacting and dealing with Republicans and Movement types on various strata over the years.
Are all conservatives this way, or only conservatives? Of course not.
Many ‘Republicans’ who aren’t or weren’t part of the sanctioned Narrative — such as the Tom Davis-types of the world — have either been purged, destroyed or gone into internal emigration by now. Why was Charlie Crist surprised at this date? Even regarding the Movement, it’s in the end like any demographically self-renewing (self-selecting) grouping. There’s going to be alot of naivete, simple ambition and cold calculation at play in the ranks, too. Still we believe these are the rules of the Movement’s playing field based on observation and participation.
Could the same be said for those dread ‘Hollywood, America-hating elites’? Or even Grandees of Wall Street? Yes – at least we can say the same about Wall Street based on time there. In all those cases the incentives, allures and potential safe harbors for self image are the same – albeit with different means to that same reward mechanism. The surface expression manifests differently because tropism is at play. Each Collective Narcissism offers differing Narratives attracting different adherents — say i.e., purported empirical rationality on Wall Street, etc.
So to be clear, we are not a doctor from Harvard looking at a video tape. Just offering our observations and experiences from sustained interaction. Is it ‘true’? We leave that to others. We think it is not too far off the mark.
This means Obama’s ‘post partisan’ Brand is DOA. Narcissism in whatever form is inherently about self, inwardly focused ameliorating what are ultimately unknowable non-integrated personality issues. Rational dialogue with this condition is not viable or even sustainable. Should one not even try? Can the Republican Party, so enfeebled now by years of being drained by the Movement parasite to the GOP host’s mere organization re-assert itself? Not in the short term. As we’ve mentioned, we’ve sat through candidate recruiting murder boards with Movement Establishment figures. All blatantly telling them to ignore NRCC, ignore the Party, etc.
Perhaps a non-radicalized, non-Collectively Narcissistic GOP will one day be ready for a ‘Night of the Long Tax Cuts’. But not soon. We doubt its chances anyway.
So how to deal with it all? Key to avoiding self-destructive participation as a prop in the Collective Narcissist’s Narrative is to establish and maintain boundaries for acceptable interaction. The discipline to maintain them is daunting. One must always realize that the ‘objective external world’ — us –- are merely props, notional constructs to be manipulated for their Narrative purposes. This is why the Obama Premature Flinch Syndrome is so doubly devastating. We (the non-Movment) as fantasy prop can’t placate their internalized script that ultimately requires elimination of a non-utiliatarian prop to feel ‘safe’. No matter how sincere the compromise offered. Placation only can goad and encourage more acting out.
To succeed in this environment, Obama must jettison his own fantasy of presiding over a Harvard Law Review meeting. It’s a lot of work. Obama dreams of leading a League of Nations-type discourse. He’s actually a squad leader fighting in Stalingrad. He just doesn’t know it (or is incapable of acting on that realization). Given that American media (especially now ‘news’) and overall pop culture indulges, rewards, lionizes and generates narcissistic behavior, the prospects for ‘change’ are not encouraging.