Personality Traits Go to the Core of Trump’s Unethical Behavior
If the COVID-19 pandemic and protests across the world following the horrifying murder of George Floyd at the hands of four members of the Minnesota police taught us anything, it is that President Trump has no compassion for others, cares only about himself and his public image, and is an awful leader—and I’m being kind.
Generally speaking, I try to avoid blogs on political issues. They are “hot button” discussions that can tear a country apart, as has happened through most of Trump’s Presidency. However, in today’s blog I am making an exception because of a statement made by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee that dismisses the notion of “personality” as a factor in evaluating the Trump Presidency.
Let’s begin with Huckabee’s statement. This was made in an interview last week on the FOX News Channel. Basically, in discussing why Trump should be reelected, Huckabee described some of his accomplishments while dismissing the idea that personality should be part of the reelection decision. In short, he was saying that while some Republican politicians expressed concern over voting for Trump, they [and the general public] should understand that “this isn’t about electing a personality.” He also said that Trump “may be not as gentile as we’d like” but he’s getting the job done.
What is Personality?
Let’s be clear on what is meant by personality to better understand why Huckabee’s statements are remarkably ill-informed. According to the online health and wellness website, Very Well Mind, personality psychologists believe that there are five basic dimensions of personality, often referred to as the “Big 5” personality traits. This includes extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.
Rather than go through all five, let’s focus on agreeableness, the dimension most lacking in Trump’s personality and the one most related to ethical behavior. According to Very Well Mind, someone who scores high on agreeableness tends to be seen as trustworthy, altruistic, honest, modest, empathetic, and cooperative. Trump is the exact opposite in every trait. Where has Huckabee been the past 3 ½ years?
How can we trust a President who constantly changes his mind: the virus won’t be a problem in the U.S., he said at the outset? Trump is not altruistic. He’s a selfish person. It’s all about him; all of the time. His diatribes during White House briefings in the beginning months of the spread of the coronavirus is proof enough. He couldn’t stop touting his perceived accomplishments: we stopped the Chinese from coming to America; the number of deaths would have been 1-2 million if we hadn’t closed our borders; and we have enough ventilators for the world [maybe other planets?]
Assuming these were all positive factors, it still doesn't detract from the fact that he sent mixed messages about the seriousness and spread of the virus. Many Americans didn't know who they should trust: Trump, who promoted the untested (for coronavirus) treatment of hydroxychloroquine, and still did yesterday, or federal health officials who rightly said these are not proven treatments and shouldn't be taken to fight the virus. He once again talked about its benefits in fighting the virus even though the Food and Drug Administration revoked emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine, saying "the evidence shows the recommended dose is unlikely to be effective against the virus."
As for honesty, on February 10 he said that the coronavirus “dies with the hotter weather.” He falsely claimed on March 6 that “anybody can get tested if they want.” To be clear, his lying is part of a pattern of behavior whereby he says things to make him look better in the eyes of the public. Honesty is not only the absence of lying, or a lie by commission. It's also failing to disclose all the information a person/the public has a right or need to know, or a lie by omission. This is where Trump's personality becomes problematic. He didn't disclose the true effects of the virus early on, not wanting to make things (and himself) look worse than they already were.
A lack of trust and honesty permeates his behavior and decision making. For example, according to Fact Check, Trump wrongly claimed that our crime statistics are at a level that they haven’t been before, calling the numbers “record setting.” However, the U.S. murder rate was lower in 2014 and the violent crime rate overall has been lower in several past years, with the lowest levels decades ago, according to FBI data.
I could go on but suffice it to say that Trump has only a passing acquaintance with the truth.
Is he modest? Hardly. He’s extraordinarily conceited.
Is he empathetic? Are you kidding? He has little regard for the feelings of others especially when they contradict something he has said or done or have an opinion different than his. We learned this early on when, in the 2016 Republican campaign for President, he said about John McCain “I like people who weren’t captured.” He recently spoke about Joe Biden saying "Joe is not all there. Everybody knows it."
What about cooperative? It’s hard to make that case given the five inspector generals fired or resigned plus the dozens of government officials let go as well. In reality, he only cooperates with those who promote his point of view and tout his accomplishments all the time. For example, Vice President Mike Pence touted Trump’s actions by prefacing comments at almost every opportunity during the coronavirus briefings with the words “under your leadership, Mr. President.”
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Does this mean Trump has a personality disorder commonly referred to as narcissistic personality disorder? Absolutely! According to the Mayo Clinic, narcissistic personality disorder “is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. It goes on to say that “behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
This definition fits Trump to a T. Anyone who disputes it has not watched any of his coronavirus briefings. What a s—t show. Each day we painfully watched as he lauded his alleged accomplishments, what he’s done to slow the spread, how he has come to the aid of governors in fighting the virus, and, of course, berating anyone who disagrees with him.
The Death of George Floyd
Let’s look at the other all-consuming event these past few weeks. Trump’s performance in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death was truly uninspiring and came at a time when the country needed an inspiring leader to make sense of the tragedy and bring us together. He did not react immediately to the horror other than say how terrible it was. That’s pretty shallow.
Speaking after the 10th night of widespread anti-racism protests across the country, Trump addressed the better-than-expected jobs number and declining unemployment rate suggesting that Floyd would be happy about the figures. He suggested that Floyd is looking from heaven and praising the U.S. economy. “There’s a great day for him…It’s a great day for everybody. There’s a great, great day in terms of equality.” So, we can add insensitivity to his personality flaws.
Whenever Trump tries to show some emotion and compassion it comes off as being unconvincing, indifferent and often one-sided. Exhibit A is his uninspired speech about race relations and policing that he had to read last week in a stop in Dallas.
He doesn’t understand the pain all Americans felt in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. He certainly couldn’t connect it to events in the past. This isn’t the first time a defenseless African-American was killed due to use of excessive force. While Floyd was killed by exerting pressure on his neck for more than eight minutes, back on July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a black American, was killed when a NY policeman applied a chokehold.
There have been other cases that illustrate a conscious disregard for the welfare of a black-American citizen seemingly because of his race. We can now add to the list last Saturday's death of Rayshard Brooks at the hands of the Atlanta police after Brooks was shot in an encounter with two officers, which has now been determined to be a homicide.
Returning to Huckabee's comments, taking him at his word we can only conclude that he doesn't believe all these traits of behavior are meaningful in reelecting a President of the free world. I wouldn’t presume to tell people how to vote on November 3. I do, however, want Americans to know how important personality characteristics, such as agreeableness, are to truly transforming America and reclaiming our role of having ethical leaders at the top. Ethical leaders are those with strong character traits such as honesty, trustworthiness, compassion and empathy. Trump just doesn't get it. He certainly doesn't live by it.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 16, 2020. You can sign up for our newsletter and learn more about Dr. Mintz’s activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics.