Narcissism and propaganda in politics


In Hunter S. Thompson’s book Fear & Loathing: On the campaign trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson lamented that McGovern was no good at dirty politics. He went on to tell this story about Lyndon Johnson:

This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics.  Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas.  The race was close and Johnson was getting worried.  Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.

“Christ, we can’t get a way with calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested.  “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”

“I know,” Johnson replied.  “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”

Bear with me as a I try to pull a few different threads together. Back when I was on the job, I wound up with the mis-pleasure of dealing with a colleague who had Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). When we first met, I considered him a great friend (attended his wedding and pool parties etc…), until one day when he saw me as a threat and began a campaign of lies against me. He was driving me nuts, until, one of my friends back home said to me “He sounds like my mother in law and she has narcissistic personality disorder.” My friend caused me to go on a journey of reading up on narcissism. A lot of the literature seems to be by women who discovered their charming boyfriend or husband is a narcissist and how much heartache and pain that has caused them.

I once walked into the office at 7:30 on a Friday morning and got verbally attacked by this colleague before I’d even settled down to get any work. Talk about unexpected, after a verbal altercation, he offered that we should go out back and settle our differences physically. He went so far as to take off his handgun and badge as if this was some sort of Hollywood movie. I declined. He thought that made him more macho or something than me and later went around bragging about it. Instead, I wrote a memo to my supervisor describing how unhinged he was. This colleague then denied everything he said to me and lied about it in official memos. Lying on an official memo is supposed to be punishable, but it boiled down to his word against mine.

After that initial confrontation, it didn’t stop him from verbal confrontations, so, during one of the many arguments we engaged in, I reminded him of how he offered to fight me before. Despite the fact that he had bragged to all his friends about it, he denied it ever happened. I couldn’t get him to admit what we both knew was true. It was my first experience with what is called “Gaslighting”. If you haven’t heard, the term comes from a movie in which a husband is lying to his wife as he searches for her attic for a supposed treasure. Each time he goes into the attic, he turns on gaslights that cause the rest of the house lights to dim. He tries to convince her that it is her imagination and not reality.

That is very much the mindset of the narcissist. Something went wrong in their childhood and as a means of compensating for it, they consider themselves perfect, so, anything going wrong in their lives must be the fault of someone else. They are devoid of self-reflection and compensate for it by getting “narcissistic supply” off of other people. (At least, that’s my simplified layman’s version of it).

Narcissists are often attracted to the spotlight and so many of them wind up in front of the camera whether as politicians, journalists or actors. In fact, the narcissist I was dealing with had once been our public relations guy. There’s a whole book on it titled Narcissism and Politics: Dreams of Glory by Jerrod M. Post. Author Post remarks that Barak Obama wrote his first book about himself at the age of 26 when he had actually been contracted to write a book on Constitutional law. Charles Krauthammer pointed out Obama’s narcissism, “So I decided when I left psychiatry never to use my authority. But let me just say as a layman, without invoking any expertise, Obama is clearly a narcissist in the non-scientific use of the word. He is so self-involved, you see it from his rise.”

Interestingly, fans of Obama do not see him as being a narcissist just like the most fanatical Trump supporters do not seem to acknowledge that Trump is a narcissist either. Just because you agree with their policies does not mean that they are not narcissists. Trump is clearly a narcissist. I voted for Trump twice, but it was because of the policies he espoused, not because of his temperament.

As I learned the hard way, narcissists are masterful at lies. My former colleague would often lie when it was just the two of us, so, there would be no witnesses. If there was a witness, it was usually one of the friends he trusted who was there.

Working on the northern border, we had Canadian contacts we often used for gathering information. Before the narcissist and I had a falling out, we once went over to Canada to visit with one of them. It was a great meeting and we all had a good time. Our Canadian contact had casually mentioned another of our colleagues I’ll call Lex. The next day back in the U.S., the narcissist pulled me aside and said “Just so you know Dave (the Canadian) doesn’t really like Lex.” I was a little surprised, but not knowing better, I was trustful of the narcissist. I took his word for it.

It was only later that I realized the narcissist had lied about it. Why? I’m not really sure. He may have been doing it because he wanted Dave’s information to come strictly to him. If I believed that Dave didn’t like Lex and Dave gave me a tidbit of information about possible smuggling, I’d be more likely to take it to the narcissist than to Lex.

Another time, the narcissist claimed he had been talking with another colleague I’ll call Ralph and that he and Ralph agreed that one of the supervisors was a real snake in the grass who couldn’t be trusted. Much later when I happened to mention it to Ralph, Ralph didn’t know what I was talking about. It seemed the narcissist had just used his name to further a personal beef he (the narcissist) had with the supervisor.

After our falling out, I realized the narcissist was going around doing the same thing to me. He would tell people that so and so agreed with him that I was a liar. It was actually effective propaganda as most people are trusting of the majority of what they’re told.

Interestingly, I was suspicious of Dave (the Canadian) after what the narcissist had told me. Here’s the crazy thing. About a year later, I was over at Lex’s apartment for a party when in walked Dave. It seemed that Dave and Lex were friends all along. The strange thing to me was that even though I now knew that what the narcissist had said was untrue, I was still apprehensive of Dave. By then, I had had the falling out with the narcissist and I’m pretty sure that the narcissist had gone to Dave and told Dave lies about me. So, there we were both at the party looking at each other apprehensively based on lies the narcissist had said. I don’t know that Dave knew the narcissist well enough to have been able to discern his lies. We didn’t work all that closely.

OK, so, at this point you are wondering what in the world I’m getting at. First one last story and on this I’ll go out a bit more on a limb. The problem is that I think I read this in some long forgotten book like one of those big Time-Life books on World War II, so, I haven’t been able to find a citation for it. Most of the book was taken up with pictures from the war, but they also had excerpts of things like Joseph Goebbels’s letters. I believe the author of that long forgotten book made mention that one of the Nazi Minister’s propaganda techniques was to throw out lie upon lie about an opponent. It didn’t matter the criticism was full of lies, half truths or even some truth. The important thing was to always be accusing the opponent of one thing or another. If the recipient of these slanders fought back and disproved one of Goebbels’s accusations, it didn’t matter because another one would be levelled at the opponent immediately. Supposedly, Goebbels said that even if they could disprove all the lies, the general public would still believe there was something wrong with them, otherwise, why were there always stories coming up about them?

Just like the narcissist had managed to make me instinctively suspicious of Dave, the narcissist in Goebbels was doing the same on a national or international stage.

As for Goebbels, he was a club footed man who was very short. I can see where early trauma in childhood over his deformity may have led him to try to detract from his personal failings by developing into a narcissist. He would have stayed on the attack against others to hide his own shortcomings. He supposedly had all kinds of leg braces as a child trying to cure the foot. Those attempts at a cure may have instead left him traumatized.

When you look at the Nazis, Adolf Hitler talked of the “Big Lie” in Mein Kampf. The “Big Lie” is one you make that is so huge and outlandish that a lot of people will believe it’s true, otherwise, why would the person making the claim do it? Why would they make such a preposterous claim unless it was mostly true? Adolf Hitler supposedly said that the masses of people will fall more easily for a big lie than a small one. Hitler attributed the Big Lie to the Jews. However, in covering for Hitler inadvertently giving away one of his own techniques, Joseph Goebbels attributed the Big Lie to the English, “The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” . (Goebbels is alleged to have said the same things about the Bolsheviks, that they invented the Big Lie, but I was unable find corroboration for that).

Goebbels may not have actually said “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will come to believe it yourself”, but he did use that as a technique. He also accused his opponents of the very thing the Nazis themselves were doing. What psychologist call projection, you accuse people of your own deficiencies.

Above is a TED Talk video of Sharyl Attkisson talking about Fake News. Spoiler alert, it was originally a term coined to help Democrats in the 2016 campaign, but Trump co-opted the term successfully.

To virtually everyone’s surprise (certainly mine), the narcissist Trump defeated the narcissist Hillary. If you are a good Democrat, what are you to do? Just like a narcissist, you go on the offensive. You do not want to be scrutinized, it’s better to scrutinize others. It is more blessed to give than to receive and they were ready to give.

Immediately, stories appeared that Trump “colluded” with Vladimir Putin to get elected. I had no idea that Putin was such a kingmaker in the United States, if he was, why didn’t he use it during the Cold War? Never mind, the attack was the important thing. In the end, the Mueller investigation found next to nothing. They found a few Facebook ads that were preposterously advanced as the turning point for the election. Trump was accused of being on a “pee tape” with Russian hookers. They lied about Trump calling all Mexicans rapists. Of the Charlottesville, Virginia riot, Trump said that there were good people on both sides and then immediately added that he was not talking about the Klan or Nazis. The media deceitfully left that latter part out and just went with there were good people there implying that Trump liked Neo-Nazis.

They called Trump an anti-Semite despite his daughter being married into the Jewish faith. They tried to impeach Trump over the perfectly reasonable suggestion that maybe Ukraine should look at the Biden family’s corruption. They lied about Trump calling our military “suckers and losers” despite 18 staff members who were present denying that it happened.

The Democrats went on the offensive.

The truth took a big hit. The Democrats championed people like “Creepy Porn Lawyer” Michael Avenatti who they thought could take Trump down. They went after Trump’s nominees like Brett Kavanaugh with lies. The important thing was to always stay on the offensive, stay on the attack.

When millions of Americans had doubts about the 2020 Presidential election, the Democrats went on the offensive yet again. They tried impeaching Trump despite him already being out of office. The Democrats admitted they “fortified” the election in a Time Magazine article. Everything from ballot harvesting, getting rid of voter ID, manipulating people through social media, shutting down or cancelling conservative commentators on Facebook, Twitter etc… That was the legal stuff.

The Carter-Baker Report from 2005 was almost used as a handbook on how to undo election integrity. “They called on states to increase voter ID requirements; to be leery of mail-in voting; to halt ballot harvesting; to maintain voter lists, in part to ensure dead people are promptly removed from them; to allow election observers to monitor ballot counting; and to make sure voting machines are working properly.” Instead of following the Carter Baker Report, they used it as a blueprint to do exactly the opposite.

The excuse was the “pandemic”. If you look up the “common cold” in Wikipedia, it says that historically 15% of the common colds are made up of coronaviruses. (I could swear that it said 20% in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic). So, the coronavirus is a variant of the common cold. They lied about the death rate. According to worldometers, there were 106,762,797 coronavirus cases and 1,162,403 deaths. Giving the mortality rate at about .91 or less than 1%. They even came up with that number by inflating it and most of those who died were the elderly.

It has been one lie after another. However, even when shown to be lying, they keep lying because that allows them to control the narrative. The Republicans/Conservatives are constantly sitting back and answering charges leveled against them.

Hillary Clinton was rumored to have been afraid of going to jail in the immediate aftermath of the election for all the pay to play schemes in the Clinton Foundation. All of that was quickly forgotten about with one attack after another leveled at Trump.

Even Dominion Voting machines has learned the trick. They went on the offensive with lawfare. Sue first and maybe you will get lucky. So far, they’ve been very lucky with the settlement from Fox News which will undoubtedly embolden them. Hunter Biden learned the same technique. He is going to use lawfare. He is suing the computer repairman who turned over his laptop to authorities. Biden’s friend and lawyer Kevin Morris has threatened to go after Hunter’s critics.

When Republicans accuse the left of being the new Nazis, they are not just being hyperbolic. The Democrats and the Mainstream Media have learned the techniques and are exploiting them.

The question is if the conservatives will find a method of pushing back and vanquishing the evil. One method is to describe their propaganda tactics and explain it to the general public. At some point, the conservatives will have to find a way of getting in front of the problem and battling it out so people understand the lies that are being leveled at them and why.
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20 year veteran of the U.S. Border Patrol. Author of "East into the Sunset: Memories of patrolling in the Rio Grande Valley at the turn of the century".

Master's Degree in Justice, Law and Society from American University.

Grew up partly in Europe.

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