How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
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Poundland Boris, Trumpelthinskin and the corrupting fascination with narcissists
You can hardly look at the news these days without seeing reports of the latest faux pas of those in power. Two in particular come to mind. In the USA, Donald Trump has been expertly vacuuming up air time and column inches for over a year now with his attention-gathering tweets and alarming statements. Here in the UK, our own cunning buffoon is Boris Johnson, recently and scurrilously described as a 'Poundland Trump'. The insult is that Poundland is a low-cost store and infers that Boris' attentional efforts, while somewhat effective, are not in the same league as Trump.
Both reflect an alarming modern pattern where narcissistic people gain the public eye and somehow seem to get wide approval for doing things that you or I might get thrown in jail for doing. It's a bit like that cool kid in school who could get away with things that would get lesser kids into deep trouble. We wanted to be like that kid but didn't dare be that bold, so instead we extended our identity to encompass them, vicariously enjoying their chutzpah. The underlying dynamic for the narcissist is about power. Powerful people deliberately break rules to demonstrate and strengthen their grip on control. The narcissistic lock is that power feels good as the resultant attention boosts their sense of identity.
Is this what we want? To be ruled by blatant rule-breakers? It can seem attractive, that those in charge can cut through all the red tape and get things done. The trouble comes, however, when power corrupts or when the already-corrupt seek power by dishonest means.
When the corrupt and selfish are in charge are they going to act for the greater good? Only if they have to, and then in a minimal, lip-service manner. They may indeed make grand promises, but the reality will be delay and dilution. For every good they do, they will take far more. They may set up apparently social systems and generous laws, but they may also make these deeply corruptible, filled with the loopholes that lawyers love. Perhaps worst of all, they weaken and dismantle the institutions that make the nation great, especially where thinkers can see what they are doing and call them out.
In this way, we may allow democracy fall into autocracy, where rulers become untouchable as they bend the rules to enrich and protect themselves. We also must accept our part in this. If we become fooled or corrupted by their promises, if we put fascinating narcissists into power so we can goggle at their antics, if we place our hopes in those who are so patently in it for themselves, we may enjoy the ride but will be ultimately and bitterly disappointed.
A free and honest media. A fair and independent judiciary. A challenging education system that teaches us to think. These are signs of a great nation, not braggodocio and bullying. It is also why the discipline of voting is so critical. It is said that we get the government we deserve. One vote seems a drop in the ocean, but it is so critical that each of us listens, thinks and votes for the people who make sense, not for those who promise and lie.
And the big