Monday, May 29, 2017
Watching the Office of the Presidency lurch and sway, Congress react and split, the stock market rise and fall… the question of “stability” of our entire system most definitely becomes a rising challenge. At the center of this question is the reality of Donald Trump himself. I cannot dwell on the extreme sociopathology armchair “psychiatrists” apply to the president’s behavior, which truly requires a more direct, in-person diagnosis. Nevertheless, there are aspects of Mr. Trump’s personality that are confirmed by his own actions.
Over-confidence – “who knew healthcare was so complicated?” – and a habit of self-praise that seems to be the most common aspect of Trump’s tweets and speeches seem a bit easier to address. And the roiling litany of crises almost daily – most stemming from these rather clear personality traits – are setting a stage for increasing political instability that impacts the credibility and operational efficiency of the United States itself. Social media and 24/7 news have become tools of narcissists everywhere… including Mr. Trump. Some people consider that level of self-confidence to be the president’s strength… others, not so much.
“Although he’s never been professionally diagnosed as such, psychologist Dan McAdams did a thoughtful and lengthy exposition of Trump’s personality for The Atlantic that suggests he’s a narcissist. Such a personality is characterized, in part, by bragging (something Trump excels at).
“In the workplace, corporate narcissism comes with an array of pros and cons. The upshot of narcissism can be a leader that’s viewed as visionary and charismatic. As Michael Maccoby observed in Harvard Business Review, ‘Today’s CEOs–superstars such as Bill Gates, Andy Grove, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Jack Welch–hire their own publicists, write books, grant spontaneous interviews, and actively promote their personal philosophies.’
Yet as Maccoby notes, Freud shone a light on a narcissist’s dark side. Narcissists tend to emotionally isolated, highly distrustful, and rage against perceived threats. Achievements can feed feelings of grandiosity. (see this, or this, or this, or many of Trump’s other tweets).” FastCompany.com, May 17th.
What is fascinating, in a bad way, is how the United States is slip-sliding downwards in ratings scales from credible sources the world over. I’ve already addressed The Economist’s downgrading of the United States into a “flawed democracy” status, so today I would like to look at another such rating system, the “Fragile States Index” created by the Fund for Peace based on a set of detailed numerical analytics based on these four major categories: cohesion, economics, political indicators, social/demographic pressures.
John McLaughlin, distinguished practitioner in residence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2000-2004 and Acting Director of the CIA in 2004, writing for the May 17th The Cipher Brief:
“Some results are jarring, some are intuitively correct and unsurprising; and some thrust forward countries and issues most people might not be thinking about… It’s jarring, for example, to see the United States and the United Kingdom among the countries whose scores have worsened in the last year, despite positive scores on many of the measures. This is largely a reflection of harsh political campaigns, an uptick in factionalized politics, and the growing number of disaffected groups. This doesn’t mean that either country is about to collapse of course — in fact, both are judged very stable in the study — but it does underline that even prosperous veteran democracies can begin to develop political pathologies…
“[But the status of many other nations is equally significant.] Among the intuitively correct and unsurprising findings are that Finland maintains its top position as the world’s least fragile country. After all, during my last trip to Finland, I asked a colleague why Finland scored consistently higher than most countries on educational tests. And she said simply, as though it should be self-evident, “Because we are all Finns!” In other words, it’s not surprising that a small country (population 5.4 million), with a uniform language, a homogeneous population, and a well-established democracy living in a vicinity with others, can achieve prolonged stability.
“Nor is it surprising that South Sudan, the world’s newest country, has returned to the top spot as the most fragile country on the globe, given what we have seen in the way of ethnic cleansing, contested elections, food shortages, and political frictions. Other countries with similar profiles, not surprisingly, are also in this category: Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and the Central African Republic all merit very high alert status.”
The above map reflects that Fragile States Index, and as you may have guessed, dark blue suggests the greatest level of political stability while dark brown reflects the extreme opposite. You probably noticed that the United States, which was once depicted as dark blue, has moved into the lesser, green category. “Regarding the study’s utility, government in particular should value the index as a critical component in the area of warning. Avoiding surprise and anticipating discontinuities is an important job for the intelligence services, the military, and our diplomats.” The Cipher Brief. The rating system, which does not react violently to the daily news reports, is intended as a tool for risk analysts – from business and academia to government.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I think that the operative word when you apply the Fragile States Index criteria to the United States is “warning.”