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The Psychology of Salespeople: An Analysis of Donald J. Trump

The OLD Philosopher – John M. Miller 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM) is the dictionary, so to speak, of psychiatrists and psychologists. Here is its lengthy definition and description of narcissism, which is one of many personality disorders. “The essential is [of one with a Narcissistic] Personality Disorder in which there are grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness; preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success; exhibitionistic need for constant attention and admiration; characteristic responses to threats of self-esteem; and characteristic disturbances in interpersonal relationships, such as feelings of entitlement, interpersonal exploitiveness, relations that alternate between the extremes of over-idealization and devaluation, and lack of empathy. The exaggerated sense of self-importance may be manifested as extreme self-centeredness and self-absorption.”

That was written long before most people had ever heard of Donald Trump. If ever there was a psychological diagnosis that has “Donald Trump” written all over it, that is it. Whoever does not see that refuses to see Mr. Trump as he is.

Personality disorders are encountered in people all around us, but they are very difficult to pin down with precision. Most professional psychologists say that a personality disorder is not necessarily a sign of insanity. The President’s sanity as such is not at issue here. Instead, the concern is the nature of his highly singular personality.

To give some examples of personality disorders, but not necessarily narcissism, anyone who knows or knows of a constant bully or a serial sex offender or a perennial adulterer or a consummate con artist has seen examples of what many professionals would describe as personality disorders. Anyone who regularly engages in these or other such activities has not just a problem, but a personality problem.

Personality disorders are plentiful. Mental illness, very fortunately, is not nearly as widespread. And herein a clear distinction is made between mental illnesses and personality disorders, because it is a distinction made by many professionals in the field of psychology.

When confronted by personality disorders, most of us deal with them by attempting to avoid those we intuitively sense are afflicted by them. It is understandable, but sad, and perhaps even cowardly, that we do that. In any case, there are some people with some personality disorders we cannot avoid. One such is the current President of the United States of America.

The Psychology of Salespeople

Our President is above all else a salesman. He describes himself as a super-salesman, the greatest salesman who ever lived. He has said as much on numerous occasions. After all, he won the presidency, never before having run for any public office. Up until Election Day of 2016, it was considered by nearly everyone, including perhaps Mr. Trump himself, that he had little chance of victory. Yet despite all odds, he won.

Prior to running for the presidency, Mr. Trump had a successful reality television show. Before, during, and after that self-titillating time, he was the CEO and primary owner of a large real estate development corporation. His business in commercial and residential real estate was initially centered in New York City and its environs, but he grew it to become an international giant. Dozens of Trump hotels, apartment complexes and golf courses around the world have his name prominently fixed to their entrances. Not coincidentally, that is one of the most visible examples of his narcissism.

The Apprentice, Mr. Trump’s television reality show, and The Art of the Deal, his best-selling book, first introduced Donald Trump to millions of people. “Making Deals” became Donald Trump’s stock-in-trade long before he became President.

Salespeople make their living by selling. That is the essence and irreducible name of their game.

The world is much better off because so many salespeople are so successful. Entrepreneurs may have great ideas for establishing businesses, but if they cannot sell the products or services upon which those businesses are founded, the world would be much more impoverished, bleak, and modest. In most large companies, the most successful salespeople earn far more than the corporate vice-presidents for marketing and sales. Selling is at the very core of capitalistic enterprise.

I want to be entirely clear that I am not suggesting salespeople are inherently narcissistic, because that is not true. They certainly are no more likely to be narcissists than any other category of people. But the most successful salespeople do have an extraordinary ability to be able to describe a product or service in such a way that a high percentage of prospective buyers are convinced to buy.

My entire vocational career has been that of an ordained minister. Most of my fifty-plus years of active ministry have been spent in large churches. Many of the most gifted and dedicated church officers in those congregations were people professionally involved in sales.

Salespeople are “people-people.” They know how to schmooze, and how to get along with all types of people. They are especially adept at convincing people. It is a unique and often lucrative talent.

Salespeople tend to avoid getting bogged down by institutional minutiae. They are much more “doers” than “thinkers.” It is not that they don’t or can’t think; they are just more inclined to act than reflectively to think about acting. Salespeople are activist-types more than they are academic-types. That is why, when something needs to be done in a congregation or any other type of organization, salespeople are some of the best equipped people to do it.

I happened to be the pastor of a fairly large congregation on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, when the population was very rapidly growing as a resort and retirement community. Some of the most successful local real estate entrepreneurs were members of our church. I knew several other entrepreneurs and real estate salesmen through involvement in community organizations.

Many of those people had big ideas for a relatively small market. They were instrumental in what Hilton Head Island became. Some of these entrepreneurs were also the primary salespeople for their developments. They sold the idea to investors, and others in the sales force did the actual day-to-day selling.

As much as any other kind of business development, and perhaps more than most, real estate development involves unusually high risk. The distance between the dream and the reality is a long, high mountain range of hard work, constant running, frantic activity, high anxiety, and sleepless nights.

I have never personally known any developer or seller of real estate who I believed was fundamentally dishonest to the core. Some may have cut more corners than others, but salespeople are occupational mathematicians. Intuitively they know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Instinctively they like to get to their destination in the shortest possible time, because that is where and how the money is made.

Without question there have always been many smooth-talking Ponzi schemers such as Bernie Madoff. Immense fortunes have recently also been made from technological innovations of dubious social merit. But a narcissistic super-salesman is potentially a uniquely dangerous super-salesman. The primary commodity he sells is himself, and only secondarily is it a service or product. Subconsciously he believes his ego must constantly be fed through colossal sales. And if his inner self is gnarled or distorted, he becomes all the more dangerous. 

How Do You Solve a Problem Like The Donald?

Now we return to the subject of Donald Trump. No one can verify for certain how our President evolved into the man he is. Is nature or nurture the primary explanation? Who knows? It is painfully evident that however his narcissism developed, it now is adversely affecting not just the USA but the entire world.

Most of his closest advisers in the presidency have been forced to steer around his overpowering personality in order to provide needed advice they know he shall resist. Many of them also have been fired for their resistance to him. Everyone else is forced to try to accommodate themselves to him. Because nearly all the resisters have been fired, the accommodators are now in the positions of influence of the former resisters. Thus far they have managed to accommodate their boss, but daily they are enabling his worst instincts to gain more momentum. They are not accommodating America. That is obvious in every depressing hourly news report.

Unfortunately, in the few instances when Trump is open to advice, it is to the worst advice from the worst advisers, people like Steve Bannon, Steve Miller, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, and Betsy DeVos.

Does he have clear objectives for everything he does? Perhaps. A far more important question is this: Does it matter? Whether or not he has some grand scheme in mind is now beside the point. The point is that his narcissistic impulsivity is single-handedly dismantling American democracy and is throwing this planet into a maelstrom of economic and political unrest and exasperation. 

It is obvious that a large majority of the Republican Members of Congress have chosen to accommodate themselves to the President. Resisters have become supremely silent. The recent fate of the Congressman from our district in coastal southern South Carolina may be the best illustration of the price to be paid for bucking the President.

Mark Sanford is certainly neither a liberal nor a moderate Republican. He is a traditional Republican conservative in everything the GOP has represented for many decades. But finally he did summon up courage to express some negative criticisms of the President. For that he may have paid the ultimate political price.

Was that why he lost in the June primary against an unknown opponent who strongly voiced her support for Donald Trump? Surely that is not the only reason Mr. Sanford lost, but his questioning the President may have been the final factor which siphoned away too many votes for him to win the Republican primary election.

Unless the President makes some atrociously unforgiveable or illegal missteps between now and the general election in November, no Republican Members of Congress or would-be members will say a mumbling word about the man who has become the world’s Chief Narcissist. They may tepidly show minimal skepticism about particular policies of his, but they will never dare to attack him. Political narcissists abhor underlings questioning anything they do.

Nor shall his loyal supporters withdraw any of their support. The Trump base has been remarkably dependable for him, especially in view of the President’s innumerable verbal, political, economic, and diplomatic gaffes. They saw something in the President which the rest of us did not see before he was elected, and the rest of us certainly can detect almost nothing that is politically salvageable since he assumed office.

Thus we may assume that the Republican Party will not even attempt to solve a problem like The Donald. Without a complete Trump implosion, it is unrealistic to imagine that can or will ever happen.

What then must be the course of all the anti-Trump Americans for the next two and half years? Resistance. He must be resisted at every twist and turn of his unpredictable mind and behavior. If he is not continually confronted by the loyal opposition, he shall triumph. As it is now, he is triumphant politically because the Democrats are too weak and leaderless effectively to counter Mr. Trump. The enormity of his narcissism is such that he shall only increase the depravity of his behavior if it is not constantly resisted.

To repeat: Resist Mr. Trump, and resist his supporters. Thwart him whenever and wherever possible. Do not accommodate; relegate. Relegate him and his countless impulses to the sidelines by every conceivable legitimate means. If we do not resist, he will swallow our nation --- and the world --- whole. His narcissism is that enormous.

Because the President is so astonishing and overpowering in his behavior, in frustration many Americans have surrendered to his boundless impulsivity. They are passive and apathetic. That is the worst course to follow. It only feeds his insatiable ego. He must understand that opposition to him is neither “fake news” nor a minor annoyance. It must become an unavoidable constant cacophony of irritation to him. As he finally responded to a national outcry over his policy of separating children from their would-be immigrant parents, so he must learn to listen to the growing uproar of national unrest among the majority of the American people. 

Now to attempt a thoroughgoing revolution of any variety would be foolhardy. It is unthinkable. It would be far too risky, and the outcome would be far too unpredictable. Political, institutional, and regulatory resistance is the only reasonable alternative we have. As long as the President does not appoint too many federal judges, the courts may also occasionally curtail some of his obviously unconstitutional impulses.

We are still a democracy. We still have democratic means of fighting back. Because Mr. Trump has attained the greatest office with the most power in the world, his unquenchable narcissism will never convince him to back off. He will become even more outrageous. He had repeatedly demonstrated that he cannot control himself. Therefore voters and those whom they have already elected or shall vote into office in November must become the united force to thwart his voracious will.

What does he want? He wants to become the Chief Autocrat among all of the world’s chief autocrats. His narcissism is clearly that huge. There is a reason he publicly expresses mystifying admiration for Xi, Putin, Kim, Erdogan, Duterte, Al-Sisi, Netanyahu and their ilk. He genuinely admires them. Anyone who praises such men either must be afflicted by an anti-democratic political philosophy or by a personality disorder, or both. It appears that Donald Trump has no coherent political philosophy at all. Therefore his flirtation with autocracy can only be explained by his inexhaustible narcissism. By hook or crook, the Great Salesman wants to sell himself to the world, and thus firmly hold the world in his grasp.  

Calls for the impeachment of the President are bound to increase. However, unless he has incontrovertibly broken many laws, bringing him before Congress for impeachment would be an enormous mistake, even if it failed to pass both houses of Congress. Were the President successfully impeached before his four-year term was completed, a constitutional process would presumably have been legally and legitimately implemented. But it would provoke a devastating political crisis. The solid-rock Trump political base would rise up in arms, figuratively if not literally. It is quite conceivable they might take up their Second-Amendment-guaranteed weapons and start shooting at whomever they thought was responsible for the political demise of the man they proudly elected to drain the swamp.

For the sake of democracy, it is necessary for the American populace to endure Donald J. Trump for two and a half more years as best we can. As a nation-state, we elected him, even if he received a minority of the total votes cast. The system is such that his election by the Electoral College was the legal end-game of the 2016 election. Democracy, as has often been noted, is messy. It could not possibly be any messier in the USA than shall occur from January 20, 2017 to January 20, 2021.

It is conceivable Donald Trump might get tired of the game, resign the presidency, and go back to his haven in the Trump Tower. However, that is exceedingly unlikely.

The worse it gets for the American people, the better it gets for our President. His narcissism makes him enthralled by being the cause and the center of unending controversy. HE is the focus of the news, so HE gets what he wants and is subconsciously convinced he needs.

We should have pity for our President; we really should. He did not choose to be a supreme narcissist. For reasons no one shall ever understand, it is a disorder woven firmly into the fabric of his predictably unpredictable personality. But our pity for him must not diminish our resistance to him. He must be thwarted however it is possible.

November 6, 2018, will be one the most important mid-term elections in the history of our nation. We can only hope that a sizeable majority of the 435 Members of the House of Representatives will be Democrats with sufficient political savvy and Republicans with sufficient backbone to curtail the duly-elected President of the United States for the next two years in the most undemocratic of his impulsive schemes.

If that is the outcome of the 2018 election, the last two years of the Trump presidency will be much less disruptive to our nation and to the world than the first two years have been. Such a relief it will be.


Long may our land be bright

With freedom’s holy light;

Protect us by Thy might,

Great God our King.


-       June 28, 2018


John Miller is the pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC. More of his writings may be viewed at www.chapelwithoutwallshhi.org.






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