Most democracies today are led by dangerous fools. Some appear more intelligent and wiser than others, and some are obvious dolts, but few have the wisdom needed to respond to today’s challenges.
There are two reasons for this that I’ll get into, but what do I mean by ‘fools?’ I mean that they lack wisdom, obviously, but what does that mean? It means they do stupid and selfish things that degrade the country’s ability to survive, never mind thrive, by harming and cheating citizens.
If you don’t believe me, here are some blatantly obvious examples of dangerous fools leading countries:
Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, United Kingdom
What brilliance has Boris wrought? Well, in the name of the greatness of Britain, he and his fellow genius Conservatives conned the British into voting for Brexit. That means Britons will be poorer, forever. It has also set in motion the likely breakup of the United Kingdom, as Scotland considers another referendum on independence and joining the European Union as a sovereign nation.
Jair Bolsonaro, President, Brazil
Bolsonaro has worked hard to degrade democracy in Brazil, appointing his relatives to key positions, attacking opponents, attacking Indigenous people, and burning the Amazon rainforest at a record rate. The Amazon is getting close to a tipping point where it can no longer produce its own rain and will turn to savannah.
Donald Trump, former President, United States of America
Perhaps the most obvious example of a dangerous fool to attain power in a democracy in recent times. There’s no guarantee he’s gone, or that he won’t be replaced by someone worse. Trump grifted his way through his term, giving relatives top secret clearances, requiring presidential events be held at his properties, and well, attempting to overthrow the US government.
I call these men fools because they blunder their way through life, wrecking most everything they touch. They often appear to have a grand master plan, but they don’t. What they do have is something most of us lack, and that is supreme confidence in their own brilliance and rightness. They truly believe they are Great Men who deserve to rule we lesser beings – to impose their ideas upon us.
There are two reasons these fools rule: us, and our electoral system.
Narcissists Rule, We Drool
There is a silly little insult that kids playfully toss at each other, along the lines of ‘Girls rule, boys drool.’ Narcissists never grow out of the belief that they are born to rule and the rest of us exist to serve them. This is no exaggeration – this is exactly what narcissists believe. If you want to know more about what narcissists are, check out my Definitions page. In brief, narcissists:
- Have an unshakable belief in their own superiority. No evidence will change this. None.
- Believe they are born to rule and others are to be used.
- Are brilliant at pretending to care about others, but do not, at all.
- Have a grand vision which may or may not be coherent or insane, and which they impose on everyone they can.
- They lie, cheat, and steal all they can get away with. They feel no guilt or shame.
We keep electing narcissists. Why? Can we not see the danger? Can we not see they are pathologically selfish?
Well, no, we cannot, until it’s too late and the country has been divided and possibly destroyed. We normal humans see supreme confidence and are blinded by it, perhaps because each of us knows our own doubts. If someone believes in himself that strongly, we think, perhaps he should be President/Prime Minister….
Confidence or Cockiness?
The problem is that this confidence flows from literally nothing. When normal humans are confident, it is usually because we have accomplished something – we have built our confidence through building our abilities. So when we see someone very confident in the political arena, with supreme belief in their vision, we foolishly assume these people are like us and their confidence is a result of ability.
It is not. They are hollow men. All they have is cockiness on a foundation of ego. They often have great success in life because of their confidence – normal people keep assuming they know what they’re doing so overlook their blunders and crimes.
The Power of Spectacle
One thing narcissists understand and enjoy is spectacle. They know that we normal humans are suckers for big displays of pomp and power, and they revel in both. Recall George W. Bush’s Mission Accomplished moment, when he appeared in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier essentially declaring the Iraq invasion a victory? The war dragged on for years after.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was widely mocked for playing dress-up on a trip to India.
Figure 1 – Photos: Justin Trudeau’s trip to India – Ottawa Citizen
It was far from the first time – there are many pictures of Trudeau wearing blackface, for example. Trump was big on spectacle and symbolism, too. Narcissists are highly sensitive to what works when it comes to conning people. Trump played to a number of bases, but for the evangelical Christians he would attend church and generally pretend to be godly.
Most autocrats understand the power of spectacle in deceiving followers. The Soviet Union and now Putin are famous for massive military parades of might. The Chinese are big on hosting the Olympics and other spectacles to cast legitimacy on themselves.
Fools to the Left, Jokers to the Right
But choosing fools for leaders is literally destroying us. The climate crisis is accelerating and will destroy civilization and most of us. Pollution of all kinds has become unavoidable: Every one of us is full of tiny pieces of plastic. We do not even know the effects of some of these plastics, because industry lobbied to prevent it. We do know that some of them are “reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant[s].”
Inequality is increasing, too – it now exceeds that of the Gilded Age in the US. The last time that happened there was a massive depression followed by a World War. Looking around the world today, it is clear we are close to both again.
The list of problems is endless, and none of them will be solved by narcissistic leaders unless we force them. Narcissists only want what they want, and they do not and cannot (they lack the necessary parts of the brain) care about anyone else. They don’t and can’t care about the future, so problems like climate change are no concern of theirs. Your children’s future is no concern to them.
Think about that. All normal humans care about children in a protective way. We want to protect them from harm and we want to create a world where they can do well. Narcissists only care about their dreams, and if that involves you and your children suffering and dying for it, oh well. It was in the service of a Great Man’s vision.
Wisdom is Impossible for Narcissists
Wisdom is “the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments.” But what if someone cannot learn from his experiences? What if his brain works in such a way that he is stuck in an endless loop of his own greatness that blocks any contrary information?
Meet Elon Musk, narcissist. Brilliant? Hmm. Certainly has a grand vision, but it’s based on bullshit. Musk made great headlines and sold a lot of electric cars by making a sexy-looking electric car that promised to save the environment. But…Musk’s SpaceX venture will wreck the atmosphere if commercialised. The gases and soot spewed will vastly undo any reduction thanks to electric cars.
In fact, Musk’s companies are secretive about their carbon footprint where other companies are open. Musk tweeted “that corporate environmental and social governance – a common method of reporting and addressing environmental impacts – was “the devil incarnate”. It’s all marketing. Musk doesn’t care about global warming or the Earth, he cares only about himself.
Many corporate Boards of Directors actively seek out narcissists to lead the company because of their grand vision and supreme confidence. However, that comes with a dark side. Narcissists invariably lose touch with reality as they surround themselves with admirers and Yes Men. Their morals consist of ‘whatever I can get away with,’ so ethically and legally questionable behaviour becomes the norm at the company. The arrangement usually ends in one of two ways:
- The Board removes the narcissist from the company, or
- The narcissist destroys the company.
It is fascinating to watch this happening in real time with Tesla and Elon Musk.
Narcissists cannot truly learn and grow from experience because they cannot grow – their development is permanently stunted. Their maturity is stalled at an adolescent or earlier level. This becomes obvious if you step back and look at some of the behaviour of Musk and Trump, for example.
Trump said to have told Pence ‘I don’t want to be your friend’ after the vice president refused to block Biden’s election certification. How juvenile is that? A 70-year-old man acting like a hurt little kid – because that is literally how emotionally mature he is. Musk fires anyone who disagrees with him, has nine children he spends next to no time parenting, and tweets crude jokes at other rich people. Narcissists are man-children.
Narcissists believe so strongly in themselves that they ignore everything they don’t like, from the views of others to reality itself. This is why we are against the wall with climate change, pandemics, and autocracy rising – narcissists are in power and they don’t care about anything but themselves.
They will never learn. Many people waited for Trump’s ‘pivot’ that never came, because he’s not a normal human who can see that he’s out of touch with the real world and correct course. His course is the only course, reality be damned. This is why Bolsonaro is burning the Amazon: he has a grand vision in his head of how Brazil should be, and the rainforest – the lungs of the planet – are in the way. No problem, eliminate it.
The Wisdom Deficit
Can you see this wisdom deficit that can never be filled? Bolsonaro is incapable of ‘learning’ that burning the rainforest is bad. Trump didn’t care that he was destroying 200 years of American democracy. Putin invades Ukraine to fulfil his insane vision of a new Imperial Russia, and he doesn’t care about the damage to people or environment. Trudeau will still be dressing up when he’s 80. Johnson will always consider himself a ‘great man’ like Churchill, even if he undoes the United Kingdom.
Narcissists simply have no ability to mature and grow that normal humans have. There are various ways to gain wisdom:
- Make your own mistakes. This is sometimes necessary, always costly and potentially fatal.
- Learn from observing the mistakes of others. Costly to them, not so much to you. Clearly this is a step up in gaining wisdom.
- Absorb the wisdom of others through reading or teaching. This is a huge step forward: we can learn from wise men and women from all times and all areas of the world.
Narcissists tend to repeat their own mistakes because they cannot grow up. They certainly are capable of seeing the blunders other people make, and they can learn by reading and teaching. However, they are severely limited by their lack of emotional maturity.
All About Me
If you were going to enter politics yourself, think about what you need to not just win the position as Member of Parliament, Senator, or whatever. To win, you need some local recognition, a team, a compelling campaign, a lot of hard work, and some luck. To succeed – to do a good job as a representative of your people – you would want some wisdom. You would want to feel confident that you could make wise decisions that were the best for your people and that would stand the test of time – that years from now, people would look back and recognize that you led well.
Narcissists don’t care about any of that. They want to win because they crave adulation. They may also have nutty ideas that are detached from reality. If they are not forced by others to abandon these ideas, they will damage or even destroy the country.
Trump and Johnson are good examples. Trump wondered about injecting bleach to counter COVID. He slashed taxes on the rich, causing a massive deficit and debt. Johnson, as mentioned previously, lied Brexit through and has been lying ever since about almost everything. Both men also dismantled democratic safeguards wherever they could, because they’re both grifters who need to conceal their actions.
The conclusion is this: A person can serve himself first, or his country and fellow citizens first, but not both. Narcissists will always choose themselves – they are incapable of anything else. Worse, they are stuck at the emotional maturity of an entitled adolescent. In their view, the country and its people exist to serve them, not the other way around.
They cannot learn because they are so self-centred. Everything is seen through a Whats-in-it-for-me lens. And so they twist the country around themselves to make it serve them.
They will never improve. Until we stop choosing them as leaders, neither will we.