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Dan McAdams: A Psychological Perspective

September 22, 2017

Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America, has no personal narrative identity. That was the statement of the night when Dan P. McAdams, author of The Atlantic’s “The Mind of Donald Trump”came to visit Monmouth last week. Speaking to an attentive audience in Dahl Chapel, McAdams discussed the psychological profile of Mr. Trump, without the hoopla of a psychological diagnosis. Instead, the talk was framed as a continuation of an existing profile, an attempt at understanding who the man in the Oval Office is and what his Presidency may look like. Looking at the President from the perspective of a psychologist, an evaluation of the Big Five character traits – extroversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness, and neuroticism – framed the discussion, with a special focus on extroversion and agreeableness.

Per McAdams, Trump is incredibly charismatic and extroverted. It takes a special kind of extroversion to run for office, but Mr. Trump’s desire for the spotlight puts him on a whole other level. McAdams notes that this has its benefits, of course. According to him, Trump is incredibly positive, the result of being so outgoing. However, McAdams also notes that Mr. Trump also boasts “rock-bottom” agreeableness, a charge that largely did not seem to faze the room. The abrasiveness of the President is well-documented, but McAdams also noted that Trump’s lack of agreeableness allows him to be a tough negotiator, and contributes to his almost myopic focus on winning.

McAdams’ most shocking argument came not too long after, describing Donald Trump’s affinity for calling himself a winner. Per McAdams, most people have the ability to describe the narrative that explains who they were, who they are, and who they will be. For Trump, that ability either isn’t there or doesn’t matter. Without passing a value judgment, McAdams illustrates a President untethered to a rigid definition of who he is or must be.

Junior psychology major Jamie Donahue was impressed, saying “we were all amazed that a person could potentially not have a narrative identity. It was almost disappointing, but like he said, we can’t really make a person’s narrative for them.” Others found themselves more impressed with the atmosphere of the talk. Junior Biology major Jonathan Cunningham pointed out that McAdams “did a good job of keeping to the science.”

One thing that the talk also served to do was remind the audience of the existing tensions between Trump supporters and his critics. Shortly before the end of the discussion, McAdams opened things up for the audience to explain Trump’s personal story and his win. When “sexism” was floated as a possibility, one attendee got up and left abruptly. For all the work that McAdams did to remain non-partisan, the divide between the camp remains. At the very least, both ends left equipped better able to articulate why and how Donald Trump plays Donald Trump, for better or for worse.

Anthony Adams
Political Editor

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