The Personality of Donald Trump
What the science of personality can tell us about the Republican frontrunner.
Posted Sep 17, 2015
I do not know Mr. Trump personally and I have never had the opportunity to assess his personality professionally (though I'd be happy to do so if he were willing). Thus, my views are based purely on watching his behavior.1 His personality is captured by his reputation, which is the sum of his behavior, and organized by a standard set of themes as follows.
We can look at both sides of Mr. Trump's personality. The Bright Side (how he typically behaves when he's at his best) and the Dark Side (how he typically behaves when he lets down his guard).
Beginning with the Bright Side we can expect Mr. Trump to be:
- Highly Adjusted.
Mr. Trump seems not at all anxious or nervous. He will appear calm under
pressure, won't take criticism personally, and is quite pleased with
himself as a person. The downside is that he will be reluctant to listen
to feedback —especially negative feedback —from others.
- Highly Ambitious.
Mr. Trump seems competitive, wants to win, and wants to be in charge. He
will be concerned about results and getting things done. On the downside,
he may tend to compete with those who are actually on his team and potentially alienate
his staff if he does.
- Highly Sociable.
Mr. Trump likes to entertain, to be the center of attention, and to
talk...a lot. The obvious downside is that he can be unwilling to listen,
overbearing, and shoot off at the mouth without thinking.
- Low on Interpersonal
Sensitivity. Mr. Trump is direct, doesn't shy away from confrontation, or
really care much about peoples' feelings. The upside is that he is willing
to let people go when needed (e.g., "You're Fired"). The
downside is that he is hostile and alienates others.
- Low on Prudence.
Mr. Trump doesn't care much for rules and tends to avoid them. He is
independent minded and seems unconcerned with details. The positive side
is that he will be quick to make decisions and to make things happen.
- Highly Inquisitive. Mr. Trump has a lot of ideas and a big imagination. He'll have all sorts of ideas for solving problems, but he may have problems implementing them and can be a bit unpredictable.
- Highly Bold.
This is Mr. Trump's most defining characteristic. He seems unusually self-confident, and shows
feelings of grandiosity and entitlement. These individuals tend to make a
good first impression but are difficult to work with because they feel
entitled to special treatment, ignore their critics, and intimidate
others. He'll tend to overestimate his capabilities.
- Highly Mischievous.
Mr. Trump seems charming, interesting, and daring. He enjoys taking risks,
pushing the limits, and seems to thrive on excitement. Such people are
hard to work with because they are impulsive, downplay their
mistakes, take ill-advised risks, and have no regrets.
- Highly Colorful.
Mr. Trump seems quick, fun, and socially skilled. He loves making use of
his celebrity and having his accomplishments recognized. He's very good at
calling attention to himself. Such people are hard to work with because
they are self-promoting, overcommitted, and easily angered.
- Low on Diligence.
See Prudence above but multiply everything by two.
- Low on Dutifulness. Mr. Trump likes to defy the status quo, doesn't care about pleasing others, and is quick to make decisions. He won't take orders (or advice) from many people (if anyone).
· In summary, what we can expect from Mr. Trump is what we have already seen and know about his reputation.2 What does this mean for the United States? People tend to vote for leaders in their own image. Thus, the personality of Mr. Trump also highlights the characteristics of those who will likely support and vote for him. As such, Mr. Trump's popularity in the polls also serves as an indicator of our current American culture.
· 1 Which is the same method everyone else uses, though I do have the advantage of being a trained personality psychologist with experience assessing lots of personalities.
· 2 It should be noted that the above assessment is comparing Mr. Trump to the population in general, and not the other Presidential candidates (some of whom may be very similar to Mr. Trump on a number of these characteristics).
· I am grateful to Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Dr. Robert Hogan for their thoughtful suggestions and contributions to this post.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
What’s more, Jackson personified a narrative that inspired large parts of America and informed his presidential agenda. His life story appealed to the common man because Jackson himself was a common man—one who rose from abject poverty and privation to the most exalted political position in the land. Amid the early rumblings of Southern secession, Jackson mobilized Americans to believe in and work hard for the Union. The populism that his detractors feared would lead to mob rule instead connected common Americans to a higher calling—a sovereign unity of states committed to democracy. The Frenchman Michel Chevalier, a witness to American life in the 1830s, wrote that the throngs of everyday people who admired Jackson and found sustenance and substance for their own life story in his “belong to history, they partake of the grand; they are the episodes of a wondrous epic which will bequeath a lasting memory to posterity, that of the coming of democracy.”
Who, really, is Donald Trump? What’s behind the actor’s mask? I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.