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The Mass Psychology of Trumpism

February 21, 2024
Dan McAdams
Psychologist Dan P. McAdams is professor of human development and social policy

Donald Trump’s enduring appeal stems from the perception--his own and others’­­--that he is not a person, Northwestern University psychologist Dan P.  McAdams wrote in New Lines Magazine. “In the minds of millions, Trump is more than a person,” he wrote. “And he is less than a person too."

McAdams, the author of "The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning", realizes this argument may sound a little strange. But in the essay “The Mass Psychology of Trumpism”, he explains how Trump supporters view him as an almost mythical character who possesses extraordinary powers that are wielded for good and against evil.

At the same time, he “lacks a narrative understanding of himself in time,” McAdams writes. “At the center of Trump’s personality lies a narrative vacuum, the space where the self-defining life story should be but never was. As such, Trump is rarely introspective, retrospective or prospective. There is no depth, no past, and no future.”

The essay was commissioned and edited by Danny Postel, who spent several years as assistant director of thetrump_mcadams_book.jpg Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern. The article grew out of his fascination with McAdam’s previous book.

“I suggested to Dan that he take this theme on as an extension of the analysis in his book, and he ran with the idea,” Postel said. “The result is a truly brilliant and unique essay.”

McAdams, the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, served as the interim dean of the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern from Jan. 2022 through May 2023. One of the nation’s foremost researchers in the field of narrative psychology, he is most well-known for formulating a life-story theory of human identity.  Modern adults, McAdams says, give their lives a sense of unity and purpose by constructing and internalizing self-defining life stories or “personal myths.”

Read the full essay, The Mass Psychology of Trumpism.