Trump and Putin: The Enigma of Their Mindset and Personality

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Trump and Putin: The Enigma of Their Mindset and Personality

In my job as a social media and celebrity psychologist, not a week goes by but I am approached by television producer’s researcher or periodical journalists for an insight into the personality of Donald Trump or Vladimar Putin or members of the Royal family. We as members of the public are constantly intrigued by the political behaviour and background of world leaders and Prime Ministers. There is a fascination with people who exude so much power and social influence on the world stage, and more so, their elegant model looking female counterparts, usually much younger than their male partners. So let’s delve into the human personality of Trump and Putin and see what we can unravel based soley on a scientific analysis of their discourse, that is all the narrative media reports, interviews and video footage. From this we can use an identity structure analysis to gain some insight into their personality traits and motives which drive them to political dialogue and confrontation perhaps on the world platform.


The most salient feature of his personality is his power and skilful use of rhetoric, his sheer dominance reflected in his recent biography Never Enough by Michael D’Antonio. Trump “ I can be very presidential, than any that this country has ever had ,except for Abraham Lincoln”…” he proclaimed. As Berger & Luckman put it in their classic and scholarly book, “The Social Construction of Reality…. We are all like puppets on a string, acting out our everyday roles”. Trump is a born actor and foremost a shrewd and calculating hard nosed businessman. His political identity is subservient to his business acumen and always will be. Donald Trump has razor sharp sense of introspection constantly aware of his every move being scrutinized by the world’s viewers. My observational analysis is informed by theoretical issues in developmental, social, clinical and political psychology. This helps illuminate the basic foundations of Trump’s personality traits and types, his motivational state and social interaction with other world leaders .


The Dispositional Self

Personality research informs us that peoples temperament, their characteristic motivations and goals, and internal conceptions of themselves frequently predict how they will feel think and behave in the future. In this case, Trump’s political dynamics are skilfully intertwined with his charisma, extroversion and well publicized narcissism. The extroversion and narcissism is notable in most world political leaders, but eminently so in Donald Trump’s personae. From a deductive analysis of his pre and post presidential discourse and related narrative, his personality is extreme by all standards in comparison to other world leaders and significantly different from the economic scholar seen in Vladimir Putin.

Let’s focus on the Big Five Personality Factors: Extroversion: seen in an individual’s gregariousness, social dominance, enthusiasm, and reward seeking behaviour. Next we have Neuroticism: where an individual may show traits of anxiety, emotional instability, and depressive tendencies, and or negative emotions. Conscientiousness: Industriousness, discipline, rule abidance, organization. Agreeableness :the traits reflected in warmth, caring for others, altruistic acts, compassion and modesty. Finally we have Openness: curiosity, unconventionality, imagination, receptivity to new ideas.

The research shows that across cultures most people will score about the middle on any of these major dimension’s, however some will score at either extreme. For example, it is well known that many political leaders are narcissistic but some like Trump are at the extreme end of the factor , whilst many in any given population have what’s known as “healthy narcissism”. This is the intensity of the trait that facilitates our feeling of self worth, self esteem and our importance as a person. High scores on extroversion is associated with higher levels of happiness and a wider array of social connections, and higher scores on conscientiousness predict high achievers like Trump with astonishing success in his business empire . Higher scores on agreeableness are associated with deep and committed relationships. Trumps profile shows he is low on this dimension as we can see from recent footage in his dealings with his world leader peers. By contrast, higher scores on neuroticism are not good as the individual will display unhappiness, dysfunctional relationships and mental health problems. As the individual moves through adolescence, towards midlife maturity seems to take reign and they become more settled with a focus on family life being more conscientious and agreeable less neurotic but the changes are slight. In other words the Big Five personality traits are pretty stable across one’s life span.

If we look at other American Presidents, we can see similar patterns, such as George Bush, who comes out in personality research as very high on extroversion and low on openness to experience.- a highly enthusiastic and outgoing social actor who was intellectually rigid. Take a step back to Barack Obama to see the Trump – Obama stark contrast. Obama is relatively introverted, shuns the limelight and shows low scores on neuroticism, one who is emotionally calm and dispassionate.

If we examine Trump’s developmental pathway across the past few decades we see personality traits not as normative for an American President.The obvious traits that are seemingly obvious are sky high extroversion combined with dominance and low agreeableness. As a child playing with his little brother Robert, a quiet sensitive youngster whom he was very close to, Donald the aggressor saw him as easy prey as he was quietly reserved and vulnerable. At school he resisted his teachers commands he and is peers would be seen wisecracking at the teachers and be full of mischief. Asa result he was rebellious and spent much time in detention. He was very headstrong and utterly one stage he punched his music teacher in the eye as giving him a black eye, as Trump believed he knew little about music.

Taking a closer look at his unpredictable behaviour, we can see a cardinal feature of his high extroversion being relentless reward seeking. Prompted by his dopaminergic brain circuits, we know that high extroverts are constantly seeking brain stimulation and reward seeking behaviours. In President Trumps daily social interactions we can see intense motivational states which drive him to extremes verbally and non verbally.This is evident in his insatiable desire to seek fame, social approval, and positively rewarding political and social experiences. Trump thoroughly enjoys the chase in International politics and it’s the chasing behaviour towards Russia Putin,Theresa May and President Macron which currently is giving him the feel good dopamine factor. The achievement of the goal is important but not as satisfying as the chase. He was asked by Barbara Walters some time ago whether he would like to be appointed president of USA, Trump replied that “ Its the hunt that I believe I love”.   His personality trait of agreeableness seems even more extreme than his extroversion, but in the opposite direction. He finds it hard to agree with anyone anywhere. We know that this trait is related to those who show caring attitudes, are loving, considerate, affectionate polite and kindhearted. Donald Trump is a family man as seen in his recent family portraits. His compassion shines through more recently in the UK case of baby Charlie Gard who Trump agreed to intervene and make it possible for another chance to live and he was willing to do anything to get American medical expertise available. His employees see him as a fair minded and generous boss. He shows his altruistic self in another heart rending scenario, where a young boy was dying of cancer, and Trump, gave him a cheque for one thousand dollars telling him to “ go and have the time of your life.” But like extroversion, agreeableness is about the overall fact of relating to others and to the world, and these noteworthy exceptions run against the broad reputation Trump has generated as a most disagreeable politician and world leader. People low in agreeableness are rude callous, inconsiderate, lack empathy tend to be arrogant. Trump exhibits all of these invariably in his day to day political affairs.

Richard Nixon had a similar personality structure rated as the nation’s most disagreeable President. He was sweet and sour compared to the current most powerful man in the world , at least in International politics.   By contrast, Trumps tendencies towards social ambition and aggressiveness were evident in his childhood and adolescence. Anger appears to be an emotion built into his psyche, indeed it may be utilized constructively in his current political manipulations. Just have a look at the recent You Tube video of Trump and the Boxer.. this puts everything into perspective. His anger fuels his malice towards others but plays a central role in motivation of social dominance. He is out to win and win he fervently believes in. he never did see himself as a loser in politics or out of it. He has an insatiable desire to be adored and exalted by others which strengthens his ego identity and political virtue. Inextricably linked to his charisma is his use of humour , which is not always seen a comic but tinted with malice.. Trump can almost get away with it. His anger permeates all of his political rhetoric leaving journalists to search behind the motives and hidden motives. Donald Trump’s dispositional personality traits may provide clues to a Presidents decision making style. Exrtroverts tend to make high stakes risks and people with low levels of openness rarely question their deepest convictions. George Bush when president, entered office with high levels of extroversion and very low openness, so he was predisposed to make bold decisions aimed at achieving big rewards. The game changing decision to invade Iraq was the kind of decision he was likely to make. Trump wants to make America great again, so here we see the high risk taker he ascribes as one of his greatest virtues and those that led to his world success.

On the world stage there has never been a president like Trump. The psychological wild card is his agreeableness or lack of it. He is tenacious and consistently disagreeable in all his transactions on the political world stage. His hard nosed toughness and decision making can be seen in Nixon and Henry Kissenger in international affairs. Nixon was tough, pragmatic, and very rational. Trump is as far as I can see, similar in toughness and strategic pragmatism but cool rationality doesn’t always fit, because Trumps disagreeableness is strongly motivated by anger as an emotion. Nixon was cunning, callous, cynical, and Machiavellian, lacking in empathy, just like Trump. One exception, Trump is a showman and pretty good at reality TV stardom add the ebullient extroversion, relentless showmanship and a larger than life cahoot and reality star celebrity. Research shows us that people low in agreeableness are usually seen as untrustworthy. Dishonesty and deceit toppled Nixon and damaged the presidency. It’s generally acceptable that in today’s world all politicians lie or at lease dissemble. However, Donald trump exceeds all in this regard. In a recent survey, PolitiFact calculated that only 2{d69a07e39cca9dc8f380449ada7403f6b8682c9785ec22acfc2736127223acdf} of claims made by Trump were true, 7 {d69a07e39cca9dc8f380449ada7403f6b8682c9785ec22acfc2736127223acdf} are mostly true, 15{d69a07e39cca9dc8f380449ada7403f6b8682c9785ec22acfc2736127223acdf} are half true, 15 {d69a07e39cca9dc8f380449ada7403f6b8682c9785ec22acfc2736127223acdf} are mostly false, 42{d69a07e39cca9dc8f380449ada7403f6b8682c9785ec22acfc2736127223acdf} false…

In sum then, Trump’s personality traits suggest a highly combustible presidency. One possible yield is an energetic activist president who has a less than cordial relationship with the truth, he can be daring and a ruthlessly aggressive decision maker, who wants the most awesome result above all others. America the greatest nation led and made by me.


Arthur Cassidy Ph.D C.Psychol