These Are the Most Narcissistic Presidents and How Donald Trump Compares
In its short history, the United States has had dozens of presidents. Their policies, their philosophies on foreign affairs, and their biggest challenges all form a fascinating part of American history.
Yet each president’s personality is just as interesting as his accomplishments. The U.S. has had presidents with infamous tempers. We’ve elected smart presidents (and dumb presidents). Plus, we’ve had several presidents with mental illness, and many narcissistic presidents.
Let’s take a quick look at the narcissistic presidents whose biggest love affairs weren’t with the United States or with their country, but with themselves.
20. Jimmy Carter
The Pew Research Center reported on a study that ranked U.S. presidents on measures of “grandiose narcissism.” Psychologists define this type of narcissism by exhibitionism, attention-seeking, inflated demands of entitlement, and denial of weaknesses. The researchers assembled data from a variety of sources, including a study of presidents’ personalities and historical surveys of presidential performance.
At 20th place, Jimmy Carter may not rank the highest for narcissism. But he doesn’t rank the lowest, either. Politico characterizes Carter as a president who aspired not to be great, but to do well in the Oval Office. That might explain why Carter doesn’t rank higher on the list of the most narcissistic presidents.
Next: A unanimous vote put this president in office.
19. George Washington
Similarly, George Washington doesn’t number among the very worst offenders. But he also isn’t among the least narcissistic presidents. Interestingly enough, the researchers behind the ranking found that narcissism has increased in presidents over time. So it makes sense that Washington, the first president of the United States, doesn’t number among the very most narcissistic presidents.
The researchers also characterized an inflated self-worth as a “double-edged sword” for presidents. It correlates with superior “greatness,” as measured by historians’ rankings. Plus, it’s positively associated with traits like public persuasiveness, crisis management, and agenda setting. Narcissistic presidents also won a larger share of the vote. (George Washington was elected unanimously.) And they initiated more legislation than other presidents. But presidents ranking high for narcissism also proved more likely to engage in unethical behavior, or to be targeted by impeachment resolutions.
Next: This president often referred to himself in his speeches.
18. Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman lands on the list of narcissistic presidents, too. Yet the researchers didn’t rank Truman as one of the worst offenders. Another study noted that Truman used words like “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine” more than any other president since 1945. That sounds bad, but it bears noting that linguists have discovered no link between pronoun use and clinical narcissism.
Another study on narcissism found this personality trait “linked with overconfident decision making, deceit, and failing to learn from errors.” Nonetheless, the same study found that narcissists make better decisions in situations where they encounter misleading information. One explanation? Narcissists expect themselves to do well. They may feel more motivated to reach the goal because they view the task as an opportunity for self-enhancement.
Next: This president didn’t value anybody’s opinion as much as his own.
17. John Adams
John Adams comes in 17th among the most narcissistic presidents. According to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, historians often have a difficult time assessing Adams’s presidency. “His aloofness and refusal to enter directly into political conflict probably undermined his effectiveness,” the group explains. Additionally, “His stubborn independence left him politically isolated and alone.”
Yet it seems clear that he had a narcissistic streak. Adams “valued no one’s opinion half as much as his own.” Biography.com reports that though Adams managed to become president, he alienated both his party and much of the American public. Though he sought reelection, he didn’t win. Instead, he went home to his wife Abigail, who, unlike many of his colleagues, actually liked him.
Next: This president’s narcissism may have actually killed him.
16. William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison lands in 16th place among the biggest narcissists to have served as president. Having trouble recalling any of Harrison’s policies or politics? That’s not entirely surprising. Harrison served the shortest time of any American president: a term of just 32 days. But the reason Harrison died and ultimately served such a short term may give you all the evidence you need of his narcissism.
As the Miller Center explains, Harrison delivered an inaugural address that lasted nearly two hours. During the address, he didn’t wear a hat or a coat. “As a soldier, farmer, and outdoorsman, Harrison had spent much of his life in bad weather,” the organization notes. “But he was far from young now, and when he followed the address with a round of receptions in his wet clothing, it resulted in a bad chill.” His cold developed into pneumonia, which killed him just a month after he took the oath of office.
Next: Narcissism led this man to Hollywood and then to Washington.
15. Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan ranks as the 15th most narcissistic president in U.S. history. Time senior writer Jeffrey Kluger calls Reagan “the most highly functioning narcissist who’s ever been in our political system.” Kluger goes on to explain that strong statement:
Even if you don’t like Reagan’s politics, even if you never voted for him you had to acknowledge the fact that he seemed just like a decent and genial and comfortable and amused and amusing man who enjoyed being inside his own skin, who enjoyed being around other people, who just liked what he was doing in a very uncomplicated way. But again, it was narcissism, healthy narcissism that pushed him into movies, it was healthy narcissism that pushed him into politics.
Next: This man’s lengthy autobiography didn’t even address his presidency.
14. Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren comes next on the list of the most narcissistic presidents. Van Buren seems to have thought highly of himself, not only for what he did as president but also for his accomplishments before his term. He wrote an autobiography that spanned 776 pages, but only covered his life through 1834, three years before he was elected president. The book also made no mention of Van Buren’s wife, whom he also neglected to mention in any of his speeches.
As Kluger explains, narcissism may prove a useful trait for a president — or at least not a surprising one. “To run for president and endure a grueling, often ugly campaign, one has to possess the staunch and unwavering belief that he or she is the best qualified person for the job,” Kluger writes. “It’s what keeps presidential candidates going. It’s what motivates and drives them. All it takes is a foundation of grandiosity, a keen sense of entitlement, and perhaps a little lack of empathy and awareness.”
Next: This narcissistic president didn’t spend long in office.
13. Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor lands in 13th place on the list of the biggest narcissists to have governed from the Oval Office. That means that Taylor doesn’t rank the highest for narcissism. But he certainly doesn’t rank the lowest, either. U.S. News characterizes Taylor as “the least politically attuned man to occupy the White House in American history, ignorant, one might say, to the point of innocence.”
Taylor died after spending only a little more than a year in office. Historians dispute the exact cause of his death. However, he died a few days after eating cherries and washing them down with iced milk at the dedication of the grounds for the Washington Monument. Scholars put forth cholera, gastroenteritis, food poisoning, or typhoid fever as possible causes.
Next: The House of Representatives wanted to impeach this president.
12. John Tyler
John Tyler lands in 12th place for narcissism. The researchers found that narcissism positively correlates with the likelihood that a president will be targeted by impeachment proceedings. So it’s no surprise that Tyler, the subject of the first impeachment attempt initiated by the House of Representatives, lands relatively high on the list of narcissistic presidents.
Narcissism negatively correlates with agreeableness. In this case, that serves as another dead giveaway that Tyler would end up on the list. As the Constitution Center reports, Tyler “so offended his own party members that he was outcast from the Whig Party while still in office.” During his tumultuous time in office, Tyler used the veto 10 times. He also became the first president to have a veto overridden.
Next: This recent president disapproves of Donald Trump.
11. George W. Bush
George W. Bush narrowly misses a spot in the top 10 most narcissistic presidents, and lands in 11th place instead. As New York Magazine notes, armchair psychiatrists have long argued that Bush “suffers from a classic case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” They cite “his sense of grandiosity (‘I’m the decider’), his arrogance and lack of empathy, and his tendency to surround himself with sycophants as evidence.” The publication adds, “Pathological narcissism? Delusions of grandeur? Res ipsa loquitur.”
But don’t look at the accusations of narcissism at Bush, compare them to the barbs pointed at Trump, and assume that Bush approves of Trump’s methods or mannerisms. After Donald Trump became president, Bush said, “I fear that I will be the last Republican president.” That statement may say as much about Bush’s feelings about Trump as it reveals about Bush’s estimation of his own legacy.
Next: This president may have had what researchers call hubris syndrome.
10. Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson landed in the top 10 most narcissistic presidents in U.S. history. He achieved an exemplary record on world peace, women’s rights, and labor reform. Yet historians regard his record on race as “dismal.” In one particularly arrogant and racist statement, Wilson told a civil rights leader, “Segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”
Another group of researchers posits that Wilson had an “acquired personality disorder,” or an acquired form of narcissistic personality disorder, called hubris syndrome. They propose that people with this condition see “the world as a place for self-glorification through the use of power.” Such people also show “disproportionate concern for image and presentation” and conflate “self with nation or organization.” The researchers place Wilson on the list of presidents who might have exhibited hubris syndrome.
Next: Narcissism and paranoia number among this president’s worst traits.
9. Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson takes ninth place among the most narcissistic presidents. Johnson came to power not through the popular vote, but by Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. He’s another president who seems destined to land on the list, since the House of Representatives voted to impeach him in 1868. But the Senate then tried him, and acquitted him by a single vote.
The Atlantic characterizes Johnson as “racist, crude, and grumpy,” plus “hostile to blacks, lenient with rebels, and hell-bent on fighting Congress.” The publication adds, “At worst, he was paranoid, resentful, narcissistic. Washington politicos described a man who ‘always hated somebody,’ ‘always defeats himself,’ and was ‘always worse than you expect.'”
Next: This president’s narcissism manifested itself as vanity.
8. Chester A. Arthur
Chester Arthur lands in eighth place for narcissism. One biographer paints Arthur as “a political hack who transcended his limitations, brushed aside the bosses and pushed important civil service reform.” Nonetheless, not everybody believes that presidents rise to the occasion (or office) and become better people. After all, Arthur never seemed to overcome his narcissism.
Jeffrey Kluger, the Time senior writer, writes that Arthur’s narcissism manifested itself as vanity. Arthur “refurbished the White House with items bought under the supervision of Louis Tiffany and owned 80 different pairs of paints that he made sure to flaunt with gusto.”
Next: This modern president wants to be liked.
7. Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton ranks as the seventh most narcissistic president. As Psychology Today explains, “Clinton thought he was above politics by having relations with an intern in the Oval Office.” Just as bad? He then lied about it. The House of Representatives initiated impeachment proceedings against Clinton in 1998, once again offering evidence that the most narcissistic presidents often get targeted for impeachment.
Kluger refers to Clinton as “a self-destructive narcissist propped up by his charm and charisma.” Additionally, The Huffington Post reports that Clinton exhibits “a strong desire to be liked,” a classic narcissist trait, “and to relate to other people.”
Next: This president exhibited narcissism, hubris, and paranoia.
6. Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon, pretty unsurprisingly, ranks among the most narcissistic presidents. Nixon destabilized Vietnam peace talks in order to save his presidential campaign and win the election. As one author puts it, Nixon “put his desire to get elected in 1968 ahead of young American lives and peace in the world by derailing an opportunity to stop the war.” He also, quite famously, bugged the Watergate building in Washington to steal information from his political rivals.
Additionally, Nixon makes the list of American presidents who might have exhibited hubris syndrome. The researchers behind that study wrote that Nixon showed both “hubris and paranoia.” He illustrated that especially well by telling Henry Kissinger, “Never forget, the press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy.”
Next: This president’s drug abuse may have shaped his behavior.
5. John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy makes the top five among the most narcissistic presidents. PBS reports that Kennedy didn’t think that the rules applied to him. As the Miller Center explains, Kennedy made several “early errors in judgment,” such as during the Bay of Pigs “fiasco.” Research indicates that narcissists often fail to learn from their mistakes. But fortunately, many historians think that Kennedy did learn from at least that mistake.
Kennedy also ranks among the presidents who seem to have exhibited hubristic traits, but not hubris syndrome. The researchers refer to Kennedy’s “use of recreational drugs, amphetamine and bizarre levels of cortisone, which in a properly prescribed dose he had to take for his Addison’s disease” as a factor in his behavior. Nonetheless, they add that “hubristic leaders are likely to be amongst the first to use the new category of so-called cognition enhancers.”
Next: This president had the surprisingly likable combination of narcissism and charisma.
4. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt also ranks extremely high, at fourth place, among the biggest narcissists. We usually remember Roosevelt for a much more positive trait: charisma. But NPR reports that one researcher — the same one who ranked the smartest and dumbest presidents in U.S. history — characterizes Roosevelt as one of the most charismatic presidents in American history.
The Harvard Business Review counts charisma as one of the things that make us love narcissists. Charisma, conveniently enough, also makes it more difficult to spot a narcissist. As the publication explains, “Not all charismatic people are narcissistic, but many narcissists are charismatic, and the more charismatic they are, the more time it takes to spot them.”
Next: Researchers consider this president highly charismatic, too.
3. Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson lands in the top three most narcissistic presidents in American history. This controversial president also numbers among the presidents who rate higher than average for charisma. In fact, Jackson is one of only two presidents who served before FDR to be regarded by modern researchers as “genuinely charismatic people.”
His charisma might have helped make his narcissism more palatable while he was in office. Nonetheless, he certainly frustrated his colleagues. As the Miller Center explains, “Unlike other famously strong Presidents, Jackson defined himself not by enacting a legislative program but by thwarting one.” Some historians “praise his strength and audacity,” the Miller Center adds. “Others see him as vengeful and self-obsessed,” or “an incipient tyrant, the closest we have yet come to an American Caesar.”
Next: This charismatic and narcissistic president may have had bipolar disorder.
2. Theodore Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt ranks as the second most narcissistic president of all. He also joins Jackson as one of the two pre-FDR presidents to have exhibited genuine charisma. Researchers say that charisma is associated with more legislation and more legislative victories. Nonetheless, charisma “doesn’t actually make you better at making good decisions that will steer the country in the right direction,” as NPR learned.
Researchers report that Roosevelt exhibited hubristic behaviors. But he actually may have suffered from bipolar disorder, and not hubris syndrome. In fact, a recent analysis found that 8% of presidents showed signs of bipolar disorder. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson — more on him on the next page — numbered among them. According to Psychology Today, “Roosevelt’s decision to go on a two-year expedition of unexplored areas of the Amazon smacks of manic thinking. (Only 16 of the 19 expedition members survived the ordeal.)”
Next: This president wanted to “become the greatest president in American history.”
1. Lyndon B. Johnson
Finally, at first place, Lyndon B. Johnson ranks at the very top of the list of narcissistic presidents. In addition to showing signs of bipolar disorder, Johnson “was a man possessed by inner demons,” according to one biographer. “He suffered from a sense of emptiness: he couldn’t stand to be alone; he needed constant companionship, attention, affection, and approval.” Johnson also “had a compulsion to be the best, to outdo everybody, to eclipse all his predecessors in the White House and become the greatest president in American history.”
The biographer, Robert Dallek, adds, “He had insatiable appetites: for work, women, food, drink, conversation, and material possessions. They were all in the service of filling himself up — of giving himself a sort of validity or sense of self-worth.” Additionally, Johnson had some famously exhibitionist tendencies, another mark of a narcissist. He showed them off by “urinating in a sink, inviting people into his bathroom, showing off his abdominal scar, [and] exposing his private parts.”
Next: Psychologists and psychiatrists have weighed in on the possibility that Donald Trump is a narcissist.
Is Donald Trump a narcissist?
The same researchers who ranked all of our past presidents for narcissism also tackled the topic of Donald Trump. They wrote that “it would be inappropriate of us to offer a formal assessment of his level of narcissism,” but other academics haven’t shown as much restraint. Psychologists find it “almost impossible to talk about Donald Trump without using the word narcissism.” They cite Trump’s choice to attach his name to “pretty much everything he has ever touched,” the many self-references in his speeches and conversations, and his ultra-competitive nature.
Despite the American Psychiatric Association’s Goldwater Rule, mental health professionals have warned the public about Donald Trump’s “psychological instability.” They say that includes an “increasing loss of touch with reality, marked signs of volatility and unpredictable behavior, and an attraction to violence as a means of coping.” Some think that Trump even has narcissistic personality disorder. But experts still argue over whether Trump qualifies or not.
Some observers have also made an argument for shifting the scrutiny away from Donald Trump and back to his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama. In an entertaining twist, a Boston Globe columnist points to Donald Trump’s “bottomless narcissism” and argues that it makes Trump exactly like his predecessor, Barack Obama.
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