The Personality of Donald Trump



static.politico*The original version of this article was published by Psychology Today on September 17, 2015, prior to Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016. It has been updated to reflect observations made since he took office.

The fate of any organization is largely a function of that organization’s leadership. The organization of the United States is no exception to this rule. As such, it is appropriate to understand Donald Trump’s personality and its impact on the function of the United States.

I do not personally know Mr. Trump and I have never had the opportunity to professionally assess his personality (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 two sides of Mr. Trump’s personality. His Bright Side (how he typically behaves when he’s at his best) and his Dark Side (how he behaves when he lets down his guard).

Beginning with the Bright Side we can expect Mr. Trump to be:

Highly Adjusted. Mr. Trump does not appear anxious or nervous. When at his best, he remains calm under pressure, doesn’t break down in the face of criticism, and is quite pleased with himself as a person. The downside is that he is reluctant to listen to feedback — especially negative feedback — from others.

Highly Ambitious. Mr. Trump is competitive, wants to win, and wants to be in charge. He is concerned about results and getting things done. On the downside, he tends to compete with those who are actually on his team and alienate his staff when 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 has little patience for anyone who might try to order him around. 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 has all sorts of ideas for solving problems, but has difficulty implementing his plans and thinking through the details of their execution.

On the Dark Side we can expect Mr. Trump to be:

Highly Excitable. Mr. Trump is emotional and highly unpredictable. This is most apparent in his Twitter usage where he is prone to sling personal insults and attacks on the media. Such people are difficult to work with because you never know what will set them off and people often have to walk on eggshells around them.

Highly Bold. This is Mr. Trump’s most defining characteristic. He is unusually self-confident, and shows feelings of grandiosity and entitlement. Such 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. As a result, he tends to overestimate his capabilities.

Highly Mischievous. Mr. Trump is charming, interesting, and daring. He enjoys taking risks, pushing the limits, and thrives 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 is 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. Mr. Trump is uninterested in the details and execution of plans. Instead, he prefers to put his big ideas forward and leaves others to figure out the details of making them work. As a result, he tends to focus on short-term fixes without considering the long-term consequences.

Low on Dutifulness. Mr. Trump likes to defy the status quo, doesn’t care about pleasing others, and is quick to make decisions. He doesn’t take orders (or advice) from many people (if anyone).

In summary, what we see from Mr. Trump is what we already knew about him. The real-estate mogul and reality TV star is the same person we see as President.

What has this meant for the United States as an organization? First, foreign and domestic policies have been created and acted upon quickly, sometimes without the proper vetting (e.g., US immigration policy; trade tariffs). Second, the US is perceived as aggressive, competitive, and tough, guided by a strong desire to “win,” even at the expense of others (allies and enemies included). Third, the US is perceived as less predictable and unbound by rules and past agreements (e.g., Iran deal). This will result in a lack trust from our allies in the future.

1 Which is the same method everyone else uses. I do have the advantage of being a trained personality psychologist with experience assessing many people. The assessment here compares Mr. Trump to the population in general, not other politicians or political candidates. Many politicians are very similar to Mr. Trump on a number of these characteristics.