"As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron." — H.L. Mencken, 1880-1956
The narcissism of the current occupant of the White House, well known to the nearly 74 million people who voted for him earlier this month, almost makes one forget the self-absorption of his predecessor.
But former President Barack Obama is back to remind us with the first volume — first volume! — of his third memoir, which was released last week.
The 44th president, in so many words, calls those who voted for President Donald Trump racists and chalks their votes up solely to him being Black.
"It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted," Obama writes. "For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety."
So just how racist are those of whom he speaks?
Until the 2020 election, when both candidates surpassed his vote total, Obama had garnered the highest vote tally of any individual who ran for president — almost 69.5 million in 2008. Although his party lost its leadership in the House of Representatives in 2010, he was re-elected — by nearly 5 million popular votes and 126 electoral votes — in 2012.
By 2016, his party had lost both the House and the Senate, most governorships and a slew of state legislative seats, but he remained personally popular.
As recently as September, Obama was named the most admired man in the world in a poll by the British data firm YouGov. According to Gallup, he was the most admired man in the world from 2008 through 2018. And he tied for the top spot with Trump in 2019.
In other words, millions of voters who were "spooked by a Black man in the White House" voted for him not only once, but twice, and many of them told pollsters they admired him.
Voters apparently were trying to let Obama down easily, saying, essentially, "It's not you; it's your policies."
But, ever the narcissist, he took it personally when Hillary Clinton, expected to win the presidency in a 2016 landslide, was defeated. That, despite the fact she was an unpopular figure among the electorate, even many within her Democratic Party.
Obama, many will remember, also helped talk his aging vice president, Joe Biden, out of running that year, and told him as candidates began to gather for 2020, "You don't have to do this, Joe, you really don't." The New York Times also reported that multiple sources said Obama warned Biden advisers not to let him "embarrass himself" or "damage his legacy."
The former president was rumored to be behind former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who took himself out of the 2020 running early, but then jumped into the race, too late to have any influence. Tellingly, Obama also never endorsed his former vice president until Biden had the Democratic nomination wrapped up in mid-April.
Obama and Trump, in the end, are two sides of the same narcissistic coin. Obama thought so much of himself and his policies that he believed Americans would overlook the policies and go along with whatever he wanted. Trump thought so much of himself that he believed Americans could overlook him in order to get the policies they liked.
Both were wrong.
In the end, the former president — to assuage his ego — categorized those who disagreed with him as racists. The current president — to assuage his ego — said those who opposed him have organized some sort of cabal to steal the election from him.
Both are wrong.
Among the most narcissistic presidents (yes, that's a thing), three of the last four occupants of the White House should land in the top 10 of the 44 men who have occupied the office to date. Presidents Bill Clinton, Obama and Trump will surely take their place in that pantheon. President George W. Bush won't be far outside it.
A 2013 list created by a team of psychologists published online by the journal Psychological Science showed that no modern president was in the bottom 10 — meaning least narcissistic — of narcissistic presidents. At the time, the most recent name in the bottom 10 was Calvin Coolidge, who was president 1923-1929.
Topping the list then — Obama, at the time the current president, wasn't included — was Lyndon Johnson, president 1963-1969. and of whom his aide Bill Moyers said had "an unfillable hole in his ego."
Of the presidents following Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Clinton all made the top 10.
Obama, the first president to remain in Washington, D.C., after his term to mind his legacy since Woodrow Wilson, and whose newest memoir has been bought by enough of those "spooked by a Black man in the White House" to be on several best-seller rolls, should take his place on the list soon enough.