Some pegs to hang ideas on | Columnists

Insidious epidemic | Columnists |

Several years ago, Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mendelbaum wrote about the state of our nation in their book, “That Used To Be Us”: “In the last decade especially, we have spent so much of our time and energy — and the next generation’s money — fighting terrorism and indulging ourselves with tax cuts and cheap credit that we now have no reserves. … Should the market or Mother Nature make a sudden disruptive move in the wrong direction, we would not have the resources to shield ourselves from the worst effects, as we had in the past.”

Why do you think so many of our legislators would rather see some people go hungry rather than raise taxes on the wealthy? Why did the savings and loan and the bank fiascoes happen? Why are we letting the infrastructure rot and making so little progress in environmental improvement? Why have so many gotten away with fleecing investors, etc.? Why is the United States in the state of disarray it is today? What happened to the “e pluribus unum” attitude that contributed to keeping the United States on top of things for so many years?

No doubt you could come up with many answers, but what underlies much of what is bedeviling us is one that maybe you haven’t thought of — narcissism: individual, political and national. We in this country have traditionally considered ourselves the greatest, above all others, the most powerful and the most influential, whether deserved or not. For many, many years that sustained us, but we have sunk more deeply into the abyss of arrogance and complacency that have not only corroded our political process, but have also caused many other nations to be cynical about our intentions. As Jeanne M. Twenge, Ph.D., et al, wrote in “The Narcissism Epidemic,” “Due to global media coverage and the internet, when the world’s citizens see America, they see narcissism. This clearly isn’t all that there is to America, but how would the rest of the world know?”

Basically, the narcissistic believe that the world revolves around them. They think that they deserve the “best” because they are so special. They must to run the show and, if things don’t go their way, they can be very dishonest and manipulative. They are very judgmental and dogmatic and completely lack empathy. They use others to enhance themselves and indulge their desires, using “charm” and calculated self-assurance to influence others and are the last to recognize that they have a problem. In fact, many people who appear to be seriously concerned about others — like some clergy and those politicians who pretend they have the best interests of the country at heart — are very disingenuous. What they are really seeking is the feeling of being the most important and having others worshipping at their feet and hanging on to their every word. It actually all revolves around them.

What is especially disturbing is how so many people are naïve and gullible enough to be impressed and proselytized by the narcissist — whatever his/her scheme may be. Narcissism has an unprecedented grip on our culture because it’s so beneficial to so many vested interests and it will continue to cling like Saran Wrap to our psyches as long as so many are hoodwinked by it. It doesn’t help that our media thrives on those types — giving them the notoriety that they crave — no matter how shallow and/or unethical.

Is anyone counteracting all of this? Many parents are too preoccupied and/or caught up in our cultural norm of self-indulgence and “Dancing with the Stars.” Too many use their children as status symbols. One of the latest indicators — those parents who spend big bucks and pull whatever strings necessary to get their teenagers into a prestigious university. It is reported that two-thirds of today’s college students now have above-average scores for narcissism — a 30% increase since 1982.

“The narcissism epidemic has already had some serious consequences. First, there has been a giant transfer of time, attention and resources from reality to fantasy. Rather than pursuing the American Dream, people are simply dreaming. … As long as narcissism thrives, we can expect a culture that is more and more built on the faulty ground of inflated self-perception, shallow relationships, shameless self-promotion and excessive attention seeking.” — Twenge.

I’m sure Friedman and Mendelbaum, in their zeal to “reconnect with the values and ideals that made the American Dream so compelling for so many generations of Americans” realize that until more voters can tell the difference between a politician who is totally obsessed with him/herself and one who truly has the best interests of our nation at heart, “That Used To Be Us” is destined to become “What Will Never Be Again.”

Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 1,000 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is

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