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I walked past the bar near my building. It’s where John Edwards kicked back when he was at the apex of his nadir after he’d been exposed for taking that all-too-common trek traversed by those who think they’re destined to work and play above the rules. Generally, I don’t care about the private lives of the rich and notorious. Still, I can feel sadness, sadness that a family has been devastated by deceit—sadness that Edwards didn’t just father a child with Rielle Hunter while married but that he denied it and convinced a married staffer to lie, to say the baby was his. That he made excuses for his actions even as his wife Elizabeth battled metastatic breast cancer. And also that Elizabeth knew about the girlfriend, knew the truth, as she and Edwards campaigned, appearing as the perfect couple.
Recently, I read that Edwards is starting over, returning to his roots as a trial lawyer, in practice with daughter Cate. He wants to help others. Sure, he has a chance at redemption, but I wonder if that big ego can be subjugated or if Edwards even knows this is required.
Who is the real John Edwards?
Thinking my thoughts about Edward’s fall and attempt at restoration, I recalled a television interview, one in which he self-diagnosed, admitted his narcissism. I hit Google and found the quote: “In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.”
I was off to Curiosity-ville with that, had plenty of questions about a disorder that yields a charming mannequin, a cardboard cutout, something that resembles a member of our species but whose humanity is a Failure to Appear. After all, when John Edwards makes an appearance, who or what really is there?
Do individuals become narcissists as a result of the attention they receive, as Edwards said happened to him? What’s the etiology of the missing empathy, the self-focus, the intolerance of criticism, lying to maintain respectability, an inability to be real, no conscience or accountability—these features that define malignant narcissism? Nurture? Nature? Both?
Of course, I detoured to Barack Obama—the big, appealing smile, his vainglorious and platitudinous pronouncements, the drone jokes, kill list, judging Chelsea Manning guilty before trial, and making promises he never intended to honor, blaming the messenger (Edward Snowden) rather than the message. And immediately was reminded of George Bush, the grandiosity, certitude that he was on a mission from God. At that March, 2004 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Bush yukked it up about having found no WMD, even showing a video of the search beneath his desk as the audience guffawed over the obscenity. Think of Bush’s response to the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina. With whom did he commiserate? Trent Lott. Bush said, “… he’s [Lott] lost his entire house—there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on his porch.” I thought too of Hillary, ha-ha-ha-ing, when she heard that Muammar Gaddafi had been killed, her lies about being shot at by a Bosnian sniper, and her outrage when questioned about Benghazi.
More: Dick Cheney, Sec. of State John Kerry, House Speaker John Boehner, Sen Diane Feinstein, and Rep. Peter King—each called Edward Snowden a traitor. And VP Biden, in Beijing, hypocritically urging Chinese students to challenge government authority, an act that labels Americans traitors, crushes them (think Occupy), kills them (think Kent State), or lands them in jail or Russia.
I wondered about people who attain success and positions of power, those who become enamored of their status and develop a me, me, me mentality. Even if you’ve never witnessed this personally/ privately, you’ve seen them make appearances on the larger stage, and you’re familiar with certain narcissists worshipped by American culture as well as those who have prestigious positions but are disdained.
There’s this: Congress’s approval rating is in the spittoon. According to a Gallup poll, it’s at 9%. Most respondents criticized Congress’s partisanship. But acrimony’s a mere function of their arrogance. They care little about anything except reelection, power, and seeking out experiences that strengthen their vanity—in other words, narcissists.
It’s delusional to believe that elected officials represent the will of the people. After all, they’re reinforced by Wall Street, not us. They strut their specialness, that egocentrism John Edwards said he developed in the course of several campaigns. They want to appear to be “public servants” and they make appearances to manipulate the public image of what they are not.
Think about this: If Edwards became “special” while vying for votes, consider the hubris of successful politicians, especially those who’ve won election after election. They are Beltway gasbags, protecting corporate interests, under obligation to corruption, man/woman-like robotic drones. They should be charged with Failure to Appear, so barren are they of compassion—so lacking as human beings.
Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.