Whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton wins the presidency on Tuesday, Americans will spend the next four years led by a self-promoting, conspiracy-obsessed narcissist. In other words, a classic baby boomer.
“The Greatest Generation has been supplanted by the selfish generation, and Donald Trump is its ultimate expression,” says Michael D’Antonio, author of The Truth About Trump.
And he doesn’t give much of a pass to Hillary Clinton.
“These are both egocentric baby boomer exemplars,” D’Antonio says. “Like everyone who ever sought the presidency, she wants to be at the top and be adored. However, she also imagines herself doing great good for others. It is this quality that helps the political narcissist to do good while doing well for himself or herself.”
During this long campaign, we’ve examined every aspect of both candidates, except perhaps the most obvious: the Trump vs. Clinton matchup represents the apotheosis of the baby boom generation. It’s not the first boomer matchup — Bush vs. Gore was the first, and if you count Obama (who doesn’t count himself as a boomer), Obama vs. Romney was also a boomer contest.
But this may very well be the last, and the two candidates highlight Boomer traits in their extreme. Trump, says D’Antonio, takes truly alarming rage and rebellion and combines them with self-expression above all else — a boomer hallmark — in his campaign rallies.
“How is he that different from someone standing in a crowd of 10,000 people in Berkeley holding up a burning draft card? The ideas are different but the method is the same. It’s to poke the established order in the eye.”
Clinton manifests her need for Boomer self-expression differently. “She came out of exactly the same cohort,” D’Antonio says. “In Hillary’s case you have an idealist who had the same drives of self-actualization but channelled through public service, which was in service to her ego. So instead of building a tower [as Trump did] Hillary built a political empire and fought to impose her view of reality on the country in a political way.”
Clinton channeled her ambition to the very boomer idea of doing good and changing the world. At the same time, she displayed another boomer trait: the self-righteous idea that she knows better than anyone else.
Bruce Cannon Gibney, an early PayPal and Facebook investor, takes D’Antonio’s premise and pushes it further. In his sure-to-be-controversial forthcoming book,
A Generation of Sociopaths: How Baby Boomers Betrayed America, Gibney argues that the bipartisan fiasco, the stagnation, the inequality, resulting ultimately in this year’s nightmarish presidential election, are the fault of boomers.
“The boomers’ sociopathic need for instant gratification pushed them to equally sociopathic policies, causing them to fritter away an enormous inheritance, and when that was exhausted, to mortgage the future,” he writes. “The story of the boomers is in other words the story of a generation of sociopaths running amok.”
D’Antonio wouldn’t take the description that far, but he does describe them as drunk with power, attention-getting, narcissistic, rebellious, and in denial about all of it. (By the way, D’Antonio is a boomer himself.)
And as boomers read that description of themselves and try to deny it, they will conjure another boomer trait: victimology, he says.
“The idea of openly discussing one’s victimization is a baby boom invention. It wasn’t done prior to Oprah Winfrey,” D’Antonio says. “For the most part it’s been healthy and productive but it opens the door to saying anyone is a victim. And Trump is really good at claiming to be the victim of a rigged system.”
Which gets us to…conspiracy-mongering.
Baby boomers came of age in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination, with its attendant conspiracy theories. “Ever since that moment, baby boomers have had this idea that the system is corrupt and you can’t believe what you’re being told,” says D’Antonio.
Later years brought a cascade of disillusioning events, including Vietnam and Watergate, both of which reinforced the idea that “bad people” control an unseen process.
Like, perhaps, the “vast right-wing conspiracy” Clinton so famously referenced in 1998 in defense of her husband, characterizing the continued allegations of scandal as part of a campaign by their political enemies.
And then there is Trump’s sexual boasting. In his early years “he thought of himself as an Elvis kind of guy,” says D’Antonio. “He thought he had Elvis’ charisma. Just look at the hair. All the preening and the sneering and the idea he is so sexually magnetic — all of it comes from Elvis. Even his sexual indulgence and marriages– it’s all break-the-rules baby boomer stuff.”
Indeed, says Florida Atlantic psychology professor Ryne Sherman, Trump’s (admittedly extreme) sexual attitudes put him squarely in baby boomer territory.
“For the most part, the differences in personality between generations tend to be pretty small,” says Sherman, who has analyzed both candidates’ personalities. “But for boomers, the data we’ve collected and analyzed shows they’re more open about sexual attitudes and behaviors.”
Of course, there is no evidence Clinton has ever acted out sexually. But her tolerance of her husband’s sexual behavior? “That could explain it, being from that generation,” Sherman says.
He believes Hillary Clinton’s defining trait is ambition, followed by control and prudence. (Of course, as many have pointed out, when men are ambitious, it’s not viewed as noteworthy or negative.) “She will do what it takes to win,” Sherman says. “She has learned that by being extremely prepared, meticulous, detail-oriented — that’s what it takes.”
While they’re both ambitious, Trump “hates losing” and lacks emotional control, Sherman says. “I see them both as high in narcissistic tendencies. What’s unique about Trump is how off the charts he is” when it comes to narcissistic traits, Sherman adds.
Watch John Oliver mock Donald Trump’s winning temperament
So Clinton is a classic baby boomer with high narcissistic tendencies and a need to win and be in control, but Trump takes narcissism — along with all the worst of the Boomer traits — to their extreme, says D’Antonio. And we are living with the consequences.
“What’s sad is to see that the civil war among the baby boomers never stopped,” he says. “Baby boomers have done so much damage and so little good that it’s appalling to me.”