Washington, D.C. (May 17, 2016)—Who, really, is Donald Trump? What is his psychological makeup, and what kind of president would he be? For The Atlantic’s June cover story, “The Mind of Donald Trump," psychologist and Northwestern professor Dan P. McAdams investigates everything we know about Trump to understand what to expect from his ever more possible presidency. McAdams describes a personality that is completely unlike other U.S. presidential candidates: off-the-charts extroversion combined with rock-bottom agreeableness. Among America’s most narcissistic presidents are some of the country’s best and worst leaders. Where along this spectrum could a President Trump fall?
Also in this issue: The Atlantic explores the false promise of DNA testing; examines whether the key character strengths for academic success can be taught; explores what would happen if we lost our faith in free will; and goes on the job with Don Jr., the eldest Trump son, to learn about the presidential candidate’s other Pennsylvania Avenue project.
The June issue of The Atlantic is online today, May 17, 2016, and will be on newsstands next week; pieces are detailed below.
Cover: “The Mind of Donald Trump”
Teams of psychologists have rated the temperament of every former U.S. president, and the patterns they’ve found have been predictive of certain kinds of presidential results—wars, impeachment resolutions, public impressions of “greatness.” In this psychological profile, Dan P. McAdams examines all we know about Trump’s temperament, decision-making style, and personal motivations. His analysis suggests a presidency that could be highly combustible—marked by ambition, deception, anger, and narcissism. The latter is a double-edged sword. Among America’s most narcissistic presidents are some of the best and some of the worst. The presidents whose personality profiles Trump most resembles: Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon.
Trump is a masterful social actor, highly skilled at asserting and maintaining dominance. But McAdams concludes: “It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.”
Features & Essay:
“How Kids Really Succeed”: Educators have recently embraced the idea that character strengths are the key to success in the classroom and beyond—and that these strengths should be taught as skills. But here’s the problem: For all the talk about noncognitive skills, nobody has yet found a reliable way to teach kids to be grittier and more resilient. Paul Tough, in an adaptation of his forthcoming book, writes about a new approach to educating low-income children—one rooted in what we’re discovering about brain development and the science of adversity. Tough writes that if we want to help children demonstrate strong learning qualities in school, we have to start where their neurobiological identity begins forming: at home. A childhood full of toxic stress can produce obstacles to school success; to combat these, some schools are taking a comprehensive approach, changing basic practices and assumptions in every classroom.
“There’s No Such Thing as Free Will”: It has long been argued that our very existence depends on our belief free will, providing a foundation for freedom, religion, our code of ethics—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. But what happens if our faith in free will erodes? Stephen Cave writes that the sciences have grown steadily bolder in their claim that all human behavior can be explained by the clockwork laws of cause and effect. It would follow, then, that our ability to choose our fate is not in fact free, but depends on our biological inheritance.
Essay: “Reading Proust on My Cellphone”: Years ago, Sarah Boxer found herself stuck on the longest sentence in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, a 958-word colossus. “As the years wore on,” Boxer writes in this delightful essay, “my shame at not being able to move on prevented me from returning to that volume so that Icould move on.” Her father, then 95, regarded reading Proust as one of life’s greatest accomplishments; and so a motivated Boxer downloaded all seven volumes on her Android and set about reading Proust when everyone else in the house was asleep. Gliding through the volumes in the darkness was a remarkably Proustian experience, her cellphone screen leading the way “like a tiny glass-bottomed boat.”
- Sketch: “The Apprentice”: “Coming 2016: Trump.” This isn’t a campaign slogan, but the text emblazoned across the giant sign marking what will soon be the newest neighbor of the White House: Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. As the presumptive GOP nominee continues on, his son Donald J. Trump Jr. is developing the $550-a-night luxury property on behalf of his father. Molly Ball goes on the job with Don Jr. to learn more about the luxury hotel’s presence in Washington, growing up Trump, and the family loyalty that runs deep through this business and the presidential campaign.
- Geopolitics: “China’s Twilight Years”: By the end of the century, China’s population is expected to dip below 1 billion for the first time since 1980; in as few as 25 years, the country’s worker-to-retiree ratio will collapse from 5 to 1 to 1.6 to 1, its median age will increase from 30 to 46, and its over-65 population will triple. Compare this with the United States, where the population will at the same point reach 450 million people. Howard French writes that we have immigration to thank: America is being replenished by keeping its doors relatively open to newcomers. He writes, “Immigration will, shrieking campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, spare the United States the fate now threatening to engulf its competitors.”
- Technology: “The Future of Getting High”: There has been a seismic shift in American attitudes toward marijuana, giving way to emerging markets, new technologies, and the normalization of experiences that were once taboo. At the same time, though, Americans are succumbing to the dangers of other drugs in ever greater numbers. Scientists and entrepreneurs are working on new products and technologies that promise to make drugs and alcohol both safer and more satisfying. From nonaddictive opiates and a pill that sobers you up, to pot designed to produce certain moods, Maggie Koerth-Baker explores the future of getting high.
- Study of Studies: “Life Isn’t Fair”: Our belief in the world’s fairness can veer into magical thinking. As one study shows, we sometimes convince ourselves that the bad things that happen to good people are just blessings in disguise, while another study reveals that people who frequently patronize a business believe they are more likely than other customers to win a given prize drawing. Similar logic leads people to invest in karma. In reality, as Matthew Hutson writes, life just isn’t fair. And in a cruel twist, our wish to see it as fair keeps us from making it so.
- “The Eviction Curse”: The rise of economic inequality has become a staple of policy debates and stump speeches. Less visible is the way the rise has altered the landscape of America’s urban neighborhoods. Two new books expand the conversation on poverty: Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City and Mitchell Deneier’s Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea. Through his review, Patrick Sharkey explores how exploitative housing policies explain more about ghetto poverty than culture or behavior does.
- “The Brontës’ Secret”: With the Brontë literary-industrial complex celebrating the bicentennial of Charlotte’s birth—launching a number of new novels, biographies, essays, and monographs—Judith Shulevitz writes that there is no reason not to consider the Brontë cult a religion. She reviews three of the latest books about the sisters, all of which draw on Charlotte, Emily, and Anne’s real-life domestic constraints, which the Brontës used as grist for their brilliant books.