After the first presidential election debate a few weeks ago, someone on my timeline tweeted that Donald Trump seemed especially thrown off by the lack of constant cheers and applause he usually gets at his rallies. I had only just watching the The Little Prince on Netflix and it dawned on me: Trump is the Conceited Man.
If you have never read The Little Prince, it’s a story about a little boy who lives on an asteroid and goes travelling around the universe. In his travels, the Prince meets many curious characters in different planets, always musing at how odd grown-ups can be. One of those characters is the Conceited Man, who considers himself to be “the handsomest and most intelligent man on his planet” and asks the Little Prince to admire him and clap his hands. This might well be the case – but the Little Prince hastens to remind the Conceited Man that he is, in fact, the only man in this planet.
The Conceited Man is dressed for adoration: he wears a big hat that he can take off in salute to thank his admirers for the claps. His whole identity revolves around being admired by everyone despite not actually doing anything in particular to warrant the adoration in the first place. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Trump is known for being a businessman, which to me is shorthand for “he got some money, invested it, went bankrupt three times and overcame it all because he’s white, male, and rich.” In terms of business he might be successful – I’m no expert – but in terms of coming up with actual policies on the many issues plaguing the United States at the moment, he is completely failing. He likes to use superlatives, just like the Conceited Man, to convey the kind of person he is without actual evidence of it. One example, Trump claims to be “the least racist person you will ever meet” but there is substantial evidence that he is a massive racist. He also says he knows “the best words” but rarely uses any of them (probably because he wants to remain “unpredictable”). He’s racist, sexist, potentially a predator, but expects everyone to give him a pass — probably because he has been given so many passes in his life so far.
Trump’s meltdown in the first debate was the simple result of a man who is used to getting praise for doing the bare minimum and didn’t receive the praise he thought he deserved, especially in the context of standing next to Hillary Clinton, a woman who was very prepared and gave full, sensical answers to the questions asked. Trump expects to be praised just for showing up, just for existing — just like the Conceited Man.
This isn’t really news. We all know Trump is a huge narcissist. But it’s not just that Trump is a narcissist, but that the Conceited Man is an 100% conceivable option for president of the United States. And there’s a chance that he won’t concede the election, because he is so conceited and so convinced he is the best person in the world for the job, despite zero evidence of that.
In The Little Prince, Antoine Saint-Exupery uses the Conceited Man to articulate how full of themselves grown ups can be; the Conceited Man is not to be taken seriously in any way, shape or form. The Conceited Man is a joke. The Conceited Man is an example of what we ought not to be.
Yet, somehow, here we are.