The Episodic Man: How a Psychological Biography of Donald J. Trump Casts New Light on Empirical Research Into Narrative Identity


  • Dan P. McAdams


People make meaning through life narrative. The central thesis of my book-length psychological biography of Donald Trump is that the 45th president of the United States defied this general meaning-making tendency and epitomized instead the episodic man. Like no other president in modern history, Trump seems to be nearly devoid of a narrative identity, which is an internalized and evolving story of the self that reconstructs the personal past and imagines the future in order to provide life with temporal continuity and meaning. Instead, Trump has always lived in the emotionally vivid moment (episode), fighting to win each moment, moment by discrete moment. Seeing him through the lens of the episodic man helps to explain many puzzling features of Donald Trump’s personality, from his charismatic effect on millions of Americans to his penchant for lying and malice. Importantly, the analysis of Trump’s episodic nature informs the scientific study of narrative identity and meaning making more generally, suggesting that people vary not only with respect to the kinds of stories they create for their lives but also with respect to the extent to which they construe life in narrative terms. Therefore, the analysis of Trump illustrates the potentially reciprocal relationship between the idiographic case and the nomothetic effort to develop and evaluate more general scientific hypotheses.