"This is the cultural moment of the narcissist," writes amateur (in the best sense of the word) psychologist Emily Yoffe (her "Dear Prudence" advice column in Slate every Thursday is not to be missed). Problem is, that has been true for at least the past thirty years--Christopher Lasch's acclaimed and acute The Culture of Narcissism appeared in 1979, at the end of the "me decade."
Yoffe's piece is a generally accurate and entertaining popular overview, although I would fault it for suggesting that the narcissist himself usually suffers much less than those around him. To be sure, there are the so-called "oblivious" narcissists who are often high-functioning leaders in politics, business, or other fields, and everyone seems to adduce Bill Clinton as an example although as a psychiatrist I'm not ethically allowed to do that (i.e. diagnose celebrities).
But the central point of narcissism is that the grandiosity and lack of empathy both reflect and attempt to compensate for grievous weaknesses in the self, manifested by painful self-absorption and a gnawing sense of emptiness. These so-called "hypervigilant" narcissists are constantly on the lookout for the validation they desperately crave, and lacking which, they often collapse into despondency or primitive rage.
Limited time today, but my pet theory about many of our current ills, narcissism as much as obesity, is that they are the ironic result of society having achieved levels of average prosperity undreamed of by most people for most of history. And it is the capitalistic prosperity itself--the leisure time, the preoccupation with management and appearance, the endless craving for a new external satisfaction--that is responsible, and not any particular political choices made in recent decades. For most of our history the sheer pressure of work and survival protected us from narcissism. Narcissism is a luxury we seem willing and able to afford, even if it doesn't usually make us happy.
Addendum: Just now I found a most emblematic article, courtesy of good ole Arts and Letters Daily, about the woes of contemporary women who are dissatisfied with their lot no matter how rich, well-wedded, or stocked with cherubic children they may be. I won't say this reflects narcissism per se, only the kind of anomic ennui of contemporary success that I mentioned before. The piece also observes, strangely, that men, in comparison, seem content with their lot. I must not know male psychology like I thought I did...