Sunday, March 27, 2016

Is Trump a Sociopath?

At our Sabbath lunch table yesterday, one of my guests asked me pointedly, "Given your expertise as a psychologist, would you say Donald Trump is a sociopath?"

I can't give a professional diagnosis, but from his public appearances and the way he continuously makes inflamatory (perhaps racist, perhaps misogynistic) statements, you'd have to wonder. Here's a list of sociopathological characteristics useful in evaluating Trump*:

  • Superficial charm and good intelligence
  • Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
  • Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations
  • Unreliability
  • Untruthfulness and insincerity
  • Lack of remorse and shame
  • Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
  • Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
  • Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
  • General poverty in major affective reactions
  • Specific loss of insight
  • Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
  • Fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol and sometimes without
  • Sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated
  • Failure to follow any life plan
You can judge for yourself, but I do know that politically, Trump is dysfunctional and self-destructive. How so? He undermines his own progress by needlessly going on the offensive (literally).

Out of the blue, weeks after his last TV debate with Megyn Kelly, he decided to Tweet another hit on the Fox News anchor, adding to his collection of childish names, including "sick," "overrated," "unwatchable," and "crazy."

He got in trouble previously for snarky comments about former rival Carly Fiorina's looks ("Look at that face. Can you imagine that as the face of our next President?"). Then he went after Heidi Cruz, threatening to "spill the beans" about her, and then publishing an unflattering photo with a glamour shot of his wife, a former-model.

Next comes a front-page Enquirer banner story that blared, "It's over for Pervy Ted! Their
Shocking Claims--Cruz's Five Secret Mistresses!" Cruz quickly called the story "trash" and blamed Trump's "henchmen." (Trump denied association to the Enquirer story, adding, "while they were right about OJ Simpson, John Edwards and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin' Ted Cruz.")

How does this wallowing in the muck help Trump? Even his base must question the sanity of their candidate's uncontrollable tweets. At at time when Trump most needs to look credibly Presidential, he undermines any gains with his impulsive, aggressive jabs. Trump's success at AIPAC with a speech by his son-in-law Jered Kushner (Trump's only teleprompter-read presentation) was immediately undone by his renewed sleazy attacks.

This is dysfunction: Working to set yourself up for success and then undermining your own efforts.

My husband made an excellent observation: Trump wants to win, but he doesn't want to govern. It's a conflict that causes him to self-sabotage.

If he really wanted to win, he wouldn't shoot himself in the foot (reminds me of his comment "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?"). If indeed he's not stupid, and I am increasingly unsure about that, he would see that to win, he must widen his support, not endanger it.

He needs to prove his grasp of domestic and international issues, leading the military, and working with those who oppose him. Instead, he's mired in cutting comments, personal lawsuits and scandals, and general assurances that we needn't know specifics because, believe him, his solutions will be great and brilliant. His pattern is to foment criticism, and then lash out with an even harsher attack.

This penchant for self-destruction is now leaving even those who once admired his chutzpah astonished. There's no point in crudely attacking a fellow Republican, especially if Trump has confidence (as he often asserts) that he'll earn nomination. Trump has lowered the campaign to where parents now must shield their children from the political process.

A new Bloomberg poll taken March 18-22 finds Trump's net favorability rating just 29%; his net unfavorable is 68%. Hillary's favorable is 44% and her unfavorable 53%. In a contest between the two, who wins?

John Kasich: I think, therefore I can
Therefore, I repeat my post of two weeks ago: a vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary. At this point, Republicans desperately need a candidate who can attract both Hillary haters and Trump disdainers. Cruz is also disliked, with unfavorables at 55% and favorables just 32%. Kasich seems too far from getting the nod, but his favorability, according to the same Bloomberg poll, is 46%, higher than Hillary's, and his unfavorability is lower than hers, at just 32%. He's actually the best-liked of the lot.

I find Kasich a bit creepy, but I do admire that he refused to join the Trump mud-slinging, and focuses on policies and experience. He might be the best bet to save the GOP, and the nation, from spiraling disaster.

We certainly cannot afford to have a sociopath for President.

* Characteristics of a sociopath from Thomas, M.E., "How to Spot a Sociopath," Psychology Today, May 7, 2013.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

You support Trump? Here's my Reply

Donald Trump. It's not easy being orange.
Recently someone I respect sent me a newsy email in which he casually mentioned that he supported Trump.

It was as if a giant elephant just fell into the room. "How could you possibly support Trump?" I asked, agog.

 I do try to understand; I read articles with quotes from Trumpites, and they say the GOP front-runner expresses their anger, or he says what they're thinking, or he's politically incorrect and will shake everything up, or he's a deal-maker and running the country is about deals.

Few Trumpsters say they support him because they like his policies, or they revere his upstanding character, or for his record in international relations, domestic lawmaking, handling crises or joining together opposing groups.

Far from uniting us, as he claims he'll do, feelings about Trump are polarizing Americans, individually, and in small and large groups. Politics' divisiveness is impinging on our lives and causing depression. And speaking of psychoses,  I cannot understand how Ben Carson endorsed him, after Trump called out Carson's "psychological disease," and suggested he's a "child molester" and a “sick puppy.” (Dr. Carson in his endorsement said there are "two Donald Trumps." Is that the doctor's diagnosis of schizophrenia?)

 I am flummoxed that Chris Christie endorsed him so shortly after asserting Trump "did not have the temperament" for the presidency.

It's true that a president needs tact. Trump demonstrates little understanding of the delicacy of diplomacy in any context. And were he to have access to nuclear bombs and armies, it could mean literally the end of the world. Those stakes are too high.

Trump may be right that he "could shoot someone without losing voters." Thousands of Trump University students and the New York Attorney General are actively suing, claiming enrollees were misled into a fraudulent educational experience. Doesn't matter, Trumpers know it's fine, since Donald shrugged it off on TV.

If he were honest in and about his business dealings, I wouldn't care that some of his endeavors failed. Much more important to presidential success is proven ability to work in the milieu of Washington. The culture and protocol of national politics will not crumble, even if a brazen president wills it. Thousands of people have built careers within a reliable web of agreements and relationships, and will not scrap their investments in Washington's political structure.

Trump can never win the presidency because the majority of voters, even voters and politicos in his own party, disdain him. Not just because he's an arrogant bully (though he is) but mainly because he is dangerously unpredictable. We don’t know what he plans to do, and if he hints at something in response to a journalist's questioning, he’s only too willing to totally change it, even on the same day, if his feelings change.

Every debate and speech Trump makes teaches us how he operates, and that is, Donald Trump wings it. He says what he feels at the time, unplanned. His speeches are off the cuff; his responses to charges are counter-attacks, often ad hominem.

And that teaches us, the American people, that his policies and messages to dignitaries will be winged, too. What Donald feels, Donald says—until he changes his mind and undoes it.
NY Times pic of Donald Trump at his University

The one thing to look for in a leader is long-term perspective. Someone who doesn’t wing it, but looks far into the future at potential ramifications of short-term steps, toward a lofty, worthwhile goal. Trump has no aspiration to a virtuous future more moral or dignified than the kind of ambiance he fosters now. He has no affinity for any religion, and suspicious enmity toward Muslims. He only mentions God when trying to win over preachers and congregations.

 When someone peppers his comments with “Believe me,” you know you can’t. When someone criticizes him, Donald automatically goes on the offensive with something more rude and outrageous than what was lobbed at him.

There is one commonality in the responses of Trump admirers--they're based on emotions. If you're angry, if you're resentful, if you feel threatened by immigrants who could take your job, or who change the character of your neighborhood, you're driven by powerful emotions. And seldom can logic dissuade you.

I'm a psychologist, and this principle applies to behavior in every realm, marriages, work, and  friendships: Emotions trump logic. I've been using that phrase for decades before Donald Trump made it so apropos.

Donald Trump fires up emotions, but we should not be led by emotions. The central Jewish prayer "the Shma" warns not to follow your heart, lest you're lured away from duty and nobility. Because emotions are compelling, my logical arguments probably won't sway my emailing friend away from Trump. But we risk severe peril if we collectively succumb to emotion and eschew the calm pursuit of civility in a long-term context.