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Monday, December 16, 2019

Donald Trump's syndrome

Two days ago an anonymous commenter accused me of biasing my opinion of Donald Trump for political reasons. He said: 

Trump is a sociopath. No disguise can hides pathology. The fact that you do not recognize Trump as a sociopath illustrates your own political bias. Trump is also dumb. 

I replied: 

I'm going to write a post about this at some point. I agree that Trump isn't all that smart. But if he were a sociopath, he'd be better at hiding his narcissism, and his ugly side. And he'd lie about who he is, which he really doesn't. His attitude is more like, here I am, warts and all, and if you don't like it, fuck you. That's not how most sociopaths come across. Most of them, especially the ones in politics, pretend to be caring, and giving, and noble, and dignified. Trump doesn't bother with any of those things. He's an extreme narcissist. But that's not the same thing as being a sociopath. 

BTW. I'm not averse to pointing out Republicans as sociopaths when I see them. I've written about Newt Gingrich, Joe Arpaio, and Carly Fiorina in that regard. 

The two sociopath alerts about Gingrich are here and here. Nor is there any denying the sociopathy of either Arpaio and Fiorina. And here's a sociopath alert about Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate for US Senator from Delaware in 2010. 

I haven't been averse to criticizing Trump. I put him in a machismo contest with el Chapo and also compared him to Goldfinger. I suggested he try a little self-deprecating humor (and suggested he might choke to death on such). I wrote here about how being a billionaire has made Trump think he's better-looking, funnier, and smarter than he actually is. 

But the essence of sociopathy is to lie about who you are, do a lot of moral posturing, and in general put on a big act, and Trump simply doesn't do those things. 

One of the clearest examples of how virtue signaling works outside politics is in prison pen pal ads. Look at enough of these things, as I have, and you'll see a very clear correlation: the worse the criminal, the more they wax on about what kindhearted people they are.

Most of the inmates who are convicted of things like DUI or possession will advertise their sexiness, or talk about how they like long walks on the beach, or some such tripe. But they generally don't claim moral superiority.

The ads from Death Row inmates tend to have a completely different tone. If you take them at their word, there has never been group of more decent, humane, caring, loving people.

Spencer Brasure died last week of natural causes. Here's an excerpt from his ad, in which he describes himself as a "God-loving father of one" trying to organize "global opposition to capital punishment." (Brasure burned his victim's face with a torch, stapled wood to his head, broke glass in his mouth, and then doused him with gasoline and burned him to death.)

Or listen to David Berkowitz (the "Son of Sam") talk about what a wonderful, altruistic man he has become.

Here's an excerpt from Franklin Lynch's pen pal ad, emphasizing his sincerity and spritiuality. (He was known as the "Day Stalker," known for beating old ladies to death.)

The lesson to be learned is that the less virtue someone has, the more they feel obliged to signal such. The same rules of human nature which apply to inmates apply equally well to Hollywood stars. (It always seems to be the most egregious environmental sinners who lecture us most self-righteously about climate change.) And these rules apply to politicians as well.

Think of Bill Clinton, whom even Democrats don't bother to defend any more, telling us how he feels our pain. Think of him laughing and joking at Ron Brown's funeral, but then, once he sees a camera on him, pretending to wipe away a tear.  Everything with Clinton was a pose, as the photographs here and here illustrate.

Think of Wendy Davis saying, "I love this state," or pretending to love animals.

Think of Barack Obama saying that he's answerable only to "the steady gaze of my own conscience." Or claiming that he "chose" heterosexuality over homosexuality because "a same sex relationship would be less challenging and demanding than developing one with the opposite sex."

Think of Newt Gingrich explaining his extramarital affair by saying, "There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

Or Christine O'Donnell advocating against masturbation. (How pure she must be to abjure even that!)

These are the types of poses sociopaths strike. They want to be seen as saints, even though (or perhaps because) they are the opposite.

Trump doesn't bother with any of that. He doesn't pretend to be anything other than what he is: a vulgar, crass, insensitive, boastful, spiteful businessman.

That's narcissism, not sociopathy.

I've known both narcissistic personalities and sociopaths personally. I've ended up disliking some of the narcissists even more than I did some of the sociopaths.

Narcissists think the world of themselves, and disparage anyone who doesn't agree with their inflated self-opinion. Narcissists tend to be upfront about their egotism, and often seem to have absolutely no filter -- like Trump.

The sociopaths I've known have been far more conniving. They sometimes bragged, but more often would put on a pretense of modesty and self-effacement. Many of the sociopaths also had a great deal of personal charm, at least at first; the narcissists generally had none. Look up the definition of "sociopath" in any psychology textbook, and you'll see "personal charm" listed among their traits.

Do you find Trump charming?

I don't know anyone who does, even among his supporters. (Some people find him funny, but no one is really charmed by him.) As I've said many times on this blog, if I knew him personally I'm sure I would end up despising him. He's a walking, talking, billowing cloud of bombast and unabashed egotism.

But the one thing he doesn't do is pretend to be nicer than he is. He doesn't blather on about his conscience, or how he cares about others, or his niceness, or his love of animals.

So I don't think Trump is a sociopath, as personally off-putting as he is. I could be wrong. And yes, I do support him politically. But I think I'm open-minded enough to see it if he were one.

When Trump insulted Carly Fiorina's looks, most people probably thought, what kind of comment is that for a presidential contender to be making? Others thought, that soft-looking fatso ought not to be criticizing anyone's looks. (I thought both things.)

When Trump said General Mattis wasn't "tough enough" to be Secretary of Defense, most probably reacted by thinking, General Mattis has seen combat, while Trump got a draft deferment by claiming bone spurs. What a hypocrite Trump is! (That's how I reacted.)

When Trump gets into spats with various reporters or show business types, most people react by thinking, why can't he just ignore them? (That's how I react.)

When Trump said he was a "stable genius," most people thought, what an egotistical buffoon! He's constantly flying off the handle, and he's hardly a genius! (I honestly didn't react that way. I just thought, well, he is stable in the sense that his personality never changes -- you can always count on him to lash back when someone criticizes him. And while he probably doesn't have a high IQ by any standardized measure, he's been extremely successful, so who cares if I had higher GMATs or can fill out a Sunday Times crossword better? I'm a nobody, and he's a billionaire who's a historical figure.)

And when Trump says all these things, a lot of people also react by thinking, how can he be so stupid as to not realize he'll just alienate people by saying that? (Which is how I react.)

In any case, there are a long list of hypocritical, self-serving things he's said which have turned people off, and understandably so.

If you've ever known a narcissist personally, you've undoubtedly found him infuriating. He will consistently overrate himself, in every possible way. He even seems to think himself better than you at things where you're objectively, measurably better. In the long run, it's impossible not to end up despising someone like this.

It's often hard to see the dividing line between sociopaths and narcissists, especially since all sociopaths are by definition narcissists as well. (Sociopaths are a relatively small subset of narcissists.) The crucial difference seems to be that sociopaths will do absolutely anything to achieve their ends, whereas narcissists will draw the line somewhere.

What makes that difference even more difficult to see is that sociopaths are far more likely to purposely lie about their character, whereas the merely narcissistic don't. So if you're inclined to take people at their word, the sociopaths may actually seem nicer, at least at first.

With Trump, it's even harder to see, since he's such an extreme narcissist.

The criticism I got from the commenter quoted at the beginning of this post reminded me of a similar criticism I got after my post about how steroids shape the body. In the course of the article, I mentioned two British swimmers and a Brazilian swimmer I suspect of juicing, and also said that I thought the vast majority of recent champions -- Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Sarah Sjostrom, and Katie Ledecky -- were clean. I was then accused of having a pro-American bias (even though Sjostrom is Swedish). In response, I pointed out that I'd written previously about Dara Torres, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, and Michael Johnson, and had said about all of them that I'd thought they were juicers. 

Whenever I'm accused of bias, it occurs to me that my accuser is probably guilty of a similar bias going in the other direction. It's a fairly safe assumption that the commenter who accused me of having a pro-American bias (and who used the screen name "Slaying dumb Americans like Trump") himself has an anti-American bias. 

I'm also guessing that the commenter after the previous post about Elizabeth Warren has a pro-Democrat, anti-Republican bias.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Sociopath alert: Elizabeth Warren

When Elizabeth Warren's claims of Indian ancestry first became public in 2012, I found her subterfuge funny -- if mildly despicable -- and even wrote two posts to that effect, here and here. At the time, I figured it was it was just a one off, a single fib that she had felt obliged to defend, and which then took on an embarrassing life of its own. 

At the time it didn't occur to me that Warren might be a sociopath because she seems such an unlikely one: her cherubic cheeks, tremulous voice, and slight build are the opposite of threatening. But I shouldn't have been swayed by such superficialities. 

Sociopaths come in all sorts of guises, even genteel lady academic.

Since 2012, Warren's behavior and character have become more public. A closer look at her overall slipperiness shows that her most famous lie wasn't an anomaly, but part of a pattern.

Most people, when caught in a lie, are, at the very least, a little embarrassed. Not Warren. Rather than admit to her most famous lie, just kept brazenly going with it. She commissioned a DNA test (not from an established DNA service but from a friendly colleague). When it revealed that she was somewhere between 1/256th and 1/1024th Native American, she insisted this proved her right. 

Those tiny fractions might make an interesting tidbit for a cocktail party conversation; they certainly don't justify categorizing oneself as Native American. But Warren had actually listed herself that way during her stints at both Penn and Harvard law schools. (Harvard Law School actually advertised her as their first tenured "woman of color" on their faculty during the 1990's, an era in which the school was under pressure for not having a more diverse faculty.)

Warren claimed that her academic career had never benefitted at all from her having claimed minority status. (But why else would she have done it?) 

She got a number of people from Harvard and Penn to back up her claim that she hadn't been an affirmative action hire. But what academic in his right mind would ever publicly admit that a certain professor wouldn't have been hired if he hadn't been a minority? Any university spokesman knows such honesty would result in instant termination. (Warren obviously counted on this.)

It also turned out that Warren had contributed two recipes to a "Pow Wow Chow" Indian cookbook. She claimed that these recipes, one of which included crab with tomato mayonnaise dressing, had been in her family for generations. But then it was discovered that she had stolen these recipes from French chef Pierre Franey.

When Trump mocked Warren's dishonesty by referring to her as Pocohontas, she responded by saying that Trump was using a racial slur and insulting all Native Americans. But this was obviously not the case: he was merely mocking her for claiming to be something she is not. Twisting the truth this way is a sociopathic specialty.

Warren also said that Trump "likes to call my mother a liar." But Trump has never referred to Warren's mother: he simply calls Warren a liar. (Warren's mother never gained professional advantage by claiming to be Native American.) But Warren knows that she will come across as if she is nobly defending her family (and motherhood) by phrasing it that way. Again, twisting the truth.

Warren's "apology" for her big lie was a masterpiece of obfuscation"I'm not a tribal citizen. My apology is an apology for not having been more sensitive about tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty. I really want to underline the point, tribes and only tribes determine tribal citizenship." 

In other words, by claiming to be Native American, she didn't actually lie -- you see, it was just a little matter of misinterpretation, of emphasis, of sensitivity, of semantics. That's all.

This is the kind of word-parsing that's reminiscent of Bill Clinton's lawyerly evasions about what the meaning of "is" is. Or of Wendy Davis saying "My language should be tighter. I'm learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail."

Sociopaths almost never admit to dishonesty; they just try to wriggle out on technicalities.

More recently it emerged that Warren's claims of having been fired from her first teaching job because she was pregnant were untrue. 

Warren has campaigned against school vouchers and against charter schools. Three weeks ago in Atlanta a woman said to Warren that she wanted her children to have the option of where to go to schools, just as Warren's had. Warren replied, "My children went to public schools." 

Technically, that's true: her daughter attended public schools, and her son attended public school through junior high. But after that, he was sent to a private school which cost $17,000 a year. So Warren's reply was disingenuous, at best. 

When Warren announced her candidacy from her kitchen, she said, "I'm gonna get me a beer" and then drank it from the bottle to show she's just a regular down home gal. But she's about as much of a regular gal as she is an Indian. 

You can say that a certain amount of posturing is unavoidable with a political candidacy. After all, kissing babies and trying different cuisines has long been a staple of campaigns. And getting elected usually requires pandering to different constituencies. But pretending to be something you're not is the essence of sociopathy.

And that seems to be second nature with Warren.

Warren was a Republican until she was 47. There's nothing wrong with that; people are allowed to change their minds. But her justifications for her switch simply don't ring true. She says now that she used to be a Republican because they seemed to be the party which supported the markets, but that she no longer thinks so. But Republicans are still more supportive of markets; in fact, they are still frequently criticized for being supportive of the financial asset-owning classes at the expense of the poor. Warren's reason for switching parties is simply not credible. 

Look at this picture of Warren closely. What you see is not an expression of sympathy, but rather an attempt to mimic one. 

The only genuine emotion showing on Warren's face is the pride she feels for looking so "sympathetic." One of the hallmarks of sociopathy is a fake emotionality.

I find it impossible to imagine Warren feeling embarrassed, or ashamed, or guilty because of her lies. If she were capable of those emotions, she wouldn't continue to lie the way she does. And that is the essence of sociopathy. 

Verdict: a well-disguised sociopath.