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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.


europeasant said...

That is a very insightful summary. I actually went to the Trump Rally at UIC with one of my sons. He (Trump) did not show up as the Police said that there would be uncontrolled violence and it would be best if the rally did not take place. That assessment was correct as I witnessed the corrupt Chicago system that let Anti-Trump protesters into the UIC building in Chicago. It was a little bit scary. At one point one of the advance Trump people asked me if I would want to be on the main floor. Later I would see that some violence did occur. I'm an old man but if Trump (The General) did not appear why should I risk my health if the General did not risk his. After all this was a civilized society. Was Trump scared? I still voted for him because of his stance on the issues.
I took public transportation from the northwest side but did not identify as a Trump supporter as I probably would have run into a whole lotta trouble from the organized Chicago crowd and that includes the Ayres crowd and all his ilk. He was probably there.

John Craig said...

Europeasant --
Thank you. Probably a wise move not to wear a MAGA (or KAG) hat. The opposition can be violent, which off course is what they accuse the Trump supporters of being.

The police basically have no choice but to obey a Mayor's orders, and any of the recent Chicago mayors would definitely have been on the side of the Left, including the Antifa crowd.

I'll be voting for Trump next year too. Of course, supporting him politically doesn't mean I have to turn a blind eye to his foibles.

Anonymous said...

Two psychiatrists might diagnose an individual differently. One might label him a sociopath, the other might say he is normal. This is particularly true in any kind of legal procedure. Experts!

You claim the essence of sociopathy is pretense. I claim it's lust, and Trump has this in abundance. I'll go in another direction. I didn't like John McCain. But John McCain was a war hero. Trump said he wasn't and did so in an entirely dismissive fashion. Who else but a sociopath would have the unmitigated gall to say that McCain was not a war hero. Trump is a sociopath and a vile man.

BTW, our political leanings are not all that divergent. I agree with what your friend emailed you. I am neither a democrat nor a republican. I'm independent. Trump is neither a democrat nor a republican. He is a populist.

John Craig said...

Anon --
True enough about legal experts; both sides can usually find an "expert" who will say whatever he's paid to say.

Lust? In that case I'm a sociopath.

I agree about what Trump said about McCain, it was simply not true. I was going to include that in this post but I figured by quoting Trump's comment about General Mattis, that pretty much covered that angle. But narcissists make ugly comments about their enemies, or perceived enemies, all the time; you don't have to be a sociopath to make a vile comment.

There are plenty of other things Trump has said which are either wrong or vile, but the examples I used pretty much exemplify most of them. He's insulted a lot of people for their looks, so I mentioned what he said about Fiorina as an example. And his braggadocio gets ridiculous at times, but I figured the "stable genius" comment pretty much typified most of them.

Also agree that Trump is a populist. (Somehow that's become a dirty word, and I don't think it should be.) I agree with most of my friend's list as well. I guess you and I just disagree on which syndrome Trump has.

Anonymous said...

Trump's 'lies' get a lot of press. I've seen headlines claiming staggering thousands of Trump's lies. I haven't studied this - but my first impression is that Trump is guilty of lies of bombast and exaggeration more often than a outright lie presented to mislead the public on political policy. Trump's exaggeration of the number of people attending his inauguration is not in the same class as Obama's lie that under Obamacare 'if you like your health care plan you can keep it'.

I did a quick google search and on one web page the list was dominated by details Trump stated about climate change. Since climate is actually poorly understood, and climate 'science' is one of the most politicized subjects there is - I tend to discount that entire subject as one where Trump can be nailed for lying.

I'd be curious to see a list of Trump's outright lies - direct, incontrovertible falsehoods to advance his political agenda - like Obama's statement above.

A final thought on toughness. I don't know anything about Mattis, but am willing to accept that he is a tough man in the sense of military rigor, valor, physical duress, etc., and that's saying a lot. I'll also say that Trump has a brand of toughness of his own. The man has withstood a withering, unrelenting attack from the MSM and the Democrat party during his entire presidency. He has been mocked, ridiculed, falsely accused, assailed in the most aggressive manner that I've seen in my lifetime for any political figure, by a large margin. Standing up to that and lashing back as he has shows immense mental / spiritual toughness. I don't know anything about Trump's physical toughness (maybe he does have it), but I wouldn't be surprised if Trump would have tapped out in the first 15 minutes of a Navy Seal tryout. There are many ways in which a man could be tough - what aspect of the word was Trump getting at with Mattis?

And straying farther..... Trump gets a lot of press for being hateful. But from what I've seen - Trump is reactive - he lashes out at those who are attacking him. He reacts hatefully to hatred projected his way. I suppose he is also somewhat proactive - in lashing out at potential adversaries ( i.e. current Democrats running for president), though how many of them are not tearing into Trump on the campaign trail.

- Ed

John Craig said...

Ed --
You raise a lot of good points. I"m under the same impression, that what gets called "lies" by the mainstream press is often either (a) exaggeration, or (b) a differing opinion on something subjective which the media prefers to think of as a lie. And yes, climate change is a good example of that. The MSM constantly refers to that as a "settled science," but that in itself is almost proof that it is not (otherwise they wouldn't be so defensive about it).

I'd actually go further and say that Trump came closer to actually meaning everything he said in his election campaign than any other President in recent memory. He stated his positions in 2016 and has pretty much stuck to them, the only change I can think of is on Syria, where he originally said we should be allies with them, but has since changed on that.

You're right that there are different forms of toughness, and it takes a special kind of psychological resilience to withstand all the attacks that Trump has and not let it get to you. But at the same time, I think it was incredibly poor form to say Mattis wasn't "tough enough" when he is a combat-hardened vet and Trump has no such credentials. Likewise, Trump should never have said that McCain wasn't a war hero. He was, period. (I've heard all the stories about what McCain did while a POW wasn't as advertised, but nonetheless, anyone who puts himself in harm's way for his country is a hero, period. And given that Trump has never done that, he really should be keeping his mouth shut on that issue.

I agree about the misuse of the word hateful. The Left constantly accuses the Right of that emotion, but from what I've seen, the Left is far more hateful. And I've never seen hatred of the sort directed at Trump. Not even Nixon had to withstand the sort of constant abuse and out of control hatred the Left expresses daily against Trump. TDS is a real thing.

Anonymous said...

Trump knows all the dirty secrets of the Deep State (DS). Some of the disagreements with past staff were done for optics sake. The military personnel are working at other positions. Gitmo is open for business and has been since he was elected. Trump has expanded Gitmo's facilities. Political theater is at play.

- Conservative Woman

John Craig said...

Conservative Woman --
Trump definitely understands how the world works. And he understands how politicians are for sale, especially since, as he said himself, he used to buy influence from them as a real estate operator.

Anonymous said...

Military tribunals have taken place and former government leaders have been tried. It would be nice if Trump were more articulate, expressing himself better than he does. The frustration levels wouldn't be so high. Anyone who wears a medical boot is suspicious (covers tracking device). Think John McCain (and now his wife, Cindy McCain). Trump is part of the Q movement. He tweets to the public for a reason (the MSM is controlled by the opposition).

- Conservative Womoan

Shaun F said...

John! It was brought to my attention that Trump behaves at his rallies (and for the most part) like an Master of Ceremony at a roast. A lot of performing and entertaining for his audience - but to expect substance...seems a bit unrealistic. You should write about the sociopaths that run the press - think of how they cropped Ghislaine Maxwell out of the picture with Prince Andrew. Take care!


John Craig said...

Shaun F --
It's my impression that Trump gets carried away at those rallies and says stuff he shouldn't. Sometimes it's just stuff he says to get people to laugh, stuff that's relatively harmless, and gets taken extremely seriously by the press and sometimes quoted out of context. His recent comments about John Dingell are a good example of that. And sometimes it's stuff that he just shouldn't say, for instance, about his former Cabinet members.

I don't think most political rallies actually have a lot of substance. What they have -- from both Republicans and Democrats -- are a lot of one line sound bites that make their audiences feel good.

I've written about the press here plenty of times. Agreed, they slant everything they can. It's all about the Narrative.

Alter Ego said...

Time for a post on Meghan Markle? Check out this thread:

John Craig said...

Alter Ego --
You're talking about a sociopath alert, I guess. Honestly, I probably won't make the effort, but I agree with you, she is a very manipulative woman. She may be histrionic rather than sociopathic, but either way, she's definitely one of the cluster B syndromes.

I actually think there's a long history of very manipulative, possibly sociopathic, types who marry into royal families. To win one of them over you have to be extremely adept at playing the game, knowing just how to act to ingratiate yourself, just how to present yourself to the future in-laws, just how to pretend that you don't care about titles and glamour etc. and that you care about the person himself when in fact it's just the opposite. I always thought Princess Di, so beloved by the masses, was in fact just another extremely ambitious social climber who knew how to play the game and never gave a whit about her husband, just wanted the attention and fame. Thought the same of Sarah Ferguson, and also of Markle. In fact, JFK Jr.'s wife, Carolyn Bessette, was probably cut from the same cloth, at least that was my impression. (JFK Jr. was, for all practical purposes, crown prince of this country.) The only one I haven't gotten that impression of is Kate Middleton.

Anonymous said...

Of course he is a narcissist. That's like saying the sky is blue. But that doesn't mean that his narcissism doesn't benefit us. He believed he was the best president in history, so he wanted to prove that. And he... wasn't overtly corrupt, unlike most in a very long time.

Biden is a clear sociopath. He could lie about anything with the same level of polished conviction when he was younger. Though now he isn't really the president but a sock puppet, so it doesn't matter much.

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's a good analysis, hadn't thought to look at it from that angle: he tried to be a great President to live up to his self-image. True enough, though I also got the sense tat he cared about the country in a way that most don't.

Agree about Biden. He's a pathological liar who'll say whatever comes to mind and is expedient at the moment. And yes, now that he's in his dotage, he's being used by the far Left to promote their goals. But he's definitely a whichever-way-the-wind-blows politician. If bringing back slavery were the cause du jour, he'd be all for that.