2/12/20 Martin Westerman
On Feb. 6, 2020, House & Senate Republicans decided America doesn’t need co-equal branches of government anymore. They’ve been working to marry the administrative, judicial and legislative branches since the 1971 Powell Memorandum urged them to fight radical & liberal ideas. The U.S. Constitution, radical in 1789, looks conservative to them today. So they happily regressed with their hypocritical acquittal of DJT.
Dumping Trump in 2020 isn’t just about (a) voting him and his swamp people out (thanks here to Kristen Gillibrand: “My first act as President will be to Clorox the Oval Office”). It’s also about (b) holding the Trumpsters and his ilk accountable, and (c) reclaiming America’s radical, Constitutional form of government.
Evangelicals won’t hold non-Christian, anti-love/Jesus DJT accountable: his administration is delivering for right-to-lifers. Republican legislators won’t; he’s helping them pack conservative (“strict Constituionalist”) judges on benches. Also, they’re scared of his vengeance and MAGA trolls. And MAGAs won’t, because, well, they’re MAGAs. These folk could have followed Romney’s lead and made this a short game, but they’re self-serving, sociopathic, and/or cowardly. So we must play the long game.
Some rules going forward:
1. Politics is about keeping your cronies in power, period. That thread runs from slaveholders getting the U.S. Constitution to count slaves as 3/5 human, to 1812 Boston Gerrymandering, to the Mason-Dixon Line/Missouri Compromise between free & slave states and antebellum voter suppression, to the Senate’s vote to kill DJT’s impeachment.
2. Politics attracts unrepentant actors. Politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths. Psychologist Dr. Martha Stout says this small minority of leaders without conscience “has always been a bitter pill for society to swallow,” but it explains “shamelessly deceitful political behavior.”
A minority may be sociopaths or psychopaths, but a juggernaut of them now controls the Republican Administration and Party. To define terms:
. Psychopaths tend to be calm, even thrive in highly stressful situations (“resilience to chaos”). They also lack empathy, tend to be callous, dishonest, glib, grandiose, manipulative, promiscuous, impulsive, and/or unable to recognize social cues. They also think their behaviors will always be rewarded, and any punishments are undeserved, so they find targets to blame for their failures.
. Sociopaths share most psychopathic qualities: but unlike psychopaths, they crack under stress, with angry outbursts and abusive language. They switch between extreme charm and threats, prioritize power above all else, seek to dominate people and situations, enjoy the suffering of others, and look for weak spots and vulnerabilities to exploit in others. Does this look like familiar behavior?
3. All politics is about getting your way – it’s all visceral.
In the age of “wars” on women, people of color, and immigrants; foreign election meddling, white supremacists and mass shootings; threats to the social safety net, unaffordable housing, dysfunctional government, post-truth/fake news, and no leadership accountability, people have lost patience with and faith in the system.
The Pew Research Center (Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016) found views of opposing political party members are the most negative in 25 years. Sizable shares of Democrats and Republicans say the other party stirs feelings of not just frustration, but of fear and anger:
Ds view of Rs Rs views of Ds
Afraid 55-70% 49-62%
Angry 47-58% 46-58%
Frustrated 58-60% 57-58%
Emotional rating 31 our of 100 29 out of 100
The visceral reactions are resistance to change – from Ds’ “don’t cut my Social Security and Medicare,” to Rs’ “don’t impose your will on me.”
Will holding psychopathic and sociopathic politicians accountable actually help heal these divisions, and restore trust in our system?
A study in Lancet Psychiatry shows that psychopaths are not impervious to any sort of punishment. Rather, they process rewards and punishments differently from most people, and their decision-making skills are markedly atypical. Since they’re able to interact within society, understand aspects of social situations, and know how to behave when they want rewards, they can clearly choose whether to play by rules, or break them for personal gain. And that’s a person who can and should be held accountable.
In Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths, and How We Can Stop, Bill Eddy introduces the dangerous, deceptive, high-conflict politician (HCP). These narcissistic, sociopathic people use a Fantasy Crisis Triad (“there’s a terrible crisis caused by an evil villain that requires a super hero to solve – me!”) to incite “emotional warfare,” and seduce, attack, divide and dominate communities and nations. Helping the HCP rise are:
(a) voters who tend to split into four warring groups – Loving Loyalists, Riled-Up Resisters, Mild Moderates and Disenchanted Dropouts, and
(b) high-emotion media that attracts HCPs from the fringes of society, “and multiplies their emotional warfare thousands of times to reach millions of people.”
To stop HCPs, Eddy advises:
(a) building relationships among groups that have been divided,
(b) educating political parties on HCPs’ patterns, so their leadership, campaigners and voters can reject choosing them,
(c) exposing the Fantasy Crisis Triad,
(d) countering HCPs with aggressively assertive messages, presented factually and repetitively, with positive emotions, and
(e) pressing news outlets to analyze fake HCP news, and counter emotional warfare-fantasy crises with useful information about real problems and real solutions.
In Think Progress, Zack Beauchamp advocates for using political democracy – the media – to hold politicians and their staffs accountable for their actions. Psychopaths “very much do care about being able to hold on to their positions of power. A system that actually holds people accountable to the broader conscience of society may be one of the best ways to keep conscienceless people in check.”
Constitutional lawyer John Whitehead, writing in Huffpost, warns that if the ballot box “becomes our only means of pushing back against the police state, the battle is already lost. Resistance will require a citizenry willing to be active at the local level… “The Founders understood that our freedoms do not flow from the government,” he wries. “They are inherently ours. In the same way, the government’s appointed purpose is not to threaten or undermine our freedoms, but to safeguard them.”
If we use every resource at our disposal now to hold our leaders accountable – local actions, the vote, muscular media – we can win in 2020
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(Daily Beast, 04-14-17, “Why You Can’t Punish a Psychopath, According to Science,” by Elizabeth Picciuto; study in The Lancet Psychiatry, Feb. 2015). // CUNY cognitive science professor Jesse Prinz & Sheilagh Hodgins, Professor of Psychiatry at Université de Montréal
Bill Eddy, LCSW JD, Psyhology Today blog, Mar 15, 2018, “How to Spot a Sociopath in 3 Steps”
John W. Whitehead, Huffpost, “From Democracy to Pathocracy: The Rise of the Political Psychopath” 04-01-2017
Writing for ThinkProgress, Zack Beauchamp
Lindsay Dodgson Nov 26, 2018, Insider,” The one trait that separates psychopaths from sociopaths”