The Psychopath in Chief by Tony Schwartz

The Psychopath in Chief
I spent hundreds of hours with Donald Trump to ghost-write ‘The Art of the Deal.’ I now see a deeper meaning behind his behavior.
Tony Schwartz
Tony Schwartz
Follow
May 28 · 12 min read

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
“Imagine — if you can — not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken … You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences, will most likely remain undiscovered. How will you live your life? What will you do with your huge and secret advantage?”
— Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door
Among the accomplishments Donald Trump parades most proudly is that he has won 18 golf club championships. Like so many of his claims, this one is pure fiction. When the sportswriter Rick Reilly investigated for his book Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump, he found that 16 of the claims were transparently false, and no evidence existed to support the other two. In one instance, Trump said he had won a championship at the Bedminster, New Jersey, club he owns, even though he was in Philadelphia on the day the event was held.
When Trump does play, Reilly reported, he takes “mulligans” (extra strokes that aren’t counted in one’s score ), throws opponent’s balls off the greens and into the bunkers, and kicks his own errant shots back onto the fairway so often that one of his caddies nicknamed him Pele, after the soccer star. “Trump doesn’t just cheat at golf,” Reilly concluded. “He cheats like a three-card Monty dealer. He throws it, boots it and moves it. He lies about his lies. He fudges and foozles and fluffs.”
How do we deal with a person whose core impulse in every part of his life is to deny, deceive, deflect, disparage, and double-down every time he is challenged? And what precisely is the danger such a person poses if he also happens to be the leader of the free world, during a crisis in which thousands of people are dying every day, with no letup in sight?
The first answer is that we must understand exactly who we’re dealing with, and we have not, because what motivates Trump’s behavior is so far from our own inner experience that it leaves us feeling forever flummoxed.
The trait that most distinguishes psychopaths is the utter absence of conscience — the capacity to lie, cheat, steal, and inflict pain to achieve their ends without a scintilla of guilt or shame, as Trump so demonstrably does.
In July 2016, shortly before Trump became the Republican nominee for president, I was interviewed by Jane Mayer for an article in The New Yorker that was eventually titled “Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All.” Mayer described my experience with Trump over the 18 months it took me to write The Art of the Deal. During that time, I spent hundreds of hours with him.
Like many other Trump critics, I believed that he was driven by an insatiable narcissistic hunger to be loved, accepted, admired, and praised. That remains prima facie true, but it deflects attention from what drives Trump more deeply: the need to dominate. His primary goal is to win at any cost and the end always justifies the means. Ultimately, he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks or feels. For Trump, the choice between dominating and being loved — saving himself or saving others — is no contest.
The catalyst for my shift came after a friend sent me a long paper written by Vince Greenwood, a Washington, D.C.-based psychologist. Greenwood makes a detailed clinical case that Trump is a psychopath, a term that is now used nearly interchangeably with sociopath. Psychologists continue to debate whether it’s legitimate to diagnose anyone from a distance without the benefit of a clinical interview. In Trump’s case, his life history is so well documented that a thorough assessment does seem possible. As I once did up close, we can observe every day which psychopathic traits Trump manifests in his behavior. The highly regarded Hare Psychopathy Checklist enumerates 20 of them. By my count Trump clearly demonstrates 16 of the traits and his overall score is far higher than the average prison inmate.
The trait that most distinguishes psychopaths is the utter absence of conscience — the capacity to lie, cheat, steal, and inflict pain to achieve their ends without a scintilla of guilt or shame, as Trump so demonstrably does. What Trump’s words and behavior make clear is that he feels no more guilt about hurting others than a lion does about killing a giraffe.
“Let’s face it,” actor and Trump supporter James Woods tweeted recently, “Donald Trump is a rough individual. He is vain, insensitive, and raw,” to which Trump blithely responded: “I think that’s a wonderful compliment. Thanks James.” Absence of conscience gives Trump the license to invent his own rules, define his own reality, declare victory in any competition, and insist on his superior expertise on subjects about which he knows almost nothing.
What makes Trump’s behavior challenging to fathom is that our minds are not wired to understand human beings who live far outside the norms, rules, laws, and values that the vast majority of us take for granted. Conscience, empathy, and concern for the welfare of others are all essential to the social contract. Conscience itself reflects an inner sense of obligation to behave with honesty, fairness, and care for others, along with a willingness to express contrition if we fall short of those ideals, and especially when we harm others.
Repentance for one’s sins is a basic tenet of every major religion, but Trump adamantly resists seeking forgiveness from anyone for anything he’s done. “I have a very great relationship with God,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper during the 2016 presidential campaign. “I like to be good. I don’t like to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.”
So long as we seek to understand Trump’s motivations and behaviors through our own lens, we will feel forever at sea. Viewing Trump through his lens helps clarify that his behavior is completely predictable, and why it has become more extreme during each year of his presidency. “When somebody’s president,” Trump declared on April 13, “the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be. It’s total. It’s total.” When it became clear to Trump that total authority also meant personal responsibility, he backed off that claim. But Trump is akin to a battering ram. He just keeps coming at you. The only limitation on his behavior is whether he believes he can get away with whatever it is he’s trying to do.
“People with a strong sense of conscience speak truth to power,” Greenwood explains. “Trump speaks power to truth.” Since his election in 2016, Trump has told more than 18,000 lies without acknowledging or apologizing for any of them. The frequency of his lies has risen from five per day in the first year of his presidency, to more than 23 a day during 2020. For Trump, lying is second nature. Facts are simply are obstacles to be batted away when they contradict his preferred fictions.
It is a fact, for example, that Trump has been a defendant in nearly 1,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — by government agencies seeking to collect unpaid taxes on his properties, contractors trying to get paid for services rendered to him and his companies, and women charging him with sexual assault. As far back as 1973, Trump and his father Fred were sued by the U.S. government for refusing to rent to African Americans in Trump Village, a housing project built by his father Fred. The two Trumps fought the charges for two years but eventually signed a consent order that included agreeing to take a series of actions to end their discrimination.
In 2015, Trump settled two class-action lawsuits charging him with defrauding students at Trump University by paying $25 million in penalties, and agreeing to close down the business. In 2018, in response to a lawsuit filed by the New York attorney general against Trump and his three oldest children alleging “persistently illegal conduct,” the Trumps agreed to shut the phony foundation, and to allow its remaining assets to be directed to charities chosen by the court.
The second quality that sets Trump apart is his lack of empathy. In the face of a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, we expect leaders to feel our pain, and to respond with expressions of compassion and comfort. Not Trump. In 13 hours of comments he made over a recent three-week period, The Washington Post reported that he spent a total of two hours attacking others, including the media, 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, and a total of just 4.5 minutes expressing rote condolences for Covid-19 victims and front line workers.
Trump doesn’t appear to make heartfelt connections with anyone, nor to value relationships beyond the extent to which they serve his immediate self-interest. Turnover in his administration — 85% in the first 32 months — dwarfs that of his five most recent predecessors for their entire first terms. Trump treats even his relationships with family members as transactional. Consider the way he describes his relationship with his father, arguably the most important influence in his life. “I was never intimidated by my father, the way other people were,” he explained to me for The Art of the Deal. “I stood up to him and he respected that. We had a relationship that was almost businesslike. I sometimes wonder if we’d have gotten along so well if I hadn’t been as business oriented as I am.”
Trump rarely speaks with affection about Melania, his third wife, or any of his children — with the exception of Ivanka — or his grandchildren. “I know friends who leave their businesses so they can spend more time with their children, and I say “Gimme a break,” Trump once explained. “My children couldn’t love me more if I spent 15 times more time with them.” But his children have sometimes described a different experience of their father. In 2004, Donald Jr. told a reporter that “My father is a very hardworking guy, and that’s his focus in life, so I got a lot of the paternal attention that a boy wants and needs from my grandfather.” In 2006, Trump’s younger son Eric mused that he was largely raised by his older brother. “My father, I love and appreciate,” he said, “but he always worked 24 hours a day.”
Ivanka is the one child Trump has often praised, including for being “voluptuous and having the best body.” When she was 26, Trump told hosts of The View that “If Ivanka wasn’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” Trump’s most emphatic declaration of love during the past four years has been directed at North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, one of the most ruthless dictators in the world. “I was being really tough and so was he,” Trump said in 2018. “And we would go back and forth and then we fell in love. He wrote me beautiful letters. They were great letters, and then we fell in love.” What Trump especially admires in authoritarian leaders, among them Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, and Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro — all of whom he has lavishly praised — is their ability to exercise absolute power. “I wouldn’t mind a little bow,” Trump once said. “In Japan they bow. I love it. Only thing I love about Japan.”
Trump expects and demands loyalty, but it only goes in one direction. His mentor, Roy Cohn, served dutifully as his attorney for many years. “Roy was brutal, but he was a very loyal guy,” Trump told biographer Tim O’Brien. “He brutalized for you.” For The Art of the Deal, Trump described Cohn to me as “the sort of guy who’d be there at your hospital bed… literally standing by you to the death, long after everyone else had bailed out”
As for Cohn, he referred to Trump not just as his client, but also as one of his closest friends. Still, when Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, Trump effectively ended the relationship. “Donald found out about it and dropped him like a hot potato,” explained Cohn’s longtime secretary, Susan Bell. “It was like night and day.” According to Bell, Cohn wasn’t surprised. “Donald pisses ice water,” he told her ruefully.
The third trait that most characterizes Trump is his need for dominance, and the evident pleasure he takes in exercising it. “I love getting even when I get screwed by someone,” he explains in his book Think Big and Kick Ass. “Always get even. When you are in business you need to get even with people who screw you. You need to screw them back 15 times harder.” In the absence of a conscience to shape and limit his behavior, Trump defaults to a more primitive and predatory impulse. Life for him is a zero-sum game. He either wins or he loses, dominates or submits. This explains why Trump felt no compunction about lashing out this week at a frequent critic, Joe Scarborough, by falsely accusing him of murder, even in the absence of a shred of evidence to support his claim. Cruelty is second nature to Trump.
Perhaps nowhere is Trump’s need for dominance more evident than in his relationship with women, captured most vividly in his comments to Billy Bush on the Access Hollywood tape. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]. I just start kissing them,” he bragged. “It’s like a magnet. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.” More than 20 women have now publicly accused Trump of sexual assault.
Another tactic that Trump employs to assert his authority is declaring his unique expertise on virtually any subject. He instinctively disdains and dismisses the knowledge of experts, including scientists, and instead casts himself as the leading expert on anything and everything. Topics that Trump has claimed to “know more about than anyone” include ISIS, drones, social media, campaign finance, technology, polls, courts, lawsuits, politicians, trade, renewable energy, infrastructure, construction, environmental impact statements, nuclear weapons, banks, tax laws, income, money, and the economy. In fact, because he can never focus his attention for long, his knowledge about any subject tends to be superficial and severely limited. Trump has even felt free to contradict the health care professionals on his own team during the Covid-19 crisis, most notably in describing the potential healing power of injecting disinfectants into the body. “Every one of these doctors said, “How do you know so much about this?” he explained. “Maybe I have a natural ability.”
In order to protect our democracy and our shared humanity, it’s critical to push back, calmly and persistently
So what does all this tell us about how we can expect Trump to behave going forward? The simple answer is worse. His obsession with domination and power have prompted Trump to tell lies more promiscuously than ever since he became president, and to engage in ever more unfounded and aggressive responses aimed at anyone he perceives stands in his way.
In the end, Trump does what he does because he is who he is, immutably. The research now strongly suggests that the absence of conscience has a strong hereditary basis, even as it may also be activated by adverse childhood experiences. The genetic abnormality itself manifests in the limbic system, the set of brain structures involved in the processing of emotions. People without a conscience, it turns out, often have an undersized or under-active amygdala and less gray matter in the limbic area of the brain.
For four years, along with millions of other Trump critics, I have wrestled with the best way to respond to a president who is incapable of shame or empathy and cares only about his self-interest. There is no effective treatment for a person with these traits, and Trump wouldn’t seek one if there was, because he genuinely doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with him. The horrifying truth is that it’s precisely what he’s missing that gives him a permanent advantage over the vast majority of us who are guided by a conscience and concern for others.
Trump revels in attention, domination, and cruelty. “The sociopath wants to manipulate and control you,” explains Martha Stout, “and so you are rewarding and encouraging him each and every time you allow him to see your anger, confusion or your hurt.” Even so, in order to protect our democracy and our shared humanity, it’s critical to push back, calmly and persistently, against every single lie Trump tells, and every legal and moral boundary he violates. We must resist what Hanna Arendt has called “the banality of evil” — the numbness and normalizing that so easily sets in when unconscionable acts become commonplace. “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply,” Arendt has written, “but some people will not.”
Understanding what we’re truly up against — the reign of terror that Trump will almost surely wage the moment he believes he can completely prevail — makes the upcoming presidential election a true Armageddon.
Vote as if your life depends on it, because it does.

Betrayal Trumps Trump, Martin Westerman-5/27/20

Marty blog contribution to Kaufman: Betrayal Trumps Trump #2

Following my last post – here’s more on how to create 2020 Democratic wins. The basics are to erode the Trump-Republican base, and attract independent middle and moderate right voters. Also:
• Arouse disgust w/independent & moderate voters vs. Trump & his radical Republicans,
• Push back against vote suppressors, and
• Turn red states purple – by using deep listening from Polics Is Power

The Trump-Republican minority is estimated at 30%-40% of the electorate, and shrinking. The elderly fear dying of COVID-19, and the military is offended by him violating their conventions.

Challenges facing Democrats include:
• Big money: most wealthy folk back the Republican party. They get most of their proposals enacted into law and regulation. Tom Steier, Andrew Yang, George Soros and their breed are outliers. The rich may personally despise Trump, but his Republican tax breaks have made them richer. And since March 28, billionaires are up another 15%, thanks in part to the “Zillionaire Giveaway,” a fine print addition to the 880-page March CARE package that handed $135 billion to wealthy real estate developers. The “Modification of Limitation on Losses for Taxpayers Other Than Corporations” has nothing to do with Covid-19, and offers retroactive tax breaks from before Corona arrived, says the Institute For Policy Studies. And another fortunate 16 Americans have become billionaires this year.
• Most large business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, fossil fuel corporations, agribusiness, banks and financial companies, and health conglomerates appreciate the tax breaks and give-aways, and respond with hefty contributions to Republican candidates and causes.
• Thanks to Trump fronting for Republican Senate confirmations of two corporatist, anti-regulation, anti-abortion Supreme Court Justices (Gorsuch, Kavanagh), there’s doubt now that SCOTUS will render impartial decisions on these matters
• Knowing they can’t win if everyone votes, Republicans have turned to suppressing the vote as their only option for winning – falsely claiming that voting by mail invites fraud, creating obstacles to getting ballots, forcing voters to stand together and spread COVID-19 infection, and working to undermine the mail-in voting vehicle, the U.S. Postal Service.

So the 2020 elections are not about the candidates. The election is about Trump & Co., and reversing the American march toward authoritarianism. In her 2011 online op-ed in The Washington Post, Harvard political scientist Pippa Norris noted that 44% of Americans without college degrees approved of having a strong leader who “doesn’t have to bother with congress or elections.” She wrote that, for two decades, populist authoritarian leaders—appealing to nationalism and tradition, preaching hostility toward outsiders and elites—had attracted swelling support across Europe and the Americas, winning legislative seats and ministerial offices, gaining government power. Trump & Co. are part of the wave.

Our 2020 job is to throw them out, and basically, save The Union from authoritarian government. How do we tackle that list of challenges, regain power, and start reversing the damage? Take bold action.

Several Democrats suggest that after he finishes being sworn in as President, Joe Biden should display his first Executive Order, reversing all Trump executive orders. After that, he makes his acceptance speech.

We know negative advertising works – unfortunately. People react to both fear and love. So every Democratic and Independent candidate must hammer Trump’s broken promises and failures. What could be more repulsive than:
o over 100,000 U.S. virus deaths in three months, refrigerated trailer morgues, and
o no federal leadership to help get us out of this mess?

Next, to peel away the loyal base, add the promises Trump made at his inauguration and failed to keep:
o “…total allegiance to the United States of America,” and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”
o To eradicate ISIS
o To give struggling families much to celebrate, and “make every decision on trade, taxes, immigration and foreign affairs benefit American workers and American families,”
o To stop enriching foreign industry at the expense of American industry, and protect America “from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,”
o To repair America’s decaying infrastructure.

And there’s more! Our Democratic presidential candidate – likely Joe Biden – must:
o keep a running tally of Trump lies – now nearly 100,000 (“That’s lie number 18,233, Mr. President”)
o name each of the government and private sector sycophants and cronies who enable him, and have used their power positions for profit from the government,
o remind voters that Trump’s swamp people, cozying with Russian hackers, and conservative judges Mitch McConnell helped install, are depriving us of the America we hold dear.

And we know the best way to counter money in politics and voter suppression are through
(1) grassroots organizing (we still change our government through the vote!)
(2) requiring that independent commissions set demography-based voting districts, and where that
can’t be done, bringing lawsuits to get it done.
(3) fight fire with fire, and bring money to campaigns to counter Republican money

So move off the couch, break free of treating politics as a hobby, and act however you can to help Democrats and Independents win the Presidency, control of the Senate and House, and offices in all states. There’s a plethora of possibilities to choose from. Here’s a menu of your options:
o Go to Changing the Conversation Together (CTC) – it offers training in “deep conversations, persuasive exchanges,” to build a national corps of deep canvassers who bridge political divides and help elect Democrats to take us forward.
o Change the Electoral College’s impact, and move the U.S. closer to deciding Presidential elections by national popular vote. We don’t need to abolish the Electoral College to do it. Contribute to changing the Read Politics Is For Power by Eitan Hersh – then take action
o Write postcards, and give all the business you can to the U.S. Postal Service! Join a writing campaign, such as Postcards To People,
o Contribute to the Congressional Progressive Caucus – working to pass The People’s Budget and The Green New Deal, hold our leaders accountable, and create an equitable U.S.A.
o Help voting rights organizations that fight gerrymandering, promote one person-one vote, and protect that vote from election tampering. They include Indivisible, Brand New Congress, Fair Fight, Supermajority, National Democratic Redistricting Committee, and others that fight and voter suppression, and work at the national and state levels to guarantee the vote as a Constitutional right that’s as hard to take away as a gun
o Help regain control of the media messages — from social media to radio and television, including flooding conservative and right wing databases with progressive messages
o Contact your state and national legislators – write, call, visit! – to set up social media security, in partnership with Google, Facebook, Amazon and others, so elections can’t be hacked, fake news can be debunked and erased,

According to our statistics watcher Tom Koch, the numbers look good for Democrats at this point. Biden will win all of Hilary Clinton’s states (232 electoral votes), and likely PA and MI, totaling 268. He will need one more state or both Maine (2) and Nebraska (2) to get the win. He is outperforming Hillary with white voters. She lost them by 20%, and Biden is down by about 9%; Hillary lost white women, Joe leads among them. The difference between Biden’s polling numbers and Clinton’s results shows that moderate whites make the difference.

In the final analysis, the 2020 election is about Trump. We’re in a war for the survival of America’s institutions – to keep them viable and independent, re-design them if necessary, and strengthen the three branches so they can check and balance each other, and make every citizen’s vote legitimately count.

Betrayal can break Trumps’ grip

Martin Westerman 5/21/20

The white Christian men in charge of our governments and corporations have failed the white Christian men who voted for them and bought their products. Now, those voters and buyers are angry with – people who aren’t Christians, and aren’t white Christians.

They’re proud to not connect cause and effect. Kelly Ann Conway introduced the world to “alternative facts” on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” January 22, 2017, when she defended Sean Spicer’s lie about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration. Whether they’re in the Trump inner circle, Administration or Congressional sycophants and hangers-on, or MAGA hat wearers, they assert: “Trump didn’t say that. And if he did, he didn’t mean it. And if he did, he was just being sarcastic. And if you thought he was serious, you didn’t understand. And if you did, it’s no big deal. And if it is, others have said worse.”

“Trump’s tendency to deny his past statements has become more glaring during the coronavirus” reported CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger and Christina Wilkie on May 1, 2020.
“Everything is an act for him,” tweeted Leah McElrath March 11, after Trump’s COVID address. “He has no sense of the gravity of the situation because he lacks the capacity for empathy.” He only seems able to mimic what is socially appropriate. Trump complains that he can’t lead rallies during COVID. “…apparently it hasn’t occurred to him that his cultists would be endangered if they were crammed into an arena shouting at the top of their lungs, and expressing micro-droplets all over each other in the process.” (Joshua Holland, Alternet, May 20, 2020)

Feb. 6, 2020, journalist Eric Black wrote he was horrified that “selective perception” and “confirmation bias” have replaced objectivity in official pronouncements and news reporting. “There’s a part of human nature that, rather than wanting to know what’s accurate and true, wants to believe certain things, whether true or not.” Black considers Donald Trump a genius “in understanding that feature (or bug) of human nature.”

From the moment Trump won the Republican nomination July 19, 2016, researchers have been analyzing conservative and Trump supporter brains and behaviors. They echo studies done all the way back to the end of World War II, about how “normal” people could have supported fascist and Nazi governments, let alone gone to war for them. All authoritarian governments since, including Trump’s have been morally- and ethically-challenged. But it’s not about politics or logic, it’s about values.

Trump’s base “recognizes his legitimacy and follow him not because of who he is or what he does, but because of what they think he believes — and what they think that says about them,” wrote Derek Newton (Feb. 11, 2018, NBC’s THINK). Studies show this attitude dates all the way back to the rise of fascists and Nazis in the 1930s.

Trump supporters are like members of religious and fraternal organizations, says Andrew Gray, emeritus professor of Public Sector Management, Univ. of Durham (UK). They operate in the “communion mode,” where people recognize legitimate authority “based on an appeal to common values and creeds, and shared frames of reference.” They only consider actions “legitimate” if they’re consistent with communal values.

In contrast, the “contractual mode” is based on an agreement that sets out obligations and rewards; the “command mode” is based on a rule of law “emanating from a sovereign body, and delivered through a scalar chain of superior and subordinate authority.”

Communion governance relies on regular in-person meetings, call and response rituals (like Trump rally “Lock her up!” and “Drain the swamp!” chants) and shared experiences. Their members tend to associate and bond only with people similar to them, and view outsiders with suspicion and hostility. Their group bonds are stronger than those between followers and a leader because, where politics are transitional, values are long-lasting.

That makes persecution a key unifier (e.g., “the war on Christmas,” attacks by the “deep state” or “fake news media”). When members face opposition, or see an attack on their leader, they take it personally, as an attack on themselves and their values, and on their values leader – whether it’s on Trump, or the pastor holding religious services vs. virus lockdown. Any threat or assault by larger, stronger forces on the group increases their commitment to both group and leader. When reporters ask, “Do you still support Trump?” they hear, “Do you still support your own values?”

How to break the communion cycle? Betrayal. When the group feels betrayed, they turn on the betrayers. Newton wrote that inroads to Trump’s base are more likely to succeed if they avoid the supporters’ values or symbols, and find ways to target Trump for betraying them. The Lincoln Project Republicans are taking this tack.

Gray notes that followers who no longer see their values reflected by a communion leader become receptive to finding a new one. So it’s pivotal to demonstrate that Trump no longer does (or never did) share his followers’ values.

Unfortunately, other leaders who emerge to pull supporters away from Trump’s base may have to reflect shared values more passionately, by showing that Trump isn’t tough enough on immigrants, or terrorists and/or trade. And any values-based replacements for Trump must come from within the structure, not outside of it, given the group’s insularity and resistance to outside criticism. Followers must believe that the leader believes in the shared values more than Trump.

Fortunately, even if the new leader(s) emerge, it’s unlikely that the replacement(s) could take over the Trump base as much as fragment it.

Betrayal can break Trumps’ grip.

5/20/20 Martin Westerman.

The white Christian men in charge of our governments and corporations have failed the white Christian men who voted for them and bought their products. Now, those voters and buyers are angry with – people who aren’t Christians, and aren’t white Christians.

They’re proud to not connect cause and effect. Whether they’re in the Trump inner circle, Administration or Congressional sycophants and hangers-on, or MAGA hat wearers, they assert: “He didn’t say that. And if he did, he didn’t mean it. And if he did, he was just being sarcastic. And if you thought he was serious, you didn’t understand. And if you did, it’s no big deal. And if it is, others have said worse.”

“Trump’s tendency to deny his past statements has become more glaring during the coronavirus” reported CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger and Christina Wilkie on May 1, 2020.

In his Feb. 6, 2020, blog postm, journalist Eric Black was horrified that “selective perception” and “confirmation bias” have replaced objectivity in official pronouncements and news reporting. “There’s a part of human nature that, rather than wanting to know what’s accurate and true, wants to believe certain things, whether true or not.” Black considers Donald Trump a genius “in understanding that feature (or bug) of human nature.”

“Everything is an act for him,” tweeted Leah McElrath March 11, after Trump’s COVID address. “He has no sense of the gravity of the situation because he lacks the capacity for empathy.” As a malignant narcissist, he can only mimic what is socially appropriate. Of Trump’s complaint that he can’t lead rallies during COVID, Joshua Holland wrote, “…apparently it hasn’t occurred to him that his cultists would be endangered if they were crammed into an arena shouting at the top of their lungs, and expressing micro-droplets all over each other in the process.” (Alternet, May 20, 2020)

But Trump’s base “recognizes his legitimacy and follow him not because of who he is or what he does, but because of what they think he believes — and what they think that says about them,” wrote Derek Newton (Feb. 11, 2018, NBC’s THINK).

Kelly Ann Conway introduced the world to “alternative facts” on CNN’s Anderson Cooper in 20___. And from the moment Trump won the Republican nomination, researchers have been churning out analyses of conservative and Trump supporter brains and behaviors. But they only echo studies done all the way back to the end of World War II, about how “normal” people could have supported fascist and Nazi governments, let alone go to war for them. All governments since, including Trump’s have been morally- and ethically-challenged. But it’s not about politics or logic, it’s about values.

Trump supporters are like members of religious and fraternal organizations, which, says Andrew Gray (citation), operate in the “communion mode,” where people recognize legitimate authority “based on an appeal to common values and creeds, and shared frames of reference.” They only consider actions “legitimate” if they’re consistent with communal values.

In contrast, the “contractual mode” is based on an agreement that sets out obligations and rewards; the “command mode” is based on a rule of law “emanating from a sovereign body, and delivered through a scalar chain of superior and subordinate authority.”

Communion governance relies on regular in-person meetings, call and response rituals (like Trump rally “Lock her up!” and “Drain the swamp!” chants) and shared experiences. Their members tend to associate and bond only with people similar to them, and view outsiders with suspicion and hostility. Their group bonds are stronger than those between followers and a leader because, where politics are transitional, values are long-lasting.

That makes persecution a key unifier (e.g., “the war on Christmas,” attacks by the “deep state” or “fake news media”). Members see opposition to, or an attack on their leader as a personal attack on themselves and their values, and on their values leader – whether it’s the pastor holding religious services vs. virus lockdown, or Trump. Any threat or assault by larger, stronger forces on the group increases their commitment to both group and leader. When reporters ask, “Do you still support Trump?” they hear, “Do you still support your own values?”

How to break the communion cycle? Betrayal. When the group feels betrayed, they turn on the betrayers. Newton wrote that inroads to Trump’s base are more likely to succeed if they avoid the supporters’ values or symbols, and find ways to target Trump for betraying them. The Lincoln Project Republicans are taking this tack.

Followers who no longer see their values reflected by a communion leader become receptive to finding a new one. So it’s pivotal to demonstrate that Trump no longer does (or never did) share his followers’ values.

Unfortunately, other leaders who emerge to pull supporters away from Trump’s base may have to reflect shared values more passionately, by showing that Trump isn’t tough enough on immigrants, or terrorists and/or trade. And any values-based replacements for Trump must come from within the structure, not outside of it, given the group’s insularity and resistance to outside criticism. Followers must believe that the leader believes in the shared values more than Trump.

Fortunately, even if the new leader(s) emerge, it’s unlikely that the replacement(s) could take over the Trump base as much as fragment it.

Are We Doomed By The Narcisist-In-Chief?

5/6/20: (Bill Kaufman)

Trump is facing a massive recession/depression. Of course his real estate holdings, hotels, golf courses will do horribly. This will achieve a high point as we close in on the November election time. Not good for him, and he knows that.

While he has attempted to blame others for numerous blunders in managing the crisis, such as providing for adequate testing, needed equipment, personal protective gear, etc., he has, even worse, failed to unify the country, a critically needed preamble for success.

So now he knows that he is either on the losing side of the coming election or he pulls a rabbit out of his MAGA cap.

So he gambles. He feels he has no choice if he has any chance of getting what he wants, re-election. This reminds one of the Stormy Daniels saga. Recall that Ms Daniels said that Trump (married at the time) didn’t wear a condom. That was taking one big risk considering that Ms. Daniels was a porn star, and it was during the AIDS epidemic.

But Trump is a big gambler. In the past he has been lucky enough to avoid terminal disaster for himself. Trump has been enabled to gamble bigger than ever, and with other peoples money. Ours. Heads I win, tails, you lose.

For a narcissist, when you want something bad enough, or fear failing altogether, why not take a Hugh risk. Consider the downside, which for him is failing to be re-elected. For millions of Americans, they die. That’s not a bad bet for a narcissist.

Shame on us. We gave him all the chips for free.

If Money Is No Object, What Would We Do? Martin Westerman

5/5/20

As the federal government doles out trillions of dollars in its CARES Act Stimulus Program – mostly to American corporations, leastly to deserving citizens, we might ask, “What kind of ‘economy’ is this?”

Like a tide going out and coming in, money has melted away – in a 10,000 point stock market drop, and returned – led by the U.S. Treasury, creating a 5,000 point stock market rise. Stock market observers have seen this epidemic effect before, and think it’s worrisome. Basically, the U.S. Treasury is borrowing against future U.S. tax revenues and paying itself interest on the loan, exploding our national debt, to print money for Americans who will owe nearly $70,000 per person to the U.S. Treasury.

Economists agree it’s a problem. David Wessel, Director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy explained, “No one really knows at what level a government’s debt begins to hurt an economy.” If interest rates stay low, the government can handle a heavier debt load than anyone thought possible. But federal debt “cannot grow faster than the economy indefinitely.” Eventually, federal borrowing will crowd out private borrowing, and “Something has to give.”

A current Internet meme describes CARES like this:
“It is a slow day in the small Iowa town of Pumphandle, and streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody is living on credit. A tourist visiting the area drives through town, stops at the motel, and lays a $100 bill on the desk saying he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs to pick one for the night. As soon as he walks upstairs,
. the motel owner grabs the bill and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.
. the butcher takes the $100 and runs down the street to retire his debt to the pig farmer.
. the pig farmer takes the $100 and heads off to pay his bill to his supplier, the Co-op.
. the guy at the Co-op takes the $100 and runs to pay his debt to the local prostitute, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer her “services” on credit.
. the hooker rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill with the hotel owner.
. the hotel proprietor then places the $100 back on the counter so the traveller will not suspect anything.
At that moment, the traveller comes down the stairs, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, picks up the $100 bill and leaves. No one produced anything. No one earned anything… However, the whole town is now out of debt and looks to the future with a lot more optimism.”

The Pumphandle story says our economy is built on the movement of capital. But what if each person in Pumphandle owes more than $100? Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck – money flows in, money flows out, and an unexpected expense can bankrupt them. Like the airlines and airplane manufacturers: they can’t make expenses because air travel has nosedived. American petroleum and tar sands companies are going bankrupt because the Saudi Arabia-Russia oil price war has created an oil glut and tanked per barrel income. Food suppliers, farmers and ranchers are dumping produce and killing livestock because restaurants, foodservice, hotel and cruise ship patronage has dropped to a trickle. Wen should create a new bankruptcy category: Chapter 19.

At this point, we might long for the good old days, when there was no such thing as money. Bands of our hunter-gatherer ancestors followed seasonal game and food plants, and even when they settled down 10,000-odd years ago to grow food and tame livestock, they still didn’t need money. They traded and bartered with other settlers and nomads. Labor predates capital by a million years.

But the Ag-Rev fed people, populations and tribal areas grew into territories, more people produced more goods and services, more trading occurred and more market centers appeared. People invented bookkeeping and accounting to keep track of transactions, and markers – money, to represent value and promises to pay. If you didn’t want a cow in trade for 30 clay urns, you could take an agreed weight in silver or gold to represent the value, then trade your silver for food or wood.

Governments appeared and grew; chieftains and warriors evolved into kings and armies; administrators appeared to manage growing realms and empires. Less and less money circulated amongst mid- and low-level tradespeople, farmers, ranchers and service providers; more and more flowed to the king’s coffers and the military – much like today.

Credit – loaning money to finance ventures – came mostly from the king and those connected to him. But expanding trade routes and more available wares to buy and sell encouraged commercial ventures, and helped entrepreneurs make fortunes. Commercial bankers arose to hold money securely. They lent it to finance regents’ adventures, finance new industries and research, and to make money on money. From the 1600s Enlightenment onward, the power of capital began to eclipse the power of monarchs.

Fast forward to today: We may love watching TV programs about hardy homesteaders and off-the-grid survivalists, but they’re just acting out nostalgic hunter-gatherer, or apocalyptic fantasies. With more than seven billion people on a planet running an $80 trillion globalized economy, they need this economy to finance their fantasies.

So, “What kind of economy is this?” All the world’s religions say it should be guided by a Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would treat yourself.” But most every empire has lived by another version: “Whoever’s got the gold makes the rules.” That approach “can weaken even the firmest ethical backbone,” wrote Eduardo Porter. And every empire has fallen, as greed for wealth has financed absolute power, and “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” (Lord John Dalberg-Acton, 1887).

Greed is really the source of all evil, not money. Food, shelter, security, love, and community appear in Maslow’s hierarchy; money doesn’t. Chief Sealth, surrendering his tribal lands to white settlers founding Seattle warned, “You may divide and sell all our land, but what will you do when you have nothing left to eat but your money?” Money is not political, religious or ethnic; nor moral or immoral. It’s amoral; a tool of commerce, a lifeblood of modern society. It’s like condensed energy, able to finance good and evil.

U. Mass. Boston economics professor Julie Nelson asserts that ethics must be a part of economics. “We undermine the ability of the economy to do its job — to provide for the sustaining and flourishing of life” if we imagine economics as “an ethics-free and care-free sphere.”

Labor may predate capital, but Oxford economics professor Bob Smith says they’re partners now – “complementary factors of production.” “In an industrial and post-industrial economy, you literally can’t produce (create, manufacture, distribute) without capital.”

The COVID economic jolt provides a good time for us to reimagine our economy as more than just the flow of money. Money is an agreement about the trading value of goods and services. Its value rises with optimism, falls with pessimism, spikes with euphoria, plunges with panic. If the U.S. Treasury can print money and call it valuable, then we can re-imagine the role of that money for supporting Americans’ aspirations. We should be looking at money in terms of what we could do if money were no object.

During the Great Depression, American infrastructure got built while America supported its artists and culture. We can do that today, too. When someone says we can or can’t “afford that,” it’s usually a statement of political expediency or lack of imagination.

For three years now, the Trump Administration has shown us how not to run a government. Meanwhile new, more cooperative form of financial and political systems have taken shape. While political leaders have locked their borders during COVID, scientists have opened theirs. While the current administration says it’s every man for himself, experts say being part of a cohesive community is the best way to survive disaster. On the business side, buying from or being part of a member-owned cooperative, like Darigold, Tillamook, R.E.I., Costco & credit unions, is more sustainable than with a standard structure business. In the U.S., cooperatives generate $652 billion in annual sales, and employ more than two million people. Worldwide, Certified B Corporations like Patagonia, Seventh Generation, and 3000 other companies are transparently verifying their business, social and environmental performance, working globally to build a sustainable and inclusive economy, and sharing the wealth to encourage more of it.

The models are there. It’s time we demand that our federal governments use them to run a better kind of economy now, and for our future.

This Is The Turning Point.

April 1, 2020

We are at a turning point in american history. Indeed world history. To the extent that we enter in a life or death purchasing and resource competition with other peoples around the world, even the risk of world war has increased. Our approach must be experienced as fair for all parties. It already is not.
But we have a president who disavows the United Nations. America First sets the table for a disgusting meal.

We are at a turning point in american, indeed, world history. The planetary survivors of this crisis will completely refocus our vantage points. Assume you were reading about our historical moment 50 or 100 years from now. (By that time our experience will be highly documented for (hopefully) all future historians).

It was just a matter of time before Trump would meet a challenge that proved his utter unfitness. His lack of empathy (which, try as he can, can’t be faked) his need to be lauded or worshiped, his smallness, his lack of intellect, compounded by Trumps’ actual stupidity, would all factor into turning a critical crisis into a catastrophe. And here it is.

It is critical that the American public is frequently reminded of Trumps’ unfitness, lest he somehow wins another ruinous term. There is a tendency to not allocate blame, to avoid conflict, and even to not get on Trumps’ “bad side” for fear of retribution. Such has already been hinted at by Trumps’ castigation of two governors, and imposing a fear that they will not get a needed share of federal government resources if they “are not appreciative”. As if these resources belonged to Trump, and not all of Americas’ tax payers.

Footnote: A CNN Politics recently published, “Analysis: Donald Trump can’t face the stubborn reality: He was wrong about coronavirus”

The Fully Naked Emperor- NY Times, David Leonhardt (3/15/20?

President Trump made his first public comments about the coronavirus on Jan. 22, in a television interview from Davos with CNBC’s Joe Kernen. The first American case had been announced the day before, and Kernen asked Trump, “Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?”
The president responded: “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
By this point, the seriousness of the virus was becoming clearer. It had spread from China to four other countries. China was starting to take drastic measures and was on the verge of closing off the city of Wuhan.
In the weeks that followed, Trump faced a series of choices. He could have taken aggressive measures to slow the spread of the virus. He could have insisted that the United States ramp up efforts to produce test kits. He could have emphasized the risks that the virus presented and urged Americans to take precautions if they had reason to believe they were sick. He could have used the powers of the presidency to reduce the number of people who would ultimately get sick.
ed all of his public statements and actions on coronavirus over the last two months, and they show a president who put almost no priority on public health. Trump’s priorities were different: Making the virus sound like a minor nuisance. Exaggerating his administration’s response. Blaming foreigners and, anachronistically, the Obama administration. Claiming incorrectly that the situation was improving. Trying to cheer up stock market investors. (It was fitting that his first public comments were from Davos and on CNBC.)
Now that the severity of the virus is undeniable, Trump is already trying to present an alternate history of the last two months. Below are the facts — a timeline of what the president was saying, alongside statements from public-health experts as well as data on the virus.
Late January
On the same day that Trump was dismissing the risks on CNBC, Tom Frieden, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for eight years, wrote an op-ed for the health care publication Stat. In it, Frieden warned that the virus would continue spreading. “We need to learn — and fast — about how it spreads,” he wrote.
It was one of many such warnings from prominent experts in late January. Many focused on the need to expand the capacity to test for the virus. In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic,” Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb — both former Trump administration officials — wrote:
If public-health authorities don’t interrupt the spread soon, the virus could infect many thousands more around the globe, disrupt air travel, overwhelm health care systems, and, worst of all, claim more lives. The good news: There’s still an opening to prevent a grim outcome. … But authorities can’t act quickly without a test that can diagnose the condition rapidly.
Trump, however, repeatedly told Americans that there was no reason to worry. On Jan. 24, he tweeted, “It will all work out well.” On Jan. 28, he retweeted a headline from One America News, an outlet with a history of spreading false conspiracy theories: “Johnson & Johnson to create coronavirus vaccine.” On Jan. 30, during a speech in Michigan, he said: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”
That same day, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus to be a “public-health emergency of international concern.” It announced 7,818 confirmed cases around the world.
Editors’ Picks

The Manhattan Private School That Tore Itself Apart

Jan. 31
Trump took his only early, aggressive action against the virus on Jan. 31: He barred most foreigners who had recently visited China from entering the United States. It was a good move.
But it was only one modest move, not the sweeping solution that Trump portrayed it to be. It didn’t apply to Americans who had been traveling in China, for example. And while it generated some criticism from Democrats, it wasn’t nearly as unpopular as Trump has since suggested. Two days after announcing the policy, Trump went on Fox News and exaggerated the impact in an interview with Sean Hannity.
“Coronavirus,” Hannity said. “How concerned are you?”
Trump replied: “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China. We have a tremendous relationship with China, which is a very positive thing. Getting along with China, getting along with Russia, getting along with these countries.”
By the time of that interview, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world had surged to 14,557, a near doubling over the previous three days.
Early February
On Feb. 5, the C.D.C. began shipping coronavirus test kits to laboratories around the country. But the tests suffered from a technical flaw and didn’t produce reliable results, labs discovered.
The technical problems were understandable: Creating a new virus test is not easy. What’s less understandable, experts say, is why the Trump administration officials were so lax about finding a work-around, even as other countries were creating reliable tests.
The Trump administration could have begun to use a functioning test from the World Health Organization, but didn’t. It could have removed regulations that prevented private hospitals and labs from quickly developing their own tests, but didn’t. The inaction meant that the United States fell behind South Korea, Singapore and China in fighting the virus. “We just twiddled our thumbs as the coronavirus waltzed in,” William Hanage, a Harvard epidemiologist, wrote.

Trump, for his part, spent these first weeks of February telling Americans that the problem was going away. On Feb. 10, he repeatedly said — in a speech to governors, at a campaign rally and in an interview with Trish Regan of Fox Business — that warm spring weather could kill the virus. “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away,” he told the rally.
On Feb. 19, he told a Phoenix television station, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.” Four days later, he pronounced the situation “very much under control,” and added: “We had 12, at one point. And now they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are fully recovered.”
His message was clear: Coronavirus is a small problem, and it is getting smaller. In truth, the shortage of testing meant that the country didn’t know how bad the problem was. All of the available indicators suggested it was getting worse, rapidly.
On Feb. 23, the World Health Organization announced that the virus was in 30 countries, with 78,811 confirmed cases, a more than fivefold increase over the previous three weeks.
Late February
Trump seemed largely uninterested in the global virus statistics during this period, but there were other indicators — stock-market indexes — that mattered a lot to him. And by the last week of February, those market indexes were falling.
The president reacted by adding a new element to his public remarks. He began blaming others.
He criticized CNN and MSNBC for “panicking markets.” He said at a South Carolina rally — falsely — that “the Democrat policy of open borders” had brought the virus into the country. He lashed out at “Do Nothing Democrat comrades.” He tweeted about “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer,” mocking Schumer for arguing that Trump should be more aggressive in fighting the virus. The next week, Trump would blame an Obama administration regulation for slowing the production of test kits. There was no truth to the charge.
Throughout late February, Trump also continued to claim the situation was improving. On Feb. 26, he said: “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” On Feb. 27, he predicted: “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.” On Feb. 29, he said a vaccine would be available “very quickly” and “very rapidly” and praised his administration’s actions as “the most aggressive taken by any country.” None of these claims were true.

By the end of February, there were 85,403 confirmed cases, in 55 countries around the world.
Early March
Almost two decades ago, during George W. Bush’s presidency, the federal government developed guidelines for communicating during a public-health crisis. Among the core principles are “be first,” “be right,” “be credible,” “show respect” and “promote action.”
But the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus, as a Washington Post news story put it, is “breaking almost every rule in the book.”
The inconsistent and sometimes outright incorrect information coming from the White House has left Americans unsure of what, if anything, to do. By early March, experts already were arguing for aggressive measures to slow the virus’s spread and avoid overwhelming the medical system. The presidential bully pulpit could have focused people on the need to change their behavior in a way that no private citizen could have. Trump could have specifically encouraged older people — at most risk from the virus — to be careful. Once again, he chose not to take action.
Instead, he suggested on multiple occasions that the virus was less serious than the flu. “We’re talking about a much smaller range” of deaths than from the flu, he said on March 2. “It’s very mild,” he told Hannity on March 4. On March 7, he said, “I’m not concerned at all.” On March 10, he promised: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
The first part of March was also when more people began to understand that the United States had fallen behind on testing, and Trump administration officials responded with untruths.
Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, told ABC, “There is no testing kit shortage, nor has there ever been.” Trump, while touring the C.D.C. on March 6, said, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”
That C.D.C. tour was a microcosm of Trump’s entire approach to the crisis. While speaking on camera, he made statements that were outright wrong, like the testing claim. He brought up issues that had nothing to do with the virus, like his impeachment. He made clear that he cared more about his image than about people’s well-being, by explaining that he favored leaving infected passengers on a cruise ship so they wouldn’t increase the official number of American cases. He also suggested that he knew as much as any scientist:
I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.
On March 10, the World Health Organization reported 113,702 cases of the virus in more than 100 countries.

Mid-March and beyond
On the night of March 11, Trump gave an Oval Office address meant to convey seriousness. It included some valuable advice, like the importance of hand-washing. But it also continued many of the old patterns of self-congratulation, blame-shifting and misinformation. Afterward, Trump aides corrected three different misstatements.
This pattern has continued in the days since the Oval Office address. Trump now seems to understand that coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon. But he also seems to view it mostly as a public-relations emergency for himself rather than a public-health emergency for the country. On Sunday, he used his Twitter feed to lash out at Schumer and Joe Biden and to praise Michael Flynn, the former Trump aide who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I.
Around the world, the official virus count has climbed above 142,000. In the United States, scientists expect that between tens of millions and 215 million Americans will ultimately be infected, and the death toll could range from the tens of thousands to 1.7 million.
At every point, experts have emphasized that the country could reduce those terrible numbers by taking action. And at almost every point, the president has ignored their advice and insisted, “It’s going to be just fine.”
Susan Beachy and Ian Prasad Philbrick contributed research

Holding Trump and Cronies Accountable

Martin Westerman 2/13/20

Democratic President Candidates 5: How to hold Trump-Repub accountable

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.”

Here we must take the lesson from the Powell Memo ideologues, who created think tanks, put candidates up for appointment and election to everything from school boards to courts, state and federal government.

We energize the “sane” electorate — Democrats, Independents, moderate Republicans & everyone in the middle.  We:

  • support the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and every such organization at the state level. 
  • support efforts of Indivisible, Brand New Congress, Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, Cecile Richards’ Supermajority, Planned Parenthood, and more. 
  • encourage our state attorneys general to file lawsuits against gerrymandering; hammer those at state levels who resist one person, one vote, and move to protect that vote from election tampering
  • regain control of the media messages — from television to all forms of social media, including flooding conservative and right wing databases with progressive messages
  • control social media security — in partnership with Google, Facebook, Amazon and others, so elections can’t be hacked, fake news can be debunked and erased,

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

——- ———- ——— ——- ——– ——-

SOURCES

(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”