The Red Herring of the Candidates’ (Physical) Health

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The recent Pneumonia-gate peeled off yet another layer of dangerous absurdity in this presidential election. After Hillary’s fainting episode on 9/11, the media pounced on her health problems, legitimizing the voices of  Trump surrogates, trolls and other misguided souls who have already diagnosed Clinton with everything from aphasia to autism, with no evidence to support their conclusions.

The WaPo and NYT convened their editorial boards to issue official statements of concern over the candidates’ [plural] health, demanding that they make their health history public. There was not one demand, however, that the disclosed records include results of psychological and psychiatric evaluations — either because mental health is implicitly assumed to be part of a general health exam and/or because it is a taboo subject for several reasons, one of which is the very apparent but unmentionable character defect of the GOP candidate.

And it does appear to be the latter, given the insistence with which the media pursue Hillary’s real and imagined ailments, while essentially giving a pass to her opponent who openly derides the process by, among so many other things, offering a letter about his astonishingly excellent health that seems to be created, like much of his campaign and life, as a prank. (Sadly, it/they are not.)

This is just another example of how bizarre this presidential election is, and how its bizarreness is augmented and supported by the complicit mainstream media that chase the latest outrage and focus on issues of little significance, while remaining mum about the huuuge elephant in the room, that of Trump’s profoundly deficient character. This defect has been amply evidenced in his behavior, and documented, for decades, more thoroughly than that of any other American citizen.

Whatever physical ailments Hillary or any presidential candidate may have, they are either curable or manageable. Should the worst happen, we have a vice president and others down the chain of command ready to take on the executive role. Physical ailments certainly do not disqualify presidents from office, nor pose a risk for the country and the world. America has had several competent enough commanders-in-chief with serious physical ailments before.  But we have never had a president with such seriously disordered character as Trump — yet we are not talking about it. Because ethics.

Specifically, because of the well-meaning prohibition, applied to mental health professionals, against diagnosing strange people from a distance, also known in the U.S. as the Goldwater Rule.

Well, yes, we can talk Trump’s mental unhealth if we are lay people and/or use common vernacular that does not reference his defect directly but describes it in oblique and non-biding ways, through various pejorative terms if needed (like deplorable, or a chronic liar or thin-skinned bully, for example). Lay people can also use “expertly” language, calling the candidate a psychopath, for instance; but this will be accompanied by an understanding that lay people do not possess requisite knowledge and expertise to make such assessments matter. (To their credit, lay people often nail it.)

Meanwhile, those who do possess such knowledge and expertise are prohibited, or, more accurately, strongly discouraged from making such assessments, as the American Psychiatric Association recently reminded everyone.

This is madness. (Pun intended. I think.) It has resulted in a most peculiar version of reality where those in-the-know cannot comment on what’s apparent and the subject of their expertise; and those who see the apparent, but don’t necessarily understand it, search confusedly for explanations which are not coming, as the experts are directed to remain mum. Thank heavens for the Internets, however, and common sense, which fill the knowledge gap somewhat.

There are obvious ethical and humane reasons for not diagnosing strange people from a distance, not the least of which is sparing the pain and stigma for subjects of such diagnoses, as well as avoiding diagnostic mistakes, which are far more common than most lay (and not) people realize. Psychiatric and psychological diagnosis is not an exact science.

Nevertheless, we do know, diagnostically speaking, some things about human beings and their psychological maladies, and this knowledge can be useful in helping us understand, and sometimes even predict to some degree, people’s general behavior.

The language of psychopathology, just like the language of physical health problems, can and should be disseminated and used freely in the public discourse when it’s warranted — i.e., when we are dealing with manifestations of mental unhealth and disorders. This language and the knowledge it conveys are not proprietary and an exclusive domain of the mental health professions. Our society can and should talk openly about depression, for example, or character disorders, learning (one hopes) more about them in the process. It is as much a matter of public health and safety as it is the case when dealing with physical body disorders.

When we encounter, for example, a person with symptoms of a dangerous physical disease, it would be helpful for people to know how the disease manifests and what its risks are, how to generally treat the affected person, and what to do to protect ourselves. Similarly, we need to stress public health education with respect to character disorders, some of which — specifically those that, like psychopathy and narcissism, severely impair a conscience — pose a clear danger to society.

Individuals who do not possess a functioning conscience (the main feature of psychopathy) and cover up this lack with a grandiose sense of their own importance and specialness, accompanied by entitlement, often aggrieved, and contempt for others (the main features of narcissism) tend to be inherently destructive. Their incurable character defect, known as narcissistic psychopathy (also, closely enough, malignant narcissism), is the most dangerous form of psychopathology known to humankind and the source of much, if not all, of human-made evil in the world.

The defect is found in genocidal tyrants, mass killers, religious leaders, and many CEOs alike. Their lack of conscience and their grandiosity that drive them to realize their main life objective — obtaining as much power and adulation for themselves as  possible, without any regard for interpersonal and social consequences  — guarantee to cause destruction on a small or large scale, depending on the reach of their influence. That much we know. There is, or should already be, no doubt about it. This knowledge is one obviously helpful aspect of (correct) diagnosis.

We also know that this character defect — which is NOT mental illness — is incurable and renders one so afflicted, particularly if in an advanced age, with little to no capacity of learning and change. It is an extremely important piece of information when we consider such an individual for a leadership position, particularly in the area in which he has no previous experience. Hoping that the candidate will acquire knowledge and behaviors necessary for his duties is both foolish and dangerous, given what’s at stake. Again, recognizing this is helpful in disabusing such lingering, misguided hopes.

If there is one subset of the human population that should be kept away from positions of power, it is people with this character defect. Unfortunately, their pathology propels them to seek just such positions. And they hide behind what Hervey Cleckley called the mask of sanity so effectively that they can fool even experts.

This makes it especially important that we, as a society, implement protective measures which would stop these characterologically impaired individuals from finalizing their power-driven pursuits, since we know, or should already, about the inevitable exploitation and destruction that will ensue if we don’t.

One way to do so would be by employing psychological assessments to weed such people out of, say, presidential races. We use various forms of psychological testing to determine job suitability for candidates in many different domains with lesser responsibilities — why not for the highest office where mental health and character are of utmost importance? It is reasonable to ask why is it necessary to need psychological assessments for job candidates in the restaurant business, for example, but not for the highest positions in the government?

Surely we can see that thoughtfulness, patience, and empathy, along with the capacity for guilt, critical self-reflection, and the ability to understand and strive to live according to the highest human values (a.k.a conscience) are more important in presidents than their cholesterol or blood sugar levels. Why then don’t we assess those former capacities as seriously as we do the latter? It is true that relevant psychological assessments would be more complicated than simple blood tests, but their results are far more important in this context.

Another aspect of the societal self-protective measures against destruction caused by conscience-impaired individuals is education. Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski warned that:

“[our] general inability to recognize the psychological type of [psychopaths] causes immense suffering, mass terror, violent oppression, genocide and the decay of civilization.” (source)

We have to do a better job educating the public about mental health and lack of it, paying special attention to character disorders which far too often not only go unrecognized as dangerous pathology, but are glamorized and championed as signs of successful adjustment to our society. This education cannot take place if psychiatrists and psychologists are discouraged from offering their opinions and their debates are confined to academic and professional journals. Mental health experts must be given opportunities to openly and widely share their expertise with the public, and this is where the cooperation with the willing media is necessary.

One of the goals of such sharing would be demystification of psychiatric and psychological diagnoses which are complex, but in the general sense (i.e., outside of the privileged and confidential encounter with a patient in the doctor’s office) are not always best left exclusively to professionals. We too often forget that professionals, experts as they are, do not have a monopoly on describing and alleviating various forms of human mental suffering; and one could argue that a wider and greater understanding of these and related mental health issues could possibly lead to better health outcomes, in individuals and groups.

Of course the ethical prohibitions encapsulated in the Goldwater Rule do not apply to general discussions about mental disorders, but to diagnosing real people from a distance.

But it is difficult to have such general discussions while strenuously avoiding specific teachable examples whose presence looms large in our daily reality and collective consciousness. It is one of many reasons why the Goldwater Rule has been a subject of ongoing debate, this year more so than ever. The debate’s main arguments have been best summarized in The Ethics of APA’s Goldwater Rule by Jerome Kroll and Claire Pouncey.

The authors challenge the rule by, among other things, pointing out its unenforceability and showing its aspects that are inconsistent with reality-based practice. They also weigh the ethical prohibitions against ad hoc remote diagnoses issued  (usually) for media consumption and often without a good reason, against the professionals’ ethical duty to warn the public about individuals who pose danger to society, noting that:

For the individual moral agent choosing a course of action, the Goldwater Rule provides no direction, except to require that he prioritize the reputation of the profession.

Along the way, they bring up examples of professionals grappling with the Rule, one of which is a 2011 NYT editorial by psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman.

The subject of the editorial was the aftermath of Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault scandal, during which, as Friedman writes, “a parade of psychiatrists stepped forward to offer their expert opinion in the news media.” Even though Kroll and Pouncey do not directly comment on this, the editorial is notable for its darkly ironic, in 2016, twist.

Friedman, who is supportive of the Goldwater Rule, says the following:

Of course, there are exceptions to all rules. Patient confidentiality is not absolute, for example: If a patient of mine told me he was thinking of killing someone, I would have an ethical and legal duty to violate confidentiality and warn both the person at risk and the police.

And one could reasonably argue that an exception should be made for psychiatric profiles of foreign political leaders, which United States intelligence services (and those of other countries) have been doing at least since World War II. An evaluation of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, for example, might well be in the national interest because it could help guide how we deal with this difficult figure.

Colonel Qaddafi’s ruthlessness, near-delusional grandiosity and love of absolute power all suggest a severe personality disorder called malignant narcissism. Because people with the disorder have a defect in moral conscience, they lack empathy, so there is no room to appeal to them on human terms. Instead, they are more likely to respond to the right mix of flattery, power and a credible threat of force.

Whether the foregoing diagnosis is correct or useful, I have no idea, but it is ethically defensible.

Despite what some of us might believe, though, none of our celebrities or politicians is likely to rise to the level of a national threat that justifies violation of the Goldwater rule.

It’s not sexy and probably won’t make headlines, but experts should just stick to the facts and educate the public, and leave the pleasure of diagnostic speculation to the amateurs.


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Updated, below, on 9/15/16.

This is a continuation of Kazimierz Dabrowski’s views of psychopathy, partially presented in the previous post. The text below comes from the same source:

Psychopathy: The greatest obstacle in the growth of personality and groups

Let us briefly review main characteristics of psychopathy in my approach.

Psychopathy is a structure based on primitive drives with a strong integrative force, and with intelligence in the service of those drives.

A psychopath is emotionally rigid and narrow. He has strong ambitions and significant talents, but they remain narrow and under the influence of primitive drives. He does not experience inner conflicts, but instead he creates external ones. He is not capable of empathy, and so he strives to gain control over others, or, before he can gain dominance, he submits to the control of others. He is usually deaf and blind to the problems of others, to their development and developmental difficulties. He relentlessly realizes his own goals. A psychopath exists on the level of primary integration and is emotionally retarded.

We can distinguish “small” and “big” psychopaths. We find the big ones among the most notorious world criminals, and among aggressive tyrants and dictators (e.g., Neron, Hitler), who do not hesitate to sacrifice others for their own goals. For a big psychopath, a person and a social group do not have any moral value. To him, rules of justice do not exist. Genocide or a concentration camp are not a moral problem for him, but a means to an end.

Small psychopaths are miniatures of the big ones. In general, they submit to big psychopaths in the right circumstances. A small psychopath looks for opportunities to realize his own interests, and to satisfy his desire to wreak havoc in society. A psychopath thinks that laws are to be broken and that they do not apply to him. He uses any circumstances to secure his position, money, and fortune, regardless of the consequences for others, without any consideration for ethical norms. Psychopaths do not know how to emotionally compare themselves with others, they cannot emotionally understand others, and they lack an empathic attitude.

Psychopaths are dynamic individuals, efficient, capable of making quick decisions, without hesitation or inhibition; they do not exhibit emotional or imaginational overexcitability, or intellectual overexcitability of a global character. They are usually incapable of retrospection, and their abilities for prospection are used to foster their narrow goals and ambitions. They do not apply self-control, are incapable of self-criticism, but show the capacity to skillfully control and realize their purposes, plans and programs. Thus they lack a multilevel inner psychic milieu; they lack multilevel emotional and instinctual functions. Therefore, as I said before, they do not understand the hierarchy of values in a global sense. They use an unconscious or semiconscious hierarchy of “values,” which are narrow, rigid and subsumed under their ambitions. (p. 123-124)

Dabrowski’s theoretical and clinical knowledge, which led him to formulate his groundbreaking yet not widely known Theory of Positive Disintegration in the first half of the 20th century, was years ahead of his time and still awaits proper recognition and dissemination. Many of his insights — for example, on the essential role of emotions, values, and crises in personality growth; on the crucial importance of empathy in development of individuals and societies; on the spectrum-like nature of mental disorders and mental health; and on the pernicious effects of psychopathy on the individual and group life — are just being independently “discovered” (if that) in American psychology today.

The fact that psychologists, and not only, re-invent the proverbial wheel is (or should be) an occasion to reflect about political nature of the scientific enterprise which is riddled with and crippled by social amnesia, and as such, it fosters limited education among the professionals and so-called masses alike.

That limited education, among other reasons, is why we face the continuous and at least partially successful efforts to normalize psychopathy and mislead the public about it. This trend fits a society where human beings are the commodified instruments of profit-making whose well-being matters to the extent they serve that function, while corporations are accorded personhood and the markets are said to have inner lives.

The objectification and dehumanization of people that is a mark of psychopathy, and that goes hand in hand with fetishizing power and its signifiers, is also a feature of exploitative political systems, which are run, more often than not, by people with impaired or absent conscience (i.e., psychopaths, narcissists, and their ilk). And exploitative societies have psychological theories and officially disseminated knowledge that suit their needs, so it is little wonder that we are not being urgently (read: at all) educated about the dangers of conscience-based character defects like psychopathy and narcissism. On the contrary.

Under Nicholas Kristof’s The Black Eyes in Donald Trump’s Life, one astute commenter said the following (emphasis, in italics, mine):

Jeanie Diva , New York 1 day ago

We the people are the fault of all this. Trump had a TV show. People (not me) watched it. He was “cool”. He is a good snake oil salesman and knows exactly how to manipulate the press. Even Matt Lauer was sucked into his tornado.

That he got this far says everything about the people who support him. It also explains how we ended up with a do-nothing Congress. The fault is poor public education. We long ago stopped teaching people how to think critically. The level of knowledge of the average person is amazingly low. We spent billions on weapons and foreign aid to shore up our corporations, but we have been gutting education for over 50 years.

Stupid people do stupid things. Giving up on science, not reading widely, watching “reality” TV shows that aren’t at all real, following people like Snooky and Kim Kardashian — is this the action of educated, cultured, sophisticated people? Trump, while very wealthy, is an ignorant narcissist. As you can tell from reading comments here, many people do not know what a narcissist is. They don’t know what racism is, or bigotry. Who is to blame for that? Not Trump.

It’s easy to manipulate uneducated people — even those that went to college if all they learned was computer code. Trump is amazingly disgusting in a bold and obvious manner but millions are still duped by his facade. Hillary is flawed, but she isn’t dangerous, and besides, she comes with Bill, also not dangerous but very smart.

Jeanie Diva is right.

It is extremely difficult for normal people to understand what psychopathy and similar character defects (i.e., narcissism) are, as people with a conscience tend to project their conscience-based beliefs on the conscienceless, which only makes the exploitation by psychopaths (and narcissists and their ilk) easier. And it certainly does not help one bit that people who do, or should, understand the problem of psychopathy and related pathologies are not doing enough to educate the public about their dangers, or muddy the waters by offering their glamorized misinterpretations.

Dabrowski warned us, long decades ago, that

“[our] general inability to recognize the psychological type of [psychopaths] causes immense suffering, mass terror, violent oppression, genocide and the decay of civilization.” (source)

He was right about that, and about so many other things.

Meanwhile, the conscienceless continue their takeover of our world, as evidenced by Trump’s candidacy* — a fitting and logical culmination of the process, should he become elected.

*Read that story.


Tish, in the comments, asked for resources on dealing with psychopaths — here are some:

Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy

Aftermath: Surviving Psychopathy Foundation with excellent additional links

Psychopaths and Love — a great blog and resource by Adelyn Birch

Steve Becker’s Unmasking The Psychopath

Psychopathy Awareness blog by Claudia Moscovici



Psychopaths vs. Neurotics

It is hard to keep up with Trump’s insults and other expressions of his defective character, but a recent one stands out in particular for its educational value.

During a twittering temper tantrum late last month, Trump attempted to denigrate Mika Brzezinski by calling her a neurotic:

Tried watching low-rated @Morning_Joe this morning, unwatchable! @morningmika is off the wall, a neurotic and not very bright mess!

This prompted a chivalrous response from Mika’s co-host / insufferably pompous on-screen husband, Joe Scarborough:

Out with The Old Trump, In with The Old Trump

Trump in Lousiana, pretending to look presidential. Max Becherer / AP photo

Much excitement is being had in the media and whereabouts about the New Trump who has allegedly showed signs of humanity by reading from the teleprompter an inane and nebulous statement of “regret” for who knows what exactly. One thing sure is that he, incapable of empathy and especially guilt, does not know or understand it himself, nor does he want to. He’s also shown up for a photo-op in the flooded Louisiana, pretending to care. A shtick as convincing as a serial killer’s finding God in prison (which, according to expert on manipulative characters, George Simon, is a classic psychopathic move). Not to mention — although one will — that his presence there creates a distraction and headache for the security and rescue personnel.

These brazenly manipulative PR moves are greeted with relief and taken as a sign of the long-awaited “pivoting” (which has to be the word of the year in 2016, mark my prediction) toward a humane and presidential Donny.

But this foolish hope is just that, foolish, and one reason, among many, why people with a conscience cannot understand and spot those without it. Naivete and denial, like hope, their close cousin, spring eternal from the same source: our inability / unwillingness to face the truth.

Kellyanne Conway, the new Trump handler who is most definitely responsible for the “human” Donny, is a seasoned GOP operative, thus she has plenty of experience with both lipstick and pigs. But even she won’t be able to accomplish this impossible feat of a make-up-based makeover. There simply isn’t enough lipstick in the world.

To wit, a fragment from my earlier piece, re-posted in the generous spirit of aiding our Republican friends and foes in understanding all things Trump:

Your candidate, dear GOPers, is not going to change. Not because he does not want to — and he surely does not want to — but because he cannot. In order to change in any meaningful fashion, a person must have a functioning conscience. There is no way around it, no matter how hard we may try to find it. There’s just not enough lipstick in the world.

A functioning conscience, much better than reason itself, tells us when and where we erred and how, and what we must do to correct our errors. A functioning conscience with its empathy, guilt, and humility — the three capacities distinctly missing from a narcissist’s inner milieu — is what makes it possible for us to notice and admit that we are at fault, want to rectify our mistakes and change our behavior. No functioning conscience, no change; not even a possibility of acknowledging a wrongdoing. And, if you are a grandiosely narcissistic “winner” (triple redundancy warning!), the best in all you do and also in things you have never done, you would see no need whatsoever to learn anything. Why, perfection means no need to ever say you’re sorry — it is one of its undeniable benefits, for gods and narcissistic humans alike. 

This also means your candidate is not going to surround himself with reasonable, or — god forbid — wise people, because, again, he does not believe he could be wrong and he does not need anyone’s advice. And, as he’s someone with the best brain, whose advice could even come close to his own? Besides, he has no tolerance for competition.

The impairment of conscience characteristic for narcissism severely limits a person’s cognitive capacities, as it makes him (or her) incapable of, among so many things, understanding points of view other than his own. This itself makes objective — or at least non-egocentric — reasoning impossible. The result is dangerous solipsism where one’s desires become a substitute for reality, and facts (and people), particularly those that are unpleasant for the narcissist to acknowledge, cease to exist. What he wants, must happen, regardless of consequences for the world — the consequences he is unable to envision in the first place, but even if he did so, he would disregard them.

Unable and unwilling to learn — a distinction without a difference in a narcissist’s case — the best your candidate can be expected to do is to stick to a teleprompter and read the scripts written for him by his children and handlers. Those scripts are not going to be free of their own pathology, however, one which they share with your candidate; but they will be more subdued and polished, as such things go. So they may fool more people, maybe even enough to have your candidate elected, if that’s what you’re after. They will not help your candidate grow a conscience, though. He probably does not understand a lot of what he reads in those prepared speeches; and if he does, he likely does not care to notice how it may differ from what he is about and what it could possibly mean. No conscience, no values, no problem.

Once he’s off the teleprompter, he will remain his usual “winning” self, looking for any opportunity to make a “deal” that would personally elevate him and humiliate someone else, because this is his lifelong modus operandi. 

Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” You have been shown time and again, and also explained, one hopes clearly enough; so don’t say you have not been warned. 

And a nice takedown of the “new Trump” by John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

Trump The Con Man

Another day, another con.

Agent Orange issued an “explanatory” tweet yesterday:

Ratings challenged @CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama (and Clinton) “the founder” of ISIS, & MVP. THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?

And our journalists proceeded to discuss in earnest the difference between “jokes” and “sarcasm,” continued to wonder why Trump does not seem to be interested in “pivoting,” and engaged in mind-numbingly pointless “debates” with Trump’s thuggish surrogates whose job is to translate Trumpese into English by insisting that black is white and up is down, and anyone who does not believe so is itching for a fight. And they are all too happy to oblige.

This sordid spectacle boggles the mind more and more as our media types refuse to acknowledge the reality of the man’s apparent character defect. They seem to have come to terms, as much as that’s possible, with his “narcissism;” but judging by their reactions, they do not understand well what narcissism means, nor notice Trump’s glaringly missing conscience. They smirk ironically and call him “unconventional,” which says… something.

And as much as one wants to blame them (and one does), a significant portion of the responsibility for this ignorance falls on the mental health professionals who have failed in their role as public educators. And not just now. This failure to teach about character defects / disorders and their dangerous ramifications appears to be a feature rather than a bug of psychiatry and related fields, and not just American. Of course in a society where narcissists and psychopaths are admired and rewarded in multiple ways, these defects will not seem to be so defective, if at all, not even to the professionals. In a future post we’ll take a look at the various ways in which American mental health experts (not all) have misunderstood Trump’s character problem.

He, meanwhile, taunts the media (not undeservedly in this instance, one must say):

I love watching these poor, pathetic people (pundits) on television working so hard and so seriously to try and figure me out. They can’t!

One person who can and does is David Cay Johnston, whose new book, The Making of Donald Trump, has just been published. In it, Johnston unmasks Trump’s most unsavory deals and exposes his sadistic and manipulative, conscience-free character without the strained and misguided attempts to “understand the man,” i.e.,  whitewashing his consciencelessness in the name of being “fair and balanced” or something like it. (For comparison, see the soon-to-be-published book by two WaPo journalists, “Trump Revealed,” which promises to show the man as “[p]opulist, frustrating, naive, wise, forever on the make” — with the exception of the last one, these are mostly positive, or at worst neutral, attributes that could be ascribed to, say, any social reformer, from Gandhi to Sanders. The moral aspect — that of values, of differences between right and wrong — is completely absent in such whitewashing “evaluations;” this leads, in a manner typical for moral relativism, to a normalization of conscience-free characters.)

Kathy Kiely interviewed Johnston for Moyers & Company:

“The coverage [of Trump] has been extremely poor in my opinion,” Johnston, who at 67 clearly still enjoys making trouble*, pronounced at no less a lions’ den than the National Press Club on Thursday night in Washington. (…) The main reason he has “been extremely critical of my colleagues,” in the media Johnston said, is they’ve been too buttoned-down and professional. “They’re covering him as though he is a serious person,” Johnston said of the Republican presidential nominee.
Here is an interview Johnston gave France 24. When asked what Donald doesn’t want people to know, he says that, apart from his ties to mobsters and drug traffickers:
[Trump] doesn’t want you to know about his unbelievable cruelty to others, and his utter contempt for Christians, and (…) that Donald doesn’t know anything. (…) his answers are gibberish, because he doesn’t know anything.

David, from your mouth to the pundits’ ears. Let’s hope they are listening and able to hear what’s painfully obvious.

*I’ve just noticed this after publishing the post. Johnston’s truth-telling is labeled as “making trouble” — and that in such a seemingly progressive publication as “Moyers & Company.” Our journalists’ job was to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted; instead, so many of them do the opposite that those who break this mold are seen as troublemakers.

The Con Man Conneth


“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. At the end it’s either going to work or I’m going to have a very, very nice long vacation.”

Donald Trump, in a phoned-in interview with CNBC today, showing, for the umpteenth time, how much he cares about the country or anybody besides himself.

True to his character, he will continue his depraved downward spiral of inciting hate, violence, and mass disorder, consequences be damned. At least in warning us about it, he is honest. Sort of.

“Look, all I do is tell the truth. I’m a truth teller. All I do is tell the truth.”

And if that “truth telling” doesn’t “work” and he is not elected after all, he will go on a nice long vacation, leaving behind the sea of rage and smoldering ruins of civility, no doubt feeling great as always about a job well done.

He is a killer, that Donny, and a king, as his proud daddy said. But even Trump Sr. would remind his boy not to be so tough; even he, the callous and ruthless manipulator, was concerned about his favorite son’s aggression and unbridled desire for power and adulation. Donny should have listened to his old man. If he could, that is. We’d all be better off now.

There must have been a typo in his campaign slogan, and Donny either didn’t notice it or left it there on purpose, the con man that he is. Because it should have indeed read Make America Grate Again; and he has surely delivered on that promise already, many times over. Mission Accomplished, to borrow another empty slogan, from another conscience-deficient leader blind to his own hubris and folly, whose legacy of death and destruction we have still not grappled with, allergic as we are to any admission of guilt. That guy’s vices pale, however, in comparison with those of our presumptive Killer King who has promised us, repeatedly, a Trumpian Victory. And he is a man of his word. Sort of.

Donny The Gaslighter

You’ve heard of course about Trump’s 2nd Amendment “solution” to the Hillary-as-president problem that he proposed yesterday:

The intense backpedaling, as evidenced briefly in the video above, has commenced immediately and continued unabated today, with Trump’s surrogates minimizing his “gaffe” (that wasn’t) as best as they could. Their trumpsplanations have ranged from ridiculous  but amusing (Trump, despite having the best words, don’t speak so good, what with not having a Ph.D. in grammar) through misguided (it was a “joke gone bad,” said Paul Ryan, unaware apparently that narcissistic psychopaths do not have a sense of humor) to patently absurd (it’s about unification, y’all!).

Trump himself attributed the debacle to a nasty media conspiracy (what else) but let the truth slip out, inadvertently and with a plausible spin, by admitting that this controversy is “a good thing for me.”

As the media and public storm rages on, let’s stop for a moment to remember that we are dealing with a con man who has had a lifetime of manipulation and abuse of others to practice his schtick. We are being had, again, and it may be instructive to examine how and why.

What Trump is doing is called gaslighting. As Christine Louis de Canonville writes on her blog,

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse used by narcissists in order to instill in their victim’s an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. The techniques used in “Gaslighting” by the narcissist are similar to those used in brainwashing, interrogation, and torture that have been used in psychological warfare by intelligence operative, law enforcement and other forces for decades.

A form of crazy-making, this abusive tactic used by “natural-born” manipulative abusers everywhere is meant to engender fear-based submission to the abuser. When used repeatedly, as it always is, it makes the victims lose a sense of reality and of their own agency and strength, sometimes even leading to sympathy for and an identification with the abuser (Stockholm Syndrome).

Gaslighting can be done on an individual and mass scale, and Trump has been doing it since the beginning of his campaign (if not before). He also does it with predictability embedded in his character defect, as these expressions of his own aggression and calls for violence from others are eruptions of narcissistic rage which follow his personal humiliations.

He incites aggression, but when called on it, denies doing it and blames “the victims” — the subjects of his aggressive remarks and/or those taking him to task for them — and immediately assumes the stance of a victim himself. Because his denials and deflections may sound plausible, people end up giving him the benefit of a doubt and he “wins.”

For a malignant narcissist*, such overt displays of aggression, followed by denials and victim blaming, are meant to meet the following objectives, immediate and long-term:

  1. release the pent-up rage;
  2. exact revenge for the “wounding” on the humiliators or their proxies, or even on unrelated subjects;
  3. patch up his narcissistic wound and restore the elevated (grandiose) sense of his power and importance;
  4. divert attention from the reason for his humiliation (his incompetence, dishonesty, etc.);
  5. cow the victims into submission by engendering confusion and fear (gaslighting);
  6. continue with whatever schemes he’s perpetrating at the moment.

This behavior is not conscious and typically is not premeditated (although it can be), but it is purposeful (see the above objectives, esp. 4 to 6).

Politico has compiled a list of Trump-the-candidate’s most egregious expressions of direct aggression / calls for violence to date. Here are a few:

At a rally in Cedar Rapids on the day of the Iowa caucuses, Trump offered to pay the legal fees of supporters who attacked anyone trying to throw fruit at him. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously,” he said. “Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.” As it turned out, there were no attempts to throw fruit at him at the rally.

Later in February, at a Las Vegas rally on the eve of the Nevada caucuses, Trump said of a protester, “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

“We’re not allowed to punch back any more,” Trump lamented in Las Vegas. “You know what they used to do to a guy like that in a place like this?” he said. “They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”

And last month, Trump said he’d like to “hit” speakers at the Democratic National Convention who spoke ill of him.

“The things that were said about me. You know what, I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard,” Trump said. “I was gonna hit this guy so hard, his head would spin. He wouldn’t know what the hell happened.”

It is worth noting that these incidents followed some major public humiliation that exposed his ineptness and dishonesty (widely publicized and disastrous interviews with the WaPo and NYT in early spring, the collective bashing at the DNC, and the latest, his inane “economy” speech on Monday). His outrageous statements thus effectively deflect attention from his glaring lack of substance and basic qualifications for any office, much less that of the American president. But as long as we debate whether he really called for Hillary’s assassination or not, we are not talking about his lack of actionable solutions to the problems he’s promising to cure. Remember, he admitted so himself when he said that the controversy is good for him.

Astonishingly, his jaw-dropping statements about wanting to hit the DNC speakers did not elicit much outrage, suggesting that either we are immune to Trump’s threatening behavior or find it acceptable, maybe both. (That, however, was before The Khan Effect, fully exposing the chasm between the humanity with a conscience and Trump, took hold, which may be the reason for this relative silence.)

It does not help that the media insist on treating the man as if he were a normal candidate, straining for reasonable explanations and equivalencies, as documented by Peter Dreier :

The headlines about Trump’s comment that appeared on-line within hours of his speech reflect how constrained the media are in reporting such an outrageous statement:

  • “Trump Appears To Suggest ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Stop Clinton” (NPR),
  • “Donald Trump Says ‘Second Amendment People’ Can Stop Hillary Clinton From Curbing Gun Rights” (Wall Street Journal),
  • “Trump sparks uproar by saying ‘maybe there is’ a way for ‘2nd Amendment people’ to keep Clinton from naming justices” (Los Angeles Times),
  • “Donald Trump Suggests ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Act Against Hillary Clinton” (New York Times),
  • “Trump suggests ‘Second Amendment people’ could stop Clinton” (Chicago Tribune),
  • “What Ever Could Trump Have Meant With This Joke About ‘Second Amendment People’ and Clinton?” (Slate),
    • “Trump ‘Second Amendment’ Quip Seen as Veiled Threat Against Clinton” (NBC)
  • “Donald Trump says ‘Second Amendment people’ may be the only check on Clinton judicial appointments” (Washington Post)
  • “Trump in trouble over ‘Second Amendment’ remark” (Politico).

All these headlines are accurate but misleading. They don’t explain what he meant or put what he said in political context.

He is right, they don’t. They do illustrate, however, how the narcissistic collusion that’s behind much evil in the world, happens: almost imperceptibly and almost with our full, though usually unwitting, participation.

There is dangerous but predictable logic to Trump’s destructive behavior. And this is just a preview of things to come, should he become our president (may fates help us). Understanding what we are dealing with — a con, one in a long series of many, this time the largest of them all, perpetrated by a psychologically primitive, but skilled in abuse, conscienceless manipulator who’s driven by an insatiable desire for power and adulation — would be helpful to the media as well as the American citizens dealing with the inevitable emotional reactions of being subjected to such abuse (confusion, fear, anger, helplessness, exhaustion).  We are being led by our noses; it is up to us to resist this enforced march toward an abyss.

*Not a medical diagnosis.

Quote of the Day: “People don’t understand”

During a campaign stop in Dubuque, Iowa on January 30, 2016.

Updated, below.

Dana Milbank relates the following from Trump’s rally today in Ashburn, VA, where, among other notable things, Donald accepted the Purple Heart from a veteran, saying “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier“:

The Republican presidential nominee, rallying supporters in a high school auditorium here, was talking about Chinese currency manipulation when an infant began to cry.

“Don’t worry about that baby. I love babies,” he said. “Don’t worry. The mom’s running around like — don’t worry about it, you know. It’s young and beautiful, and healthy and that’s what we want.”

It was an unexpected moment of tenderness from the strongman — and it lasted precisely 55 seconds.

 “Actually I was only kidding: You can get the baby out of here,” he said, when the child continued to cry. “I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking. That’s okay. People don’t understand, that’s okay.”

There were murmurs and some uncomfortable laughter.

After attacking prisoners of war, virtually every racial minority in the United States and even the parents of a fallen U.S. soldier, it was perhaps just a matter of time until Trump got around to attacking a mother and her baby.

This is obviously unsurprising. But I would like to focus on the ease (or “ease”) with which Trump switches between his pretend “benevolent” persona and his real ruthless self.

I put “ease” in quotes the second time, because when you watch the clip of this performance, you’ll see how difficult it really is for Donny to fake pro-social emotions: the grimacing and the outlandish statements meant to underscore his smarmy sentiments, for which he has no internal correspondence, are a sure and cringe-inducing giveaway of the effort involved. He wants to convey care and joy, but what comes out is a barely disguised contempt.

And then, as if on cue, comes Donny’s own admission of his psychopathic manipulation (amazingly, he does this once in a while, openly reveling in his power and the people’s inability to see through his craven games — that’s how brazen he is and seemingly unconcerned with any possible fallouts from such admissions):

I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking. That’s okay. People don’t understand, that’s okay.

Yes, sadly too many still believe that this man is what he so strenuously, at times, pretends to be: a caring and normal human being. But his always wobbly mask of normalcy slips more often these days, revealing the “Freudian junkyard” within, as one astute WaPo commenter put it. They react with “uncomfortable laughter,” but don’t know what to make of it.

Donald, meanwhile, revels in his deception, as evidenced by his proud tone when he mocks the mother for believing that he cares. And “that’s okay,” because people’s naivete that comes from their ingrained goodness is what has enabled his destructive existence and rise to power so far. People with a conscience have a hard time imagining that there are those without it and don’t know what it may look like.

So Donald is correct that “people don’t understand,” but no, it is not “okay.” People must wake up to the existence of psychopaths in our midst and start seeing the damage they inflict on the world. This is as good a time for it as any.


Khizr Khan, a Muslim immigrant who has become the (badly missing so far) conscience of America, has something to say about Trump’s acquisition of that Purple Heart:

The Khan Effect

You may have heard the words that shook the world — or at least awakened the American pundits’ dormant consciences and opened a few eyes:

Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words “liberty” and “equal protection of law.”

Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.

You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

The words were spoken by Khizr Khan at the DNC, where he, accompanied by his aggrieved wife, Ghazala, talked about his late son, Capt. Humayun Khan, and what his ultimate sacrifice meant for the Khan family and what it should mean for others, including Donald Trump, if he had a conscience.

However, bereft of conscience as Trump is, he responded, predictably, with a slew of insults, seeing himself as the aggrieved and injured one (the Perpetual Victim Complex is strong in all narcissists). This has led to an ongoing media storm of unusual, so far in this campaign, proportions, complete with (wait for it) long overdue questions about the candidate’s mental health and suitability for office.

It is remarkable to watch the punditry opening their sleepy eyes to the stark raving reality of the presidential candidate’s character defect — a defect that has been on display all along and as long as Trump has been in the public eye, so at least several decades; a defect that they, American journalists, helped deepen through their adulation for, or even participation in, the narcissistic psychopath’s narcissistically psychopathic ways; a defect that has led him to this moment in history, where he is able to hijack the nation and bring it to the brink of the abyss — and he’s not even elected to office yet.

Better late than never, one consoles oneself.

The poignant irony of this moment cannot be overstated. It has taken two unknown grieving parents, Muslim immigrants (Muslim. immigrants.), to present America with the undeniable contrast between human and democratic values and their utter lack embodied in Trump. Good versus evil, not to put too fine a point on it.

You must watch the humble and courageous Khans to fully appreciate how different they are from the bloviating, power-hungry ignoramus whose nemesis they have become. On PBS, Mr. Khan confesses, with a mixture of pride and embarrassment, that at home they keep a supply of pocket-size copies of the American Constitution, which they give out to their guests. You can’t make this up. Just as you can’t make up the fact that the only book apparently ever read by Trump, or at least kept on his nightstand, was a collection of Hitler’s speeches.

This irrefutable contrast between good and evil has caused the opinion-makers take note and wonder, finally, just what kind of pathology may be involved in such an utter lack of human values, including empathy and plain decency, as displayed by Trump. Only now they are beginning to notice what was glaringly obvious all along: that their presumptive emperor has no conscience and that this peculiar defect may carry some predictable consequences.

Apparently it ain’t over — or real, or true — until a fat pundit sings.