AMERICA WAS RIPE FOR PLUNDER BY A PSYCHOPATH (Part Three)
…and She was fleeced by a master practitioner
by Vince Greenwood, Ph.D., founder of DutyToInform.org
By 2016, the media and political landscapes had become friendly territory for someone seeking the presidency who suffered from a severe and dangerous psychopathological condition called Psychopathic Personality Disorder. This condition consists of a set of hard-wired, immutable traits, including the absence of a conscience, deceit, arrogance, and divisiveness. It is easy to condemn such traits as destructive, but they have also been characterized as “malignant charms” because they can lead to a kind of short-term, winning-the-moment domination and success. By 2016, since our media and political culture had descended into a beyond truth and shame state, these traits (sadly) operated as advantageous “charms” for someone pursuing political power.
The conflation of news and entertainment had created a media landscape that was user-friendly for a candidate skilled in the beyond truth and shame expressive style. Fox News, talk radio, evangelical TV, and other conservative media companies have become purely political operations, ratings-driven conglomerates absent of any journalistic standards or accountability. Also, the tabloid-style of social media allows for the delivery of emotionally provocative content untethered from reality. Trump’s Twitter feed is but one example of a delivery system designed to stoke emotion and blunt reason.
Likewise, for the political landscape. Pathological lying, the shredding of norms, winning at all costs, and fomenting polarization are the uncontested traits that have taken over the political culture the past twenty-some years. In particular, these traits were openly embraced by the GOP, as evidenced by the Gingrich slash and burn mode of political combat, George W. Bush’s administration’s disdain for the “reality-based” community as “clueless,” and Mitch McConnell’s contempt for Senate rules and norms.
These altered landscapes — populated by Vichy Republicans, Fox News, and conservative talk radio — licensed bad actors who would engage in the assault on truth, ruthlessly pursue domination of others outside their tribe, and undermine norms without regard to the damage that may cause. The clinical psychopath is like a cold-blooded machine designed to lie, dominate, and act without remorse. Dangerous though they may be, psychopaths have just the “malignant charms” to thrive in our current political environment.
And Donald Trump does meet the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy. He scores in the moderate to severe range on the gold-standard measure of clinical psychopathy (which does not require an interview in order to administer). And thrive he did.
In addition to the advantages conveyed by his core psychopathic traits, Trump possessed other skills that were instrumental in his rise. These include:
- His ability to brand. He knows how to make a label stick e.g.“Little Marco,” “Pocahontas.”
- His ability to turn failure and disgrace into gold.
- His ability to spin a capitalist fairy tale about his life, as he did in “The Art Of The Deal.”
- His ability to swallow the dog whistle of racism and appeal openly to white nationalists.
- His persona, the gangster capitalist, fit naturally into our postmodern slot of the flawed antihero. Like Tony Soprano or Walter White, he would do anything to make sure his family came out on top.
- He played the anti-intellectualism card effectively. Book learning, expertise, power points, and policy analysis were for “losers” (“Where has it gotten us?”)
- Until the past year, for fully one-third of the country, he transmogrified the country’s governance into a spectacle that was fun. His rallies are mostly riffs, as expertly executed as Chris Rock’s: a display of narcissistic preening, Mussolini-like gestures, and scatological rhetoric. Burlesque and politically incorrect authenticity fused in his performance, resulting in a gay dance between the cult leader and his minions.
- Just as importantly, for fully one-third of the country, he turned the experience of being an American citizen into torture. He recognized that partisan hatred was the most potent political dynamic in the land. And no one could make liberals cry harder than Donald Trump.
Most critically, his years in front of the camera with Celebrity Apprentice and Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment had honed his skills as a Reality TV performer. He understands the fundamental modus operandi of Reality TV: to be riveting.
To meet that goal, he utilized the ratings-tested tropes of low-brow entertainment, such as:
- Simple plot lines, with an emphasis on good vs. evil. Low art sells because it is digestible and 100% pleasurable; high art, with its emphasis on complexity, empathy, and suffering, not so much. In the former, the payoff is immediate; in the latter, well down the road, if at all.
- Evocative, easy to digest, and crude dialogue. This is the ‘ he talks like l do’ refrain. Studies show Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level (e.g.,” shithole countries.” “If l were running “The View,” I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. l mean I’d look at her in that fat ugly face of hers. I’d say “Rosie, you’re fired!”)
- Paint a vivid setting. He typically describes Blue America as a hellscape.(e.g., “Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store.”)
- The protagonist as an antihero The “villains” are more popular in Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment; the ruthless one often prevails in The Apprentice; the “bad boy” has the edge in The Bachelor.
- Assert superior intelligence (“I’m like really smart, a very stable genius.”)
- Rapidly interchange and exaggerate facial expressions. Compare Trump to any other politician on this dimension: it’s like watching a high- energy cartoon vs. a staid PBS show.
- Liberal use of dramatic twists and cliffhangers (“You’ll find out soon…”)
- Reference to conspiracy theories (“Obama and Biden spied on me.”)
Yes, our media and political landscapes were morally-compromised and allowed for the ascendance of someone like Trump. But Trump himself deserves a fair share of the credit. The set of his psychopathic traits, coupled with his Reality TV skills, were a formidable combination.
We may not have imagined the conflagration that has ensued, but we shouldn’t have been surprised. If white grievance and disgust with the political class were the kindling, then those combustibles didn’t just ignite with a match, but the blowtorch who is our 45th president of the United States.