America elected a highly psychopathic (aka sociopathic) personality to the presidency last November, yet nearly seven months later, few in the media and clinical world want to say it.
Yes, Trump’s a narcissist, and many are now recognizing this. But it was always necessary to observe that he is more than a narcissist. I’ve been screaming this since the inception of his presidential campaign. And why is this so important? Because Trump’s “narcissism” doesn’t adequately explain him.
Only one thing accurately explains Trump—his high levels of psychopathic personality traits and attitudes. It is only Trump’s significantly psychopathic personality that properly makes sense of him.
Let’s take a quick tour through terminology. Are all “psychopaths” narcissistic? Yes. Are most narcissists psychopathic? No.
Psychopaths express their narcissism in particularly malignant, chilling forms. The term “malignant narcissism” best describes the likely relationship between narcissism and psychopathy. It suggests the strong possibility that psychopaths are, in fact, expressing a toxic variant of disordered narcissism—that is, a particularly malignant variant of it.
Why the media and clinical world’s hesitation to call Trump what he is–indisputably and dangerously someone who is quite psychopathic? There are surely several reasons, among them a widely incomplete understanding of psychopathy. There are likely concerns about and fears of liability. But another reason may be that “psychopathy” and “psychopathic personality” are not officially recognized in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental health conditions). The American Psychiatric Association, while officially recognizing narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders, for decades has excluded the diagnosis “psychopath” in its diagnostic manual.
But this doesn’t mean that psychopathic individuals haven’t been identified, studied and researched for decades. They have. Many distinguished clinicians have dedicated careers to studying and researching psychopathic personality. Robert Hare, Ph.D. developed the PCL-R inventory, a clinically rigorous psychometric tool that measures levels of psychopathic traits in adult individuals, particularly in incarcerated settings. But Hare has also adapted the PCL with similar clinical heft to measure psychopathic levels in other populations, as well. And there are other psychopathic/sociopathic inventory metrics and scales that have demonstrated notable clinical validity and reliability.
There is little question what we mean when we describe someone as clinically psychopathic, or possessing psychopathic qualities. We can describe who psychopaths are, how they act, and how they think. We can even differentiate them, at the very least by degrees and scale, from personality disordered narcissists and many anti-socially disordered individuals.
Now let’s return to Trump. As I’ve written previously, Trump possesses every well-established, core personality trait of psychopaths, and he possesses them at high levels—take, for instance, manipulativeness, pathological lying, callousness, deficient empathy, unconscionableness, grandiosity, [antisocial forms] of stimulation-seeking from boredom (see his bellicose, provocative tweeting compulsion as an example), impulsivity, shallowness and superficiality. Is there really debate that Trump hasn’t characterologically exhibited these traits at smoldering levels?
Now let’s take a fast-track look at the mentality of psychopaths. Psychopaths, above all, are transgressive personalities—transgressive of rules, boundaries and limits. They are violating personalities who, when violating, lack remorse. Psychopaths tend to be game players and envelope pushers, oriented to “getting over” on others, and systems.
When psychopaths target something they want—whether for kicks, money, an edge, power, amusement, control, vengeance, sexual gratification, you name it—they will lay claim to it as if it is theirs; but even with an intellectual awareness that it isn’t theirs, their attitude will be something like, “So what? Even if it’s not mine, I want it, so I’m going after it. I’ll get it. I’ll take it.” (If you’re hearing in this kind of thinking, this kind of attitude, a deeply twisted sense of entitlement, you’re listening well.)
From the psychopath’s perspective, when you have something he (or she) wants, you are a “resource” to be exploited. When you make it inconvenient for the psychopath to exploit you, you are not a human being in your own right, but an obstruction to be troubleshot, removed, overpowered. Contemptuous of vulnerability, the psychopath loses no sleep violating you to accomplish his ends. This is just the way it must be—the collateral damage and pain he causes you in pursuit of his gratifications.
Psychopaths are shameless personalities. Their shamelessness liberates and disinhibits them from accountability. Without shame, anything and everything goes. The charisma of certain psychopathic personalities, like Trump’s, derives from their shamelessness. It’s easy to be bold, brazen, fearless, antisocially audacious and jaw-droppingly unconstrained when you lack shame. Shame is a deterrent, keeping us sober and mindful of boundaries and limits; it constrains us.
Trump’s shamelessness as another indicator of his psychopathic personality tendencies has been woefully neglected by media and the clinical world. As I’ve noted, it’s disinhibited him to be the unhinged, loose cannon, id-driven, unaccountable, impulsive, contemptuous, heedless personality that he is.
The “strength” and “balls” Trump projected throughout his campaign to mesmerizing effect—really, his compulsive transgressing of social decency and norms—derived not from true strength and courage, but a childish, fixated, immature, pathological shamelessness that left, and leaves him, free to shock, test, toy, provoke, manipulate, lie, blame and attack with self-impunity.
Trump was certainly something we’d never quite seen before, and it made for great theater. But it shouldn’t have taken long to recognize what made for the theater—it wasn’t simply his narcissism. We’d seen that before, and it was nothing new.
What we hadn’t seen before was a presidential nominee whose psychopathic personality was so blatant. And still, with all the returns of his psychopathology long flaunted and registered, we see the mainstream media, and clinical world, averse to explaining and calling him what he is.