Maureen Dowd uses a word: Yesterday, Maureen Dowd used a word in her New York Times column.
The column appeared on the front page of the Times' Sunday Review. The word in question is considered quite potent, except when it's used as a lark.
Dowd used the word in her column itself, in which she quoted Michael Cohen's testimony from last week. The powerful word also appeared in the headline atop her long column:
DOWD (3/3/19): The Sycophant and the SociopathIs Donald J. Trump a sociopath? That's the powerful word Dowd used, in the body of her column and right up there in her headline.
“Mr. Trump is an enigma,” Cohen said. “He is complicated, as am I.”
Actually, Trump is simple, grasping for money, attention and fame. The enigma about Trump is why he cut off his lap dog so brutally that Cohen fell into the embrace of Robert Mueller and New York federal prosecutors. Trump is often compared to a mob boss, but Michael Corleone would never turn on a loyal capo, only on one who had crossed him.
The portrait Cohen drew of Trump was not surprising. It has been apparent for some time that the president is a con man, racist, cheat and liar. (See: Jared Kushner security clearance.)
What was most compelling about the congressional hearing was the portrait of the sadistic relationship between the sycophant and the sociopath.
Is President Trump a sociopath? Dowd may have wanted that to be seen as an eye-catching, throw-away term.
Beyond that, "sociopath" doesn't seem to be an official diagnostic term. In July 2016, The Atlantic's James Hamblin wrote this:
HAMBLIN (7/20/16): [S]ociopathy and psychopathy—which are similar, and sometimes used interchangeably—are not formal psychiatric diagnoses. The terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” do tend to be thrown around casually by people in need of an insult that carries an air of empiricism. “My boss is a sociopath” is to say that this is not just an opinion or judgment, but a fact. But different people define the terms differently, with understandings converging around the feature of lacking “a conscience.”"Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder." Hamblin went on to consider the applicability of those diagnostic terms to then-candidate Trump.
The closest thing to psychopathy or sociopathy in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)—the book that defines every mental illness and outlines how mental-health professionals should make the diagnosis—is either Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder.
This very occasional discussion sputtered forward from there. In September 2017, Harvard psychiatric Lance Dodes seemed to tell Salon's Chauncey DeVega that Trump meets the general criteria for "sociopathy" as generally understood:
DEVEGA (9/12/17): Clinically, if we were to look at the checklist for sociopathy, what are some of the indicators that Trump is presenting?Dodes is one of the psychiatrists who wrote essays for The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, a book edited by Yale's Dr. Bandy X. Lee. The book was widely ignored by the press.
DODES: It is people who lie and cheat. Everybody lies some of the time, but in this instance we mean people who lie as a way of being in the world, to manage relationships and also to manage your feelings about yourself. People who cheat and steal from others. People who lack empathy...the lack of empathy is a critical aspect of it. People who are narcissistic.
Trump’s case of narcissism is particularly severe because he also is out of touch with reality whenever he becomes upset. When he says, “I had the largest crowd at an inauguration in history,” it does not matter that you can tell him that it is not true, he still insists on it. Well, that is very troublesome because what it means is that he needs to believe it. He is able to give up reality in exchange for his wished-for belief. Sometimes we call that a delusion. We have not used that word much with Donald Trump because that does get confused with people who think that they are Napoleon. But Trump has a fluid sense of reality, which is a sign of a very sick individual.
Sociopathy itself is a sign of a very sick individual, someone with a lying, cheating and emotional disorder. The intersection of those two occurs in sociopathy. It is not just bad behavior that people have to lie and cheat the way he does, it is an incapacity to treat other people as full human beings. That is why his focus is on humiliating others to aggrandize himself, as he did in the Republican primaries when he was debating and calling people names. The same thing applies to Hispanic immigrants and separating the children from their parents. That is a very, very serious mental and emotional problem. Normal people have normal empathy. It is part of being a human being. Lying and cheating and humiliating others and grinding them into dust in order to triumph is not just bad behavior. It is a serious mental illness.
Is President Trump in the grip of "a serious mental illness?" After this editorial early last year by the New York Times, the mainstream press corps generally agreed not to debate or discuss that question.
That said, is the president "dangerous?" We can't necessarily say.
Last week, Cohen said that, if Trump is defeated for re-election, we may not have a peaceful transfer of power. Four days later, Dowd used a powerful term.
Sometimes, if it weren't for the lack of public discussion, our society would have no public discussions at all. We were struck by the appearance of that word in yesterday's Sunday Review, but we've come to accept a powerful norm:
Our mainstream political punditry is built around issues of body language, wardrobe and personality quirks. (Also, who may have had sex on one occasion with whom.)
Issues of hair may also arise. It's not clear that other things matter.