What is a sociopath: As he starts today's column in the Washington Post, Colbert King employs a rude term.
He drops his bomb on Donald J. Trump. Could his (apparent) assessment be accurate?
KING (9/2/17): The list of dismal topics eligible for weekly reflection in a column is long: the Texas Gulf Coast catastrophe; our sociopath in the White House; their sociopath in Pyongyang; the debt ceiling ticking time bomb; Daniel Snyder’s overhyped, overpaid, underwhelming football team. Issues worth pondering seem endless.Did King really mean to say that Donald J. Trump is a "sociopath?" Was that just a throw-away bomb, or was it meant as a real assessment?
However, I can’t help but focus my musings on an incident that took place in our nation’s capital—one that was so degenerate and vulgar as to take the breath away.
Kim Jong-Un is a sociopath too, King seems to say. But with respect to Donald J. Trump, was the veteran Post columnist/editorial board member offering an actual assessment?
We can't answer that question. We can offer two award-winning thoughts:
First, the question strikes us as real. We fiery liberals have tended to diagnose Trump with narcissistic personality disorder, the same disorder we widely diagnosed in the previous Republican president.
That said, the leading authority on psychopathy offers this thought-provoking description of the syndrome to which King refers:
Psychopathy, sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy, is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits. Different conceptions of psychopathy have been used throughout history. These conceptions are only partly overlapping and may sometimes be contradictory.Does any of that sound like Donald J. Trump? We'd have to say it does.
There are multiple conceptualizations of psychopathy, including Cleckleyan psychopathy (Hervey Cleckley's conception entailing bold, disinhibited behavior.and "feckless disregard") and criminal psychopathy (a conception entailing a meaner, more aggressive, disinhibited, with persistent and sometimes serious criminal behavior). The latter conceptualization is typically used as the modern clinical concept and assessed by the Psychopathy Checklist...
Yet another conceptualization, the triarchic model, suggests that other conceptualizations of psychopathy emphasize three observable characteristics to varying degrees. Analyses have been made with respect to the applicability of measurement tools such as the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL, PCL-R) and Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI) to this model.
Boldness. Low fear including stress-tolerance, toleration of unfamiliarity and danger, and high self-confidence and social assertiveness. The PCL-R measures this relatively poorly and mainly through Facet 1 of Factor 1. Similar to PPI Fearless dominance. May correspond to differences in the amygdala and other neurological systems associated with fear. Psychopaths tend to have reduced fear.
Disinhibition. Poor impulse control including problems with planning and foresight, lacking affect and urge control, demand for immediate gratification, and poor behavioral restraints. Similar to PCL-R Factor 2 and PPI Impulsive antisociality. May correspond to impairments in frontal lobe systems that are involved in such control.
Meanness. Lacking empathy and close attachments with others, defiance of authority. The PCL-R in general is related to this but in particular some elements in Factor 1. Similar to PPI but also includes elements of subscales in Impulsive antisociality.
Very few journalists will be equipped to discuss such matters without recourse to expert guidance. This would be a very difficult journalistic discussion to undertake. That said, King has dropped this particular bomb on this very morning.
We offer one other thought:
As he continues his column today, King discusses an incident which occurred in D.C. last weekend. It involved some grossly antisocial behavior on the part of a person who has been charged with a crime and required to get a "mental health" assessment.
"Mental illness" is a difficult concept. That said, it's commonly understood that people who are "mentally ill" may not be responsible for their illness, or for the conduct which may ensue.
Physical illness subtracts from a person's potential. But so does "mental illness." Is our current president "mentally ill" in some dangerous way? If so, in the end, would his condition, however dangerous, actually be his "fault?"
King seems to judge the D.C. resident about whom he writes quite harshly, in moral terms. For ourselves, we'd recommend Edie Doyle's humane perspective from the great film, On the Waterfront.
How did Donald J. Trump get this way? Are we looking at nature or nurture? (We note that reference to the amygdala.) What might Donald J. Trump have been like if he had somehow managed to sidestep whatever condition may be involved in his unappealing outlook and behavior?
In award-winning fashion, we sometimes wonder. Do you?