MENTAL STATES: Is Donald J. Trump a sociopath?


Inquiring minds don't want to know:
Last Friday might, on the PBS NewsHour, David Brooks broke an embargo.

Brooks was participating in the program's regular Friday night "Brooks and Shields" pundit segment, with Capehart posing as Shields. At one point, moderator Anna Nawaz asked about Donald J. Trump's visit to El Paso, which had occurred two days before.

Nawaz fashioned a somewhat open-ended, somewhat fuzzy question. In his reply, Brooks sinned against a long-standing press corps rule:
NAWAZ (8/9/19): David, how do you look at this, really? He's such a divisive figure anyway. There is the standard of the "consoler-in-chief." He hasn't done it yet. It's not who he is, right?

BROOKS: Yes. Well, there's a photo, a still from that visit, where he's with the orphan baby and two family members, with his wife. And Melania is holding the child. And he's got this grin and the thumb up.

And when I looked at that photo, I thought, you know, "The Democrats are having a debate: Is he a racist? Is he a white supremacist?"

And I look at that photo, I think, "Well, he's a sociopath. He's incapable of experiencing or showing empathy...
For transcript and tape, click here.

Brooks continued on from there; we'll post his full answer below. But he'd broken a basic press corps rule. He'd seemed to say that Donald J. Trump is in the grip of a serious psychiatric disorder.

Is Donald J. Trump a sociopath? As far as we know, "sociopathy" isn't sanctioned as a diagnostic term within modern psychiatry. That said, we've seen few discussions of such matters, because such discussions aren't permitted by the largely unspoken rules of our upper-end press corps establishment.

As far as we know, you can't get diagnosed as a "sociopath" by a sanctioned psychiatrist. That said, the term is in widespread informal use. The experts at Psychology Today explain the matter like this:
Sociopathy is an informal term that refers to a pattern of antisocial behaviors and attitudes, including manipulative and deceitful behavior, often arising from environmental factors. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), sociopathy is most closely represented by Antisocial Personality Disorder. It is important to note that sociopathy is not a formal diagnosis, but is often invoked in discussing people who are on the antisocial spectrum, those who generally display callous behavior with little regard for others.
That's what Brooks was talking about—and he wasn't alone this day. At New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan had already broken the very same rules, in the following way:
SULLIVAN (8/9/19): [S]omehow, at 73, Trump’s psychological sickness gives him an edge: a gob-smacking drive to keep going and going and going, with no signs of flagging at all, and many signs of mania. Who in their 70s is crazy enough to keep up? Even as he claimed he was seeking healing and unity this week, Trump was still tweeting insults, filming a shameless campaign video, and comparing crowd sizes with Beto O’Rourke’s. The sheer sociopathic narcissism in the face of such grief and trauma beggars belief.
Looking at Trump that very same day, Sullivan saw a "sociopathic narcissism" in the chief executive's conduct. He saw a "psychological sickness" featuring "many signs of mania."

In offering these assessments, Brooks and Sullivan were breaking the rules. Ever since the 1960s, the press corps has, in theory if not always in practice, adhered to the so-called Goldwater Rule, which said that political journalism should avoid psychiatric diagnosis.

In theory, the Goldwater Rule has held sway. It's a very good journalistic rule—until you have a commander in chief who seems to be mentally ill. Inevitably, though, it happened:

In January 2018, the New York Times editorial board decreed that the press should continue adhering to the Goldwater Rule in the case of President Trump. Inevitably, the children fell in line. Speculations about the president's health have been conducted by samizdat from that time to this.

Bandy X. Lee was disappeared. Pundits agreed to be "shocked shocked," day after day after day after day, by the latest crazy thing the commander in chief had most recently said.

Brooks and Sullivan broke that embargo last week. They dared to voice their speculations about the commander in chief's mental state.

That said, peculiar mental states have been on display, for decades now, across the American landscape. You have the peculiar mental states displayed by the stars of the upper-end press. Beyond that, you have the peculiar mental states displayed within the American public—by wide ranges of people within both major tribes, the blue as well as the red.

We in the west have long adhered to the comically self-flattering "rational animal" framework. We insist on seeing ourselves as fundamentally rational players.

We're persistently shocked, and puzzled, by departures from this preconceived norm. "The American people are pretty sharp," major pundits have constantly told us.

It's long past time when we should be discussing Donald Trump's mental state. We could start by letting Dr. Lee return from the re-education camp to which she was frog-marched away.

As the week proceeds, we'll also discuss the metal states of the mainstream press—and even of us over here within our own self-impressed tribe. We'll suggest the radical move which lies at the heart of what is now being called The New Retroactive Anthropology, though only by top experts who live in a dystopian future:

We'll suggest a move which will break all the rules. We'll suggest that we experiment with seeing that famous duck-rabbit in the less flattering way.

Tomorrow: Return of the Clintons most foul

The fuller assessment: Brooks made a fuller statement about Trump. This was his fuller assessment:
BROOKS (8/9/19): Yes. Well, there's a photo, a still from that visit, where he's with the orphan baby and two family members, with his wife. And Melania is holding the child. And he's got this grin and the thumb up.

And when I looked at that photo, I thought, you know, "The Democrats are having a debate: Is he a racist? Is he a white supremacist?"

And I look at that photo, I think, "Well, he's a sociopath. He's incapable of experiencing or showing empathy.

And, politically, it's helpful for him to target that lack of empathy and fellow feeling toward people of color. But how much have we seen him show empathy for anybody?

And so I look at that as someone who is unloved, and made himself unlovable, and whose subject is himself, is his own competitive greatness. And so he doesn't do the consoler-in-chief just because he doesn't do that emotional range. And that's a burden and a cost for any of us.
To Brooks, Donald J. Trump is unloved, and has made himself unlovable. Our questions:

Following Dylan, should we "pity the poor immigrant" in this case? Or should we continue to call him those names?

Compare and contrast. Discuss. You each get 15 seconds.


  1. "That said, the term is in widespread informal use."

    Yeah, sure. These days, dear Bob, this particular slur seems to be directed at those who don't belong to your liberal-zombie cult. At the human beings.

    So, please consider me one of them, the "sociopaths". And whatever else slurs you and your zombie comrades might want to use for us infidels - I'd be always proud to be in that category.

    1. Mao, being a troll, you have the dark triad of narcissism, Machiavellianism and sociopathy. Owning it doesn't make you human, it just demonstrates why you are a troll.

  2. You cannot deal with psychologial states -- you must deal with behavior. For whatever reason, Trump did a poor job of consoling the grieving survivors of that shooting. It is enough to say that his performed badly as President without also attributing it to a mental state, whether sociopathy or prejudice against the Mexican-American survivors or narcissism. It doesn't matter what his reasons were or what his personality is like. It matters what he does as president.

  3. Somerby is not qualified to diagnose anyone and neither is Brooks, nor is Andrew Sullivan.

    No reputable psychiatrist or clinical psychologist would diagnose someone at a distance like this. They would do an appropriate assessment before issuing a statement -- to the person involved, not the press.

    When pundits or members of the press speculate like this, it is a stunt, a political ploy, a motivated attack on the president that needs to be evaluated for what it is, not taken at face value. The general public cannot evaluate the truth of Brooks's remark or of Somerby's. It has no value except to indicate a negative attitude toward Trump.

    I believe that negative attitude is fully justified on the basis of his actions, which are reprehensible. But when you attribute psychological conditions to Trump, you backhandedly malign other people who may have such a diagnosis. There are many sociopaths and narcissists who do not behave like our president, are not white supremacists, don't borrow orphans for photo ops, run businesses and try to do right by their employees, families and friends. Trump's misbehavior is his own and not the result of his psychopathology, as if he had no control over his behavior.

    Somerby's repeated attempts to excuse Trump based on psychological mindreading that he doesn't understand, is not proper journalism and stinks on a human level. There is nothing about sociopathy that dictates the extreme cruelty he has displayed toward immigrants and the mess he has made of our government.

    Somerby needs to rethink this attempt to justify Trump's action based on mental illness and understand that mental illness doesn't cause criminal behavior, nor does it excuse it, and Trump is going down for his actions.

    1. You write with a bias, pre-judging Bob with an animus that handicaps your ability to properly understand whatever Bob writes. To think that Bob seeks to "justify" Trump, and thereby "condone" him, which is what it seems to be that you are saying (of course, I could be wrong), is stupid. "Man, you a idiot!"

    2. How can I prejudge Somerby when I've been reading this blog since it started and the previous one before that?

      If you doubt that Somerby has changed and is now a Trump apologist, go back and read his incomparable archives.

    3. @6:47P, it requires reading for comprehension, something you're not doing if you think TDH is a "Trump apologist."

    4. Just because Somerby repeats Right-wing memes on a daily basis, doesn't mean he's a Trump apologist.

    5. Translation of @9:27: TDH said something I disagree with. Instead of providing a counter-argument, I'll just say he's repeating a right-wing meme.

      Either you can't spot a right-wing meme or you can't read for comprehension.

      Or both.

  4. No politician visiting the site of a shooting would just wing it, reacting according to his or her feelings, doing whatever came to mind. They would have a schedule and a plan and prepared remarks, and years of practice interacting with people in a variety of circumstances.

    Trump is unqualified to be president and lacks that preparation, but beyond that, he won't listen to his staff and he won't follow any plan for engaging with others in any political context. He says the wrong thing when meeting the Queen of England, when meeting with world leaders such as Abe and Trudeau, and he says the wrong things to workers at factories. So why do anything differently in this recent situation?

    Trump forces all meetings into a single framework of campaigning. He issues slogans and attacks at state functions and he makes self-aggrandizing statements and gives a thumbs up, campaign-style, when meeting with mourners. Because that is what he does in all public situations, because he is too stupid or lazy to change his approach to fit the context. And he has shown this repeatedly. But is it the result of mental illness or does he lack the flexibility and cognitive resources to understand what is happening and respond accordingly. This could be signs of advancing dementia, not narcissism or antisocial personality. That's why it is wrong to try to diagnose him this way. It is enough to say that he behaves badly, which he does.

    Somerby used to be the guardian of public figures against mindreading by journalists. Now he applauds it. Why? What makes this situation different? Is he trying to generate sympathy for Trump or is he trying to absolve him or is he trying to catch liberals in an impermissible act and will spring out of the bushes and shout Gotcha at some future point? Somerby is behaving very inconsistently and it is unclear what today's article means.

  5. On Friday, Somerby asked if Trump is a white supremacist. Today, he asks if Trump is a sociopath. Somerby is uncertain about the answer to the first, and leans towards the affirmative about the second.

    Why can’t he be both?

    Trump is clearly appealing to racists ; he is a race-baiter. He employs Stephen Miller, and Gorka and Bannon were close advisers. These men are white supremacist/white nationalist ideologues. That makes Trump at the very least an enabler of white supremacy. But at some point, the distinction between an enthusiastic enabler of white supremacy and being a white supremacist becomes functionally nonexistent.

    Whether Trump is a sociopath or not does not prevent him from also being a white nationalist. Sociopathy, whatever Somerby thinks it means, does not absolve anyone of responsibility for one’s actions.

    It’s also unclear why “white supremacist” is a label that should be avoided, at least according to Somerby, but “sociopath” should be embraced, despite his own admission that “As far as we know, "sociopathy" isn't sanctioned as a diagnostic term within modern psychiatry.” Couple this with his view that journalists shouldn’t call Trump a liar because they don’t know his intent or inner mental state, and you have a textbook definition of hypocrisy, since “Trump is a sociopath” is equally speculative by this definition.

    Given all this, there isn’t much practical difference between calling Trump a white supremacist and calling him a sociopath. They are both just insulting “epithets” if you buy Somerby’s line of thinking.

    It must also be borne in mind that the “sociopath” Trump has great appeal to his many fans, and he is being enabled in his sociopathy by an administration and a political party in lockstep behind him. Does that make them sociopaths as well?

  6. Here goes Somerby with his “S”-bombs again.

  7. Yes, that was a terrible photo. It shouldn't have been made public. Two questions
    1. Who took that photo?
    2. Who decided to release it?

    If a Trump person released it, that was very poor judgment. If a news organization released it, then it might have been poor judgement or it might have been maliciousness.

    1. “If a Trump person released it, that was very poor judgment. If a news organization released it, then it might have been poor judgment or it might have been maliciousness.”

      Yeah, it would be shameful for a news organization to release an unflattering photo of a fucking sociopath. “Maliciousness”? You just exposed yourself, DinC. You know this photo is disagreeable, and exactly why.

      “Sociopathy is an informal term that refers to a pattern of antisocial behaviors and attitudes, including manipulative and deceitful behavior, often arising from environmental factors.”

      Yeah, we know what the environmental factors are, and will continue to be. Trump only cares about one person: Himself. Started at an early age, I’m sure.

      Fuck that motherfucker, and fuck all of the commenters who have imagined Bob is somehow an enabler. And especially, fuck all defenders of Trump. Looking at you, DinC. Mao can also take a powder, he’s just a poseur.

  8. "He's incapable of experiencing or showing empathy."

    Incidentally, dear Bob, real psychos, people incapable of experiencing empathy (e.g. your zombie cult's great leader, the old psycho-witch) are extremely good at showing empathy.

    Indeed, that is how psychos operate, playing their 'super-empathic' roles without any awkwardness at all.

    What your dembot-hack is describing in the quote above, it sound more like a very mild autism, typical for a large number of (non-zombie) humans...

    1. Congratulations on being named the head of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    2. I wonder if Mao was invited to the Hamptons last week, where Donald J Chickenshit, Acting President, met with his economically anxious East Coast elite mega-donors?

    3. Autism, yet another diagnosis from afar. Are you perhaps aware that folks on the internet similarly diagnosed his son, Barron? More than mild autism would explain his inability to read, his lack of sense of humor, his rages, his inability to have a normal relationship with anyone, and his focus on irrelevant details (carpet samples). But so would other diagnostic labels. That's the problem. You need someone qualified to do a differential diagnosis to figure out which syndrome best fits his behavior. Clearly something is wrong with him, majorly wrong, but figuring out what is the job of professionals.

      Your preoccupation with zombies is getting a little weird.

    4. I wasn't diagnosing anyone, my dear dembot. What I said was that dembot-hack's description sounds more like autism than sociopathy.

      And, y'know, to misunderstand the short and perfectly straightforward phrase above, ... well, why don't you diagnose yourself.

    5. Mao,
      Of course I agree with you that black lives matter. What sentient human being wouldn't?


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