Are We Going to Elect a Psychopath?
By Robert Rabbin
A quick look at some of today’s headlines referring to the U.S. presidential candidates’ debate and campaign trail performances include these words: racist, insane, crackpots, weirdos, bizarre, nonsensical, disaster, fear, hate, narcissist, fascist, Mussolini, psychopath, Hitler.
Psychopaths and Hitler vying for the White House? Seriously? Let’s hit the pause button and let this sink in, before we are swept away by the next news cycle — coming in a few minutes. Let’s have a deeper look at the real possibility that we might well elect a psychopath in 2016. Policy proposals and position statements, rehearsed talking points, bombast, bravado, soaring promises — these are not reliable indicators of the actual mental make-up of candidates.
At the moment, the only requirements for holding office are set forth in Article II, Section I of the U. S. Constitution. It specifies that, to be president or vice president, a person must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, at least 35 years of age, and a resident of the United States for at least 14 years. That’s it; nothing more. Except tons of cash.
With the entry requirements for candidacy being so low, what is to prevent a host of moneyed crazies from running for president, even being elected? Apparently, nothing at all. How are we to know if candidates for president are mentally sound and emotionally mature and stable?
How can we, the citizens who are charged with making wise and considered choices about who becomes president, evaluate whether a candidate is mentally sound or suffering from mental illness? We do not have that kind of access to candidates, who we finally empower to set our national priorities, influence public policy, command the military, raise or lower taxes, establish budgets, maintain or violate treaties, assemble a cabinet, and so much more. We can only witness manufactured, media-based performances that are scripted and rehearsed to produce an effect. We need to get behind the curtain of smoke and mirrors, behind the misdirection antics of press secretaries and publicists, to see who is really pulling the levers. We need a way to ascertain the mental health of presidential candidates before they are granted world-shaking powers.
Are we in danger of electing a psychopathic president?
In his 2005 collection of essays entitled A Man Without a Country, American novelist and wise elder Kurt Vonnegut offers some insight into how this can happen:
“To say somebody is a PP (psychopathic personality) is to make a perfectly respectable medical diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete’s foot. And so many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they cannot care what happens next. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!”
Ah, yes: socialized psychopaths.
In Without Conscience, Dr. Robert D. Hare, one of the world’s foremost authorities in the area of psychopathy, says that such socialized psychopaths “appear to function reasonably well — as lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, academics, mercenaries, police officers, cult leaders, military personnel, businesspeople, writers, artists, entertainers and so forth — without breaking the law, or at least without being caught and convicted. These individuals are every bit as egocentric, callous, and manipulative as the average criminal psychopath; however, their intelligence, family background, social skills, and circumstances permit them to construct a façade of normalcy and to get what they want with relative impunity.”
Most alarming of all is the theme that runs through the case histories of all psychopaths: a deeply disturbing inability to care about the pain and suffering experienced by others — in short, a complete lack of empathy. If this inability to experience or care about others’ pain and suffering marries compulsive lying in the Church of No Conscience, presided over by impulsivity — well, good lord, that’s a train wreck for sure.
Should we be concerned that such a person would become president of the United States? A checklist of emotional and interpersonal traits of such people would include: a grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, lack of remorse or guilt, shallow emotions, lack of empathy, poor behavioral controls, lack of realistic long-term plans, impulsivity, and irresponsibility. Do we really want a president whose core behavioral patterns include lying, cheating, cruelty, irresponsibility, lack of remorse, poor relationships, exploitation, manipulation, destructiveness, irritability, and aggressiveness?
It is unconscionable to elect a president who lacks empathy and conscience, honesty and integrity, and mature impulse control. Shouldn’t these qualities represent the minimum standard of mental health for someone who is commander-in-chief of the largest military force in the world and who has virtually unlimited power to affect the lives of billions of people?
So, I propose that all candidates submit to a battery of psychological tests to be administered and interpreted by eminent psychologists — and the results made public. I’m surprised this hasn’t already occurred. After all, psychological tests, along with drug and polygraph tests and background investigations, are routinely required in the public safety sector, including police officers, correctional officers, dispatchers, security guards, park rangers, SWAT teams, fire fighters, and emergency medical technicians. Military psychologists conduct psychological testing and applicant assessment for general fitness-for-duty and for highly sensitive jobs requiring security clearances. (It’s interesting to note that the Department of Defense employs more psychologists than any other organization or company in the world.) Courts may sometimes order a battery of psych tests to determine parental fitness. Work-related aptitude, ability, and personality trait testing, a billion dollar industry, is common practice in Fortune 500 companies. In a document entitled “Nuclear Security—Before and After September 11,” the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission “requires background checks for nuclear facility employees to ensure that they are trustworthy.
I’d like to have an equivalent screening process for candidates for president. I’d like to know that they have a human heart that can feel the pain and suffering of others. I’d like to know they have a conscience to hold their base instincts in check. I’d like to know if they can tell the truth or whether they are compulsive liars. I’d like to know they can work cooperatively with others. I’d like to know that they are not seeking to conquer the world as compensation for lovelessness. I’d like to know that they respect living things, that they have a sense of the sacred. I’d like to know that their soul moves toward peace, not war; toward forgiveness, not vengeance; toward freedom, not oppression; toward tolerance, not hatred. I’d like to know these things. This is where I want to set the bar.
There are a number of valid and reliable tests used to evaluate and assess a person’s personality traits and psychological health. The Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) can provide a comprehensive assessment of adult psychopathology and can help assess major symptoms of social and personal maladjustment.
Personality tests and inventories evaluate the thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behavioral traits that comprise personality. The results of these tests determine an individual’s personality strengths and weaknesses, and may identify certain disturbances in personality, or psychopathology. Tests such as the Minnesota multiphasic personality inventory MMPI-2) and the Millon clinical multiaxial Inventory III (MMPI-III), are used to screen individuals for specific psychopathologies or emotional problems.
In 1972, George McGovern initially selected Thomas Eagleton, a senator from Missouri, as his running mate. What McGovern didn’t know at the time was that Eagleton had been treated for depression with electroshock treatments. In the eyes of many Americans, that meant Eagleton was not fit to be president, and as a result of the public disclosure of these facts, McGovern asked Eagleton to resign.
My guess is that in the eyes of most Americans, a psychopath is not fit to be president.
Excerpt from “Are We Going to Elect a Psychopath?” by Robert Rabbin, March 2016