Would you vote for this guy?
It is inconceivable that a criminal psychopath such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, or Charles Manson could ever be elected president of the United States. But maybe one of their less brazen siblings could. That scenario is not only conceivable, but probable-if not already a fait accompli. And this is why I propose an amendment to the Constitution that would require presidential candidates to undergo psychological testing, the results of which would be made public.
Just beneath our antiquated social radar is a thriving nest of subcriminal, or socialized, psychopaths. Though their deviancy is masked and their crimes less revolting, these psychopaths nonetheless pose grave dangers to our collective well-being.
In Without Conscience, Dr. Robert D. Hare, one of the world’s foremost authorities in the area of psychopathy, says that such 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.”
What is a psychopath and why 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. Hmmm, let’s see: 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?
Most alarming of all is the “frightful and perplexing 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, the prerequisite for love.” 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.
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?
It’s not easy to know if candidates for president are mentally sound. At the moment, the only requirements for holding office are set forth in Article II, Section I of the 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. I don’t like that the bar is set so low.
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.
So, I propose a Constitutional Amendment calling for all candidates to 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. Every employee who has access to safety equipment is required to pass background checks, including an examination of past employment, references, credit history, education history, military service history, an FBI criminal record check, as well as to undergo psychological testing. While on the job, each employee is also subject to random drug and alcohol testing.”
Granted, working in a nuclear facility is an important and sensitive job and I can understand the rigorous screening procedures intended to qualify a candidate’s worthiness to handle the job.
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.
As it is now, I don’t take any candidate at his or her word. I don’t trust any of them to represent their true motives and goals. A Constitutional Amendment requiring candidates to be evaluated for mental health is one way we can level the playing field in our search for the truth about candidates. 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.
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.
With good reason, we already require firefighters and police officers and nuclear facility workers to be rigorously evaluated. With equal good sense and foresight, we should now apply the same standard to candidates for president.
© 2004/Robert Rabbin/All rights reserved Robert Rabbin is a writer and speaker whose twin passions of spiritual wisdom and social justice are expressed in his column of social commentary.
Excerpt from “Why We Should Psych Test Political Candidates” by Robert Rabbin, 11 January 2004
Photo courtesy NPR.org
Psychopath TEST Politicians