With perfect timing, frequent commenter Robin Jubber has just asserted that “Whatever mental disorder Trump suffers from … it’s not psychopathy”. Is he right?
The Washington Post conducted a dispassionate assessment of whether Trump is a fascist. It scored him 26 out of a possible 44 — a hair under 60% — and concluded “He is semi-fascist: more fascist than any successful American politician yet, and the most dangerous threat to pluralist democracy in this country in more than a century, but — thank our stars — an amateurish imitation of the real thing.”
Can we do the same thing in assessing whether he is a psychopath?
Yes, we can. There is a standard clinical assessment tool, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (or PCL-R for short: the “R” stands for “Revised”, created by Robert D. Hare, a criminal psychology researcher and FBI consultant.
There are lots of caveats to mention here. Although the checklist has been described as “a reliable and effective instrument for the measurement of psychopathy” and is considered the ‘gold standard’ for measurement of psychopathy, it’s not escaped criticism.
More important, the checklist is supposed to be administered by a trained and registered professional in a relevant field, and entails a semi-structured interview with the person being interviewed as well as review of that person’s clinical files. Clearly, I am not qualified to administer the checklist for clinical purposes, I can’t interview Trump, and I don’t have access to his files. So the results that follow should be taken with a good dose of salt.
With all that said, let’s take a look at the twenty traits assessed by the PCL-R, and see how Trump comes out on each of them.
- glib and superficial charm — check. At least, he charmed Theresa May easily enough.
- grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self — without a doubt. This is a man who, having won the electoral college, can’t believe that he didn’t also win the popular vote, and who believes he is more presidential than any president other than possibly Lincoln.
- need for stimulation — I guess. To give him credit, he certainly gets through a lot of activity.
- pathological lying — check.
- cunning and manipulativeness — check.
- lack of remorse or guilt — the man who claims to be a Christian but “has never asked forgiveness” because “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness if I am not making mistakes?” I would call that a yes.
- shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness) — check.
- callousness and lack of empathy — check.
- parasitic lifestyle — not in the sense that this would usually be interpreted, which pertains to (for example) adults still living with their parents. But scams like Trump University are the very definition of parasitism.
- poor behavioral controls — check.
- sexual promiscuity — cheated on his wives (and boasted about it). Check.
- early behavior problems — no, not really. All I see on Wikipedia is “transferred from a student command position after the alleged hazing of a new freshman in his barracks by one of Trump’s subordinates”.
- lack of realistic long-term goals — hard to assess, since he has actually attained the goal of becoming president of the USA. I think that has to be marked as a no.
- impulsivity — check. Whatever idea crosses his mind, he says it; and often actually does it. That’s why he contradicts himself so often.
- irresponsibility — no concern whatever for the consequences of his actions: check.
- failure to accept responsibility for own actions — check.
- many short-term marital relationships — check, three trophy wives so far.
- juvenile delinquency — no. (Being brought up as a millionaire of course insulates you from many of the causes of delinquency.)
- revocation of conditional release — no. (I had not heard of this term, which turns out to be legal one. It refers to someone in remand being released on certain conditions, such as a restraining order, but failing to meet the terms and being re-incarcerated.)
- criminal versatility — check. This means “a diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes” which describes Trump’s frauds, tax evasion, bill avoidance and so on to a tee.
On the Hare list, each criterion is scored 0, 1 or 2. Looking at the comments above, I would score Trump as follows (and bear in mind once more that I am not an expert): 1:2, 2:2, 3:1, 4:2, 5:2, 6:2, 7:2, 8:2, 9:2, 10:2, 11:2, 12:0, 13:0, 14:2, 15:2, 16:2, 17:2, 18:0, 19:0, 20:2. That comes to 31 out of a possible 40. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders:
A prototypical psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40, while someone with absolutely no psychopathic traits or tendencies would receive a score of zero. A score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy. People with no criminal backgrounds normally score around 5. Many non-psychopathic criminal offenders score around 22.
So assuming my scoring is correct (and, yes, that is a big assumption), Trump would indeed be eligible for a formal diagnosis of psychopathy — though he would be at the low end of the range.