Trump’s ghostwriter suspects The Donald is a sociopath

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Tony Schwartz, Donald Trump’s ghostwriter for his bestselling book, The Art of the Deal (1987), now regrets that collaboration and suspects that Trump is a sociopath.

Interviewed for a New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer, Schwartz says that he would approach this writing project differently today:

If he were writing “The Art of the Deal” today, Schwartz said, it would be a very different book with a very different title. Asked what he would call it, he answered, “The Sociopath.”

Schwartz’s regret for helping to build the Trump mythology is palpable:

“I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is. . . . I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Here are some other Schwartz quotes from Mayer’s piece:

  • “Trump only takes two positions. Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, whatever, or you’re the greatest.”
  • “…it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then…”
  • “Lying is second nature to him . . . . More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”

Most psychologically analyzed presidential candidate ever?

In a presidential campaign riddled with divisive candidates on both sides of the political aisle, Donald Trump stands as perhaps the most divisive of all time. He also may be the most psychologically analyzed, with terms such as narcissist and sociopath recurring regularly in commentaries probing his psyche.

For example, in a lengthy piece titled “The Mind of Donald Trump” published in The Atlantic, Northwestern U. psychology professor Dan P. McAdams concluded:

Who, really, is Donald Trump? What’s behind the actor’s mask? I can discern little more than narcissistic motivations and a complementary personal narrative about winning at any cost. It is as if Trump has invested so much of himself in developing and refining his socially dominant role that he has nothing left over to create a meaningful story for his life, or for the nation. It is always Donald Trump playing Donald Trump, fighting to win, but never knowing why.

Concededly….

My own political views play a role in my assessment of Trump. Nevertheless, I have been a political junkie for years. I know the difference between a candidate I happen not to support and one who is deeply alarming and frightening as a potential President. Fueled by what I have learned about bullying behaviors, interpersonal aggression, and psychology, I believe that Trump represents a singular threat to the well being of this nation and even the world.

I realize there are others who feel differently. To illustrate, I was stunned earlier this spring when, after posting one of my pieces about Trump’s psychological make up to a Facebook page on workplace bullying, I was angrily dressed down by a consultant who works with abrasive bosses. She said I was injecting a divisive political tone to the discussions on that page. She even suggested that Trump, rather than being a bully, might be considered a victim of bullying at the hands of the media.

I responded that, in the context of examining and understanding bullying and abuse in the workplace, no one should be exempt from scrutiny merely because of their vocation, including politics. (Indeed, if our political leaders cannot be called out on their narcissistic and sociopathic traits, then we’re in big trouble!)

Well, my modest postings here are unlikely to shift the polls or strongly influence the broader public debate about the 2016 election. Nevertheless, as we head into a week that likely will witness the coronation of Donald Trump as the presidential nominee and leader of the Republican Party, I do feel compelled to urge that among a very problematic field of major candidates this year, he is the most dangerous.

24 responses

  1. Your readers should know that at least as far as psychiatrists are concerned, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to try to diagnose a public figure without personally examining them and then also getting their permission. This is a remnant of the Goldwater Rule, when psychiatrists were rightly chastised for making wild speculations about the personality of the candidate for President, Barry Goldwater, in 1964. Unfortunately, other mental health professionals and others don’t have that same ethical restriction. Beware making opinions based on those speculations. There may be more to a candidate than meets the public eye.

    Steve Moffic, M.D.

    • Steve, I hear you, tho nowhere do I cite psychiatrists attempting to make a formal diagnosis of Trump for treatment purposes or otherwise. Even McAdams, an academic psychologist, is careful in his phrasing and appears to pull a few punches.

      Personally, I think we have to understand more about the psychological make up of our leaders than less, even if it means engaging in some lay speculation.

      Thanks, as always, for writing.

      • Freud called that “wild analysis”. In principle, that follows Trump’s own exaggerations and distortions. We are better off commenting about his actions, past and present.

        Steve Moffic

      • Steve, we may have a respectful disagreement about this!

        I think that psychological insights help us to understand what may be driving our public leaders. Political and policy actions have psychological roots as well as roots in social and economic ideologies. Indeed, if we believe that, at least in some cases, the personal and the political intersect, grasping the mindset of political actors is pretty important stuff.

      • The challenge, David, is how to do so accurately. How well was the personality of Richard Nixon picked up? How about Barry Goldwater himself, who led to the so-called Goldwater Rule? We in mental healthcare have a hard enough time understanding a patient who we meet together regularly for weeks, if not months. As is said in medicine, try to “Do No Harm”.

        I am not saying we don’t need to understand the psychology of candidates, but rather not to play pop psychology to do so. What I would suggest we need is a comprehensive professional analysis of the health and mental health of all candidates (like many court evaluations), which means a medical check-up by a couple of unbiased physicians without conflict-of-interest (and who would remain anonymous).

        Steve Moffic

      • Steve, I cannot imagine the pile up of legal and ethical complications of even trying to design a system of requiring all candidates for higher office to submit themselves to such an analysis. To me, that takes the psychological piece to scary excess.

        And while I do agree that lay assessments of psychological conditions for public consumption must not substitute for appropriate clinical diagnoses, the pop psychology tag is an easy putdown that potentially discourages intelligent discussion of psychological issues in a public context. It would be as if lawyers and judges discouraged non-lawyers from writing about legal issues on grounds that it’s engaging in “pop law.” We need more, rather than less, public understanding of how these issues affect our lives in big and small ways.

    • David, I think we are on different wavelengths here. I would not presume, despite having a sister and father who are lawyers, to understand the legal aspects of any case, nor would I expect non-psychiatrists to understand the character and potential diagnosis of a public figure. It is demeaning to the field for the public and journalists to diagnose one of the candidates as “narcissistic” (meaning there is something wrong with him). As far as general psychological issues which are open to study for all, by all means.

      • Steve, yes, we may see things differently. I take no offense when members of the public express their opinions on legal matters and weigh in on matters of law and policy. I do not believe that all lawmakers must be lawyers. As a lawyer and member of the Bar, I do not have exclusive ownership of that knowledge and insight or their application. I strongly believe that the use of insights and terminologies from given disciplines should not be limited to those formally trained or certified in them.

        In representing a legal client, of course, that’s different. In that setting, much like a clinical setting with a therapist and patient, that knowledge and skill set takes on a more specified applied meaning.

        There’s a huge difference between applying a diagnosis in a clinical setting vs. suggesting the presence of a psychological condition in a public setting in matters involving a major public figure. If you are suggesting that those who engage in the latter are somehow demeaning professionals in mental health settings, wouldn’t that be like a lawyer suggesting that members of the public should not share their views on the state of the law, a given piece of legislation, or the guilt or innocence of someone facing trial?

        A reporter suggesting that a Presidential candidate is narcissistic is not providing a clinical diagnosis that will inform said candidate’s mental health care (or lack thereof). Rather, it is applying psychological knowledge — which should not be the sole province of licensed clinicians — to behavior that is very much in the public eye.

    • David, I doubt that the public appreciates the difference between “talking heads” labeling someone as narcissistic versus someone who has an official diagnosis of such. My, the public doesn’t still understand the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists (and psychologists, by the way, are ethically free to make a public diagnosis of anyone). But the public discussion of narcissism is pretty simplistic, as a different presentation of that could apply to the other candidate.

      Steve

      • Well Steve, perhaps the point we’d agree upon is that we need more public literacy on matters related to our respective disciplines, not less.

        Gaining understanding and grasping nuance may seem to be hopelessly lofty aspirations during this sad chapter of America’s life, but they are certainly part of the solution.

        David

  2. Thank you for the opportunity to express my concern about this article in this very unsettling time in our nation. If the intent was political due to the Republican National Convention, then please label it as such. As mental health professionals and workplace advocates, it is hopefully our role to eliminate the name calling and feeding of the dragon.

    • Monica, thank you for writing. As I see it, this is no different than calling out a severely abusive boss in any other sector — except that this one could affect the lives of millions rather than tens, hundreds, or thousands. Those who happen to labor in the political arena should not be exempt from that scrutiny. I don’t think it’s engaging in name calling to assess his behaviors, weigh their impact on other human beings, label them when appropriate, and speculate on what is driving them. As for feeding the dragon, I’m afraid that dragon has already been overfed by a support base that appears to back him unconditionally.

  3. Thank you for sharing these comments David. It is a relief to hear people coming forward making statements of regret for their previous support of Trump. It is terrifying to watch Americans support this “disaster waiting to happen”. I respect and agree with your stand on this. I do hope that more of his previous acquaintances will come forward and announce his abuse of power. Sociopaths and psychopaths are charming and manipulating. Given his billions he has many influences to cloud ones thoughts/visions.

  4. I am the first to admit that I am not politically savvy but I agree with the assessment of Mr. Trump being a sociopath. I have thought that about Mr. Trump long before this election came about. It is actually quite frightening that he has the following that he does.

  5. I admit to being a political junkie like David. What struck me most about Donald is that his behavior and statements are the behavior that I have seen in workplace bullies. The deflection of blame, self centeredness, brutalizing personal attacks against anyone who disagrees with him, and statements that are not clear but assert “something’s wrong” or “some people think” distancing him from blame for his broad negative statements are all behaviors that I have observed in my workplace with bullies. After over 10 years of observation, I can say for certain that I would not want a bully in any leadership position, particularly the presidency!

  6. I would comment with many of my opinions and questions…..but you have never answered my first question…..so I wonder what your motives are in this website and how true you are to what you print.

    • Jocelyn, I’m a bit confused. I’m not sure what your first question is. As for your other points/insinuations, I’ll simply rest on the body of work I’ve written here for over 8 years.

  7. Hi,
    Well, in regards to sociopathic tendencies, Mr. Trump has developed a coping mechanism to attempt to change behaviors in his companies. I believe Mr. Trump has done extremely well when it comes to having a coping mechanism against the criminal element within our government or big business. If you can stand back and look upon his personality in regards to how he has developed, it was most likely up against several sociopathic personalities, and or criminal intent. Just my opinion , for being in the trenches of a society or work environment full of abusive workers, it is a challenge. To stand and perform in the face of incivility can make Mr. Trump appear abusive, he has most likely dealt with this type of personality, criminal and sociopathic for a long time. His personalty and or persona is a byproduct of the criminal intent of the bully within our work environments. He is a change agent.
    Thank you.

  8. Thank you for calling attention to the article. This quote says it all:

    As for Trump’s anger toward him, he said, “I don’t take it personally, because the truth is he didn’t mean it personally. People are dispensable and disposable in Trump’s world.” If Trump is elected President, he warned, “the millions of people who voted for him and believe that he represents their interests will learn what anyone who deals closely with him already knows—that he couldn’t care less about them.”

  9. Trump is a narcissistic bully.

    Am I qualified to say that? Yes I am. I have eyes and ears and can see and hear what comes out of his mouth.

    • Here, here! Even the medical community can’t agree on all the nuances of sociopathy/psychopathy, and some experts have serious criticisms of the popular treatment model and its underlying premises. (See Dr. George Simon’s articles on personality/character disturbance, for instance.)

      You don’t need to be a doctor to conclude that certain behavior is problematic, and the American public shouldn’t be bullied into believing otherwise.

  10. Please read an article by Patrick Kennedy that can be found on-line (Washington Post – 08/08/16). It is titled: “Stop calling Trump ‘crazy.’ It demeans those with mental illness.”

    What he says should be kept in mind.

  11. Hi David. Good article. I imagine you’ve read this week’s article at The Atlantic on the upcoming debates. Just on the name-calling issue, as a psychologist I have no problem with McAdam’s article. Psychometric profiling is not the same as “analysis” and so the Goldwater rule would not apply. I thought McAdam was quite even-handed. I’m also not one for demonising Trump. In fact I’ve just posted a short piece in which I say we can learn from Trump – in terms of our relationship to dominance in general.

    • “Analysis” was made to be very broad, so it would count to the Goldwater Rule, unless the profiling was done with Trump’s position and he approved the release of the results, it would be a no-no to psychiatrists. What is acceptable is discussing principles or doing a poll of preference as we did for Psychiatric Times.

      Dr. Moffic

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