This article was published by Tomas West under the title:
The Trump administration’s Moral Compass
It is estimated that sociopaths occupy about 1% of the general population. A small number, but they have a significant effect on their prey. Victims often experience a profound emotional response and may demonstrate symptoms akin to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Like many people I watched the US election with some concern. I am aware that as an Irish person the democratic process of an election in another country is not my direct concern, however, the US president occupies a vital space and will have a bearing on the entire world. The behaviour of the US becomes important to everyone but especially those living in western democracies.
The diagnosis of a sociopath/psychopath is difficult and not one that I am qualified to make, it would be quite wrong to accuse anyone of such a disorder. It is not my intention to do so. The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) developed by Dr. Robert Hare requires a suitably qualified expert to administer.
This caution, however, has to be balanced by the need to recognise sociopathic behaviour so that potential victims can protect themselves from the traumatic effect that can result from contact. Most cults demonstrate sociopathic traits and by looking at those traits rather than the individual leader it’s possible to identify if the organisation is acting in a sociopathic manner. My purpose is not to level an accusation against individuals but to ask the question, is the current US administration acting in a sociopathic manner?
There were two issues raised by the new Trump administration this week. The first is the rather bizarre insistence that the inauguration attendance was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period” against the best available evidence to the contrary. The second is Trump’s statement when he asked his intelligence chiefs earlier this week whether torture works. “The answer was yes, absolutely,” he said.
The first is almost comical and seems to serve no real purpose other than to bolster the administrations ego. Perhaps Kellyanne Conway’s term “alternative facts” is a key to what is possibly at work. Sociopaths endeavour to establish their (usually self-serving) version of reality. Repeating falsehoods and exaggerations often enough without any apparent shame has a profound effect on the victim. They begin to doubt their own ability to determine right from wrong. In this altered state they are not able to respond effectively while the sociopath begins to establish their power and control. This may or may not be what is happening in the early days of the administration but it is worth considering.
The second is much more serious, note the words being used. It’s not whether torture is right or wrong but rather the belief that it works. No moral reflection on its use but simply articulating the belief that it is effective. Torture is legally defined as “Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession….” Extract from Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
There is much pedantic argument about whether water boarding constitutes torture or not and it’s not really the point of this post. Waterboarding is torture (I’m tempted to say period!,) it’s not administrated as a therapy.
Does the Trump administration want to introduce torture? Will the US people go along with this activity in their name? It was the Bush (Republican) administration that acted to ban its use against prisoners. Despite most psychological evidence that torture is, in fact, ineffective there is the more serious question of its morality and the subsequent negative effective on the perpetrator. William Menold who took part in Milgram’s experiment where he thought he was inflicting electric shocks to a victim described himself as a “basket case and emotional wreck” when he realised what he had done. Apart from the obvious negative affect on the victim, torture is non effective and damaging to the perpetrator.
The best way to deal with a sociopath is simply to get away from them. If the current administration is indeed sociopathic then that is impossible for the next four years. There are three responses that are important to consider,
- Maintain reality, resist any attempt to redefine it and accept “alternative facts”. Sociopaths love having their own self-serving version of reality accepted as the status quo.
- Maintain support for any victims. Sociopaths work to divide and isolate those that call them to account. The refusal to allow CNN’s question at a press conference requires the free US press to support their colleagues. There is much more at stake than circulation numbers.
- Continue to hold the administration to account. What evidence is there that “intelligence chiefs” believe that torture is effective? Who are they? On what do they base this assertion? Did they even say such a thing? If they did then remind them that they will be held responsible for torturing US prisoners both legally and morally. Ask Republican representatives if they are going to support the use of torture in the name of the people of the US?
The Victorians did not use the term sociopath/psychopath. The term they used was, however, very applicable. They referred to sociopaths as moral imbeciles. It’s too early to say if this administration is going to be any more sociopathic than previous ones. The above three responses seem to be useful in the protection of all democracies in any event. If it transpires that the sociopathic tendencies of the administration are obvious and escalating then there may be no use in trying to repair their moral compass, they might not actually have one.