Donald Trump: Psychopath?

August 27, 2016 | Vicki Madden

To say that the run-up to the 2016 United States presidential election has raised some serious questions would be a gross understatement. For many, this election has felt less like a battle for office than a battle for the American soul, thanks in large part to the non-stop demagoguery of one Donald J. Trump. As someone who spends a significant amount of time reading about history’s most famous psychopaths, the biggest questions on my mind as I scroll through the internet’s ubiquitous election coverage are these: 1). Is Donald Trump a certifiable psychopath, and 2). Would such a diagnosis jeopardise his bid to become the next American president?

Clearly, I’m not the only one pondering these issues. In the past few days alone, numerous columns have questioned Donald Trump’s sanity. Several articles refer to Trump as a textbook narcissist, while Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal admitted that were he writing Trump’s memoir today, he would have called it The Sociopath. But what would happen if we actually measured The Donald against a professional-grade psychopathy test? Would his words and actions throughout the past year provide enough evidence to diagnose him with a genuine psychological disorder?

First things first: clinical definitions for psychopathy are notoriously vague. In fact, no such official diagnosis exists in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the seminal, albeit also fraught, guide to psychological illnesses. Instead, “psychopathy” is often used interchangeably with terms like “sociopathy” and “antisocial personality disorder,” though this latter designation does in fact constitute one of the DSM’s four cluster B personality disorders [1]. This slippage in nomenclature demonstrates just how little is understood about the so-called psychopathic personality. For the sake of this article, though, it might be helpful to think of a psychopath simply as “someone with a distinct cluster of personality traits including ruthlessness, fearlessness, narcissism, charm, charisma, impulsivity, persuasiveness, manipulation and a lack of conscience and empathy” [2]. Given the way Trump has portrayed himself for the past fourteen months, I’d say that’s also a pretty solid description of his character.

With that in mind, I set out to “prove” Trump’s psychopathic status by using that most reliable of scientific methods: an online test based on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a psychological assessment tool developed by Canadian criminal psychologist Robert D. Hare in 1980 which is still in use today. The Psychopathy Checklist measures 20 different psychopathic traits, for which subjects are assigned scores of 0, 1, or 2 for a maximum score of 40. In the U.S., anything over 30 indicates possible psychopathy. I recorded my answers based on how I expected Trump himself would respond, if he were being honest with himself – a slippery slope, I know, but then again, I’m an English major, not a psychologist, so please, by all means take this experiment with a grain of salt.

Lo and behold, twenty questions later, Trump had scored a 30 out of 40 based on my answers – just enough to qualify him as a psychopath. Statements such as “In important ways, I am superior to most people,” “I lie to make things go smoother,” and “I cheat people out of things,” for example, were easily true. Other statements like “I often get others to pay for things for me” and “I think if people get offended, that is their problem” were hilariously on the nose. The ultimate takeaway from all this being that despite Trump’s own desire to be seen as this generation’s Ronald Reagan, his grandiose sense of self-worth, his pathological lying, his lack of guilt, remorse or empathy and countless other traits really do align him more with the likes of Hitler and Ted Bundy, which should probably dissuade people from voting for him.

In the end though, would it even matter if we could definitively call Trump a psychopath? Probably not, is my guess. As Trump himself has said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” and indeed, if murder doesn’t cost you a few votes, being a psychopath probably won’t either. And so, the target of my concern has shifted somewhat from Trump himself to the people who will be voting for him this November, for really, what would it say about the American electorate if we knowingly voted a psychopath into our nation’s highest office? Now that is a considerably scarier question.


About Vicki

Vicki is writing her PhD on the gothicisation of mental illness in post-World War II American literature with an emphasis on the uncanny. When she’s not nose deep in taboo subjects and psychoanalysis, she enjoys writing gothic stories of her own and watching a healthy mix of scary movies and romantic comedies. 

Edited by Bridget Moynihan.

Works Cited

[1] In the DSM, Antisocial Personality Disorder is characterised by “a pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.” A brief overview of APD can be found here.

[2] This is how Professor Kevin Dutton of Oxford University analyses psychopathic personalities in his “Test: Your Psychopathic Traits” and “Spot the Psychopath” online tests for Channel 4.

Image Credit: Trump at a campaign rally in Dallas, Tx., September 14, 2015. (Tom Pennington/Getty). Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/430533/donald-trump-grow-up

One response to “Donald Trump: Psychopath?

  1. Pingback: Trumpocalypse Now: Musings on what lies ahead | Inciting Sparks·

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