In a recent interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” David Plouffe told host Chuck Todd “we have a psychopath running for president. I mean, he meets the clinical definition, OK?" Todd responded by asking if it's fair to diagnose people on television, stating: "I assume you don't have a degree in psychology."
I am likewise not a psychiatrist, and I won’t take any stance on whether or not Trump is a psychopath, largely because I feel it is inappropriate to do so on a blog--at least as a general rule. Instead, I’ll lay out a way one can diagnose psychopathy and explain what a lay person would need to know about Trump to make a proper diagnosis.
As I mentioned in my last post, it is far from clear what a psychopath is, so different psychopathy tests can yield different results. I’ll restrain myself to one: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
The DSM-5 is perhaps Plouffe’s best bet for diagnosing Trump without a degree in psychology. This is because the DSM-5 focuses on behaviors, which do not leave as much room for subjectivity or require as much expertise as a personality test. Behaviors are observable, and with so much information on Trump online, it should be possible to determine which patterns of behavior he does and does not have.
The primary criterion for diagnosing someone with psychopathy (technically, in the DSM-5, antisocial personality disorder) is finding “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” This pattern can be demonstrated by evidence that at least three of the following have regularly occurred since the age of fifteen (with onset before age fifteen):
- Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest” (Trump may meet this criterion. Here’s one possible example)
- Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure (here is a fact-checker of his recent statements)
- Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
- Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
- Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.
- Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
- Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another. (the DSM-5 adds later: “They may provide a superficial rationalization for, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from someone (e.g., ‘losers deserve to lose’). These individuals may blame the victims for being foolish, helpless, or deserving their fate.”)
So is Trump a psychopath? I don’t have enough information to say, but I would be curious if readers have evidence that more of these criteria have been met. The hardest part about diagnosing Trump would likely be finding evidence of the onset of conduct disorder before age fifteen. But perhaps more information on his adolescence is available than I realize.
I would be surprised if Trump met criterion 4 or 5 (five being most often associated with speeding, drunk driving, not caring for children, unsafe sex, etc.). But again, one only needs three of the seven.