by Greg Guma
May 19, 2011
The serial misbehavior of these men was
rationalized and excused for years, but it demonstrates a perpetual
ruling class impunity.
This is adapted from Maverick
Rebel News Round Up,* broadcast
live at approximately 11:15 a.m. Friday on WOMM
(105.9-FM/LP - The Radiator) in
In recent days the political news has been like
an episode of some TV drama about high-level corruption - call it Criminal
Minds meets The West Wing.
The head of the International Monetary Fund -
the global financial organization that sets terms for development aid - was
jailed in New York for allegedly assaulting a housemaid sexually at his
Meanwhile, in California news broke that the state’s movie-star
governor - known as both the Terminator and the Gropinator - fathered a
love-child almost a decade ago and it didn’t come out until he was about to
Then, of course, there’s the presidential campaign of
Newt Gingrich, a
poster child for bad behavior, launched last week with a series of
disastrous missteps and rationalizations.
What the three men have in common, aside from wielding more influence than
they can handle or deserve, is that their serial misbehavior went unchecked
In fact, it was rationalized as mere exuberance, frequently
excused in “exceptional” people, when it actually demonstrated something
else - ruling class impunity.
Is it possible that these were isolated lapses in judgment? In
other words, was this the only time Dominique Strauss-Kahn went after the
help, or the only instance of Arnold Schwarzenegger cheating on his wife and
exploiting those beneath him?
Not too likely.
And it’s surely not the only
time Gingrich has excused his own bad behavior as a side effect of
patriotism - while simultaneously trashing the basic humanity of a political
If these are patterns, why are millions so fascinated, often even seduced,
by people whose behavior actually points to pathology?
Perhaps we are wired
to be attracted by psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, people so focused
on their own central role in whatever takes place that the rest of us are
sucked into their reality.
Think about entering a portal and emerging into the head of Donald Trump.
What could that level of self-absorption be like? Begin by imagining a
complete lack of empathy, one of the tell-tale signs of
Is Trump a psychopath? Well, he does score well on a 20 item checklist. And
are there more psychopaths around us than we think? Not just serial killers
and the violent type, but successful, powerful psychopaths who will do
anything to win and affect our lives in profound ways?
The checklist, a way to help identify potential psychopaths among us, was
developed by Bob Hare, a prison psychologist who conducted remarkable
experiments and eventually codified his findings.
Jon Ronson has provides an
excellent history and analysis in his new book,
The Psychopath Test.
Here’s the basic list, a collection of tendencies and an analytical tool to
spot those who might be functioning psychopaths. The last two items relate
specifically to criminals, but you don't have to be caught to have "criminal
Keep in mind that having mild tendencies doesn’t make you a
psychopath. But a high score - more than 30 on Hare’s 40 point scale -
should be a warning sign.
Personally, I give Trump and Gingrich high
Glibness, superficial charm
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Need for stimulation, proneness to boredom
Lack of remorse or guilt
Callous, lack of empathy
Poor behavioral control
Promiscuous sexual behavior
Early behavior problems
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Many short-term marital relationships
Revocation of conditional release
In his book, Ronson follows the trail of research about psychopaths, gets to
know a few, and sees how they have affected society.
For example, he tracks down Toto Constant,
former leader of Haitian death squads backed by the CIA, who was given
asylum in the US but restricted to Queens.
Although the guy was basically in
still thought he was beloved in Haiti (#2)
responsibility for his crimes (#16)
badly imitated strong emotions
Since psychopaths don’t experience emotions that same as other people (#7),
they often compensate through imitation.
But not all are excellent actors.
Constant even thought he would someday be called back to “help” Haiti again
Psychopaths could be the reason the world seems so screwed up. If so,
humanity’s tragic flaw may be that a few bad apples - people whose
don’t fire the right signals to their central nervous systems - really can
spoil the whole barrel. Prime examples include the corporate psychopaths who
trashed capitalism a few years back.
To dig into that group check out
in Suits - When Psychopaths Go to Work, by Bob Hare and Paul Babiak.
Examining these financial terrorists, you might well conclude that
conspiracy theory about shape-shifting lizards who secretly rule the world
isn’t so far off. After all, psychopaths are often social shape-shifters.
So, the question is:
Do psychopaths run the country and maybe the world?
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a strong candidate.
Among recent presidents Nixon,
Bush 2 and
Clinton could qualify. The masters of the universe at places like
Goldman Sachs are solid choices. And it only takes a few to destabilize a
financial system, poison a community or destroy a business.
Yet some studies
suggest that, percentage-wise, there are more potential psychopaths among
CEOs, directors and supervisors than in the general population, or even in
Who hasn’t known a business type who was borderline, a mercurial tyrant
subject to fits of rage and impulsive acts? Or followed a public figure who
was charming but also irresponsible, manipulative and self-aggrandizing? The
tell-tale signs of the psychopath are often ignored or excused.
In his book, Ronson recalls a meeting with businessman Al Dunlop, a ruthless
executive famous for his apparent joy in firing people.
Together they go
through Hare's psychopath checklist and Dunlop simply redefines many of the
traits as aspects of leadership. Impulsiveness becomes quick analysis.
Grandiose sense of self-worth? Absolutely, you have to believe in yourself,
says Dunlop. Manipulative? Hey, that’s just leadership. Inability to feel
deep emotions? Emotions are mostly nonsense, he says. And not feeling
remorse frees you up to do great things.
Newt Gingrich would likely have a similar response if confronted with his
own psychopathic tendencies. At the moment, he is engaging in a standard
strategy - claiming redemption and re-inventing himself. In his case it's an
epic rationalization that may not work.
It is widely agreed that Newt is an opportunist and a scoundrel. But that
clearly doesn’t disqualify him from becoming president.
Warren Harding, the
Ohio senator who became president in 1920, carried on a 15-year affair both
before and during his presidency. The "other woman," Nan Britton, gave birth
to a son.
This was shortly after the end of World War I. People were disillusioned
with Woodrow Wilson, and Democrats deserted the party to give Harding the
biggest landslide in US history, 60 percent of the vote. That year Eugene
Debs, who was in federal prison, got his best turnout, a million votes.
than three years later, in the middle of a “goodwill” tour,” Harding dropped
dead suddenly in San Francisco. He was replaced in August 1923 by Calvin
Coolidge, a native Vermonter and Massachusetts governor who had been picked
for vice-president in the original smoke-filled room.
Some people said Harding had been poisoned by his wife, Florence DeWolfe, a
cold, snobbish banker’s daughter known as The Duchess. Rumors spread that
she was trying to avoid disgrace, possibly even Harding’s impeachment. The
administration had become notoriously corrupt. The Duchess fed the rumors by
refusing to allow an autopsy.
It remains a mystery to this day. But Harding provided his own epitaph in
“I am not fit for this office and never should have been here,” he
That self-awareness suggests, despite his shortcomings, that
at least he wasn’t a psychopath.
The point: if Warren Harding could become president, why not Newt Gingrich
or someone equally disturbed? Just think of the future scandals and all the
pathological behavior we would get to witness.
Bad behavior is, after all,
catnip for millions of information consumers.
Can they ever really get enough?