Politics & Policy

The Stupid Psychopath Problem

(Scott Olson/Getty)
There is not a secret solution awaiting Trump.

‘I alone can solve.”

Donald Trump, who can barely communicate in his native language, is the candidate of the social-media era, and the above sentiment — proffered to the electorate via Twitter in regard to Islamic terrorism — is in fact indicative of the breadth and depth of his thinking.

Trump is an example of the Stupid Psychopath Problem.

The Stupid Psychopath Problem does not plague stupid psychopaths exclusively, but they are most vulnerable to its seduction. I will leave it to the medical professionals to diagnose whatever it is that ails Trump psychiatrically; as for the stupid part, my belief is that you can learn a great deal about a person from the way he writes and speaks (my former students may recall that I am not an easy grader), and Trump’s use of language suggests very strongly that he is . . . very fortunate to have inherited a great deal of money and real estate. So dumb he thinks a manila folder is a Filipino contortionist. So dumb he thinks Tupac Shakur is a religious holiday for the “little short guys that wear yarmulkes” counting his money. Trump is like the ugly building in Chicago with his name on it: There’s a vacancy on the top floor.

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The Stupid Psychopath Problem is the political distortion resulting from the fact that a great many people — some of them on barstools, some of them dangerously close to the levers of real power — believe that there are obvious, simple, straightforward solutions to complex problems such as the predations of the Islamic State or the woeful state of U.S. public finances, but that these solutions are not implemented because people in government are too soft, unwilling or unable to get tough and do what needs to be done.

He imagines that the problem is not the lack of useful alternatives, but the lack of Trump.

Men such as Donald Trump, and a half a hundred million idiots just like him across the fruited plain, really believe that the reason we haven’t eliminated Islamic terrorism is that it never occurred to anybody in the federal government — including the people who run, e.g., the U.S. Special Operations Command — to get tough. These people imagine that the trained killers in the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, and the often ruthless men who oversee them in Washington, simply are not willing to do what it takes to win. What that means, these people have no idea, because they are unwilling to think very hard about these sorts of problems and generally have no experience themselves. Trump is famously a physical coward who lied to stay out of the military during the Vietnam war, and he knows nothing about foreign policy, national defense, or the workings of the military, which is why all we ever hear from him is “get tough” and “win.”

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He seems to believe that, if he were to be elected president, he would sit down in a room full of spooks and soldiers and operatives and be given a menu of possible strategies to use against the Islamic State, at which point he would say: “Don’t we have anything . . . tougher?” At which point, the spooks and soldiers and operatives would look at one another nervously and say, “Well, Mr. President, there is another possibility, but it is just too mean. It’s too tough. We’ve never really seriously considered it. We just never had the guts to try it.” And then, Trump imagines, he’ll choose that.

Choose . . . what? Trump has no idea, naturally. He imagines that the problem is not the lack of useful alternatives, but the lack of Trump.

#share#Trump is a habitual liar and a man who has treated his wives and family with an unusual level of callousness. Though he is as dumb as nine chickens, he knows that he is in this regard somewhat like mentally normal men, that whatever sort of conscience he has is an atrophied and useless thing. He believes this to be a virtue. Indeed, his entire public persona is constructed around convincing himself — not the public, but himself — that this is in fact a virtue, that he isn’t a man who is cruel to women and heedless of his children and dishonest in his business affairs but a man who is tough, assertive, willing to do things that other men are not willing to do, etc.

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That book of Hitler speeches that Mrs. Trump (no, not this Mrs. Trump; no, not that Mrs. Trump) describes him keeping by his bedside makes perfect sense in that context, as does his obvious admiration for murderous strongmen such as Vladimir Putin. When Herod gave the order for the Slaughter of the Innocents, he needed a captain to carry out those orders. Trump is the sort of man who likes to imagine that he is that sort of man: willing to do whatever is needful in the moment. Knowing the immorality and disregard with which he is willing to treat his family, friends, and colleagues, the stupid psychopath imagines that he can make of the moral void inside himself an instrument of public good.

But it does not work that way.

#related#The problem is that while there is an effectively endless supply of stupid psychopaths, there is no secret cache of simple, straightforward solutions to complex problems just waiting in a filing cabinet somewhere in Washington until a sufficiently tough guy comes along willing to be as cruel and as vicious as the hour requires. We have plenty of cruel and vicious men in Washington. What we do not have is effective public policies. You can repeat “get tough” until you blow a temporomandibular joint, but it won’t make any difference.

“I alone can solve.” That’s what Donald Trump says. He’s been pressed for details about what that means in the context of the federal deficit, and his answer was ludicrous, unworthy of a high-school debater. He should be pressed for details on what that means in the context of Islamic radicalism. But who really thinks that Donald Trump could locate Yemen on a map? 


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