Does Donald Trump pass the psychopath test?

President Donald Trump announces his decision on the Paris Agreement.

President Donald Trump announces his decision on the Paris Agreement. - Credit: Newscom/Cover Images

If the Vice President and a majority of either Congress or the Senate decide that the President is no longer fit for duty, he's out.

I sometimes feel a little semi-detached from my own emotions. Like I'm observing everything which happens to me – and moreover, how I feel about it – at a remove. As if I'm watching the movie of my life while simultaneously starring in it. I often wonder whether this is an effect of the weirdly dissociative times we're living in, with everyone confined to their own little hand-held electronic universe and only occasionally looking up to engage with the physical one. But then I remember that I've always been a bit like this so that's probably not it at all.

I do occasionally worry that I might be a clinical psychopath before reminding myself that the very fact that I worry about it means that I'm almost certainly not. Were I in fact a psychopath, I'd be perfectly content to be one.

I don't know if you've ever read Jon Ronson's fascinating book The Psychopath Test; if not, you really should if only because it'll get you wondering as well. After I read it, I deliberately freaked Ronson out on Twitter by saying 'Jon; read your book and took the test, got 8/10. Is that bad?' to which he replied 'gulp', leaving me to respond 'Hmm, does that mean you're scared? I can never tell'.

The main thrust of the book's argument/point/treatise is that psychopaths will always be among us, and as long as we continue to organise our societies and cultures in such a way as to reward ruthlessness and punish compassion, they'll always occupy many – if not most – positions of power and influence. Ronson illustrates this with anecdotes about, and indeed interviews with, political leaders and captains of industry who have left a trail of human anguish in their ascending wakes, and who experience not a moment's discomfort when this is pointed out to them.

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By the way, I should point out that this is the clinical sense of psychopath we're using here; someone with a pathological lack of empathy or associative abilities leading to disinhibited, selfish behaviour, rather than the horror movie sense of the word – someone in a rubber mask stalking screaming teenagers while wielding some sort of gardening implement. Even in our goal-oriented society, such behaviour is still considered an impediment to gaining high office (unless carried out strictly in private, of course).

This idea – that we will inevitably be ruled by those who are psychologically incapable of caring for us – has been much in my mind of late, with specific reference to the Leader Of The Free World, and her understandably horrified reaction, along with that of her fellow NATO leaders, to the increasingly bizarre antics of the current tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.

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I read and listen to a lot of American political news; if nothing else, US politics are usually rather more kinetic and colourful than our own homegrown variety, and immersing myself in the goings-on in and around the Beltway can provide a welcome distraction to the dull grey grindings of the ancient and sclerotic Westminster body politic. The last couple of years in particular have been riveting stuff, if not always in a good way. And just at the moment, this (still, let's remember, box-fresh) administration is proving to be the train wreck to end all train wrecks. What's particularly fascinating is that of all the forces currently arraigned in opposition to Donald Trump, the one that's most likely to bring about his premature undoing is Donald Trump himself.

Quite apart from the extraordinary ill-will he's generating at home and abroad – and can there ever have been a more tone-deaf moment in politics than his Twitter tirade against Sadiq Khan's handling of the London Bridge attack? – Trump's outbursts are actively undermining his own administration's efforts to get any actual administrating done (which, for the record, thus far they have not).

The current battle to re-float the noxious 'travel ban', barring entry to the US of the citizens of six apparently especially troublesome majority-Muslim nations (although not any of the wealthy Muslim nations in which the Trumps have opened golf resorts, of course) depends entirely on convincing the courts that whatever the President said during the campaign, it's NOT a 'ban', merely an enhanced security initiative in these times of heightened vigilance. This is going to be an altogether tougher sell since Trump's recent Twitterburst demanding a full reinstatement of the ban, calling it a ban, because damn it that's what it is – it's a BAN.

Pundits around America and elsewhere have inevitably begun to cast aspersions upon the state of the President's mental well-being, suggesting that his current unpredictability could be the ultimate manifestation of some life-long pathology (although as the psychiatrically-inclined are pointing out, Trump's behaviour appears to be sociopathic rather than psychopathic) or some newer condition, perhaps brought on by stress, poor diet and advancing years.

I'll confess this makes me uneasy. While it's obviously a cause for concern – the notion that the man with his finger on the nuclear button might be Not All There – it's always struck me as unfair, indeed unethical, to make pronouncements on the mental health of a public figure if you're not qualified to do so and haven't had the chance to study them properly.

However, there is a pressing reason for this discussion to be had in the case of the sitting President, and that reason is properly referred to as the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Under section 4 of this amendment, if the Vice President and a majority of either Congress or the Senate decide that the President is no longer fit for duty, he's out. Just like that. He can resist, he can appeal, but the best he can do is force a vote in Congress on the matter, and if he loses that vote, he's out for good. I'm sure that amendment is being studied by Republican senators and Congressmen almost as carefully as they're studying their own plummeting poll numbers.

This would, of course, leave us with President Mike Pence.

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