For sociopaths, anything goes so long as it enables them to win. They also lack any sense of conscience. And they constitute 4% of our population.

This diagnosis is offered by psychologist Martha Stout, Ph.D., who served for three decades on the clinical faculty of the Harvard Medical School.  She strongly believes that people need to be warned about sociopaths.  Her book, The Sociopath Next Door, surveys the medical literature on socio-pathology (more technically termed “antisocial personality disorder”) and describes her extensive clinical experience with sociopaths themselves. Dr. Stout’s book offers fascinating and very troubling specific examples taken from her practice of sociopaths and the damage they cause.  

The damage sociopaths can cause is enormous because for them, winning is the only thing and must be achieved by whatever means it takes.  Fortunately, many sociopaths never get beyond causing damage in their own small circles of influence. However, some sociopaths manage to achieve much greater power. Whatever their power, sociopaths use it to convince themselves and others that they have “won.” The bottom line for sociopaths is that they will say and do anything to get what they want — winning — and will bully those who try to oppose them even though, common to most bullies, they are cowards at heart, and single-minded cowards at that: It’s all about them and what will get them what they want; everyone and everything else be damned.  

Dr. Stout posits that sociopaths may be as incapable of experiencing joy as they are of dealing with others fairly. Nevertheless, some are capable of great superficial charm. The harm that sociopaths can do in positions of power is tremendous if we either don’t recognize what is happening or are unwilling to confront it. They prey on subordinates and others under their control. The especially skillful ones tend to be highly two-faced:  Sometimes even with their victims, their conduct will veer back and forth between charming and menacing seemingly arbitrarily as they assess whether the strategy of the moment is winning or losing for them — leaving their victims confused as well as shaken as sociopaths wreak havoc on them while presenting to the rest of the world a pleasant, charming demeanor.  

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM IV), lists criteria for antisocial personality disorder. They include "deceitfulness or conning others for personal profit or pleasure, impulsivity, irritability and aggressiveness, reckless disregard for the safety of self or others, consistent irresponsibility, and a lack of remorse as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing hurt, mistreatment or violation of others."

Now, you may say, “What is this supposed to mean to me? I don’t know any sociopaths.” I respectfully submit that you and I do know one very prominent person about whom the question can fairly be asked, “Is he one?” He’s running for President and has a lot of folks both scared and befuddled by his behavior. While I’m no psychiatrist, I think it’s important that a national dialogue be opened on this subject (and I haven’t seen it raised in the press to date) so that if this sociopath diagnosis is correct, we can make a collective judgment as a nation whether the position of President should be held by such a person.  

Lest the claim be made, “Oh, Hudspeth’s just a Democrat out to get Trump,” know that I’ve voted for Republicans as well as Democrats for offices from President to selectman and, as a fierce independent, I think our country thrives on a strong two-party system that presents viable candidates with differing viewpoints. I speak out here not only because of the dangers as President his pernicious nature would present but also because he is jeopardizing that two-party system. I’m also mindful of the fact that I urge our young people not to stay silent but to speak up when they see something bad happening and I should therefore practice what I preach.  

I find Trump truly scary not just for the positions he has taken (including the ones he has taken and then disavowed only to take them again as the circumstances suit his strategy), but because I strongly believe his conduct fits the profile of a sociopath. Having such a person in a position of governmental power, let alone as President, should scare everyone — even those who think he is currently supporting their position.

It’s time for us as a nation to ring the gong on Trump’s climb to political prominence before he is in a position to do irrevocable harm.