Is Donald Trump a Psychopath and Should We Love Him Anyway?

| December 8, 2015 | 5 Comments

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore Religious Buddhists are serious about universal love. Even Psychopaths Need Love, Lodro Rinzler writes.  Lama John Makransky writes in Awakening Through Love: “Those who point to Hitler as reason not to cultivate all-inclusive love, insisting that people who are that evil should never be included in such a wish, do Hitler honor by imitation. To believe that some people do not deserve a wish of love, that they are only to be hated, is the belief that Hitler embraced and took to its extreme.”

I write about psychopaths in the context of loving-kindness (metta) meditation in my new book, Secular Meditation: 32 Practices for Cultivating Inner Peace, Compassion, and Joy. Is it wise to include psychopaths in the circle of love, and what would it mean to do so?

The psychologist Robert Hare developed a psychopathy checklist to identify people in this category. As he wrote in his 1993 book Without Conscience, it’s characteristic of psychopaths that although they lack empathy for others, many of their other emotional faculties are intact, and in fact they can be very flattering and charming. Despite the terms psychopath and serial killer being almost synonymous in popular culture, most psychopaths are not violent. Intriguingly, Hare is also the co-author of the book, Snakes in Suits, about psychopaths who flourish in the corporate environment.

A glance at the Hare Psychopathy Checklist suggests that Donald Trump registers strongly in one of the two clusters of traits on the list, “Aggressive narcissism”. These include certain traits that he might well own up to, including “Glibness/superficial charm,” a “Grandiose sense of self-worth,” and “Cunning/manipulative.” Trump would no doubt deny “Pathological lying,” “Lack of remorse or guilt,” and “Failure to accept responsibility for own actions,” but his debunked claim that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City cheered 9/11 and refusal to walk it back is just one point of evidence consistent with this judgment. His call to ban the entry of all non-citizen Muslims into the US and expressed willingness to kill innocent family members of terrorists indicate “Callousness; lack of empathy.” However, Trump’s history does not fit into the cluster trait of “Socially deviant lifestyle,” which include items such as “Lack of realistic long-term goals.” Clearly, Trump is a man who has achieved many goals and his currently goal, to become president of the United States, is unfortunately, not entirely unrealistic.

So Trump may not be a full-fledged psychopath, but he shows clear signs of psychopathology. Should we love him anyway?

Although the concept of loving-kindness, or metta, goes back to the historical Buddha, the earliest source of the loving-kindness practice that I’m aware of is the classic text, the Visuddhimagga. It talks about cultivating compassion and loving-kindness toward a hostile person so that you reduce your own ill will and shift toward a neutral emotional tone. But that doesn’t mean everything is okay and you just accept what they’re doing. From a secular perspective, neutralizing your ill-will allows you to think rationally about the situation.

Once we move beyond or reactivity and ill-will, once we think coolly and rationally about the situation, we can see that having a callous person like Donald Trump as commander-in-chief, with military forces at his disposal, might lead to great harm. So we are justifying in opposing him vigorously.

But what is the best way to do so? Just as Trump plays on people’s emotions, it does seem that evoking emotions like disgust about Trump’s statements is an effective tool, to the point where even foreign leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron have condemned Trump’s advocacy of Muslim exclusion.

I’d rather condemn the policies and not the person, but having Trump as president could be very harmful, whereas Trump continuing in his role as a real estate developer would be not so harmful (except to good taste).  While mindfulness promotes nonjudgment in a an emotional sense, we need to make wise decisions when we consider hiring a person for a job like president.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about how to deal with a high-psychopathology individual in keeping with the spirit of minimizing suffering and maximizing happiness of all.

Category: Articles

Rick Heller

About the Author ()

I am the author of Secular Meditation: 32 Practices for Cultivating Inner Peace, Compassion, and Joy — A Guide from the Humanist Community at Harvard I lead meditations at the Humanist Hub in Harvard Square, Cambridge. All are invited. To find out more, visit the Cambridge Secular Buddhists page on Meetup.com. I am also a freelance journalist who sometimes writes about the neuroscientific basis of contemplative practice.

Comments (5)

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  1. RenCheng RenCheng says:

    Greetings to all,

    This is the BIG question for many Buddhists . . . who is deserving? Well, when it comes to compassion for all human beings compassion is non-negotiable for a Buddhist. As well, should a Buddhist encounter Mr. Trump face-to-face he should be treated with loving-kindness in both thought and action. However, Buddhists are not meant to be passive in the face of greed, hatred and intolerance. In Mr. Trump’s case a Buddhist shouldn’t hesitate to “call it as they see it” as long as it is done respectfully and without the arising of unwholesome habits and dispositions of their own. This would certainly not be easy but it would have inestimable value for both Mr. Trump and for the practitioner.

  2. Mark Knickelbine says:

    BTW Rick, the book is GREAT! I was just reading the Metta for Psychopaths section at lunch. I’m going to review your book for the site when I’m finished.

    I like what Analayo says about the Brahma Viharas in general. The Metta Sutta tells us to extend loving kindness without limit. I don’t have to be personally acquainted with all beings, or even be aware of their existence, much less like them personally. I just have to practice with the intention that there be no limit to my love for beings. He suggests using a visualization of the sun, radiating metta in all directions, touching everyone without exception. It is the limitless nature of metta, not necessarily the individuals you extend it to. Metta is for us — it cultivates our capacity for love and kindness. It has nothing to do with its object, except perhaps obliquely.

    As for Trump, he apparently has enormous ego needs that none of his riches, fame or success seem to have quenched. I don’t think being President will help with that. Driven people are typically driven by an inability to accept themselves as valuable, an inability they hide even and especially from themselves. I choose to regard him, and the followers who need to get off on hate, as more evidence of the depth of human suffering.

    One of my standard metta phrases is, “May you have a heart full of loving kindness.” I can wish that for Trump, because if he could do that, especially for himself, who knows if he’d still be a bastard?

  3. Gregory Clement says:

    Mark, I was struck by your reference to the Brahmaviharas being extended without limit. I remember being taught that it was not appropriate to extend metta towards people who had died, presumably because they didn’t exist anymore.

    I have always felt doubtful about this teaching since we may have affectionate memories of dead friends and they might serve as valuable examples to help us develop metta. The standard instructions advise us to start with benefactors and friends and then move outwards.

    Traditionally minded Buddhists might make sense of metta towards a friend who had been reborn in some other realm. Secular Buddhists probably wouldn’t go down this path but might want to use the memory of a dead friend to help them develop positive feelings. I suppose we could even make use of characters from fiction that have stirred us emotionally, perhaps as archetypes of particular virtues.

    A counter-argument would be that these kinds of strategies might start us on a retreat from reality into a fantasy world.

    Does anyone have thoughts or comments on this?

  4. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    All good, Rick (and commentators). But can I just try to understand The Donald, appreciate that like most of us, he is a product of conditioning who hasn’t managed (even had much chance) to get beyond it? Love sound a bit too much.

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