Our Town: Sociopathy in American politics

Our Town: Sociopathy in American politics
Politics seems to have lost its moral compass

George Santos has been the topic of nearly every dinner conversation I have had over the last two weeks. The nation seems to be obsessed with Mr. Santos and his flawed character. So let’s get topical this week and discuss sociopathy or what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V terms anti-social personality disorder.

George Santos is the U.S. representative from New York’s 3rd  Congressional District and at the ripe of age of 34 he has become the poster boy for everything that is wrong in American politics. He has been accused of lying about his education, his work history, his religion, his residency, his financial status and his sexual identity. Have I left anything out?

Now, I have not met Mr. Santos and it is unlikely that I ever will, but these accusations do have the ring of sociopathy. He sounded utterly Nixonian when he defended himself with the phrase “I am not a criminal” to charges that he was accused of writing fraudulent checks in Brazil. Having lived through a Trump administration, the American public is now familiar with descriptions of both pathological narcissism and sociopathy.

But in case you need to bone up on the way DSM V describes the sociopathic personality, let me explain.

It is usually diagnosed when the patient has more than a few of the following traits. The diagnosis is warranted If the patient fails to conform to social or legal norms, is emotionally cool, deceptive and lies often, uses aliases, is aggressive, has no regard for their own or others’ safety, is irresponsible financially, feels no remorse or guilt, is capable of acting with charm, exudes an air of superiority, lacks empathy, is egocentric and seeks self-esteem through power. As many as 7.5 million Americans carry this diagnosis called anti-social personality disorder. And if these traits describe anyone you know, I suggest that you hide your pocket.

Politics has become more issue-driven than character-driven so I suspect that stories like this should come as no surprise. As I was reading about this ongoing scandal, I came across a chilling fact. It is now common practice to rely on research quaintly referred to as “vulnerability studies,” which identifies anything problematic that an opponent may seize on to undermine and destroy the opposition. It made me realize that politics is a true blood sport.

Years ago a friend of mine was recruited to run for office early in his career. He wisely decided to say no and stick to his career in law. You would have to be either madly driven by the need for power or be as saintly as Mother Theresa or Ralph Nader to decide on a life of politics. This seems sad but true.

This, of course, leads us toward the unholy conclusion that we can expect our future to be filled with more of the same: people who perhaps pretend to embrace certain issues but in fact are motivated solely to achieve fame and/or power. And this means that politics will be run by narcissists or sociopaths who talk well, look good, and have an endless capacity to lie without remorse or guilt.

Great quotes from our recent political past include such gems as “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” “I didn’t inhale,”  “That depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is,” and “I am not a criminal.”   These denials are as quotable as Johnnie Cochran’s “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” or the great line “Greed is good” spoken by Michael Douglas in the film “Wall Street.”

Let’s hope that as Americans we don’t “inhale” this toxic waste or become cynical, confused, distrusting or disenfranchised from the democratic process we all prosper from.

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