Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Is Donald Trump a Psychopath?

Stephen M. Stahl

As a psychiatrist, I’ve been getting this question lately.

If you Google famous psychopaths, Donald Trump’s picture comes up, so, those who despise The Donald ask me if it’s accurate to call him “a lousy psychopath!” when they think he’s being a jerk, loud mouthed, mean spirited or spouting opposing political views. They just cannot understand somebody like him, so wonder whether the man has some sort of psychiatric disorder.

To answer this question one naturally has first to ask, “what is a psychopath?” The devil incarnate? The personification of diabolical evil?

No. A psychopath – to a psychiatrist – is somebody without a conscience, who cannot feel empathy and has no remorse.

Famous psychopaths include serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, and infamous fictional characters like Hannibal Lecter. Psychiatric ethics do not permit me to make a diagnosis for someone without examining them, so until I see The Donald on my waiting list – wait a minute, I don’t think he waits for anybody – I’ll just have to respond to this question in the hypothetical.

We can do this for fun the same way author Jon Ronson did it in his best seller The Psychopath Test, where he ran around giving people – unbeknownst to them – Dr. Robert Hare’s famous 20 question test for psychopaths. He found plenty of psychopaths everywhere from the criminally insane to the corporate boardroom.

Indeed, up to four men in a hundred are psychopaths – manipulative, deceitful, charming and seductive. Plenty of them are also in prison as well as in Congress. But is Donald Trump a psychopath?

If you tried to fill out the Hare diagnostic checklist for a psychopath from news clips of Mr. Trump in recent months, you would see that he may be a narcissist – more about that later – but not a psychopath. One look at his successful and well-adjusted children is already a good hint that The Donald – for all his faults – is not a psychopath since it appears he has genuine and warm relationships with them.

Now, what about being narcissistic? Here we may be on to something if you think he has an inflated sense of his own importance, a deep need for admiration, and being overly preoccupied with vanity, prestige, power, with an exaggerated sense of superiority. To be severe enough to qualify for a psychiatric disorder, a narcissist must also have fragile self-esteem behind their mask of ultraconfidence vulnerable to the slightest criticism, as well this causing problems in relationships, work, and/or finances. Many successful achievers have the trait of narcissism without it being severe enough to be a psychiatric disorder. You be the judge of what applies to The Donald.

So, there you have it.

In my opinion, The Donald would probably flunk the psychopath test in my office but with his trademark hair might find a soulmate in the famous Greek hunter Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in the water and died staring at himself.

Don’t look into any mirrors, Donald!


Stephen M. Stahl MD PhD is professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego and Honorary Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He has worked on mental health programs for the US Army, Navy and Marines and has consulted for the Pharmaceutical Industry including for Tonix. He is the author of best selling textbooks in psychopharmacology and a recent thriller on PTSD, Shell Shock.

About The Author

Stephen M. Stahl

Dr. Stephen M. Stahl received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Northwestern University in Chicago, as a member of the honors program in Medical Education and his Ph.D. de...

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