Category Archives: Political Science

Some Observations on Halderman’s Concerns About Election Hacking

Word has been going around that some computer scientists have urged Clinton to challenge the election results because of possible hacking-related voter fraud in key states:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is being urged by a number of top computer scientists to call for a recount of vote totals in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, according to a source with knowledge of the request.

[…]

The scientists, among them J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, told the Clinton campaign they believe there is a questionable trend of Clinton performing worse in counties that relied on electronic voting machines compared to paper ballots and optical scanners, according to the source.

The group informed [the Clinton campaign] that Clinton received 7% fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic voting machines, which the group said could have been hacked.

Their group told Podesta and Elias that while they had not found any evidence of hacking, the pattern needs to be looked at by an independent review.

I have a few observations:

First, as of the time I’m writing this, nobody has found actual smoking gun proof that any election machines were hacked, let alone that a significant number were.

Second, Halderman is a legitimate computer scientist and an expert on computer security. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s not also some kind of political hack, but in that absence of evidence of dishonesty, we should probably make a rebuttable presumption that he knows what he’s talking about.

Third, Halderman’s statistical observation, as described here, is pretty weak. It’s based on a correlation showing that Clinton received fewer votes (compared to polls) in counties that used electronic voting machines. Like all correlations, whether it has found something meaningful depends on whether co-factors have been eliminated.

In this case, the problem is that use of electronic voting machines was not randomly assigned to counties. This makes it likely that both the decision to use electronic voting machines and the decision to vote for Trump are somehow related to a third factor. For example, Nate Silver has argued that the effect goes away when you control for race and education. This suggests that (I’m just guessing) perhaps affluent well-educated white people are more likely to lie and say they didn’t vote for Trump, and affluent counties are more likely to spring for electronic voting machines. You’d want to rule out things like that before declaring that the election had been fixed.

Fourth, the preceding does not mean that Halderman is (perhaps dishonestly) leaping to conclusions. Rather, this is how scientific investigations work. You begin by doing a quick and inexpensive investigation to see if it looks there might be something interesting going on. In this case, if they’d found no correlation whatsoever between electronic voting and a deviation from the polling data, they could have pretty much ruled out hacking and moved on to investigating something else. However, because the quick statistical analysis couldn’t rule out some kind of problem, the next step is to investigate further, perhaps by using more advanced statistics, or by examining the paper trail from the vote.

Fifth, Professor Halderman says pretty much the same thing in his post on the subject. He makes it quite clear that his best guess is that the election has not been tampered with. However, given the well-known security vulnerabilities in many of our electronic voting systems — Halderman’s team has hacked real voting machines in the lab — he thinks it would be nice to examine the paper trail, just to make sure. But random college professors have no legal standing to get this done. The legal request has to come from one of the candidates, and as a practical matter, only the losing candidate has an interest in a recount. That is pretty much all that Halderman is asking for: That someone in a position to do so asks to take a look at the evidence.

It’s worth noting that computer scientists as a group are unusually skeptical about the security of electronic voting machines. (I have two degrees in computer science, and I’m skeptical.) Before the first electronic voting machines appeared, computer scientists had spent decades researching how to build secure voting systems, yet it’s clear that few real-world electronic voting machines are based on that research. I’ve also heard that voting machines are not designed and operated in keeping with modern security practices. For all those reasons, a lot of computer scientists think it’s a good idea to stick to paper ballots.

Voting Gary Johnson…but Never Trump

I’ve never been in love with the presidential candidate from either major party, not in any election. That’s not, as some people assume, because I can’t tell the difference between them. It’s because I don’t care about the difference between them. On many of the issues that matter most to me, there’s very little difference between Republicans and Democrats. Even in this election, the policies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have a lot in common from a my point of view. A few examples:

  • Freedom of speech — From Trumps’ expansion of libel laws to Clinton’s attack on rap music and video games to their shared interest in shutting down parts of the internet, they both suck.
  • The War on Drugs — Other than a small amount of movement on marijuana, neither one shows any interest in dialing back the war on drugs.
  • Civil forfeiture abuse — Our law enforcement agencies have been ripping people off for decades in the guise of fighting crime, and it’s still not a major election issue.
  • Criminal justice reform — Clinton has said a few nice things, but the Clintons have historically been part of the problem, and there’s no reason to believe Hillary will change her ways. Trump is an authoritarian who’d love to run a police state.
  • Sex worker rights — This is a new issue for me, but nobody in either party cares about it.

If this were a normal election, the candidates’ agreement on my issues would leave me indifferent to which one wins, so I’d cast my vote without hesitation for the libertarian candidate — Gary Johnson this year — because that might at least send a message.

That possibility is making democrats a bit nuts this year, and they’ve been warning Johnson voters that they’ll be responsible if Trump wins because voting for Johnson could pull votes away from Hillary. I responded with an angry rant taking Democrats to task for making self-righteous demands without admitting their own enormous culpability. It attracted thousands of new visitors, and I got a bunch of comments. (It turns out that anger and swearing will get you pretty far on the internet. Who knew?)

The thing is, despite my rant at Democrats’ insulting demands, I do share their belief that Donald Trump is a uniquely bad candidate. After all, If I thought Trump and Hillary were equally bad, I wouldn’t be so angry about them trying to pin Trump on us libertarians.

It’s not that I love Hillary Clinton. But she’s a bad politician in a normal sort of way. Hillary is a standard-issue technocrat who sees a government solution for everything. College too expensive? Start a program. Terrorists killing people? Start a war. That’s a pretty awful way to govern, but it’s also a pretty common way to govern, and we know how to survive it.

As for the allegations of corruption, she’s a standard-issue influence peddler, trading her attention and influence in exchange for help achieving her political goals. I guess I’m not outraged by that because I grew up in Chicago, where everyone knows that’s just how politics works. It’s a big problem, but it’s also a very familiar problem.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is whole different kind of threat. He’s a terrible person who’d make a terrible President. He’s a cruel narcissistic sociopath who seeks the approval of racists and instinctively tries to exert personal control over everything. He’s the kind of populist authoritarian who looms large in the history books, often in chapters with titles like “Factors Leading to War” or “How the Republic Fell.”

On the issues, although I find him and Clinton equally bad on the items I listed above, he has nevertheless raised an entirely new issue where the difference is stark. Well, it’s not really a new issue, but it’s one which I hadn’t thought of as an important factor in elections because all of the recent candidates have been pretty good about it. I’m talking about xenophobic bigotry. Trump himself seems to be an anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-Asian, and anti-immigrant bigot, and he tolerates anti-black bigotry among his supporters.

This is something we haven’t seen in a while, and it creates a bit of a dilemma for those of us who have been planning to vote for Gary Johnson to send a message, as Jennifer Abel explains:

[…] remembering that “the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data’” – here’s an interesting anecdote I’ve noticed this presidential election: of the many people who say “Trump and Clinton are equally bad, and thus the only moral voting options this year are to either vote third party or not vote at all,” they’re all white and overwhelmingly male — i.e., NOT members of any ethnic, racial, religious or gender group whom a President Trump would seek to legally discriminate against.

[…] there’s one way HRC is hands-down better than Trump: she does NOT want to, for example, deport all Muslims from the country, she has NOT said that American-born citizens of Mexican ancestry are too untrustworthy to be federal judges, and so forth.

Whatever a Trump Presidency might mean, middle aged white guys like me will probably not bear the brunt of it. It’s not that I’m guaranteed to be safe — people like Trump tend to cut a wide swath of destruction — but I probably won’t be a target.

The same cannot be said for everybody. Immigrants, Mexicans, and Muslims seem like they’ll be in for a particularly hard time. I know Muslims who are genuinely concerned for their families, and I can’t honestly tell them everything will be okay.

So if I send a message by voting for Gary Johnson and that throws the race to Trump, it will be people other than me who suffer the burden. I think it’s important to let politicians know there are voters who value libertarian ideas, but it’s not so important that I’m willing to sacrifice the welfare of minorities, immigrants, and women to send the message.

That this conflict exists is not the fault of libertarians. We didn’t create this mess, and Democrats are being total dicks by blaming us for it. But… We are, nevertheless, in this mess. It’s our responsibility to respond to it in the best way we can, and our moral calculus must be based on the reality we face, not the world as we’d like it to be. We have to play the cards we’re dealt. And for some of us Gary Johnson supporters, that might just mean voting for Hillary Clinton to block Trump.

Here in Illinois, I have it easy, because Clinton is all but certain to win the state’s 20 electoral votes. Of the 53 polls that FiveThirtyEight believes to be statistically predictive in this state, Clinton has won every single one, including the 37 polls that included Gary Johnson. So voting for Gary Johnson can’t help Trump in Illinois because nothing can help Trump in Illinois.

(I was planning to point out that libertarians in small states like Vermont have it even easier because not only does Clinton have a double-digit lead in every poll, but the state is also so small that even if it flipped to Trump it would be unlikely to change the outcome of the election. However, Clinton’s lead has recently narrowed to the point that losing Vermont could conceivably make a big difference.)

Libertarians in Tennessee also have it easy, for the opposite reason: Trump has won all 39 significant polls there, and there’s very little chance he won’t carry the state. Nothing can stop Trump in Tennessee, so Johnson supporters there might as well send a strategic message by voting their conscience.

People like Jennifer, however, don’t have that luxury. She lives in Georgia, where the candidates are much more closely matched. FiveThirtyEight still projects Trump as the most likely winner there, but it’s not a sure thing. In particular, Trump’s lead in the polls is often less than the size of the Johnson vote, which means that if all the Johnson voters switched to Hillary, they could probably block Trump from getting Georgia’s 16 electoral votes. That’s why Jennifer felt she had to bite the bullet and vote for Hillary in order to block Trump.

To be honest, even in the battleground state of Georgia, there are so many people voting that it’s very unlikely that Jennifer’s single vote will be the deciding vote in the race. That may sound like I’m arguing she might as well have voted Gary Johnson, but it’s actually an argument that she might as well have saved herself the trouble and not voted at all.

But if you, like Jennifer, are going to go through the trouble of voting, you might as well pretend it matters and do it the right way. Check the polls before going to the voting booth.

Are You On the Inside?

I think part of the appeal of Donald Trump to his supporters is that he appears to be a guy who’s willing and able to take on the establishment. If you don’t like the way the country has been going, Trump will steer it back on track. If the economic recovery you keep hearing about hasn’t done a thing for you, Trump will get you what you deserve. If you feel the nation is in the hands of people who don’t give a damn about you, Trump will take it back. If you feel like your lot in life sucks, Trump will make America great again.

He’s kind of a superhero-con-man who can manipulate the system and make it work for regular people — think Michael Westen with a trust fund. He sees what he wants and takes it. He plays by his own rules, and he wins. He gets out of debt by declaring bankruptcy, and he upgrades his wife to a newer model whenever he gets tired of the old one. And now he’s going to Washington to take on the crooked politicians who’ve been running this country for decades, and he’ll beat them at their own game, because he’s a master player at the game.

At least, that’s how he sells himself. But I think a lot of Trump supporters need to ask themselves a very important question: Are you sure you’re on the inside of the con?

Trump says he’ll game the system in your favor, but how do you know you’re not just another part of the system that he’s gaming for his own benefit? After all, which seems more likely? That a billionaire who’s never held public office, never been involved in organizations that serve the public interest, never shown the slightest interest in public policy, and never championed a cause other than himself would all of a sudden develop an overwhelming urge to help ordinary Americans? Or that everything Donald Trump says and does is for the glory and greater good of Donald Trump?

Unless you are Donald Trump, or maybe a close member of his family, he doesn’t really give a damn about you, and he’s going to abandon you as soon as he no longer needs you. You’ll end up with nothing that you wanted.

Democrats Need to Apologize or STFU

To be a libertarian voter — let alone a Libertarian voter — these days is to read endless editorials by Clinton supporters explaining that we shouldn’t vote for Gary Johnson because that could tip the election to Donald Trump. It gets old fast.

Today’s example come from the anonymous cowards at the Washington Post editorial board in a piece entitled “Do Gary Johnson supporters really want to help Trump win?” (I suppose there’s someplace on the WaPo site that lists board members, so they aren’t completely anonymous, but this is the same editorial board that called for Edward Snowden to be prosecuted even after he gave them a story that lead to a Pulitzer prize so fuck ’em.)

After rehashing Johnson’s recent interview flubs, the board asks,

Do ideological libertarians really want this man to represent their movement?

Well you bastards in the media don’t pay attention to any of the other libertarians, or to libertarian ideas and values in general, so I guess he’ll have to do.

Does his loopy campaign bring credibility to their political philosophy?

Yes, if you actually listen to what the man says about libertarian ideas, rather than just gaffes seized on by the media. He brings a lot more credibility to libertarian political philosophy than Clinton’s political philosophy brings to Clinton’s political philosophy.

I could continue picking over the details of some of their criticisms of Johnson, but let’s skip to the main conclusion:

Does Mr. Johnson’s running mate, former Massachusetts governor William Weld…really want to help Donald Trump win…?…

How could Mr. Weld, who acknowledged the danger Mr. Trump poses in an interview with us in July, live with his complicity in electing the Republican nominee?

How, indeed, could anyone?

Here’s a quick piece of advice to Democrats trying to convince libertarian voters not to vote for Johnson because that could throw the election to Trump:

Start your argument with a fucking apology.

Our candidate is getting significant national attention for the first time in years, and you’re asking us to walk away from him. You are asking us for a favor. The least you could do is apologize for all the shit you’ve done that got us here in the first place.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Libertarian party isn’t exactly a major national political force. You pretend to care about Johnson’s representation of libertarian ideals, but Democrats have combined forces with the Republicans to keep from having those ideals in the debates by setting ridiculously high polling standards, even though our candidate will be on the ballot in every state. If you now want our help, you need to apologize for that.

Speaking of ballots, every single election — every time — the Libertarian party struggles to get our candidate on the ballot. That’s because you Democrats have conspired with Republicans to set high ballot access barriers against third party candidates. You owe us an apology for that too.

Your candidate gets transition briefings from the government and flies around the country in a chartered jet with her entourage while ours gets no briefings and takes commercial flights, and you have the gall to criticize our candidate for not finding the time to prepare for every question. You probably owe us an apology for that as well.

Election after election, and in between elections, both major parties ignore our issues. You both support the war on drugs, you both support harsh immigration restrictions, you both involve us in wars all over the world, you both support using taxpayer money to reward favored constituencies, and you both undermine our free markets with protectionism, over-regulation, and crony capitalism. Apologize for that. Not just to us, but to every single person in the United States.

Maybe that’s asking too much, so let me tell you the least you could apologize for: If you’re a Democrat who wants Johnson supporters to switch to Clinton to avoid a Trump victory, you need to apologize for your own abject, craven stupidity. Libertarians, both “big-L” and small, are a tiny portion of the population. We didn’t cause this. Republicans let a narcissistic psychopath take over their party, and you Democrats responded by nominating one of the least popular candidates in living memory.

That’s not our fault. We didn’t make you do that. You did that to yourselves. This shit show of an election is a problem of your own making. And now you’re trying to tell us it’s our fault?

Fuck you.

If you want us to abandon our ideals and goals and our candidate to help you fix this problem that you created, you should start your request with a sincere apology. Or shut the fuck up.

Paul Krugman Doesn’t Get the Message

I hate to say bad things about Paul Krugman, because it was his books back in the 1990s that got me interested in economics, but he sure can be a condescending ass sometimes, as illustrated by his recent opinion piece about whether it makes sense for Democrats who are unhappy with Clinton to vote for Johnson:

Does it make sense to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president? Sure, as long as you believe two things. First, you have to believe that it makes no difference at all whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump moves into the White House — because one of them will.

Krugman is leaving out an important precondition: You have to believe that your vote can sway the election. Literally speaking, that’s almost never the case. In order for your vote to make an actual difference in the outcome, you’d not only have to be the deciding vote in your state, but also your state flipping would have to flip the electoral college. The chances of both of those things happening are so unlikely that you shouldn’t waste any time thinking about it.

(Your vote has other effects, which I’ll get to later.)

Second, you have to believe that America will be better off in the long run if we eliminate environmental regulation, abolish the income tax, do away with public schools, and dismantle Social Security and Medicare — which is what the Libertarian platform calls for.

First of all, this is disingenuous. The Libertarian party platform has historically been written as an absolutist statement of doctrinaire libertarian theory, unlike, say, the Democratic party platform, which is a lengthy list of promises to every identifiable interest group. In either case, you’re not electing a party, you’re electing a person, and their personal positions on the issues are far more important than their respective party platforms.

Gary Johnson is a moderate libertarian. He isn’t going to try to do everything in the Libertarian platform, if for no other reason than that he knows Congress will fight him. For example, although Johnson does want to eliminate the income tax, he wants to replace it with a consumption tax, which is a variation on European-style VAT taxes. A vote for Johnson isn’t a vote for the Libertarian party platform.

Second, Krugman is cherry-picking the items from the libertarian platform that he thinks his readers will hate the most. You’ll notice he didn’t mention that the Libertarian platform is very pro-choice, pro-free-speech, and pro-trade.

Third, like most people who criticize Libertarians for some of their extreme positions, Krugman is ignoring the crazy positions of the major party candidates — such as Hillary Clinton’s disturbing policies on things like trade, labor, free speech, immigration, industrial policy, crime, and war — probably because he is used to them and considers them unremarkable.

To elaborate on one glaring example, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both support the War on Drugs, which I consider to be a monstrous enterprise that has wrecked hundreds of thousands of lives and has provided the justification for an encroaching police state that is eroding our Constitutional protections and robbing Americans of their privacy and their freedom. I think Trump is an unusually bad candidate, but in a normal election year, with Democrats and Republicans both supporting the awful War on Drugs, I really don’t much care which of them wins. They both suck.

Now, maybe you don’t care. Maybe you consider center-left policies just as bad as hard-right policies. And maybe you have somehow managed to reconcile that disdain with tolerance for libertarian free-market mania. If so, by all means vote for Mr. Johnson.

But don’t vote for a minor-party candidate to make a statement. Nobody cares.

Really? Because Krugman sure seems to care, at least enough to write this piece. In fact, there’s been a surge of Johnson-bashing from the left over the past few weeks. It sounds to me like the Democratic machine is getting at least some of the message.

The reason your vote matters is because if the candidates know you are part of a group that has an interest in certain issues, they just might adjust their positions on those issues to get your vote. (Clinton did that quite blatantly to attract Bernie Sanders supporters.) And even if Clinton doesn’t lean libertarian for this election, the Johnson voters should attract candidates in future elections who want to get their votes.

This is a variation on the “a vote for Johnson is a vote for Trump” trope. (Republicans have a trope that is exactly the same except it ends in “Clinton.”) By voting for Johnson instead of Clinton, Krugman is saying, Johnson voters are handing a victory to a candidate they’ll like even less than Clinton.

You know what, Krugman? Fuck that shit. If you want people to vote for your candidate, you should have picked a better candidate. But you chose Clinton, and now you’re trying to blame someone else for the problem you caused. Gary Johnson wouldn’t be polling a fifth of what he’s polling now if your candidate wasn’t a warmongering technocrat and the other side wasn’t running a raging narcissistic sociopath. Gary Johnson, and people voting for Gary Johnson, are not the problem here. The problem is that your candidate sucks, and you can’t blame that on the Libertarian party platform.

Nevertheless, for those of my readers who prefer Johnson to Clinton, but who would hate to inadvertently hand Trump the presidency, there’s a simple solution: Plan to vote for Johnson, and if you get called in a poll, be sure to tell them you’re voting for Johnson.

Then, just before election day, check the poll results for your state to see how Clinton, Trump, and Johnson are doing. If Clinton is losing to Trump, and the Johnson vote is large enough that Clinton would win if she got his votes, then switch your vote to Clinton at the last minute to defeat Trump.

On the other hand, if Clinton is winning, or if Trump is winning by so much that the Johnson vote won’t make a difference, then you might as well go ahead and vote for Gary Johnson. You won’t do any harm, you’ll feel better about your vote, and you’ll send a message to future politicians that you’re out there and that they can win your vote by adopting positions that appeal to your interests.

Clinton Did It, but What Would Trump Do?

Here’s a sentiment I’ve seen from some Donald Trump supporters, especially those who get to Trump by way of Bernie Sanders and hate Clinton enough to vote for Trump:

(In case it doesn’t show, it’s a picture of a dumb-looking guy saying “I’m voting for the candidate who got people killed, covered [up] sexual assaults and threatened national security…because the other one said mean things.” The person who tweeted it responds “Sums up Clinton supporters really well.”)

In many situations, that’s a reasonable thing to say, but I don’t believe we’re living through one of those situations.

If this was a matter of criminal justice, for example, that would be a good point: Criminal culpability depends on known bad acts in the past, not on predictions of bad acts in the future. But this is not about criminal justice, it’s about the future of the country. We can’t change what the candidates did in the past, but we can control what they do in the future, so our ultimate concern should be what the candidates will do, not what they have done. Put another way, the Presidency is not a reward we give to the candidate whose past we most admire, it’s a job we give to the candidate who we think will do best in the future.

Of course, a person’s past behavior is a pretty good predictor of their future behavior, so Hillary Clinton’s past certainly does inform us of her likely future, and voters should definitely take her past behavior into account.

But it’s important to understand how that past behavior is shaped by opportunity.

I’ve owned house cats for a couple of decades, and I’ve been scratched by them quite a few times over the years. On the other hand, I’ve never been injured by a tiger. Does this mean that I would be safer if I replaced my house cats with tigers?

Obviously not. The difference is opportunity. My cats aren’t very likely to injure me during any given encounter, but because I encounter them thousands of times a year, they still do some damage. On the other hand, I’ve never in my life encountered a tiger that wasn’t kept safely in a zoo, so even though tigers are much more dangerous than house cats, they haven’t ever harmed me because they’ve never had the opportunity.

No one has given Donald Trump the opportunity to do the things that Clinton has done. No one has given him that much power. He’s never harmed national security because he’s never had responsibility for national security. He’s never gotten anyone killed because he never held a position where people’s lives were on the line.

That makes it harder to predict what Trump would do if he won the Presidency, but we can still make some pretty good guesses. For one thing, we can look at the things he says.

If that’s not convincing, we can also look at the kinds of things Trump has actually done with relatively limited power he has:

  • Trump has arranged for his businesses to receive millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
  • When Donald Trump’s deceased brother Fred’s surviving family contested Trump’s father’s will for all but disinheriting them, Donald Trump cut off the health insurance coverage that was paying for their infant’s medical treatment.
  • Trump hired illegal Polish immigrants to work on one of his developments without bothering to supply them with basic safety equipment like hard hats.
  • Trump University scammed working class people into borrowing and spending way too much money for an education in business that never materialized.
  • Trump tried to use eminent domain to force an elderly widow out of her home so he could build a casino parking lot.
  • Trump has done business with the mob.
  • Trump has bankrupted several businesses.
  • Trump has discriminated against black would-be renters of his properties.
  • Trunp hired Roy Cohn — one of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attack dogs during the red scare — as his lawyer.
  • Trump businesses routinely refuse to make full final payments on bills they owe.
  • When Roger Ailes resigned following allegations of sexual harassment, Trump hired him immediately.
  • Trump runs a charity that is much, much more of a fraud than the Clinton Foundation.
  • The link in that last item also describes Trump’s bribery of a public official.

Trump may not have done some of the bad things Hillary did, but he seems to lie, cheat, and steal at every opportunity. Let’s not give him any opportunities to do even worse.

What if Donald Trump is a Sociopath?

What if Donald Trump is a sociopath?

It’s obvious to me that Donald Trump is a very dangerous person who should not under any circumstances be given power over other people. It’s also obvious that his supporters don’t see him that way. It’s tempting to dismiss them as intolerant bigots — and he certainly has some of those among his fans — but I think there’s a more benign explanation. I think a lot of people (including the bigots) are being conned by a world-class sociopath.

There’s an argument that it’s inappropriate to speculate about the mental disorders of public figures like Trump. After all, I’m not a psychiatrist. And even a professional psychiatrist would be prohibited by the American Psychiatric Association’s Goldwater Rule from offering an opinion on the mental health of a public figure unless they had conducted an examination and been given permission to issue a statement.

I don’t think that applies here, because I’m not practicing psychiatry. Nothing I say here will affect Trump’s mental healthcare. I’m not violating psychiatric ethics by speculating about his sociopathy any more than I would be practicing medicine without a license if I saw an injured football player on television and speculated that he pulled a hamstring.

Furthermore, sociopathy is unusual among mental disorders in that it’s not the people who have it that suffer from it, but rather everyone else around them. The reason we talk about sociopathy is so we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from them. And that necessarily means learning to recognize sociopaths in the wild.

So I admit I can’t offer a definitive diagnosis that Donald Trump is a sociopath, but if he is a sociopath, here are a few things worth thinking about:

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then he has no empathy for other people. Their suffering doesn’t produce an emotional response in him. A sociopath might see a pedestrian hit by a car and go over to take a look. Standing there, staring at the broken body writhing in pain, he wouldn’t necessarily find it upsetting, and it might not occur to him to offer first aid or call for an ambulance. When Trump responded to Khizr Kahn’s criticisms, it never occurred to him to acknowledge the loss Kahn had suffered when his son, an American soldier, was killed in combat. When Trump was confronted about this, he countered that he too made sacrifices in building his business empire.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then his lack of empathy would mean he effectively has no conscience. Unable to feel empathy for other people’s suffering, he would have no reason to avoid a course of action that makes others suffer. In fact, whether or not other people suffer wouldn’t even enter into his thinking. A sociopathic manager might keep his employees working long hours away from their families to meet a deadline before the holidays and then fire them all without a thought because he doesn’t need them any more. Trump dismisses concerns about his multiple bankruptcies by pointing out that business ventures go bankrupt all the time, but it never occurs to him to express concern for all the people who lost money by trusting him to pay his bills.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then his lack of a conscience leads to what might be called a very pragmatic view of ethics: It doesn’t matter what’s right or wrong, it doesn’t even matter if he gets caught. All that matters is whether he can get ahead by doing it. Trump businesses routinely refuse to make full final payments on bills they owe. If they know the unpaid amount isn’t large enough to be worth a long lawsuit, and if they know they won’t need that contractor again in the future, then as far as they’re concerned, there’s no point in paying the bill. This is classic sociopath thinking.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then he divides people into two simple categories: People he needs something from, and people who don’t matter. And once he gets what he needs from someone, they stop mattering. The transition can be shockingly abrupt. A sociopath pursuing sexual conquest will lavish attention on a woman, charming her for hours or days until he gets her into bed…and then dump her immediately after sex because he got what he wanted. This is why many of us expect Trump to pivot away from the extreme right — he got their primary vote and he’s done with that, so now he’s ready to move on to the next group he needs to manipulate.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then he will engage in one-on-one manipulation of the people he needs something from, with no need to be consistent. A sociopath will tell his wife he loves only her, and then he’ll tell his girlfriend he’s planning to leave his wife. A sociopathic manager will tell a subordinate that he’ll recommend them for his job when he moves up…and then he’ll tell all his other subordinates the exact same thing.

Trump obviously can’t manipulate voters one-on-one, but he does flip-flop on issues all the time, depending on who he’s talking to and what he thinks they’d like to hear. As I write this, after more than a year of promising mass deportations of illegal immigrants, Trump told a group of Hispanic advisors that he might not do that after all, and now he’s wavering all over the place on the issue (and meeting with the Mexican president today). Trump has been courting the white supremacist vote, but I think they’re just another group he’s manipulating, to be abandoned without hesitation if he no longer needs them.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then all that matters to him is saying whatever will get him what he wants. Notions of truth or consistency are irrelevant to sociopaths. They tell unending streams of lies. There is some evidence that the speech centers in the brains of people with sociopathic personalities are organized a bit differently than those of normal people, allowing them to decouple speech from logic and memory. The technical term for speaking without regard for truth is bullshitting, and Trump seems to do it a lot.

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then any appearance of caring for other people is just an elaborate act. Sociopaths don’t feel empathy, but they can learn from watching how other people behave. They can express concern when something bad happens, and they can even cry real tears. But when faced with a novel situation for which they haven’t learned the normal response, their hollow emotional interior gives them no guidance, and they might do something that reveals them for what they are. I know a sociopathic business owner who, within minutes of the planes striking the towers on 9/11, told all his employees to start researching which insurance companies were going to lose money so he could short their stock.

(As I was writing this, news came out that African American basketball player Dwyane Wade’s cousin was shot and killed in Chicago, and rather than express condolences for this tragedy, Trump tried to use it to promote his candidacy by tweeting “Dwyane Wade’s cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!“)

If Donald Trump is a sociopath, then all his one-on-one manipulation will result in everyone hearing a different set of lies, and to keep his lies working, he’s going to try to keep people from comparing notes. In ordinary settings, sociopaths try to break up relationships around them, to discourage people from talking to each other. A sociopathic manager who doesn’t want subordinates comparing stories might tell each of them that the others are jealous of their success and trying to sabotage their career. Trump can’t keep people from talking about his highly public political campaign, but a desire to keep people from comparing notes would explain why Trump is so angry with the press all the time: They tell people what he’s been saying, often at a time when he’s switch to saying the opposite.

In the end, if Donald Trump is a sociopath, he will leave a trail of destruction behind him. His manipulations will make him the center of attention in anything he gets involved in. Some people will be conned into doing his bidding, and others will waste time and resources fighting against him. Either way, he will make everything about him. His presence will be a whirling maelstrom that cannot be ignored, and he will grind down every person, institution, or social structure he encounters.

Just look at how much time we spend talking about what Donald Trump is saying. This election could have been about so many things — healthcare, taxes, gun control, cyber security, police reform, foreign policy — but instead we waste time talking about Trump and how to respond to him. (E.g. I’m writing this rather than something else.) Trump has been involved in thousands of lawsuits. He has dumped two wives, bankrupted four of his own companies, and hurt a lot of investors and small business owners that made the mistake of getting involved with him. He destroyed the United States Football League, and he seems to be destroying the Republican party.

Donald Trump is a sociopath, and we need to stop him from becoming President before he destroys a lot more.

Confuse the Record

Hillary Clinton is the secret love child of Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow who became the brain-eating zombie Queen of planet Zorg before traveling back in time to marry Bill Clinton and kill Vince Foster with her retractable poisonous fangs because he was about to reveal that she was conspiring through a private email server to use her speaking fees to raise funds for terror attacks in Benghazi to distract us from her plan to have the Clinton Foundation use climate change as a cover for to enslaving humanity for her Muslim overlords.

Come at me bro.

 

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