People tend to associate the word psychopath with serial killers or other violent criminals. The word conjures up images of anti-social monsters who are unable to fit into everyday society. This makes sense since everything in our media teaches us that psychopaths are predatory murderers. Indeed, experts on psychopathy have estimated that up to 25% of prison populations include people who could be labeled as psychopaths. However, people with psychopathic personalities are not exclusively found among criminals. In reality, they are often described as “charming” and quite normal, even functioning in high profile professions. Recently, Sherree DeCovney made controversial headlines by making the assertion that as many as 1 in 10 financial services workers on Wall Street were psychopaths, which was probably an overestimation. But, DeCovney was on to something. There are many highly successful people who can also be observed to have psychopathic tendencies, and recently, evidence has been piling up that one of them is none other than presidential wanna-be Mitt Romney.
There are three major patterns of qualities that characterize a psychopath: 1) interpersonal conduct such as dishonesty, narcissism, and arrogance, along with a marked lack of consideration for the rights and well-being of others 2) affective deficits such as lack of empathy or guilt, and 3) impulsiveness or risk-taking. Based on established criteria, psychologists estimate that approximately 1% of the population or 3 million people could be classified as having a psychopathic personality. However, these are people who meet the cutoffs for diagnostic criteria, which make it seem like people either have it or they don’t. Psychopathy doesn’t work that way. It occurs on a continuum with some people having none at all and others having the range from a few tendencies to a full blown diagnosable personality disorder. James Silver, co-author of “Almost a Psychopath: Do I (or Does Someone I Know) Have a Problem with Manipulation and Lack of Empathy?” explains,
“Almost psychopaths differ from true psychopaths not in the types, but, rather, in the frequency and intensity of their remorseless and damaging behaviors.”
It would probably have been more accurate for DeCovney to have stated that Wall Street employees had a greater than average overall tendency toward psychopathy than to suggest that so many would fit the diagnostic criteria necessary to be labeled with the actual personality disorder.
James Silver and his co-author, Ronald Schouten, explain in their book that people who could be described as “almost a psychopath” are quite plentiful. They estimate that up to 15% of the general population fits the profile of people who use manipulation to get what they want and who lack empathy or a capacity for guilt, all while displaying grandiosity, egotism and disregard for others.
Mitt Romney ran Bain Capital, a company that operated a business model nearly exclusively built on firing employees, canceling pensions, loading businesses with debt, taking millions in profit, and walking away. His claim is that he saved businesses but nearly a quarter of those Bain Capital touched went bankrupt; this occurred even with previously healthy companies. Countering the notion that Romney and Bain Capital were venture capitalists who developed new jobs, Aaron Goldenberg, wrote:
“Mitt Romney was NOT primarily a venture capitalist. A venture capitalist invests in early-stage businesses with the hope that they grow and prosper…By contrast, Mitt Romney was primarily what is affectionately known as a vulture investor. Bain Capital invested in failing companies with the intention of either restructuring their business or stripping the business and selling its assets.”
Goldenberg goes on to say that while what his company did may not have been evil or immoral (which is debatable), it was absolutely predicated on the belief that eliminating jobs was the best way to go even when bankrupting businesses could have taken other measures. It shows that Romney’s track record as a job-creating businessman is abysmal. It would take a hardened heart to look in the mirror each day, knowing that your business was in the business of forcing people out of their livelihoods, regardless of the justification. But, in and of itself, this fact doesn’t prove that Romney is a psychopath. Instead, an alarming anecdote shared by Rachel Maddow on her show does point to Romney’s issues with lack of empathy or remorse.
On May 10th, Maddow played an excerpt from an interview with Romney in which he relayed a story from his past along with many inappropriate chuckles:
Romney: “I have a few connections with the State of Wisconsin. One of the most humorous I think relates to my father. You may remember, my father, George Romney, was the President of an automobile company called American Motors. And as the President of the company, he decided to close the factory in Michigan and move all the production to Wisconsin…they had a high school band that was leading each of the candidates, and his band did not know how to play the Michigan fight song. It only knew how to play the Wisconsin fight song. So every time they would start playing, “On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin,” my dad’s political people would jump up and down and try to get them to stop because they didn’t want people in Michigan to be reminded that my dad had moved production to Wisconsin.”
This was Mr. Romney’s idea of funny, people losing their jobs and getting upset when being reminded about it.
In the same segment, Maddow discussed two of Romney’s other psychopathic behaviors, the recent revelation that he forcibly held down another teen in high school and cut off his hair as he cried and screamed and the now famous story where Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car in a kennel for hours in defiance of Massachusetts law as he drove 60 miles per hour. In both cases, she played Romney’s “apologies” for the incidents, in which he laughed inappropriately throughout each.
These incidents and the insincerity of the apologies that followed them provide some of the strongest evidence of his psychopathy. In the case of the attack with the scissors against his classmate, Romney claims to have no memory of an occasion that still haunts the eyewitnesses to the event. Nevertheless, despite not remembering it, he also claims he must not have done it because the boy was presumed gay, because no one talked about homosexuality in the 1960s, despite evidence to the contrary. It takes a remarkably callous and disturbed individual to forget causing another human being to scream out in terror, let alone to have instigated the incident at all. With regard to the abuse of his dog, the story takes a particularly disturbing twist when one learns that his dog appeared to have developed diarrhea as a result of stress and fear. In response, Romney simply hosed off his SUV and continued the trip with the dog still atop the roof.
There is abundant evidence that Romney doesn’t maintain any strong convictions, but rather forms opinions in service of his ultimate political goals. For example, where he once promised to be “better than Ted Kennedy on gay rights,” he now promises to be the most regressive Republican presidential candidate on gay rights in over a decade. The money he donated to Planned Parenthood has morphed into promises to shut them down. This sort of deceit is characteristic of a psychopath.
Showing that he also displays the impulsivity characteristic of psychopathy, there were recent revelations about his repeated issues with losing his temper, including to the point of two skirmishes with law enforcement. Here he repeatedly shows contempt for people in positions of authority, even getting himself arrested for directly defying the instructions of an officer. If he weren’t an incredibly wealthy man, one wonders how often his flaunting of laws the little people have to follow would have gotten him in trouble.
While Romney may not display the level of psychopathy necessary to be considered diagnosable as a psychopath, he does fit what Silver and Schouten call, “almost a psychopath.” He demonstrates a lack of empathy, no remorse or guilt for past assaults or mistreatment, a high degree of narcissism, and a capacity to ceaselessly lie and manipulate to get what he wants. If there was any doubt, his inability to stop laughing while recalling these events, when others have been harmed, proves this is a man with a highly questionable character.
Deborah is a former social work professor who taught social policy, mental health policy, and human diversity. Proud to be called liberal, she happily pays her taxes after being raised in a home that needed long-term welfare. Contrary to the opinion of many, she is living proof that government investment in children leads them out of poverty having received services from Head Start to Pell Grants. Deborah works with low-income, first generation, and disabled college students who are at high-risk for dropping out of college in a program designed to help them graduate. She lives with her husband, stepson, and an aging cat.