On leadership, Trump and sociopathy

Mike Sarafa

Mike Sarafa

At the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1990’s I took a leadership class as part of my graduate program. It was a one day a week, four-hour class from 2:00 – 6:00 on Wednesdays. One of the chief ways you study leadership is to study leaders. And that’s what we did. We spent a lot of time dissecting common characteristics in leaders and powerful people.

One book that is often studied in leadership is the Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, a 15th century Italian politician. The term “Machiavellian” is often used to describe unscrupulous or dishonest politicians. Machiavelli advocated manipulation, killings and other political games to gain and hold power. 

But he was also considered a small “r” republican and the father of what we today would call “realpolitik”. The notion that the end justifies his means. The great political philosophers that followed in the 17th and 18th centuries all studied him as did our Founding Fathers.

At UPenn, this particular professor taught that one common feature of many powerful historical leaders was a touch—sometimes more—of sociopathy. He taught that sociopathy allowed leaders to do things that “normal” people wouldn’t do. This idea can stretch from one end to the other of the morality continuum. 

You have Hitler, for example, but you also have Churchill. Churchill had no problem sending young men in harm’s way on a regular basis, often against all advice. He did it in the Battle of Gallipoli in the first World War as head of the World War British Navy and refused to back down to Germany as Prime Minister in World War II. As part of the latter strategy, tens of thousands of British boys perished. But he was able to hold them off long enough to wait for the Allied invasion.

It might be the same type of sociopathy that would allow a young black man to go from the Illinois State Senate to the presidency in six years. Or, that would allow a sitting president to drop his drawers in the Oval Office with an intern in his presence and a cigar in his hand and think he could get away with it.

It might be the same sociopathy that allowed the powerful guys around Ronald Reagan to hatch a plan to use Nicaraguan drug money to funnel weapons to Iran while the official U.S government was selling weapons to Iraq—this during the Iran/Iraq war. Is funding both sides of the same war make any moral sense? No. But these guys came to the conclusion that it was in the U.S. interest to do so. So, they lied, stole and committed crimes to support this interest.

Nixon taped himself cussing, swearing and making bigoted and racist remarks. Johnson regularly used the toilet seat in open view of guests. Some of the Popes in the 10th -13th centuries were militarists, womanizers, barons and drunks. Think about the use of family marriages as weapons of the medieval power structures. These are not things that average people would do.

Last month I wrote an article suggesting Trump has sociopathic tendencies. This set Facebook and Instagram on fire. I realized several things. First, many people that commented hadn’t read the article. Second, I did a poor job of explaining what I meant. Third, many people don’t understand sociopathy and confuse it with psychopathy. 

Finally, it confirmed what we all know — Trump is a very polarizing figure.

Michael Sarafa is Co-publisher of the Chaldean News.