Imagine you just lived through a brutal winter storm that cut your home’s electricity and safe drinking water for days. Imagine your state’s leader is nowhere to be found, except on Fox News blaming the disaster on wind turbines and the Green New Deal.
Then imagine that same leader arrogantly ignores the CDC and President Biden to end the mask mandate and proudly open “everything,” even though COVID-19 numbers are ticking up again and only one out of eight Texas residents have gotten even the first dose of vaccine.
Cue the spotlight for this week’s Person of the Week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who also helped secure this week’s Word of the Week: Sociopathy.
Gov. Abbott had competition. Sen. Joe Manchin’s combo package of helping to deep-six the cabinet nomination of Neera Tanden for Office of Management and Budget and his flag-planting insistence that he will oppose the end of the filibuster deserves special attention. His gamesmanship may help him in conservative West Virginia, but it’s bad for democracy at a time when there’s only one legitimate governing party.
Yet Abbott’s careless, shameless move will literally kill people—Texans encouraged to socialize without masks and other Americans who may be infected by them.
Abbott may think he’s sticking it in the eye of all of us who believe we should take mask-wearing seriously, show some compassion for our neighbors, and listen to President Biden and the experts who say it’s too soon to let down our guard. Abbott may be jazzed by sticking with Trump and his cultists. He may see this as a clever distraction from his failed performance during the storm.
But that’s the thing: Pick any of those reasons, and what we’re left with is a sociopathic gambit devoid of empathy for the life-and-death danger his reckless actions will cause.
For the last four years I’ve fixed, maybe obsessively, on the criminal sociopathy of Donald Trump. The mind-blowing selfishness, the callous indifference to human life, the utter disregard for right and wrong, the absence of shame or capacity for remorse. It’s what the experts sometimes call antisocial personality disorder.
All this made Trump the ultimate mistake as the country was confronted with a deadly pandemic. And we have seen the horrific consequences—in the overwhelming death count and the personal tragedy that’s struck far too many of us. However inexcusable, we might grasp that this man was clinically incapable of doing or being better.
But what of Mr. Abbott—and for that matter Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and a rogues’ gallery of other Republicans who one might have hoped would tack back toward sanity and humanity after the criminal sociopath left the White House?
I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t know whether the Republican Party is loaded with literal sociopaths or they’re “gifted” copycats, bent on emulating the worst behavior of Trump and shamelessly pursuing power at all costs (which, in the case of the pandemic, literally means furthering a death cult undeterred by mass death).
Honestly, even after the anti-human degradations of the last four years, it goes against my fundamental sense of right and wrong to accept that our civilization has reached such depths that nearly an entire population of elected officials has abandoned all human decency—or become so completely untethered from reality. But if I’ve learned anything in the last four years, it’s that we have to believe what our eyes and ears are telling us.
Here’s what Mary L. Trump, psychologist and author of Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, told me in no uncertain terms:
“He [Abbott] is just one in a very long line of sociopaths in power. People like him…are doing more damage and putting more people at risk in the moment, but it's people like McConnell (and most Senate Republicans), Pence, Barr (and pretty much anybody in the last cabinet), McCarthy (and apparently every Republican in the House) who, because of their profound disregard for human life, lack of basic human decency, and desire for power over everything else, have paved the road that's led us here.
The road forward will be paved with sociopaths and sociopathy. It could be decades before this cancer is removed from the body politic. In the now, we will face more death, destruction and terrorism because of this shameless servitude to keeping power, democracy be damned.
But if we face squarely the danger that people like Greg Abbott are spreading—and work to remove them from power—we have a fighting chance to limit the damage.