The Urgent Necessity of Limiting Trump’s Violent Bullying

As a daughter of refugees from Hitler’s Germany, I developed an interest in how malevolent public figures in history and the present pervert and manipulate language to destructive ends.

My interest evolved to where, in the early 1990s, I led a team conducting the first-ever brain imaging research on well-characterized psychopaths, people incapable of empathy for their victims. Our research found that compared to normal people, psychopaths’ brains showed brighter color, which is to say, more activation — indicative of cerebral blood flow — when processing negatively charged emotional words like maggot, Hitler, and coffin. It appeared the psychopaths’ brains had to work more to process the negative language.

When our paper from that research was published in the early 1990s, I declined television interviews, not wanting the complex burden of public speaking on the relevant issues.

That Trump brought the United States to the brink of dictatorship forces a change in my thinking. Americans committed to their Constitution should never tolerate a president tweeting ‘The free press is the enemy of the people.’ A president who tells followers that to see reporters shot in the leg or shoved to the ground is “A beautiful sight” is a profoundly disordered man indifferent to his oath as well as to the suffering and death caused at least in part by his cumulative goading.

The depth and nuances of modern neuroscience can hardly be conveyed in an editorial. Yet laypeople and Republican Senators alike can have confidence in the overwhelming consensus among mental health professionals – based on our knowledge of brain science and behavioral science – that to stop a violent bully, society must place irrevocable boundaries on the violent bully’s conduct.

At issue in Trump’s second impeachment trial is whether Trump incited to a deadly insurrectionist attack against our Capitol. Senators might ask themselves: “Yes or no: did Trump threaten in advance that his January 6 event would be ‘wild’?” and “Yes or no: would the Capitol insurrection have occurred at all if Trump had not orchestrated the murderous passions of his pre-insurrection rally?”

Another question for Republican Senators is: Would Officer Brian Sicknick still be alive if Trump had not told his revved up and deluded rally attendees that they were now ‘allowed to go by different rules,’ and that they had to ‘fight like hell’ to overturn the election?

Those with a scientific understanding of psychopathy are not surprised that during the insurrection, Trump — knowing Pence to be endangered — tweeted incitement against Pence. We also are not surprised by Senator Ben Sasse’s report that senior White House officials told him Trump was ‘delighted’ by the violent lawlessness inside the Capitol.

What dereliction of duty will Republican Senators be engaging in if they fail to convict Trump and disqualify him from holding office? In my practice, I sometimes ask people: “How do you want to be remembered?”

That is now the salient question for Republican Senators.

Do you want to be remembered for having helped to restore – to your party and our country – civility, and respect for electoral processes? Or do you want to be remembered for further imperiling our constitutional republic, and for endangering the public and your own safety by once again enabling Trump?


  1. Richard Glazer on February 14, 2021 at 1:01 am

    Right on.

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