The recent, untimely death of veteran actor Bill Paxton sparked a bit of nostalgia in me and I went back and revisited some examples of his work. While doing so, I took in the 1986 James Cameron-directed film, Aliens.
A certain line from this sci-fi classic, in which Paxton plays a space marine corporal battling large insect-like aliens with acid for blood, struck me because of its relevance to our current sociopolitical situation. In the scene to which I am referring, Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley (who survived one of these beasts in the original film Alien), is arguing with “Company man” Burke, played by Paul Reiser.
Burke has surreptitiously tried to deem the crew expendable and, at the same time, preserve one of the alien specimens in hopes of weaponizing it upon return home... for a profit. At this point, while calling out Burke’s treacherous intentions, Ripley states,
“I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them f*cking each other over for a percentage.”
If you have been following the early days of the Donald Trump era you have seen unprecedented presidential acts including, but not limited to, his narcissistic, self-serving behaviors, his baseless attacks on his critics including former President Barack Obama, his “matrix” of conflicts of interest and apparent Russian ties, his gutting of the Department of State, and his push for the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) with a stripped down version unofficially known as Trumpcare but actually labeled the American Health Care Act.
The GOP replacement to Obamacare is set up to hurt those who need the most help (e.g., elderly patients, lower socioeconomic status), will result in lower quality insurance plans, will eliminate coverage for millions, and will provide huge tax cuts to the rich. It has been termed a “reverse Robin Hood” and its passage is a political passion project for Republicans, such as Speaker Paul Ryan, who are not shy about pulling down the old system, in large part, because it has the former president’s name on it.
F*cking each other over for a percentage should be the official theme of the first 50 days of the Trump administration with the enabling GOP-controlled Congress. In just 50 days, the American people and our democracy have been f*cked over for a percentage several times over including:
(1) the president’s refusal to divest from his business and financial interests including his Mar-a-Lago hideaway (and its $200K cover charge) and the shaping of his foreign policy around his business interests (e.g., diplomats staying at his Trump International Hotel DC)
(2) the ongoing Russian interference with our democratic system, our electoral process, and the official government business of the President’s Cabinet (for example see Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State) – one of the suggested rationales behind the Russian interference is the potential lifting of U.S. sanctions that would allow Russia and Vladimir Putin to collect close to $500 billion from re-opened oil opportunities
(3) the easing of restrictions placed to protect our water from pollution and to halt climate change in order to promote environmentally unfriendly, fossil-fuel based industries
(4) the executive order-ing of the Keystone XL pipeline construction in which Trump appears to have reneged on his vow to use American steel for its construction
(5) the removal of climate change language from White House website and encouragement of drilling for oil on federal lands
(6) the naming of a billionaire investor, Carl Icahn, who will personally benefit financially from deregulating segments of the economy as a special adviser on economic regulatory reform
(7) the appointment of a fast-food mogul, Andy Puzder, who has opposed minimum wage hikes and repeatedly violated labor law, as the Secretary of Labor
(8) the repeated disregard for constituents’ wishes or well-being in addition to the enabling of authoritarian (potentially treasonous) methods by this President on the watch of GOP leaders such as Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Jason Chaffetz – all of whom receive millions from PACs.
F*cking over for a percentage can also be described, in psychological terms, as an act of guiltlessness, sociopathy, anti-social personality, and/or the lack of a conscience. Not surprisingly, the lack of a conscience is associated with increasing degrees of power and wealth. Whether or not Trump, members of his Administration, or GOP Congressional members are actually sociopaths or playing sociopaths is difficult to determine as an observer who only has access to their public behaviors.
But the question continues to be asked, in light of everything that we have seen over the past 50 days and most notably this week with Trumpcare:
How do these individuals sleep at night/live with themselves/appear guilt-free as they seek to strip rights, personal safety, health, and human services from We the People?
(1) They have sociopathic personality characteristics
Sociopaths, or those who operate within their daily lives without a “conscience,” can be characterized as acting without feelings of guilt, remorse, or shame coupled with a tendency to reject the concept of responsibility. Not surprisingly, highly intelligent people with sociopathy will take advantage of this lack of conscience and ruthlessly pursue careers in business, politics, or law and do so with a less restricted view of ethics or morality. In addition, sociopathic individuals are also known to possess a strong desire for power, an affinity for manipulation and bullying, and the potential to fly into fits of rage when his objectives are blocked.
(2) All politicians lie, they have just become used to it
It is not shocking that politicians will lie to appease their constituents in order to become elected (or re-elected) but also to push their policies forward. Lying activates an emotional part of our brain known as the amygdala (along with other brain structures) and, as a result, the dishonesty feels unpleasant to us as emoting human beings. However, with repeated lying, this amygdala activation and the subsequent feelings of uneasiness can diminish over time. This is known as habituation. Lying can become effortless and largely occur without feelings of guilt.
The danger here is that repeatedly lying (in the face of contrary evidence) can be difficult to do and, although the unpleasant feelings may fade, the skilled liar still needs to “keep his facts straight.”
An example of the “tight roping” required to pull this off can be seen in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s most recent press interaction from yesterday (3/9/17). Toward the end of the Press briefing, Spicer becomes tripped up by what he and the White House are “aware of” with regard to the president’s claims of wiretapping and any ongoing investigations into his allegations against President Obama.
The lies and deceit to which we have been exposed in 50 days may not necessarily be unique to this presidency. However, what appears to be unique and unsettling is the frequency of lies, the mean-spiritedness and tenacity with which the lies are repeated, and the apparent lack of a conscience that comes with telling millions of people that what they believe they are seeing, hearing, and feeling is not reality.