By now we’ve all seen the news about the white kid in Illinois who was beaten up on a school bus by a black kid, and we’ve all heard Rush Limbaugh’s take on the matter. If you haven’t, here are a few quotes (pulled directly off his website):
Obama’s America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now. You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety but in Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, “Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,” and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white. Newsweek magazine told us this. We know that white students are destroying civility on buses, white students destroying civility in classrooms all over America, white congressmen destroying civility in the House of Representatives.
I wonder if Obama is going to come to the defense the assailants the way he did his friend Skip Gates up there at Harvard. I mean the assailants are presumed innocent due to the white racism we all know runs rampant in America.
Look, this thing on the bus cannot possibly be a hate crime. The cops are probably lying about what happened even though we have the video. The video was probably doctored and edited. We all know that cops are liars, racist pigs and that the white kid deserved it. I mean that’s modern 2009 going into 2010 America.
You can read the entire transcript if you’re a masochist, but the quotes above provide a flavor. I mention them for a few reasons. First, it’s important to note that Limbaugh is exploiting an unfortunate incident involving children to draw attention to himself. It’s not possible to discern any genuine concern in his comments for the child who was beaten. The situation is merely a convenient prop for shifting the spotlight’s direction.
Second, it’s useful to note that Limbaugh shamelessly frames his comments to highlight the races of the children involved. He focuses on one element of the incident above all others because it’s the most incendiary, and the one that he can exploit most completely.
Third, to further support the contention that Limbaugh doesn’t really care about the child involved in the attack, he strings his comments in with a larger diatribe involving rapper Kayne West’s drunken Video Awards antics–as if the incidents are even remotely comparable–and paints all of his remarks with the same racially charged brush. The one common element: race as a political prop to advance Limbaugh’s spotlight position as a thought leader among conservatives. Further, he gleefully revels in the barrage of criticism he’s received since making his comments.
Collectively, these observations point to someone who is (1) shameless, (2) unempathetic, (3) irresponsible, (4) self absorbed, (5) manipulative, and (6) ruthlessly ambitious. In other words, and consistent with DSM definitional criteria, they point to a narcissist with psychopathic tendencies.
If the second part of that description sounds radical to you, that might be because of our common presuppositions about psychopathy, most of which are wrong. We typically think of an extreme, homicidal version of the psychopath, but there’s ample reason to believe that we rub elbows with psychopaths of various forms every day. They likely live in your neighborhood and work in your office, and more than likely will never be arrested for murder or other deviant behavior.
Psychologists studying the more common dimensions of psychopathy have coined a variety of terms to describe it. Martin Kantor used the description, “psychopaths of everyday life.” Robert Hares calls them “subcriminal psychopaths.” Donald Black made popular the title, “successful bad boys.” And Hervey Cleckly offered the moniker, “mild psychopaths.”
The one consistent theme that runs through the experts’ descriptions is a strong link with narcissism. Many in the psychology community view narcissism and psychopathy as sides of the same coin. The disorders share common core elements, and diagnosis often involves both in tandem. When they join in personalities that succeed in ascending to power (cult leaders, for instance) they catalyze cults of personality, some of which turn out to be quite dangerous.
Limbaugh is an example of an especially successful narcissist, and via his remarks he continuously displays psychopathic traits of the “mild” variety. And he’s not by any means alone on the public stage. We can find similar examples in both political camps, with views ranging the spectrum, though few with Limbaugh’s robust pedigree and clout.
What’s most important is that we identify the manipulative tactics of narcissistic psychopaths who have risen to the high alter of media and call out the methods they are using to keep themselves in the spotlight, where they compulsively crave to stay.