I don't know our president on a personal level. For all I know, he could in fact be a sociopath. What I do know is that we as a culture have a tendency to throw that label at anyone powerful who does terrible things. Here's an article from 2004 saying Saddam Hussein's doctor thought he was a psychopath. If you actually read it, you'll find that said "doctor" was a plastic surgeon and thus as qualified to diagnose psychopathy as your local manicurist.
This seems to stem from the idea that you have to be a ruthless monster in order to achieve power in the first place. The truth might be scarier. For years now, several groups of scientists have been studying the ways power impacts the human brain. They've found that power causes people to become more impulsive, less conscious of risk, and less able to empathize with others. The effects are severe enough to be comparable to brain damage.
And sure, there's an extent to which Hitler was always Hitler. His best friend as a boy, August Kubizeck, notes that he was prone to rant loudly about politics even as a teen (Hitler also creepily ordered August to stalk a girl on his behalf). But Hitler was not always the man who could order the deaths of millions. At one point, he was a heartbroken young boy who had been rejected from art school and was serving as the caregiver for his mother, who was dying of breast cancer. When she died, her doctor said, "I have never seen anyone so prostrate with grief as Adolf Hitler."
You might, understandably, want to doubt any humanizing anecdote about Hitler as propaganda. But Eduard Bloch, the Hitler family doctor, was Jewish. Hitler was so grateful for the care his mother received that in 1938, at Dr. Bloch's request, he put the man's family under government protection and expedited their emigration to the United States. The key to understanding Hitler, and all of the people like him, is that there were bits and pieces of an empathetic person in there. He became a monster in steps, and at no point saw himself as one.
If we write off the worst leaders in history as born monsters, then the solution is easy going forward: Stop them before they reach power. Isn't that the old time travel thought experiment, "What if you could go back in time and kill young Hitler?" But if power itself can smother the humanity in a person, then the problem is more complex. It means that instead of rooting for the rise of a powerful figure who happens to be on your side -- be it a politician, company, or seemingly progressive billionaire -- you have to think in terms of making sure absolute power doesn't reside in any one set of hands. That means a system that is by design complicated, messy, and full of petty squabbling among factions.
There will always be that temptation to let a strong voice come in and take over, to whip it into shape, to "get things done." And there will always be someone willing to take you up on it. They will be a solid, likable, empathetic person ... right up until they're not.
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For more, check out 5 Horrible Dictators Who Had Totally WTF Hobbies and 5 Ruthless Dictators Hiding In Plain Sight As Normal People.
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