A few years ago, Psychology Today magazine ran an article titled “How to Spot a Sociopath.” One key warning sign is a dearth of feeling for other human beings. Bear that in mind as you read this recap of Saturday’s fatal fire in Trump Tower.
It’s tempting as always to focus on breaking news; starting today, for instance, John Bolton and his mad-dog mustache are officially on Trump’s payroll. And it’s tempting as always to focus on the big picture, as best described by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who points out that the global threat of fascism is the worst in 80 years: “Overseas, rather than stand up to bullies, Mr. Trump appears to like bullies, and they are delighted to have him represent the American brand. If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene.”
But sometimes a small story tells a big truth, and that’s what happened after a fire raged on the residential 50th floor of Trump’s signature Manhattan edifice. One of Trump’s tenants — Todd Brassner, an ailing 67-year-old art collector who lived alone — perished in the smoke and flames. I am sharing the guy’s name because Trump this weekend never bothered to offer condolences or even acknowledge his existence.
This was Trump’s sole tweet about the fire, posted on Saturday night: “Fire at Trump Tower is out. Very confined (well built building). Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”
That was it. No follow ups, not a word of empathy for someone who lived under his own roof. Isn’t it a tad creepy — indeed, sociopathic — to react to a tenant’s fiery death by boasting about his “well built building”? (Putting “women” in parenthesis is also weird, but let’s not digress.)
Brassner had been trying to sell his unit since Trump’s election, but nobody wanted to buy it. Worse yet, Brassner’s unit had no sprinklers. Turns out, the “well built building” has no residential sprinklers at all, because in 1999, when the city sought to enact a sprinkler requirement in all residential buildings, Trump lobbied hard against it.
He said at the time that even though “people feel safer with sprinklers,” the cost of installing them in high-rises was too excessive for his taste. A sprinkler bill ultimately passed, and was signed into law by Trump buddy Rudy Giuliani, but Trump got a nice exemption. He didn’t have to retrofit any residential units that were built 15 years prior to the law’s enactment – an exemption that applied as well to other developers with longstanding buildings. Fortuitously, Trump Tower opened in 1983. The art of the deal!
So Todd Brassner, sans sprinklers, exited on a stretcher, and Trump was back on Twitter as Sunday dawned. But he thumbed nary a word about his dead tenant, nor did he spare a thought about the injured firefighters. Instead, he woke up thinking about Hillary and the FBI’s “rigged investigation” of Hillary. (Actually, he was reacting to a Fox News segment about Hillary.) He then followed up with a scattershot rant about The Washington Post, which, in his view, is “more like a poorly written novel than good reporting.” (Although there’s scant evidence that Trump has ever read novels, be they well written or otherwise.)
Over the weekend, a concerned citizen on Twitter studied Trump’s reaction to the fire and thumbed: “What in the name of all that is holy is WRONG WITH YOU?” That question is easily answered. Let’s parse the warning signs of a sociopath, as compiled in 2013 by Psychology Today. The best sampling:
“Untruthfulness and insincerity.” Check!
“Lack of remorse and shame.” Check!
“Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience.” Check!
“Pathologic egocentricity.” Check!
And best of all, this euphemistic diagnosis:
“General poverty in major affective reactions.”
If I had to list the character traits that a president should never possess, “general poverty in major affective reactions” would vie for high billing. It’s our misfortune to be saddled with a sociopath who can’t even muster the requisite social skills to mark the death of a tenant. Tragically, it’s also a metaphor for our current condition. Unless or until we muster the requisite energy to retaliate at the ballot box, we will remain captives under his roof, in a world without sprinklers.