Local Jewish psychiatrist analyzes presidential race | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Local Jewish psychiatrist analyzes presidential race

“When it comes to personal interactions or issues that had an impact on Jews, Lincoln did the right thing, on every occasion,” Harold Holzer, a prominent Lincoln scholar, said in an interview. “I myself have a regard for the Jews,” Lincoln reportedly said. “My (podiatrist) is a Jew, and he has so many times ‘put me on my feet’ that I would have no objection to giving his countrymen ‘a leg up’.”


-The New Yorker, April 25, 2016

Although it would border on the delusional to expect another heroic president like Abraham Lincoln, we can look for candidates in this, or any, political race that might have some Lincoln-esque qualities.

Surely, in two recent holidays, Purim and Passover, we were threatened with the opposite, a Persian King who was susceptible to ill advice and an Egyptian pharaoh who had his heart hardened. We also had our own human Jewish leaders in these stories, including a strategic Mordecai, a brave Queen Esther, and a humble Moses.

Here are six points of analysis for any presidential race.

1. Fitness for duty

One might assume that any mental disorder would make a candidate unfit for leadership. Lincoln proved that to be untrue.

As the psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi argued in his groundbreaking 2012 book, “A First-Rage Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness,” the opposite may be true at times. Though leaders who seemed “normal” were a good fit for stable times, those with mood disorders seemed to be a better fit for times of crisis. As with Lincoln, and perhaps Moses, periods of depression and dismay can enhance creativity, empathy, realism and resilience.

2. Narcissism

In the current campaign, narcissism has been thrown around like a four letter word. Now, an above average degree of personal narcissism seems necessary to even run for president, given the degree of responsibility and criticism. However, when it increases to the extent of being pathological, we see an inflated sense of personal importance, an excessive need for attention, and an oversensitivity to criticism, perhaps akin to the hardened heart of pharaoh in the Passover story.

The story of Joseph in Egypt before the Passover exodus indicates how narcissism might evolve from a liability to an asset. Joseph’s undue narcissism as an adolescent led to his brothers throwing him into a pit. It is only after he attributes his psychological dream interpretation skills to G-d that he goes from prisoner to second in command, exemplifying the ideal adviser who could manage an environmental change reminiscent of our climate challenge today. So, when we know which vice-presidential running mates are chosen, we should try to assess whether they are more like Joseph than Haman.

3. Sociopathy

Haman leads us to another personality characteristic of concern. That is sociopathy, which is characterized by manipulating others to get what one wants, regardless of harm to others. Distorting the truth to get elected is common, but political lying can be in the service of something beneficial or destructive.

Holding back the truth is another related leadership strategy, successfully used by Mordecai and Queen Esther. After being picked out of his harem, she later revealed her identity and the plot to kill the Jews to the King. Through his love for her, the King was able to modulate his narcissism to save the Jews and get the lying Haman killed.

4. Scapegoating

Jews are always at risk when scapegoating of any group begins. Scapegoating can be a pathway to dangerous anti-Semitism.

Another way to assess the likelihood of Jews being scapegoated is whether candidates share our values and identify with the Jewish people and Israel in some way. As in the Lincoln quote, that may be evident in relationships with the Jewish people, particularly in one’s family, as well as a positive personal identity as a Jew.

5. Situational leadership

Leaders vary so much because they have to be a good fit for the situation at hand. Notable in this presidential race have been atypical candidates, whether by experience or idealism, that may remind some of the time when the pro wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota. Though we have nothing approaching the crisis of Lincoln’s Civil War times, there is intense political conflict and great wealth disparity in America, as well as the terrorism threat.

6. A presidential stew

If you would like to add some psychiatric ingredients to whatever ones you are using to make your presidential choice, I would add these:

-an above average amount of narcissism, but not too much that the other ingredients will be overwhelmed;
-a bit of food coloring to make it more appetizing, but not to hide something less attractive;
-a few tears of sadness to stimulate creativity;
ingredients and spices from other cultures; and
-a chicken soup broth.
-serve with the matzah and wine of our afflictions and redemption.

While eating, remember that it was a confident citizen, Nachson, who had the courage and faith to lead us across the Red Sea. Fortified with our stew, we citizens can also help our leaders across the stormy seas to a better America.

H. Steven Moffic, M.D., a psychiatrist, is on the board of the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center and has been chosen to receive the Administrative Psychiatry Award from the American Psychiatric Association. He is now retired from seeing patients. He and his wife Rusti are co-chairs of Tapestry, the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center’s arts and ideas programs.