Two people much in the news recently — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and drunken vehicular manslaughter teenager Ethan Couch — would appear to have much in common, when it comes to their basic psychological profiles. Both might well be termed “peas in the affluenza pod.”
Affluenza is a term coined by a Texas psychologist to describe the condition where an excess of wealth and a deficiency in understanding basic human obligations leads to an alleged failure to recognize right from wrong. This “affluenza defense” was used by lawyers after Couch killed four people and injured others while driving drunk with three times the legal alcohol level and traces of drugs in his system. It was claimed Couch did not know what he did was wrong.
The judge, who later took early retirement, shocked the nation by sentencing Couch only to 10 years’ probation. After a video surfaced showing Couch, now 18, at a drunken beer-pong party, he and his mother skipped to Mexico, where they were found after ordering pizza on their cellphone. She has been returned to Texas, while he continues to fight extradition.
You might ask what this has to do with Trump, so consider these similarities:
Both Couch and Trump take it as a given that their family wealth permits behavior not allowed to those of lesser affluence.
After the fatal accident, Couch told his friends that his family would “handle things” without him suffering any real consequences. Trump’s way of handling things is to make the most outrageous and abusive statements because he believes he has every right to do so, and because his knowledge is limited. Indeed, he calls himself “a winner,” claiming those who practice civil discourse are all “weak losers,” and being a self-proclaimed winner supposedly allows him the right to invent wild fantasies and state outright lies as the truth.
Both Couch and Trump fail to understand actions often have consequences that are not under their control, and indeed likely to haunt them. Though Texas juvenile law may allow Couch to escape serious consequences for fleeing the country and violating probation, he cannot escape the callous way he killed four people and maimed others. Nor can Trump escape the callous way he has demeaned the political process in the United States, stooping to such low levels and behaving so obnoxiously that he has no respect outside of his misguided supporters.
Both Couch and Trump display many characteristics of sociopaths who cannot distinguish between right and wrong, cannot make sound, fact-based judgments and cannot behave in any appropriate manner relevant to situations-at-hand.
For a teenager like Couch, years of therapy might lead to his rehabilitation — at least, one can hope for this outcome. For Trump, as he glories in his juvenile and rude behavior, one can only hope the Republican Party come to its senses and reject his candidacy for the presidency, the sooner the better.
America needs to reject the “affluenza” theory: wealth is no excuse for bad behavior; if anything, obligations on the wealthy are higher because they have the capability to do more for society, not less. Think: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.