Politics does attract good people who want to choose to do good things, but it also provides an undeservedly comfortable home for the toxic and the devoid of conscience - those with all the hallmarks of the sociopath and the narcissist.
There are some Grade A Toxins in politics who manage to hide in plain sight. Charming and charismatic when they choose to be, they volunteer and steer themselves and their followers into influential positions. All the while, the background soundtracks of their brains and their internal documentary-makers are congratulating themselves on their powers of persuasion whilst helping themselves to everything - and everyone - that they feel entitled to claim.
They feel entitled to use any tactics they think will work, from charm to manipulation to denigration to intimidation and - if all that doesn't do the job - outright lies, upping the ante as naturally as the wolf scents, stalks and picks off prey. We are all prey to a sociopath. We are all the enemy. Even the enablers - those who are gutless and weak, or the venal idiots who think that playing with fire will ignite their own careers rather than make ashes of their plans - are far from safe. Family members are vulnerable to developing such an extreme level of cognitive dissonance that their own behaviour starts to prevent them from living normally in the ordinary world. Family enablers have to work hard every day to try to protect their own fragile psychological integrity and to carry the family's 'following' along with them. Sometimes the cracks show, and traits like stress, depression, alienation and abusive tendencies can poke up through the imperfect skin of that family bubble.
Many non-enablers do look at the Grade A Toxin in their working lives with growing awareness that there's a sickness in the midst, and begin tentatively to ask the others in their political culture whether they too think there's a problem. These are the make or break moments. Sadly, more often than not, the chance is missed to do the right thing. To understand this, it helps to look more closely at the complex interplay of the different types of enabler that the sociopath has already set up, and the tactics that the sociopath is prepared to use to maintain their supremacy and to keep their 'Supply' of those things which meet their needs.
In politics, there are a number of types of enabler, and they're not all mutually exclusive. There are people who are afraid of becoming the Grade A Toxin's next victim (the Scared Enablers). There are those who are too wrapped up in what the Grade A Toxin can do for their own careers (the Cynical Enablers), who understand very well the flaws of the sociopath in their midst but who choose to minimise them in order to further their own agendas.
Higher up the ladder, even up to very senior Party level, there are those who just want all the negative press to go away (the In Denial Enablers), or who have secrets that the Grade A Toxin has made it his business to find out about and threaten to expose - 'If I go down I'm taking you all down with me' - because sometimes the sordid truth in politics is that enablers and the enabled share a little secret, such as a sexual predilection or a past history as younger men of partying together with the 'wrong' people (the Compromised Enablers). The Grade A Toxin is able to treat any threats to expose him with utter contempt, precisely because he surrounds himself with enablers who are compromised.
And there are the Egotistical Enablers, among the most dangerous of all, who think and who tell themselves that they're just a little bit too smart to be taken in by the sociopath but who are, actually, just a little bit cowardly, just a little bit venal, and maybe just a little bit less clever than they'd like to think they are. There is a cross-over here with the Cynical Enablers, people who are self-importantly addicted to doing deals and spotting the next move in the game, so craving that feeling of a Thomas Cromwell whispering from behind into their ear whilst they stare at the checkered board, that they can't see the Big Thing in front of them dancing about on stilts waving an orange and yellow banner with 'Big Ethical Fuck-Up' written all over it.
For the gifted sociopath there is, as the early Roman emperors knew, the opportunity of power-playing with the heritability factor. To whom will the baton of power be passed when the top dog dies or simply retires; and upon whom will he bestow his patronage and largesse? What promises and Faustian pacts are simmering away in the mix? Most sociopaths will go to the edge of the abyss on this - as far as Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD - rather than concede on anything, because they simply don't know how to. They'd rather hang on to their delusions all the way through their personal journey to a darkened la-la-land than concede on any point. After all, they've got their enablers by the balls. And they will use it. They are the perfect Catch22-madbots. And the only sane response there is when faced with one is to step far, far away.
So the good guys become more and more fed up, and eventually leave the culture, and walk away; and few of them ever look back. I think that they initially hope that there will be others, too, walking with them; that it won't be just them going into a lonely world under a lonely sky. But in a parody of evolutionary development, some newer, fresher people are already available to take their place. And here's the thing: by this time the enablers have taken over the selection process and so the newer, fresher people are those who are pre-disposed not only never to question the supremacy of the Grade A Toxin, but to traduce anyone from either the inside or the outside daring to do so. The enemy must be denounced as nutters and fantasists, piss-heads and hysterics, criminals, money-grubbers and bitter ex lovers.
It helps the sociopath, of course, if one or two of his critics can be caught behaving in an unpleasant way, exaggerating for effect, or making comments that are clearly homophobic or misogynistic. This plays right into the hands of the sociopath and his enablers, as these critics are then very easy to disparage and discredit. The liar, in effect, has the higher ground from which to call his critics the liars and himself the victim. Crucially, this buys the sociopath time with the non-enablers who might have been looking at him with suspicion. 'Look,' he says, 'these critics, they're people of bad character, hurting us all!' This is one of the reasons why the Cynical Enablers spend so much more time and energy digging for dirt on the critics than they do questioning their own consciences about whether any of the critics' allegations might have any truth in them. They have to keep the troops in a state of high alert and indignation over these assaults on the integrity of the Supreme Toxin.
The sociopath, when challenged publicly - such as through the resignation of a non-enabling colleague - over their behaviour has a fair armory of tactics he'll bring into play. The opening gambit with remaining colleagues is usually a wounded air of bafflement, telling everyone that he doesn't understand what he has done to deserve it, that the person challenging him has always been so supportive, that this has come out of nowhere ... in other words, playing the victim to the challenger's inexplicable, unexpected and irrational behaviour. There may even be crocodile tears. There certainly won't be any apologies.
A Grade A Toxin will also close down any discussion where they feel exposed. He'll change the subject, or blame someone else, or simply make outlandish statements and close the discussion down. For example, as with most sociopaths he's likely to be clever, but if he's in a room full of people with better educations than him then his 'go to' option might be to denigrate formal education. Imagine, if you will, seeing a politician in a meeting about, say, school improvement play the 'I've never passed an exam in my life and it didn't do me any harm' card , and get away with it unchallenged, because the rest of the room didn't want the tantrum and the inevitable behind-the-scenes retribution that would follow. Imagine, if you can, that level of enabling actually happening.
The sociopath's instincts are finely tuned when it comes to control of his enablers and his critics. He won't hesitate to turn on the charm requesting loyalty, or, conversely, issue solicitors' letters demanding silence. If someone in his circle has some powers, for example to appoint someone junior to a coveted paid committee post, then the sociopath will already be in a position to engineer the outcome. He'll already have made it known that he was in such a position of influence, by using inner circles and cliques to trickle out information. He'll use others to do his dirty work, he'll make others make the phone calls he doesn't want to make, he'll engage in proxy backstabbing, and he'll make others take responsibility for unpopular decisions. He'll rarely put anything in writing. The phone call is his friend. He also likes the ambush. Seemingly out of nowhere he will belittle and sabotage, criticising and diluting the initiatives of others, often later taking the credit for them himself when the dust has settled.
The sociopath in politics will frequently Do A Malcolm Tucker, such as swearing openly at other prominent people in front of others, and taking obvious personal calls in meetings that another prominent person is chairing. The sociopath knows and thrives on his top dog position. He also likes to drip little punishments and rewards on to his minions. He might repeatedly mis-remember something about a person's personal circumstances, for example, occasionally getting it right so that the minion is supposed to feel inexplicably pleased and validated when it happens. The details of the minion, up to and including their job roles and their names, is either brain-trash to the sociopath or it's game play material. He will ask a minion a question and walk out of the room while they are answering. He withdraws the supposed honour of his presence on a whim.
Trying to identify sociopaths and narcissists that inhabit both the grass roots and higher level politics is tricky. Trying to understand their motivations can be trickier still, other than perhaps by accepting the somewhat dreary explanation that they didn't get their emotional needs met in childhood. Some of them seem trapped like selfish para-toddlers in adult bodies. Sociopaths and narcissists have a whole package of emotional and visceral needs; and significantly they need to be needed or looked up to, and to have power to exert over others. Maybe if, deep down, the sociopath feels small, the more he reduces others to a state of fear, the bigger he feels and the more power he believes he has over them.
This helps explain why the dynamic between the different enablers itself becomes so toxic. The Scared Enablers feel a deep sense of shame that they aren't doing, or can't do, more to stop this kind of wrongness happening. They are not ready to challenge the Supreme Toxin, or don't know how to, so some develop a kind of Stockholm Syndrome; and some turn their ire on to the Cynical Enablers who know exactly who and what they're supporting. Significantly, none of them directly challenge the sociopath either singly or collectively. This in turn allows the Supreme Toxin to divide and rule and maintain jurisdiction over their utterly dysfunctional kingdom. Even when the Scared Enablers are given a chance to break their silence as part of an investigation or review, they rarely choose to do so. They have already put their shame in a box, on a dark shelf, in a back room in their minds, and they don't choose to examine it any more. Why would they?
So what does it mean when a sociopath issues an apology for harm they have done? Do they really mean it? And how do their enablers respond? There have been many carefully worded apologies in politics, many of which seem to pose more questions than they answer.
Evidence suggests that sociopaths do not feel remorse, guilt or shame for their actions. They are aware on a conscious level that it would be a bad thing for their careers if they were to be caught and exposed, but they don't care about what they've done to the objects of their wrongdoing and they will never fully admit to the carnage they've created. This in turn suggests that any apology forthcoming from a sociopath is likely to be insincere damage-limitation and probably only half the story (if that), possibly dragged out of them by a skillful and brave opponent with a very good lawyer.
As for the enablers, some have bought so far into the sociopath's narrative that even when there is evidence which patently contradicts this view, they will choose to join in the supportive faux bafflement. Even when their Supreme Toxin is independently found to have lied and behaved in an appalling way, some of the enablers will still be heard saying, 'But it's all a conspiracy.' And even when the sociopath admits to doing appalling things, publicly, there will be enablers who are so far gone that they will maintain a fiction that their Supreme Toxin 'had to' make the admissions but is actually innocent. And because sociopaths do not make genuine apologies for their actions, the sociopath is likely encouraging this delusion in his enablers.
There will also be enablers who decide - seeing a public apology from their Supreme Toxin - that their best interests are now probably going to be best served by reacting with mock horror to the apparent revelations of wrongdoing. There may be hand-wringing. There may be emoting. For the victims of a sociopath's wrongdoing, this must be one of the hardest spectacles of all to endure.
But the enablers carry on emoting their little hearts out. And their crocodile tears can be impressive - after all, they learned from a master.