Political Intelligence

The traits that make or break leaders

The Politics Of Paranoia

Paranoia and politics is a toxic mix

In my day job as a psychiatrist I come across paranoia all the time. What people often don’t realize about paranoia, however, is just how ubiquitous it is. We all actually have it to some degree. Our chattering mind will jump to conclusions and make judgments all the time based on scanty information. We’ll be standing on a bus and see a stranger get on and instantly a set of ideas about that person will come flooding into our minds just based on how they look, what they are wearing, how they walk, and all before they have even opened their mouths. Sometimes these judgments may lead us to draw conclusions about people’s attitudes towards us. But then, after we start to get to know that person we realize that we were worried for no reason. That’s because our mind has an automatic tendency to slip towards a defensive posture when faced with the unknown.

Most of us, of course, have some awareness of this and, as a result, we tend to filter it out. We usually don’t start acting or further elaborating on this momentary paranoia because we have a deeper sense that the feelings we are having in that instant are basically unfounded. The problem arises when such a filter is lacking and people start to act or build on their snap judgments. Although we would hope that our politicians are more adept at avoiding these mental traps—and often, of course, they are—sometimes this is obviously not the case. The recent episode in which Michelle Bachman, together with several Republican members of Congress, wrote a letter to the State Department asking for an investigation into one of its longstanding employees, Huma Abedin, demanding to know whether or not she was effectively a mole for the Muslim Brotherhood, was one such unfortunate example. Abedin is the wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, and is widely respected across government. The attack upon her has, therefore, evoked passionate condemnation across Washington. No one has expressed this more powerfully than John McCain, who chose to do so on the Senate floor no less.

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“To say that the accusations made in both documents are not substantiated by the evidence they offer is to be overly polite and diplomatic about it. It is far better, and more accurate, to talk straight: These allegations about Huma, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant. [...]

“These sinister accusations rest solely on a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations of members of Huma’s family, none of which have been shown to harm or threaten the United States in any way. These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis, and no merit. And they need to stop now.

“Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it."

Amen to that... Or whatever is the equivalent in your own faith.

Russell Razzaque, M.D. is a British psychiatrist and author of Obama Karma: Lessons on Living Inspired by the 44th President.

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