Is the President Really a Con Man?

Donald Trump's former lawyer has called him a "con man." What does this mean?

Posted Mar 02, 2019

This week Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” testified in the House of Representatives that Trump was a “con man,” that he had lied to deceive the public, and that he engaged in criminal behavior. On the other hand, the president said that Michael Cohen is a chronic liar and a criminal who has pled guilty for lying and is going to jail for that, which Cohen concedes.

If either of these men has such a pattern of behavior, would it be enough to become part of his personality? After all, con “man” suggests more than one incident—that it’s part of the man's character. And if it is part of one (or both) of these men’s characters, what else can we predict about their behavior?

Bob Pool/Shutterstock
Source: Bob Pool/Shutterstock


The DSM-5 includes the following as one characteristic of antisocial personality disorder, a disorder that is roughly equivalent to sociopathy: “Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.”1 Of course, there is more to diagnosing this disorder, which should only be done by a licensed professional. Yet seeing one trait may help in predicting other patterns of future behavior.

For the past 20 years, I’ve studied “high-conflict” personalities in legal disputes, including narcissists and sociopaths, and teaching lawyers, judges, mediators, and others about how to spot them and deal with them in high-conflict cases. The following is partially excerpted from my book, Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths—And How We Can Stop!, which addresses many examples of these personalities in politics at all levels:

High-Conflict Personalities

When most of us find ourselves in a dispute, our natural inclination is to attempt to resolve it. But for someone with a high-conflict personality, the opposite is true. They think all relationships are inherently adversarial; they constantly feel threatened as an adversary (even when they’re not); and they often react in an extremely adversarial manner.

As a result, in almost any situation, they tend to create one unneces­sary conflict after another because they think conflicts already exist all around them. They feel at war with the world and project this feeling onto others.

People with high-conflict personalities are intensely driven (although usually unconsciously) to control, remove, or destroy their perceived ene­mies. They ultimately sabotage themselves, but they can’t see it coming.

Although each high-conflict person (HCP) is unique, they all share a narrow pattern of behavior that I have identified as including four key observable characteristics:

The High-Conflict Personality Pattern:

  1. A preoccupation with blaming others: their Targets of Blame
  2. All-or-nothing thinking and solutions
  3. Unmanaged or intense emotions
  4. Extreme negative behaviors or threats that 90 percent of people would never do

Sociopathic HCPs

Sociopathic HCPs naturally gravitate toward positions in which they can dominate and humiliate others—such as politics, business, organizational leadership, and/or criminality. They may become CEOs of large corporations, politicians, and highly paid consultants; or gang leaders, heads of drug cartels, and leaders of terrorist groups. A sociopathic HCP can also be a common criminal; a smiling, friendly, drug-dealing neighbor; or a heartless co-worker.

Some sociopathic HCPs are attracted to politics because they can steal from the public coffers for themselves and/or engage in large-scale schemes of swindling others. They enjoy that kind of dominance and high risk-taking. They can also use their political power to boss around large groups of people by fooling them, controlling them, removing them, or destroying them.

For the purposes of spotting sociopathic high-conflict behavior patterns, look out for the fol­lowing four traits:

Key High-Conflict Behaviors of Sociopaths:

  1. Drive to dominate others
  2. Deceitful (substantial lying and conning)
  3. Highly aggressive
  4. Lack of remorse

They use Targets of Blame as a distraction while they are doing their dirty work. By getting you to look over there at another politician or group, they are able to take power and whatever else they want without being stopped. It’s just like pickpockets who distract you by bumping into you and pointing somewhere else: “Look over there!” they shout, grabbing your wallet while you’re looking up.

Predicting Future Behavior

From my observations of hundreds of legal disputes involving those with high-conflict personalities and/or personality disorders, they have a rigid narrow pattern of behavior that rarely changes. Therefore, they are much more predictable than the average person.

For HCPs, we can predict that they will continue to attack their Targets of Blame, adding more and more people to their lists. They will engage in behaviors similar to those they did before, but they may escalate their attacks and become more dangerous, especially to their chosen targets. They will seek to acquire new Negative Advocates (“enablers”) to assist them in attacking their targets ever more aggressively because they will lose former Negative Advocates (such as, perhaps, Michael Cohen) as they realize what they have gotten into, or as they get caught for their own enabling behavior.

For sociopathic HCPs, they are likely to escalate their lying, conning, and aggressively dominating behavior as they feel dominated by others, trapped, or a significant loss of support from their prior colleagues. (It is often said that there is no honor among thieves.) They will also have lots of hidden negative behavior that will eventually come out, causing more Negative Advocates to leave, even more aggressive behavior, and more cruelty to old and new Targets of Blame.   

When a political leader has such patterns of behavior, we need to put on the brakes as soon as possible. Yet they often are highly charming and seductive, so my historical research showed that they can usually convince up to 40% of the voters that they are incredible heroes protecting the city, state, or nation from evil villains and fantasy crises.Then they split the other 60% into at least three voter groups to render them ineffective.

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with politics. Sociopathic HCPs have been on the right and on the left, as history has shown and current events around the world today are showing again. They use politics simply to gain power, then use seduction and fear to stay in power. The issue’s not the issue; the personality is the issue. Time will tell if these predictable patterns of behavior fit this president.


1. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013, 659. (DSM-5)

2. Eddy, B. Why We Elect Narcissists and Sociopaths—And How We Can Stop! Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, May 2019.