The current scandals swirling around New Jersey Governor Chris Christie offer an interesting insight into a particular type of sociopathy, one that Christie has displayed since his days as a U.S. attorney. Unfortunately for Christie, the very same sociopathic traits that often make for a successful federal prosecutor are proving disastrous for an elected official.
The ability to disconnect from the truth and create one's own reality is an effective tactic for career advancement in the U.S. attorney's office. The "crimes" alleged by federal prosecutors need not necessarily bear a particularly strong semblance to the actual fact pattern, for more important than what actually transpired is the prosecutor's version of what occurred. Embellishment, prevarication and outright deception have long proven to be powerful prosecutorial tools. Christie's tenure as U.S. attorney was served well by these methods, allowing him to rack up a superficially impressive record as a crime fighting federal prosecutor. Serving as the chief federal prosecutor for the district, with near limitless discretionary power, likely fed into his despotic/authoritarian tendencies which are often exhibited by sociopaths.
Governor Chris Christie find himself mired in a deepening scandal, yet pathologically insists all of the wrongdoing was accomplished without his knowledge
While all sociopaths lie, falsifying and misrepresenting does not necessarily make one sociopathic. Lying is often recognized as being sociopathic when those asserting the lies allow their fabrications to become their own reality. A sociopath often cunningly lies in order to gain or achieve something. In Christie's case, the over-arching goal was career advancement. The rules in federal court, grossly stacked in favor of the government, allow federal prosecutors to routinely replace actual facts with their more self-serving version of events. In short, insistence upon creating their own reality and ignoring inconvenient facts is rewarded with their subjective reality displacing the real one, at least as far as the relevant legal proceedings are concerned. So it should come as no surprise that Christie continues to deny any wrongdoing, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. It is a strategy that has served him well in the past. Nevertheless, continuing to lie despite a growing body of contradictory facts reveals a significant element of Christie's sociopathy. In many ways, this chronic mendacity is precisely what one would expect.
Christie's blossoming feud with former appointee David Wildstein allows further insight into Christie's pathology. Given that retaliating for perceived slights and subsequently upping the ante is another hallmark of sociopathy, Christie's actions in regard to Wildstein's perceived perfidy are practically textbook. Christie, at his January 9, 2014 press conference, took to insulting Wildstein and claiming he was something akin to a passing acquaintance. This despite the fact that they attended high school together and have been associated professionally for many years. Ready for the pointing out of this inconvenient fact, Christie explained that while they were indeed at same high school, they were on disparate trajectories.
David Wildstein's apparent willingness to implicate Christie has been met with a bewildering response, including claims of alleged transgressions dating back to high school
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"You know, I was the class president and athlete," Christie said. "I don't know what David was doing during that period of time."
While somewhat puzzling, Christie's tone and comment was dripping with narcissism, another recognized hallmark of sociopathy.
On February 3, 2014, Wildstein's counsel alleged that evidence existed which would contradict Christie's shifting claims regarding the George Washington Bridge scandal. Christie again fired back with a reference to Wildstein's high school days. The governor's hit memo attempted to dismiss Wildstein's allegations by pointing out that Wildstein had while in high school "sued over a local school board election" and that his high school social studies teacher had publicly accused him of "deceptive behavior." The Christie memo summed up by saying, "Bottom line, David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein."
Much of the media was quick to point out the amateurish nature of Christie's response and theorized that top media aides who would normally prepare such a release were simply unavailable for the task since having lawyered up. Perhaps, but Christie's honing in on his target's alleged missteps while in high school is more revealing than many realize.
Michael Drewniak has long served as Christie's de facto minister of information, but has lawyered up as a result of the scandals and is likely unavailable for further service
Disproportionately zeroing in on matters that others would normally consider trivial is another recognized indication of sociopathy. This is a favorite tactic of federal prosecutors who will use any available triviality to paint adversaries in as negative a light as possible. Citing decades old murky "facts," as Christie is doing with Wildstein, is standard fare in federal criminal matters where no transgression is too small to warrant attention and subsequent punishment. Accordingly, Christie's citing of Wildstein's misdeeds while in high school is more pathologically prosecutorial than amateurish.
The current dynamics of the Christie-Wildstein relationship offer additional insight into Christie's sociopathy. The incapacity to maintain enduring relationships while having no difficulty in establishing them is another recognized sociopathic trait. Christie's haste in not only renouncing Wildstein, but also minimizing and mischaracterizing their decades-long relationship, speaks directly to this element of his pathology. Christie's unflinching willingness to jettison other aides, including Bridget Kelly, offers further evidence of his inability to fully appreciate personal relationships.
Senior aide Bridget Kelly was promptly fired and publicly criticized by Christie after her now infamously incriminating email calling for a "traffic problem" came to light
Indeed, the fact that Christie's relationship with Wildstein goes back to his childhood offers additional insights into Christie's longstanding lack of fitness. Marked readiness to blame others or to offer plausible rationalizations for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society is another recognized element of sociopathy. In many ways, Christie's response to his recent scandals displays this propensity to rationalize and blame others. Christie's haste in discarding a long-time, childhood friend and laying blame squarely upon him would appear to be a most egregious example of this element of sociopathy.
Another interesting element of Christie's Wildstein hit memo is the derisive reference to Wildstein's "anonymous blogging." Wildstein had previously blogged under the pseudonym "Wally Edge" and was considered by some to have been New Jersey's premier political blogger. Much of the blog's appeal came from its ability to break hot political stories. Interestingly, the source for many of these breaking stories was the New Jersey U.S. attorney's office, then headed by Chris Christie.
The impropriety of prosecutors leaking information to select media outlets has long been a source of contention, but Christie's U.S. attorney's office was recognized to have taken the practice to previously unforeseen heights. Christie's willingness to disdainfully cite Wildstein's role in the scheme, which clearly benefited Christie and his fellow federal prosecutors, sheds further light on troubling personality traits.
The Newark U.S. attorney's office is where Christie's current delusive trajectory began to take form
Playing fast and loose with the rules has long been a Christie tendency, dating back to his tenure as U.S. attorney and evidenced by the aforementioned leaking to the media. This corresponds with another sociopathic tendency, the gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, rules, and obligations. As far as he is concerned, the rules have never applied to Chris Christie. Their applicability is exclusively for others. This disconnect was significantly heightened by Christie's zeal while U.S. attorney for disproportionately pursuing relatively trivial matters with the full force of the U.S. government. Despite his own glaring violations, no crime was too small to warrant fervent prosecution by Christie.
This excessive urge to punish corresponds with another powerful signifier of sociopathy, a marked lack of empathy and the callous unconcern for the feelings of others. Christie's willingness to promptly sacrifice those around him, even longstanding loyal subordinates, would appear to directly square with this symptom. It also speaks to the sociopath's aforementioned inability to maintain enduring relationships.
As the scandal surrounding Christie deepens, he shows no sign of retreating. He appears to be sticking to his time-tested tactic of deception, which has worked well for him in the past. Given that sociopaths are typically incapable of feeling shame, guilt or remorse, only more of the same can be reasonably expected. Sociopaths seek to dominate others and "win" at all costs. They loath to lose any sort of argument or fight and can thus be anticipated to viciously defend their web of lies, even to the point of logical absurdity, which is how many view Christie's current dubious and widely contradicted assertions.
The DSM V identifies and explains the sociopathic traits found in Chris Christie
Sociopaths like Christie never apologize. In their minds they are never wrong and thus reticent to admit error. Even if presented with evidence that they were in fact wrong, they will refuse to acknowledge their mistake and instead go on the attack. A less pathologically addled individual would likely recognize that their appointment of someone as unfit as Christie attempts to make Wildstein out to be reflects negatively upon themselves. Yet continued attacks by Christie are what can likely be anticipated as the scandals continue to multiply and unfold.
All of this begs the question of how it took so long for Christie to be recognized as being wholly unfit. Part of the explanation may lie in the fact that sociopaths like Christie are often highly intelligent, charming and possess a great ability manipulate others. Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to expect that Christie's unsuitability for public service would have been exposed at some earlier juncture. Much of his career's longevity can be attributed to a woefully compliant press core that was reticent to subject Christie to meaningful scrutiny. It is ironic that it is the same media which is now fixed to Christie's missteps and hastening the decline of the very individual they so successfully propped up for so long.
Barry Scott Sussman- Born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Sociology. Graduated with a JD from the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law specializing in Federal Criminal Procedure and Federal Prosecutorial (more...)