Jerrold M Post, a psychiatrist who profiled dictators for the CIA and who declared Donald Trump a “dangerous, destructive charismatic leader”, has died of Covid-19. He was 86.
A pioneer in his field, Post’s assessments of leaders such as Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong-il helped guide presidents and other US officials.
He brought his work closer to home in his final years, assessing Trump’s rise to power and his relationship with his followers, thoughts he published in book form in late 2019. In an interview at the time, Post accurately predicted the aftermath of Trump’s election defeat.
“I think we can be assured that he will not concede early,” Post told Salon. “Trump may not even recognize the legitimacy of the election.”
Post died on 22 November, after a storied career which included founding the CIA Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior.
In 2002, a year after the 9/11 attacks but a year before the US invasion of Iraq, Post told the Guardian that Osama Bin Laden had a “malignantly narcissistic personality” and Saddam Hussein had a “wounded self”, from a traumatic upbringing.
“Typically, after such traumatic experiences, people can sink into despair and hopelessness,” Post said. “But it can also produce compensatory dreams of glory.”
Post’s “greatest coup”, the Guardian said then, came in 1979, when he “tipped off the Carter administration that Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat’s deeply contrasting personalities left an opening for an intermediary – an observation that helped pave the way to Camp David” and peace between Israel and Egypt.
In addition to his work for the US government, Post wrote 14 books. His last work was Dangerous Charisma: The Political Psychology of Donald Trump and His Followers, co-authored with Stephanie Doucette.
The book, and Post’s preceding assessments about Trump’s personality, drew criticism for violating the American Psychiatric Association’s Goldwater rule, which prohibits psychiatrists assessing public figures without examination and consent.
“The Goldwater rule is really a masterpiece in contradictions,” Post said at an APA meeting in 2017.
Between writing and working for the CIA, Post also saw patients. His family told the Washington Post his professional success “was a reflection of an insatiable, roving curiosity and a probing empathy for his fellow humans – qualities that also made him a highly engaging friend and a nurturing husband, father and doctor.”
His daughter, Cindy Post, told the newspaper: “He always wanted to know, what are the people about and what is their world?”