The President's Mental Health

During the last two years or so since Donald Trump first began running for President, he has done little to suggest that he is either mentally stable or sufficient capable of the kind of nuanced thinking needed to hold down a relatively undemanding job, let alone serve as President of the United States. His poor command of the English language, frequently disconnected thoughts when speaking, inability to process detailed written material, megalomania, extraordinary sense of victimhood and matching inability to empathize with anybody all indicate that Donald Trump is not well. This does not excuse his bigotry and inclination towards authoritarianism. Rather, it makes him an mentally unhinged bigot and authoritarian.

People who struggle with mental illness deserve our support and compassion. Too frequently, the mentally ill are made scapegoats in our politics, not least around the issue of gun regulationsSeveral politicians, notably Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) seem to understand this and have demonstrated a thoughtful and caring attitude about people who are mentally ill. Accordingly, Donald Trump’s apparent mental instability should not be fodder or name calling or mockery. However, given the gravity of his current position, it should be cause for concern.

Given the enormous role the President plays in matters of war and peace, but also in crafting domestic policy and influencing the social and political climate of the country, having a president who is mentally unstable is a grave problem. It is true that there is evidence that several relatively recent presidents, including Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson exhibited troubling behavior during their time in office, but this occurred late in their presidencies. Trump’s mental health issues preceded even his election.

It is frightening, although not as surprising as we might like, that despite Trump's clearly tenuous mental health, most Republican leaders have been complicit in trying to conceal this for months or longer. The reason for this, is similar to the reason why the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have been reluctant to probe deeply into Trump’s Russia ties-once the issue was ignored initially, Republican leaders became complicit in the cover up. For Ryan, McConnell or any other influential congress member to recognize what is palpably obvious to millions ofAmericans would force them them to confront their previous silence on the issue and lay bare the reality that for the Republican Party lower taxes and partisan victories are more important than to have a president who is sane. Rather than do that, the GOP leadership avoids confronting the reality of Donald Trump’s mental instability.

When seen through the prism of short term political positioning, the behavior of the Republican Congress, as well as others around the President, is reasonable. However, it very clear that in the long run, this very bad for the country. Every incoherent semi-fascistic rant by Donald Trump of the kind we heard earlier this week in Phoenix, tears apart the already badly frayed social fabric of this country. Every response to a crisis that begins and ends with Donald Trump’s megalomania puts America, and in some cases other parts of the world as well, in harm’s way. Trump’s bizarrely distorted sense of victimhood dovetails nicely with those around him who work to undermine American democracy. Moving forward after four years of this will be extremely difficult for a country that is already racked by disunity and division.

Despite this, it is not very likely that Trump will leave office before his term is over, deus ex machinas in the form of the 25th Amendment or impeachment are fun and maybe even soothing to speculate about, but are extremely unlikely. Similarly, while Trump may get bored or frustrated, something that is perhaps more likely given his mental state, those around him, particularly members of the Trump-Kushner faction will want him to stay in office so that they can continue to enrich themselves and avoid prosecution.

It is very disturbing and sad, to use a word that Trump himself has hijacked, to think the American story might be brought to an end largely by the actions of this mentally unstable bush league despot, but to ignore that possibility is irresponsible and wishful. At this moment in our history, the anger and reactionary politics espoused by Trump, when married to his instability and megalomania pose a unique threat to our country. Sadly, extreme partisanship has politically handcuffed those who are best positioned to stop this, meaning that Trump’s presidency and further descent into madness may very well continue for a few more years. Unfortunately the future of our country may be critically damaged in the process.

Photo: cc/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff