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Trump Under the Psycho-Microscope
January 13, 2018
Much of the political buzz lately has centered around whether the President of the United States is mentally unstable. I decided two days ago to toss my own thoughts into the arena, but then today The New York Times ran an article making several of the same points I had in mind. At first I thought perhaps there was no point in saying what has already been said in a far more illustrious venue. But then I realized that, illustrious or not, The Times said at least one thing that was so clearly wrong that I have trouble seeing how they could have said it. First they stated that whether Trump has a mental disorder is really irrelevant, and I agree. I will explain why in a minute. But then they listed several things he has done, and said it is obvious to anyone that those were things a President should not do. But in reality it is obvious that this is NOT obvious to millions of Trump supporters who still think he is the kind of President we need. So how could The Times ignore so many voters? Did they think they are just too stupid to count?
If The New York Times is simply dismissing Trump’s supporters as not important enough to matter, they are doing exactly what those same supporters always accuse them of doing. One of the reasons Trump won the election is that he tapped into the resentment among people who believe they are dismissed, ignored, put down and ridiculed by elite, overeducated, unrealistic and elitist Northeasterners and Californians who think anyone who disagrees with them is stupid. Or mentally ill. And as someone who more-or-less falls into that demographic, I get the point. For a long time I did buy into the notion that people like me somehow knew better than anyone else and could hardly be expected to take other people seriously. But I somehow managed to shed that illusion of superiority and start trying to understand other points of view. And to stop thinking that people who cannot see what seems obvious to me must be crazy.
Do not misunderstand me. I think Donald Trump is a terrible President. And that is even though I am a Republican who shares the general small-government bias professed (though not always practiced) by other Republicans. But I do not oppose him because I think he is mentally ill. I am not qualified to make that assessment and am somewhat suspicious of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who do make and publicize such an assessment without having ever examined him. Nor do I think even a competent, professional evaluation of Trump’s mental state would be of much importance. What I care about is what he does, not the psychological causes there of. What I see is a President who has virtually none of the traditional qualifications for the job and who practices and promotes discrimination against immigrants, gays, and transgender people. A president who tosses insults around with abandon. Who has a history of treating women in an offensive and degrading way. Who fires members of his own administration when they disagree with him as though he was still running a reality show. Who seems to come up with national policy decisions while tweeting in the wee hours of the morning. Who, in spite of widespread dissatisfaction with the Affordable Healthcare Act, has failed to come up with an alternative acceptable even to his own party. And whose one legislative accomplishment is an incoherent mishmash of a tax law put through before anyone even knew just what it contained, much less what its economic effects will be.
I am more concerned about all these facts about Trump’s actual performance than about his psyche. And yet there is another question that I think is reasonable to ask. Is he dangerous? There are fair grounds for raising that question. At the top of the list is his seemingly almost complete ignorance of the nuances of foreign affairs and diplomacy at a time when nuclear war is perhaps a more realistic possibility than any time since the Cuban missile crisis. But I think the risk is less that Trump is a madman with his finger on the button than that he simply does not know what he is doing. And what is so frustrating is that he could know. He has access to the most brilliant and experienced experts in the country, if he would only select them sensibly and then listen to their advice. The same approach would improve his performance in almost every aspect of a job that no one in the world could handle on his own. But he will not, perhaps cannot, do that. Whether or not this failure results from some sort of mental disorder may be open to speculation, but what matters is what he actually does, both in the international arena and here at home. Let us stay focused on that and, if we do not like it, we can greatly curtail his power by electing Democrats to the House and Senate in 2018 and a new President in 2020.