Mental Health Experts Raise Concerns About Trump’s Fitness For Office

Experts who have reviewed hundreds of Trump interviews and a psychiatrist who briefed Congress on Trump’s mental state are alarmed by what they see. America should be as well.
President Donald Trump during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Donald Trump during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Readers who follow me on Twitter may remember that I referred to President Trump as a “demented senior citizen” a few times and may have taken it seriously but not literally. This phrasing was not intended as an offhanded insult but as a concern based on an analysis of his on-camera performances over the years by experts concerned that he may be suffering from some sort of neurodegenerative condition affecting his ability to understand language and communicate with others.

In a review by psychologists and psychiatrists for medical news publication STAT, the overall consensus was that some decline in cognitive function was par for the course when one is in his 70s, but the decline they saw seemed quite stark and difficult to explain with aging alone, even when accounting for emotional stress and fatigue.

“Although neither Johnson nor other experts STAT consulted said the apparent loss of linguistic fluency was unambiguous evidence of mental decline, most thought something was going on.”

Subsequently, last year, Assistant Professor of forensic psychiatry Bandy Lee edited the alarmed essays of 27 mental health professionals arguing that President Trump was mentally “unraveling” based on their assessments, publishing them in October of last year and briefing key members of Congress in December of 2017. Their conclusion? While they can’t come to a definitive diagnosis, they are deeply concerned about Trump’s mental state and his capacity to serve as president.

Even to a layperson watching his appearances 15 years ago and today, it’s very clear that his cognitive and linguistic skills have dramatically declined. This should be alarming if it happens to anyone, much less a person with the authority to call in nuclear strikes and sign bills into law. And it’s especially dangerous if this is a result of a condition that is almost guaranteed to get worse and worse as time passes, as currently seems to be the case.

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The brash businessman of two decades ago was deftly dissecting the pros and cons of single-payer healthcare and used complex, polysyllabic words in interviews. The president of today has trouble saying “anonymous” and completing a thought before lurching to the next one, giving his fans ample breadcrumbs to assemble whatever message they want and his critics a word salad to try and parse. His press conference today was nearly an hour and a half of what numerous pundits referred to as barely coherent free association that mentioned George Washington in the same breath as #MeToo.

As noted by Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump In The White House, the most frequent criticism of Trump from his staff is his inability to grasp complex facts and understand the consequences of his actions, two complications of several neurodegenerative conditions compounded by a long history of pathological lying and racial animus. This was on full display yesterday at the United Nations when his claims of having accomplished more than almost any other American administration in two years were met with literal guffaws from international diplomats and his only response was a blank stare followed by “that’s not the reaction I expected.”

It’s impossible to say if he is truly afflicted by one specific syndrome without examining him — which is why doctors voicing their alarm are loath to state anything with absolute certainty — but it is difficult to deny that the Trump or the Art of the Deal era is now just a distant memory, leaving behind a paranoid, elderly shell addicted to Fox News, conspiracy theories, and some of the most bizarre, random, and unfactual grievances a man with decades of experience in international commerce could have.

Considering just how much is at stake, we owe it to ourselves to consider this disturbing pattern and who behind the scenes may be exploiting it for personal gain and the country’s long-term expense.

Certainly, we can try and justify his linguistic difficulties as off-the-cuff backtracking in a casual conservation, as some linguists have tried. It’s true that we all go off on tangents and will cut ourselves off to elaborate points. In fact, you can hear me doing the same thing during my recent appearance on Canadian radio. However, the main difference between normal backtracking and elucidation of points during a conversation, and what we hear from Trump is that the end results of Trump’s tangents are incomplete thoughts that seem untethered from reality and very frequently fail to come together as cogent arguments.

For example, during his rally in Billings, MT, he claimed that California was opening its borders, is giving everyone free healthcare and education, its population has grown to 500 million, and the state “has become a really large person.” The first point is impossible because the state of California has no authority over the federal border, the other two are complete fabrications, and the summation makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Were he not the president, we’d be tempted to dismiss this snippet of his speech as nothing more than an old man’s ravings, but unfortunately, these ravings now form the government’s policy towards immigration and federalism.

At this point, it may seem like I’m painting him as a victim of neurodegeneration and attributing all of his actions and beliefs to the damage caused by it. This, however, is not my intention. We know that Trump and his family discriminated against black tenants in their properties for decades and has a long and public history of bigotry and racism. We also know that he was never the nimble and brilliant businessman he claimed to be.

He drove all of his businesses into the ground, relied on bailouts from banks and his father, and the Art of the Deal was a ghostwritten gimmick designed to bolster his image as a hypercompetent tycoon at large. He was a genuinely unpleasant, bigoted, and dishonest man with a narcissistic and sociopathic bent long before developing any ailment.

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My hunch is that if he suffers from a neurodegenerative disease, it made all his negative traits far worse by compromising his impulse control and ability for critical thought, and as his cognition continues to decline, it poses a threat to himself, his associates, and to the country as a whole because he could not be trusted to make any sober, rational decisions whatsoever. His legitimacy and ability to govern will hinge on even more toxic tribalism and even more desperate conspiracy theories. (Think QAnon on steroids, meth, then another cycle of steroids.)

To stay in power, he will double, then quadruple on the far-right’s rhetoric of fear and panic, leaving the world’s preeminent power adrift and rudderless. All while we sort out the mess as the fifth of the electorate who ended up with a stranglehold on the government lash out at their fellow citizens, trying to prevent the restoration of any sort of sanity or normalcy, certain it’s just a ploy to #WhiteGenocide them out of existence. And through this process, Trump won’t just be unwilling to act for the greater good, but physically and mentally incapable of doing so, and ready to fight anyone who tries to intervene in his destructive and expensive meltdown.

And this leaves us with a disturbing thought. If he is incapable of carrying out the duties of the office, he should be removed as per Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, something the anonymous author of the scathing New York Times’ op-ed that needs no real introduction says his staffers considered. But their unwillingness to go through with it to avoid a Constitutional crisis while causing one in the process, and the zeal of the GOP Congress to shield him from any oversight or investigations, may indicate something much darker than cowardice.

By all accounts, Republican lawmakers and power brokers know he is deeply compromised and does not, and seemingly cannot, understand his job. But he’s still willing to sign their bills, no matter how awful and unpopular, and take executive actions that benefit them and their donors. If Trump has a neurodegenerative condition, it means that the GOP is directly taking advantage of a man who will ram their deeply reviled agenda down America’s throats without the capability to understand what he’s doing and why, caring nothing about the consequences of doing so as long as they get to stay in power and siphon more money from their patrons.

And if this is indeed what’s going on behind the scenes and why the administration refuses to invoke the 25th Amendment, the GOP should promptly change its logo from an elephant to a vulture pecking at a carcass. It would just be far more honest.

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Opinion // Donald Trump / Mental Health / The 25th Amendment