MONDAY, JANUARY 15, 2018
Chotiner and Sullivan on Trump and mental illness: In our current state of evolution, are we humans capable of conducting a serious discussion?
More and more, we'd have to say the answer seems to be no. Consider this discussion at Slate, in which Isaac Chotiner asks the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan about the wisdom of discussing the possibility that Donald J. Trump may be in the grip of some form of "mental illness."
In our view, Trump has behaved so strangely for such a long time that the question can't sensibly be avoided. This doesn't mean that reporters or op-ed columnists should start spouting off about technical matters they don't understand.
It does mean that they should be asking qualified specialists to discuss the possible sources of the president's bizarre behavior. After all, among other obvious problems, the gent holds the nuclear codes.
Should reporters speak with qualified specialists in the way we've described? As a starter, that's what you'd do if someone in your family was behaving in remarkable ways. It's crazy to think that it shouldn't be done in the case of someone with so much power in the public realm.
That said, go ahead—read the discussion between these two upper-end thought leaders. Neither person ever establishes the basic distinction we've just outlined—the distinction between 1) journalists spouting off with their own uninformed views about mental illness, and 2) journalists interviewing experienced professionals as to what this powerful person's behavior might conceivably indicate.
It isn't that Chotiner and Sullivan didn't agree with our own conclusions. The problem is different—Chotiner and Sullivan never managed to establish this obvious distinction.
Midway through the Slate discussion, Chotiner and Sullivan go through a five-part Q-and-A on this topic. Sullivan makes five separate statements. She ends up saying this:
"I don’t think that speculating about it or interviewing psychologists about what they see from a distance is a good way to go."
Concerning that first possibility—"speculating about it"—we might be inclined to agree with Sullivan, depending on what she means. But why shouldn't a reporter "interview psychologists [or other experienced specialists] about what they see from a distance?"
Chotiner never asks; Sullivan never explains. So it goes, again and again, if you read the American press.
"Man [sic] is the rational animal," Aristotle is said to have said. Maybe it's just the lead exposure which took place in the last century, but the lunacy of that famous claim is apparent almost any time our upper-end journalists gather.
We humans donnt seme to reezun reel gud. Could it just be how we're made?