Top journalists slipslide, evade: Is it possible that Donald J. Trump is mentally ill?
Could he be severely ill? Could he be severely ill is a way which is dangerous?
John Gartner thinks he is. Gartner taught for 28 years at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. In his private practice, he specializes in the treatment of borderline personality disorder.
Way back in 2017, Gartner contributed to The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, a bestselling book which was assembled and edited by Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee. In an interview which appeared on April 25, Gartner discussed his assessment of Trump with Salon's Chauncey DeVega.
In his discussion with DeVega, Gartner offers a devastating diagnosis of Trump. For better or worse, his assessment clearly isn't "ready for (upper-end mainstream) prime time."
We don't mean to say that Gartner's diagnosis of Trump is wrong. It's entirely possible that his assessment is perfectly accurate.
We do mean that Gartner's assessment of Trump is so severe and so disturbing that, by the obvious rules of the game, it could never be discussed in upper-end publications. By tradition, by ability and by basic instinct, our journalists simply don't play the game that way, as we'll show you below.
Gartner's assessment is much too harsh for upper-end mainstream discussion. Tomorrow, we'll review what Gartner told DeVega, showing you what we mean.
For today, let's scan the timid, timorous way top scribes discuss mental illness. In particular, let's review the way they discuss the possible impairment of Trump, a subject they discuss behind the scenes but never discuss out loud, where such ruminations could jangle their careers.
We'll start with this morning's column by the Washington Post's Gene Robinson. Rather plainly, Robinson thinks something's wrong with Trump. He just doesn't want to say so:
ROBINSON (4/28/20): It is time to ask once again, in all seriousness, whether the president of the United States is of sound mind.Robinson starts by asking, "in all seriousness," if Trump "is of sound mind." Typically, this language would suggest the possibility that the person in question may be cognitively or psychiatrically impaired.
Even by his own standards, President Trump’s weekend ranting and raving on Twitter was bizarre and disturbing. I know there are commentators who see his eruptions as some kind of genius-level communications strategy, a way of bonding himself to his loyal base by sending messages at dog-whistle frequencies others cannot hear. Others justify these tantrums as a way for an embattled president to blow off steam. But there is a simpler and more disturbing interpretation: What you see is what you get.
And what we got Sunday was a whole lot of crazy. It’s not good for the country, and it doesn’t seem very good for the president, either.
I’m not making a diagnosis, but rather just stating the obvious. If a loved one were raging in such a manner, you’d worry about his or her well-being. You’d hope it was just a bad spell. You might attempt to investigate, if only with a text reading: “R u ok?” We can only hope someone in Trump’s life is doing the same for him.
Since the person in question holds the nuclear codes, this is a dangerous matter. But rather than state his concern in grown-up terms, Robinson quickly undermines himself, observing that Trump's recent tweets offered "a whole lot of crazy."
That's the kind of jocular language which invites us to chuckle and enter the realm of the merely colloquial. Robinson never directly articulates his apparent thought.
In the final paragraph we've posted, Robinson again suggests that Trump seems to be impaired in some basic way, as elderly "loved ones" sometimes are. But the best he can do in the face of this problem is to imagine Ivanka texting Trump to ask if he's OK.
"We can only hope someone in Trump’s life" is responding in this fashion. As journalists, we can't start a public discussion about his "crazy" behavior.
Robinson will slip and slide until the day we all die. Last Sunday, on CNN's Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter took a similar approach to Trump's peculiar behavior.
Stelter strikes us as an unusually decent person. In the passage shown below, he disagrees with viewers who say that the media shouldn't even report Trump's various crazy statements.
In the passage shown below, Stelter voiced his concern about Trump's mental state even more clearly than Robinson did. But as we'll see, in the end, he too slipslid away:
STELTER (4/26/20): We have to report this. Even though it's insane, we have to fact check what he's doing even though it's disturbing because here's why, because poll after poll shows most Americans don't trust what president Trump says, but some people do. Tens of millions do say they trust him. What he says, what he tweets matters to them and it reflects on America all around the world.In that passage, it's plain that Stelter is concerned about the president's "wellness" and possible lack of "competence." He directly evokes the familiar situation in which it becomes clear that an older relative—a grandparent—is no longer mentally whole.
The president's statements matter. Even though many of you say we shouldn't air the briefings, the briefings shouldn't be seen. The president's statements matter because they show his wellness, his competence or lack there thereof.
Let me put it this way, when a grandparent is not well, the entire family feels it. The entire family shares the pain. Thousands of families know what that's like right now. The American family is experiencing it too.
When someone is not well, when a leader is not well, we all feel it. Yet in this. the president has really powerful enablers in the media...
It's clear that Stelter believes that something is wrong with President Trump. But if we might borrow from the speech by noble Nestor near the towering walls of Troy, Stelter "reaches no useful end."
He refuses to make a clear statement about what he's plainly suggesting. Instead, he scolds Sean Hannity as an enabler, then prescribes what we should do:
STELTER: When someone is not well, when a leader is not well, we all feel it. Yet in this. the president has really powerful enablers in the media. I think we need to make sure we don't overlook this part of the story.Within that short passage, Stelter traces a remarkable logic. He flatly says that the man who holds the nuclear codes "is not well." After that, he flatly says that we shouldn't "center on" that man, or on that fact!
This is a screen grab from Sean Hannity's show back in the end of February, February 27th. Hannity went on there with a big graphic proudly displaying that zero people in the United States died from coronavirus.
Now, Sean doesn't use this graphic anymore. He doesn't put this up on the screen anymore. So we took the liberty of updating it for him. There's the current count, 53,934 Americans confirmed to have died from the coronavirus according to Johns Hopkins University. The true death toll, of course, even higher and very, very hard to know.
So I think the news coverage needs to center not on Trump, not on Hannity, but on those citizens, those who have passed, and also these citizens, the more than 26 million people who are unemployed right now. Again, the true number even greater, but that's the official toll—number as of earlier this week.
Is it possible that President Trump is mentally ill in some serious way? If so, we'd say this makes him one of William Stryon's "beaten children of the Earth," someone deserving of pity, even as he rages on the moors.
Under present circumstances, it also makes him an extremely dangerous person. With that in mind, consider one more recent event.
In early March, ABC's Jonathan Karl released the latest easy-reader book about Trump. In a somewhat belated review in Sunday's Washington Post, Linda Killian mentioned something Karl reported:
KILLIAN (4/26/20): Karl also recounts that after Mick Mulvaney was named acting chief of staff, he asked the White House staff to read the book “A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness” by Nassir Ghaemi, the director of the mood disorders program at Tufts Medical Center. Karl talked with Ghaemi, who told him that Trump “clearly has mild manic symptoms all the time, as part of his personality,” which can manifest as someone who is unrealistic and unempathic.Killian moved on from there. Consider what she said:
But though Karl briefly touches on these issues, he does not raise the question of why so few former staff members have spoken publicly to tell the American people what they know about Trump and what is really going on in the administration.
According to Karl, one of Trump's many chiefs-of-staff seemed to think that Trump is mentally ill. He asked the White House staff to read a book on the subject.
The relevant excerpt from Karl's book became public in early March. Within the upper-end press, it wasn't reported or investigated as possible news.
As best we can tell, no one other than Maureen Dowd discussed or reported this excerpt in the New York Times. In her March 8 column, Dowd reported what Karl said, but also slipslid away:
DOWD (3/8/20): Democrats can resort to this sort of sniping, too. Many Trump critics in 2016, and in the year after his election, pushed the idea that his father had suffered from Alzheimer’s and now Trump was losing it and that his vocabulary was eroding.In her treatment of this report, Dowd has it both major ways. As she starts, she directly says that Trump's critics are "sniping" when they suggest that he may be cognitively impaired or even mentally ill.
And it has become common among his attackers to say the president is deranged, suffering from malignant narcissism.
In his new book, “Front Row at the Trump Show,” Jonathan Karl, the chief White House correspondent for ABC News, reports the surprising fact that one of those calls on Trump derangement came from inside the White House.
Karl recounts that when Mick Mulvaney became acting chief of staff, he took senior White House staffers to Camp David for a weekend retreat. He recommended they read a 2011 book, “A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness,” by Nassir Ghaemi, director of the mood disorders program at Tufts Medical Center.
“This book argues that in at least one vitally important circumstance insanity produces good results and sanity is a problem,” Ghaemi writes in his introduction. “In times of crisis, we are better off being led by mentally ill leaders than by mentally normal ones.”
As Karl writes: “The new acting chief of staff seemed to be saying President Trump was mentally ill—and that this was a good thing. The corollary to that theory: Don’t try to control the man in the Oval Office. What you think is madness is actually genius.”
When Karl reached out to Ghaemi to ask how Trump would fit into his thesis, Ghaemi replied “perfectly,” noting that the president has “mild manic symptoms all the time.” Ghaemi also concedes in his book that extreme forms of mania can be highly disabling and dangerous.
The use of the term "Trump derangement" extends this dismissive tone. Over the past decade, "derangement syndrome" has become a term which is used to suggest that a politician's critics are nuts, not that the pol himself is.
At any rate, Dowd recounted Karl's allegation in full. Even Trump's chief of staff seemed to think he was mentally ill!
But even as she told the tale, Dowd largely played it for fun. Today, the column appears beneath these Dowdian headlines:
Trump’s Crazy Fantasy WorldDonald J. Trump isn't mentally ill. He's just your drunken uncle!
In what The Spectator calls “the Year of the Drunken Uncle,” three old guys vie for the presidency amid coronavirus fears and a careering stock market.
Did Mulvaney really issue that reading assignment? Did, or does, he really think that Trump is mentally ill?
We don't know what Mulvaney thinks, but many high-end journalists think such things and discuss such possibilities in private. They just won't say such things out loud, except in highly couched language.
Our TV stars think something is wrong, but they aren't willing to say so. Doing that simply isn't allowed. Homey don't play that game!
Tomorrow: Not ready for prime time? Senior v. Gartner