Others, quite plainly, cannot: Two days ago, we posted part of Maureen Dowd's New York Times column from Sunday, March 8.
We think it's worth posting again. We'll show you a slightly larger chunk of the passage in question the time.
In the passage down below, Dowd is helping to reinforce a cultural no-go zone. By the end, she seems to charge Democrats with a crime which plainly doesn't exist:
DOWD (3/7/20): Republicans have made something of a specialty of challenging opponents’ cognitive capacity.Online, Dowd links to no Democrat suggesting that President Trump suffers from Alzheimer's. She links to no one, and certainly to no Democrat, saying that Trump is "suffering from malignant narcissism."
W.’s forces fought John McCain in the Republican primary by whispering that the war hero had snakes in his head from his years of torture.
Lee Atwater infamously said a Democrat running for Congress in 1980, who had received electroshock therapy in his youth for depression, had been “hooked up to jumper cables.”
Even Ronald Reagan got in on the act when he called Michael Dukakis, who was running against his vice president, “an invalid,” echoing baseless rumors spread by followers of Lyndon LaRouche that Dukakis had had psychiatric treatment.
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.
And it has become common among his attackers to say the president is deranged, suffering from malignant narcissism.
Granted, Dowd doesn't directly say that "Democrats" have offered the latter diagnosis, but the suggestion seems to be floated. Meanwhile, any such assessment of President Trump is pre-defined as "sniping"—as the sort of (irresponsible) thing Republicans have tended to do.
We know of no Democratic Party office-holder or official who has ever said or suggested that President Trump is suffering from malignant narcissism.
Just last night, on The Last Word, Fintan O'Toole offered that direct assessment of Trump as ge spoke with Lawrence O'Donnell. But O'Toole is an Irish journalist and intellectual, not a "Democrat," and it's extremely rare to hear such assessments within our public discourse at all.
In 2017, Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee tried to start such a public discussion of Trump's psychiatric state. In January 2018, Dowd's newspaper penned this editorial, shutting such discussion down.
On April 6 of this very year, Jennifer Senior published an op-ed column in the Times suggesting that Trump suffers from "narcissistic personality disorder." ("Malignant narcissism" is a somewhat more alarming offshoot of this condition.)
Senior's highly constructive column generated zero discussion. Within our upper-end public discourse, such discussions have long constituted an obvious no-go zone.
Very few high-end journalists are willing to initiate a public discussion of a president's psychiatric or cognitive state. Such discussions are so rare that our intellectual infrastructure gives us little way to evaluate or understand such discussions even when they may occur.
In some ways, this is odd. Discussion of various mental health issues are quite common within our discourse. Consider a news report from Kashmir in Monday's New York Times.
In print editions, the news report was blurbed on page A3. Indeed, it topped the daily Of Interest feature:
Of InterestSo said the blurb on page A3. On page A18, the report described the effects of Kashmir's coronavirus lockdown, piled on top of years of conflict with Indian military forces.
NOTEWORTHY FACTS FROM TODAY'S NEWSPAPER
In Kashmir, nearly half of all adults are estimated to have some form of mental illness, according to a 2015 survey conducted by Doctors Without Borders.
Kashmir, Under Siege and Lockdown, Faces a Mental Health Crisis. A18.
Are half of all adult Kashmiris suffering from some form of mental illness? We have no way of knowing, but the detailed report by Sameer Yasir described various types of mental health issues:
YASIR (4/27/20): Eight months after India revoked Kashmir’s semiautonomous status and brought the region fully under its authority, doctors here say a state of hopelessness has morphed into a severe psychological crisis. Mental health workers say Kashmir is witnessing an alarming increase in instances of depression, anxiety and psychotic events.Is "some form of mental disorder" the same thing as "some form of mental illness?" We don't know, but Yasir's report describes depression, anxiety and psychotic events, along with suicides and "conflict-related trauma."
Hard data is difficult to come by, but local medical professionals say they are seeing a rise in suicides and an increase in already disturbingly high rates of domestic abuse.
Even before the events of recent months, decades of violence between Indian security forces and Kashmiri militants had taken a physical and mental toll on the region and its people. Nearly 1.8 million Kashmiris, or nearly half of all adults, have some form of mental disorder, Doctors Without Borders estimated after surveying 5,600 households in 2015. Nine of 10 have experienced conflict-related traumas. The figures are much higher than in India, according to other surveys.
A leading psychiatrist said he was overwhelmed. Dr. Majid Shafi, a government psychiatrist, said that last year he saw a hundred patients a week. Now he sees more than 500.
It wasn't always so, but these types of mental health events are now widely discussed within our mainstream culture. For example, it's routine to speak, with sympathy, of the conflict-related trauma which may be experienced, in later years, by American soldiers who have returned from service in brutal wars.
What was once whispered about as "shell shock" is now discussed sympathetically, and in clinical terms, as a form of trauma.
Our culture has advanced in this way, but talking about the psychiatric or cognitive state of our highest leaders is still largely verboten. Unless, for example, you're Maureen Dowd in November 2016, saying on CBS Sunday Morning that Trump "is a classic clinical narcissist," a person who's "missing empathy."
Yes, that's what she said, back then; you can watch the tape here. Within the higher ends of our punditry, no-go zones will sometimes come and go.
Is Trump a "clinical narcissist?" Does he suffer from "narcissistic personality disorder," as Senior suggested in her recent column?
Is he a "malignant narcissist," the assessment offered by Dr. John Gartner in this recent interview with Salon? Within our upper-end culture, such suggestions will occasionally appear, but no discussion will ensue—and truth to tell, we the people wouldn't likely be well equipped to follow any such discussion.
Within our less than fully impressive journalistic and intellectual culture, we discuss certain kinds of mental health issues all the time. Others don't get discussed at all. Consider a basic question:
Was Adolf Hitler mentally ill? How about Joseph Stalin? How about the many others who established the last century's killing fields?
Were those people mentally ill? And what exactly would such an assessment mean?
We would assume that such discussions have occurred within the publishing world and within the academy. Such discussions rarely occur in high-end popular culture.
Nor do we tend to discuss the nature of the more severe "personality disorders," including the nature of sociopathy ("antisocial personality disorder").
When we think of "sociopaths," we tend to think of thrilling Hollywood versions of same—of the Hannibal Lecters. Our discourse offers us little way to understand such puzzling facts as these, as summarized for Psychology Today:
EDDY (4/30/18): In 1994, the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published (the DSM-IV). It stated that estimates of the prevalence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) were “less than 1% in the general population.” Regarding sociopaths (the DSM uses the equivalent term Antisocial Personality Disorder or ASPD), it said that overall prevalence “in community samples is about 3% in males and 1% in females.”Say what? Anywhere from 3 to 5.5 percent of American males could be diagnosed as sociopaths?
Between 2001 and 2005, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded the largest study ever done regarding the prevalence of personality disorders in the United States. Structured interviews were done with approximately 35,000 people who were randomly selected to be representative of the U.S. adult population in a variety of ways including age, income, gender and region. This study found that 6.2% of the general population would meet the criteria for NPD3 and 3.7% would meet the criteria for ASPD (5.5% male and 1.9% female).
If that is true, is there any chance that President Trump isn't a sociopath? But what can such statistics possibly mean? How do such statistics coexist with our limited conceptual infrastructure, within which a "sociopath" is someone like Hannibal Lecter, or possibly Freddy Krueger?
Not too long ago, the traumas of war weren't discussed in the way they are today. Right on through the present day, the discussion of sexual assault still constitutes a type of no-go zone—and our ability to discuss that once forbidden topic is moving ahead very slowly.
The mental health of our sitting presidents is a bit like sexual assault was in the recent past. Well-behaved upper-end journalists will know that they mustn't go there.
This may leave us poorly armed to discuss the behavior of President Trump. Dr. Gartner and Dr. Lee say he's very dangerous—and when they do, the New York Times says this can't be discussed.
The president is now behind in the polls. Ask yourself a simple question:
Would this president leave office gracefully? Given the powers at his disposal, should such things be discussed?
Tomorrow: One last fairly recent description