Teaching Gartner's diagnosis, flat and round: Say hello to Aleksandr Lukashenko, aspiring president-for-life of little, forlorn Belarus.
Under a slightly different name, Belarus was once a Soviet Socialist Republic. Lukashenko has served as the nation's strongman president ever since the position was established in 1994.
In Sunday's print editions, the New York Times profiled the 66-year-old Belarusian strongman. You can even see a photo of him cavorting in his hockey gear—but here's how the profile began:
KRAMER (4/26/20): As he headed off the ice after playing a hockey game in an amateur tournament in late March, the leader of Belarus brushed aside reporters’ anxious questions about the coronavirus pandemic.“There are no viruses here,” the bluster-based Belarusian declared. “Do you see any of them flying around?”
“There are no viruses here,” said the Belarusian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, gesturing to the crowded arena. “Do you see any of them flying around? I don’t see them either.”
At a time when some countries, like Germany and Denmark, having tamped down the initial outbreak of the virus, are experimenting with cautious openings of businesses and schools, Belarus is an outlier. It never imposed any restrictions at all.
Restaurants, coffee shops and movie theaters remain open. Last weekend, churches were packed for Orthodox Easter. Professional soccer is in full swing, though the roaring crowds of earlier this month have thinned. In the capital, Minsk, the subways are crowded.
Presumably, Lukashenko knows that viruses can't be seen by the naked eye. His statement likely was "sarcastic," or some version of same.
Still and all, the president explicitly said that there are no viruses in Belarus. Obviously, the coronavirus is on the scene in that forlorn land. As time goes by, it's very likely to do substantial damage.
Lukashenko's bluster may recall various statements by our own president, Donald J. Trump. A comical bit of recent Belarusian history may recall some of the more disordered claims our own president has made in the recent past.
At issue is one of Lukashenko's many re-elections, the one he enjoyed in 2006.
According to the leading authority on the matter, the heads of all 25 EU countries declared that the election had been "fundamentally flawed." The Bush White House said it believed that the election had been rigged and called for a new election.
Setting such niceties to the side, Lukashenko won the election—and he won it very big. Comically, the blustering strongman said this:
Lukashenko later stated that he had rigged the election results, but against himself, in order to obtain a majority more typical of European countries. Although he had won 93.5% of the vote, he said, he had directed the government to announce a result of 86%.Though he'd really won 93.5% of the vote, Lukashenko directed the government to say it was just 86! That's the way an election may go with a fellow like this in command. For the full statement, click here.
How strong is Lukashenko's real support? We have no way of knowing. That said, we couldn't help thinking of President Trump when we encountered that comically gonzo statement.
We thought of the busloads of voters from Massachusetts who crossed into New Hampshire in November 2016, costing Candidate Trump that state. We thought of the millions of illegal voters in California that same year. Their illegal votes explain why Candidate Trump seemed to lose the popular vote to "Crooked Hillary" by almost three million votes.
In such ways, the weird behaviors of Lukashenko may recall the weird behaviors of our own President Trump. But there's one extremely large difference between these two world figures:
Within our storehouse of political imagery, Lukashenko is a classic Eastern European, Soviet-era strongman. Within our political culture, we have familiar, Borat-flavored frameworks for understanding the weird behaviors of such a peculiar man.
Within our withered political culture, we have established ways to picture the behavior of a fellow like Lukashenko. But when it comes to our own president, it may be harder for us to see a certain possibility:
It may be harder to see the possibility that something is badly wrong with President Trump, or to come to terms with what the problem may be.
Lukashenko is a Soviet-era strongman, perhaps with a Borat tone. By way of contrast, President Trump has been a familiar figure within mainstream American culture since the 1970s.
He was once a popular "reality show" TV star. Sadly enough, a high-end figure like Diane Sawyer once asked Marla Maples, on network TV, if sex with the Donald had really been the best sex she ever had!
For better or worse, President Trump has been with us, and with our highest-end TV stars, pretty much forever. Unlike Lukashenko, Donald J. Trump is one of us—one of our own—and he's been so for a long time.
Donald Trump isn't a comical foreign figure; he's long been one of our own. For this reason, it may be hard for us to picture him in certain ways—for example, to imagine the possibility that he may be severely mentally ill.
We mention that obvious possibility for a reason. In the wake of our president's most recent strange behavior, a major psychologist has come forward with a direct diagnosis of Trump.
That psychologist is John Gartner, who recently spoke about President Trump with Salon's Chauncey DeVega. Who the heck is Dr. Gartner? DeVega tells us this:
DEVEGA (4/25/20): Psychologist and psychotherapist John Gartner [was a] contributor to the bestselling book "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump"...The best-selling book to which DeVega refers is the book which was compiled and edited by Yale's Dr. Bandy X. Lee. In that book, Lee attempted to initiate a difficult discussion—a discussion the upper-end American press corps has refused to conduct.
Dr. Gartner taught for many years at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, and has private therapeutic practices in Baltimore and New York, specializing in the treatment of borderline personality disorders.
Once again, who is Gartner? According to the leading authority, Gartner graduated magna cum laude from Princeton; received a doctorate in clinical psychology from UMass; then completed post-doctoral training at Cornell.
He was a part-time professor at Hopkins from 1987 through 2015. He's a psychotherapist who specializes in the treatment of borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder and depression. He's a widely published author of articles for scientific journals.
None of this mean that something has to be true just because Gartner says it. But a certain irony obtains in the ongoing coverage of our own Donald Trump:
Even as Trump is routinely criticized for ignoring the advice of technical specialists in various fields, Gartner is the kind of technical specialist—the kind of "expert"—the upper-end press corps has itself refused to consult.
In his interview with DeVega, Gartner offers a diagnosis of our own blustering president. It isn't right because Gartner has said it. But should it be ignored?
In truth, Gartner offers an extremely dire diagnosis of President Trump. On April 6, Jennifer Senior suggested a similar diagnosis in an opinion column in the New York Times, but Gartner takes the diagnosis to a much scarier place.
Senior is a journalist; Gartner's a psychotherapist. That said, Donald Trump is one of our own, and that has made it very hard for many people to consider the possibility that he may be mentally ill, even severely so.
As Americans, we have pictures of Soviet-era strongmen we can apply to figures like Lukashenko. It's harder for us to access pictures which may apply to a highly disordered person who's also one of our own.
In part, this raises the question of whether we believe in severe psychiatric illness at all. When we hear about "sociopaths," we may tend hink of outlandish Hollywood figures like Hannibal Lecter.
We may tend to think that a sociopath has to be someone like that. We may picture Hannibal Lecter and picture no one else.
So we may tend to assume. But the National Institutes of Health has said that 5.5 percent of American males could be diagnosed as sociopaths!
That assessment will likely sound strange to most Americans. Within our intellectually unimpressive culture, we rarely discuss such topics in any serious way at all.
Within the American market, Gartner's dire diagnosis of President Trump would be very hard to sell. That doesn't mean that his diagnosis is wrong. In part, it means that his diagnosis hasn't been couched in a way which makes it palatable for our convention-based upper-end mainstream press corps.
Indeed, the boys and girls of the upper-end press haven't been willing to go there at all. As Trump engages in constant delusions, they close their own eyes and ears to a fairly obvious possibility:
Could something be severely wrong with our sitting president? Is it possible that our own Lukashenko is (severely) mentally ill?
Dr. Gartner has opined that Trump is severely ill. Borrowing from President Johnson, wee can teach that diagnosis flat or round, and we'll do so all week.
Is something wrong with President Trump? Is it possible that, as Gartner says, he is severely (and dangerously) ill?
For ourselves, we've long counseled pity for such such "beaten children of the Earth," even when their disorders lead them to do terrible things.
We've counseled pity for President Trump and for others so afflicted. But the upper-end press corps has refused to consult with specialists like Gartner. They speak from a no-go zone.
Do we even believe in mental illness? It isn't entirely clear that we do.
If we do, has Donald Trump caught that particular virus? Our press corps refuses to ask.
Tomorrow: Gartner's (severe) diagnosis
Still coming: Was Joseph Stalin "mentally ill?" How about Adolf Hitler?
Do we really believe in "mental illness" at all? Hannibal Lecter to the side, is there any such thing as a "sociopath?"