Senior gets it right: On Saturday, President Trump's televised daily "briefing" got off to an early start.
It started at 4:15 PM Eastern. There followed an hour and 44 minutes of behavior which might be imagined to serve as a type of self-diagnosis.
According to the White House transcript, the televised session ended at 5:59 PM. There were different takeaways from the astonishing hour and 44 minutes which had been televised.
For us, the main individual takeaway involved the president's latest reversal. Remarkably, he reverted to his focus from the previous week, in which we need to get the economy open again as soon as possible—in which "the cure can't be worse than the problem."
Simply put, the president can't seem to maintain a point of view for more than four or five days at a time.
Others saw different takeaways. In Sunday's New York Times, the main takeaway involved the president's aggressive peddling of a particular "unproven drug," a push which became even more extreme during yesterday's televised briefing.
That said, our overwhelming reaction to Saturday's session involved a type of self-diagnosis the president seemed to be offering. Did more than two or three minutes ever elapse in which the president didn't display one of the basic symptoms of the disorder we have in mind?
We'll name that disorder tomorrow. For now, consider just one of the many things this badly disordered man said and did in the course of that hour and 44 minutes.
Midway through the endless session, the president was asked about Captain Brett Crozier, who was recently relieved of his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
According to the official White House transcript, the reporter's question went like this:
REPORTER (4/4/20): Mr. President, can we talk about the—Captain Crozier of the USS Roosevelt?Personally, we hate the familiar, cloying "what do you say to them" type of question. But the reporter included another question:
TRUMP: Which one? What?
REPORTER: Captain Crozier, who was removed—the captain who was removed as the commander of the USS Roosevelt.
I don’t know if you saw the videos of sailors cheering for him as he left. Our reporting shows that some sailors have said that they are worried to re-enlist because they are not convinced that commanders are taking care of their health and taking care of them.
REPORTER: What do you say to them? And how does removing this captain take care of their health?
There are more than four thousand sailors on the USS Roosevelt. How does removing Captain Crozier take care of those sailors' health?
Below, you see the president's answer in full. Warning! The public was apparently being misled as the president mocked Captain Crozier, who has reportedly now been diagnosed with COVID-19 himself:
TRUMP (continuing directly): Here we have one of the greatest—here we have one of the greatest ships in the world. Nuclear aircraft carrier, incredible ship, with thousands and thousands of people. And you had about 120 that were infected.In typical fashion, Trump mocked Crozier for having conducted "a class on literature." He even complained that Crozier's letter "was all over the place!"
Now, I guess the captain stopped in Vietnam and people got off in Vietnam. Perhaps you don’t do that in the middle of a pandemic or, or something that looked like it was going to be—
You know, history would say you don’t necessarily stop and let your sailors get off, number one.
But more importantly, he wrote a letter. The letter was a five-page letter from a captain, and the letter was all over the place. That’s not appropriate. I don’t think that’s appropriate. And these are tough people. These are tough, strong people.
I thought it looked terrible, to be honest with you. Now, they made their decision. I didn’t make the decision. Secretary of Defense was involved, and a lot of people were involved.
I thought it was terrible what he did, to write a letter. I mean, this isn’t a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that’s nuclear powered. And he shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter. He could call and ask and suggest.
But he stopped in Vietnam. A lot of people got off the boat. They came back and they had infection. And I thought it was inappropriate for the captain of a ship to do [that].
That was a remarkable criticism coming from President Trump!
That said, Trump began and ended by savaging Crozier for having stopped in Vietnam. "You know, history would say you don’t necessarily stop and let your sailors gets off, number one," the sarcastic commander sarcastically said, conducting a history class.
Because we know how this game is played, a few questions came to mind. Why and when did the USS Roosevelt stop in Vietnam? Knowing the way our discourse works, we decided to check the facts out.
We still can't tell you the full story concerning that event. We can't tell you how many sailors disembarked in Da Nang. We can't tell you who decided to let them leave the ship.
We can at least tell you this:
The USS Roosevelt stopped in Da Nang is early March. On March 24, Admiral Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, discussed the event as part of a formal press conference.
Gilday explained why the decision to stop in Da Nang was made. He also revealed who made the decision.
It wasn't Captain Crozier's decision! According to the official Defense Department transcript, the Q-and-A went like this:
QUESTION (3/24/20): Admiral Gilday, back to the situation with the Theodore Roosevelt.Gilday's answer continued from there. The reporter had asked a multi-part question. Several of his questions didn't get answered.
So 15 days ago, it was in port in Vietnam. How many sailors left and went on a port call visit, and was that really safe given what has been happening in Asia?
I've been asking for several briefings why port calls were continuing given the COVID virus. And then if you can explain how you figured out that these three sailors were sick.
Was it because you did broad testing, was it simply a fever? And once they have a fever, isn't it too late, you've already encountered a number of people?
ADM. GILDAY: So with respect to the port visit in Vietnam, so at that particular time when the decision was made in late February, early March, to pull the ship into Da Nang, which is on the central coast, at that time there were only 16 positive cases in Vietnam, and those were well to the north, all isolated in Hanoi.
And so, this was a very risk-informed decision by actually the INDOPACOM Commander, Admiral Davidson, on whether or not we proceed with that port visit.
That said, let's return to Saturday's sarcastic attacks by Trump.
On Saturday, the commander-in-chief attacked Captain Crozier for stopping in Vietnam. He attacked him for this at the start, and then again at the end, of his latest non-answer answer.
That's what the commander did during Saturday's televised session. But eleven days earlier, Admiral Gilday, in a formal press briefing, had reported that the decision to stop wasn't made by Captain Crozier. The decision had been made higher up in the chain of command.
Yesterday morning, it didn't take long for us to locate this information. When we did, we thought of the famous statement by Joseph Welch during the Army-McCarthy hearings:
"At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
In the case of President Trump, the answer routinely seems to be no. That said, we'll quickly say, as we've said before, that it probably isn't his "fault."
We have no idea if the commander-in-chief knows that the decision to stop was apparently made by the INDOPACOM Commander, not by Captain Crozier. That said, anyone who has watched the commander over the years will understand a basic fact:
Almost surely, the commander would have said what he said, and done what he did, without regard to any such knowledge or facts. This is the way the commander behaves—and relentless behavior of this type fits nicely with the Mayo Clinic's list of symptoms.
Starting tomorrow, we'll compare the Mayo Clinics's list to the president's behavior last Saturday. Did he ever go as much as two minutes without seeming to trigger a diagnosis of a serious disorder?
His behavior was wildly disordered during that hour and 44 minutes. It's long past time when rational players would be discussing, in careful ways, what his behavior may mean.
We'll discuss the Mayo Clinic's list of symptoms tomorrow. For today, we tip our hat to the New York Times for publishing this morning's column by Jennifer Senior, whose work we've recommended in the past.
At long last, the Times is publishing someone saying what needs to be said. Senior's column starts like this:
SENIOR (4/6/20): Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats. Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.Enough is enough, Senior says. APA guidelines to the side, it's time to start discussing the president's psychiatric state—his possible psychiatric disorder, the state of his mental health.
Enough is enough....[T]hese are exceptional, urgent times.
Senior continues as shown:
SENIOR (continuing directly): Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.Senior is advancing one possible diagnosis. Starting tomorrow, we'll be advancing another.
But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.
It should be noted that George Conway isn't a mental health professional. Neither is Senior, nor are we at this site.
Other people are such specialists, and they've long been disappeared within the upper-end press corps. But at long last, the New York Times is publishing work which says we need to discuss the possibility that our disordered, sarcastic commander in chief is psychiatrically impaired.
More than two years ago, the editorial board of the Times shut down this nascent discussion through this ill-advised editorial. Today, Senior says that this discussion must proceed.
People are dying, Senior notes. "These are exceptional, urgent times."
Jennifer Senior has gotten it right. At long last, does the press corps have the decency, not to mention the smarts, to listen to what she has said?
Tomorrow: The Mayo Clinic's list. Also, notes on prevalence