Monday, August 01, 2016

Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill?

As the prior post noted, there is growing concern that Donald Trump is mentally ill.  At this point numerous clinicians have stated that Trump suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.  Now, the Toronto Star is running a piece that goes further and suggests that Trump may be mentally ill and, therefore, de facto unfit for the office of president of the United States.  A second piece in Talking Points Memo puts this increasingly obvious mental instability in the context of Trumps ongoing attacks on the Khan family.  First, these highlights from the Toronto Star:
There is an elephant in the election.  It was tiptoed around for a full year by Republicans and Democrats and the media alike. And then, on Wednesday, Michael Bloomberg hoisted it onto the stage of the Democratic National Convention.  His plea for Hillary Clinton: “Let’s elect a sane, competent person.”
The compliment barely disguised an extraordinary allegation. The billionaire former mayor of New York City was suggesting that Donald Trump is not sane himself.
Bloomberg’s remark was a sign of a quiet shift over the last month in the mainstream discussion of the Republican presidential nominee. Once unmentionable, questions about Trump’s mental health have started to bubble into respectable American forums as he has inched closer to the nuclear codes of the world’s mightiest military while behaving stranger than ever.
It’s a delicate thing to ask, but the fate of humankind is at stake. Is Donald Trump … OK?  “Donald Trump is not of sound mind,” conservative Stephen Hayes wrote two weeks ago in the Weekly Standard. “Have we stopped to appreciate how crazy Donald Trump has gotten recently?” liberal Ezra Klein wrote last week on Vox.   He “appears haunted by multiple personality disorders,” conservative David Brooks wrote last week in the New York Times.
“We can gloss over it, laugh about it, analyze it, but Donald Trump is not a well man,” Stuart Stevens, chief strategist to Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, wrote last week on Twitter.
[T]he available evidence leads to two possible conclusions: either Trump has a substance abuse problem, which appears unlikely, or “there is something definitely off about him.”
He boasts of his own unparalleled magnificence. He creates and promotes wild conspiracy theories. He tells easily disprovable lies. He fails to finish sentences before he gets distracted by unrelated thoughts. He appears to fly into a wounded rage at mild criticism.
U.S. psychiatrists are now prohibited by their professional association from publicly assessing public figures. The most common amateur diagnosis of Trump is narcissistic personality disorder, a condition characterized by an “inflated sense of their own importance,” “a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others,” and “a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism,” the Mayo Clinic said. 
 As for Trump's self-inflicted injuries in the Trump v. Khan dust up and why his instability made the attacks on a gold star family almost inevitable, here are excerpts from Talking Points Memo:
There are smart terrible people and dumb terrible people. While they're both dangerous in positions of power, the dangers they represent are significantly different. We've been watching the now multi-day war between Donald Trump and the Khan family. Trump has managed the amazing feat of finding himself savaging the mother of a dead American soldier who literally had never said a word against him. What is most important about understanding what is happening here, however, is not the callousness or shamelessness of Trump's behavior. It is that it all could have been so easily avoided - not the damage to the Khan family but the damage to Trump himself. This may seem like a perverse way of looking at what has unfolded. But it's actually the most instructive for understanding Trump's actions, how his mind works and the sort of danger he represents.
Any political operative or communications professional, indeed anyone with some moral imagination and common sense would know how to handle this situation.
You will never win a fight savaging the parents of a dead soldier. So it's a fight you simply don't engage in. A smart terrible person would get this and say something along the lines of the quote I noted above. Trump doesn't seem terribly bright. But this isn't about intelligence as we test it with logic puzzles. Realizing that this would be the only way to respond requires a level of self-awareness a narcissist lacks and a degree of impulse control Trump simply does not have. Empathy or any moral consciousness would get you there too. But remember, we're focusing here on the difference between a smart terrible person and a dumb terrible person both of which lack those qualities.
For a narcissist like Trump, the rage and emotional disequilibrium of being dominated, humiliated is simply too much to bear. He must lash out. What he said in one of his tweets responding to the Khans is perhaps the most telling. "I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond?" The use of the adverb "viciously" is a good tell that Trump is a narcissist. But setting that aside, most people would know that the answer is "No, you're not." Certainly you're not allowed to respond in the sense of attacking back. Their son died serving the country. You don't get to attack them. Someone with a moral consciousness who is capable to empathy would understand this through a moral prism.
[A] dumb terrible person is almost always dangerous. Trump's mix of rage and insecurity are so unbridled that it is not simply that he is unable to protect others from their impact. He cannot even protect himself from the damage they create.

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