The president of the United States has gone off the rails. I mean seriously.
All along have been doubts about his mental health. In 2017 was an edited volume titled, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, in which 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assessed his stability. They warned that Trump was unfit for duty – unfit to be president of the United States.
Their conclusion was based on observations of behaviors that became the more obvious the longer he was in the White House. They included but were not limited to: engaging in angry outbursts; lying habitually, chronically; disparaging and demeaning opponents; praising tyrants and other authoritarians; failing to evidence any empathy; encouraging violence certainly implicitly; being indifferent to governance; wildly exaggerating his own achievements; demanding tireless praise and expressions of admiration; and bullying both online and in person.
In 2020 Donald Trump’s niece, herself a psychologist, came out with a book, Too Much and Never Enough, that had a similar message. Based on knowing her uncle as long and well as she did, in addition to watching his performance as president, Mary Trump concluded that his “pathologies are so complex and his behaviors so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests.”
Donald Trump’s behaviors since he lost the presidential election provide still further confirmation of what years ago was diagnosed. His relentless denial of electoral reality; his relentless refusal to pay attention to the pandemic, and his relentless raging against anyone who is other than a servile sycophant, is further evidence if any were needed that he is mentally, psychologically, unfit to be chief executive. An excellent if unsettling account of the president’s responses to his defeat is an article in the Washington Post, “20 Days of Fantasy and Failure.” Among its many revealing lines is this one: “Sequestered in the White House and brooding out of public view after his election defeat, rageful and at times delirious in a torrent of private conversations, Trump was, in the telling of one close advisor, like Mad King George, muttering, ‘I won. I won. I won.'”*
No news here really. Nor is it news that we the people continue to put up with Trump – and that tens of millions of us continue strongly to support him. What only time will tell though is whether this moment – the four years during which Trump was in the White House – is an aberration. Or whether, instead, it is in indicator. An indicator of America not just in the present but in the future.
Those among us who think Trump the worst president in American history heaved a deep sigh of relief when Biden beat him at the polls. But our relief was premature. It will take one more presidential cycle, or even two, to confirm that Trump was an outlier.
Imagine yourself a European politician, one whose country has been a member of the NATO alliance since it was founded. This would mean that for more than 70 years your country’s foreign policy was based on the belief that the United States was an ally. An ally whose values mirrored your own, an ally that was dependable, reliable, predictable. But along comes Trump, a president whose values were other than yours, a president who had turned America into an ally that was, or seemed at least undependable, unreliable, and unpredictable.
Do you – as this hypothetical European politician – base your country’s present foreign policy on the assumption that Trump was an exception to the American rule? Or do you base it on the assumption that he was a harbinger of America’s future? Or do you hedge your bets – believing you cannot not know what the United States will look like, will be like, ten or even five years hence?
The questions apply of course not just to our allies but to ourselves. The deep concerns raised by Trump’s tenure as president will not, should not, must not vanish just because he does. His time in the White House has revealed frightening fissures in America’s political system. We would do well to address them – very well.