Finally, someone has, out loud, gone there: What if Donald Drumpf is on the verge of Alzheimer’s?
Sophia McClennen published an article today with the provocative title, “Maybe Donald Trump has really lost his mind: What if the GOP frontrunner isn’t crazy, but simply not well?”
McClennen is not a medical doctor. She is a Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at Penn State University. But she has recently co-authored a book on satire called “Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.” It is from that perch she is examining Drumpf and makes an interesting humanitarian point:
I need to be reassured that Trump is indeed OK so that the jokes about him remain funny. Public mockery has been the only way to stay balanced this election. And, of course, the best jokes about Trump have come from political satirists because satire does more than poke fun. It encourages critical thinking in the face of blind acceptance. It doesn’t just make Trump look silly and stupid; it points out that he’s dangerous to democracy. It’s the difference between jokes about his orange face and jokes about his demagoguery.
She goes on to say:
Satirical humor only works if it is punching up. Humor that punches down is just mean. A joke about Trump’s brain is amusing; one about an Alzheimer’s patient is twisted and cruel.
Her article cites examples of Drumpf’s odd behavior and his strange habits of speech and his inability to focus. She uses the recent example of Drumpf’s encounter with The Washington Post’s editorial board, a member of which had asked the candidate about whether he might use nuclear weapons against ISIS:
DRUMPF: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way, he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…
POST: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?
DRUMPF: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good-looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?
McClennen writes about this bit of weirdness:
We have become so accustomed to these sorts of ramblings that we don’t really register them as anything more than standard nonsensical Trump-speak—a pattern of speech we have seen crop up across the GOP in recent years, most notably in Palin’s gibberish. But I urge you to re-read the exchange above and register the range of nonsense—the lack of basic grammar, the odd syntax, the abrupt shift in topic, the disconnect from reality, the paranoia, and the seeming inability to even grasp the question.
The writer then asks whether Drumpf’s campaign gives us a clue that the candidate is more than “a savvy politician channeling Tea Party political rhetoric and reality TV sound bites,” that he might be “an example of someone who doesn’t have full command of his faculties.” She goes on to sort of indict a larger group of folks:
At times it can be very hard to distinguish between extreme right-wing politics and symptoms of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association tells us that if two of the following core mental functions seem impaired then it is time to seek medical help: Memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, visual perception. Alzheimer’s carries other symptoms besides memory loss including difficulty remembering newly learned information, disorientation, mood and behavior changes; deepening confusion about events, time and place; unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers; more serious memory loss and behavior changes.
Does she go too far? And does she go beyond what the evidence suggests when she writes:
Much to the chagrin of the reasonable conservatives who wonder what has happened to their party, it is now often difficult to distinguish Republican rhetoric from the ravings of someone suffering from diminished mental capacity.
Let me start by admitting the obvious. I’m not a doctor of any kind, nor do I know Drumpf in any other way than from his public appearances. Thus, I am not going to say there is something mentally wrong with the guy, other than he acts like there is. Likewise, I am not going to say that extremist right-wingers are literally sick people. I know plenty of them who are quite clearly not mentally impaired in any way but who still believe what I consider to be crazy shit. So, I think it is a little irresponsible to go so far as Sophia McClennen did in her piece. Besides that, there are plenty of people on the left who believe crazy shit, too.
But—you knew there was a but, right?—I will say this: I am worried about the state of mind of people who will believe unbelievable things just because those things fit into the way they model the world, or who won’t take a minute to critically ask whether there is any real evidence for their beliefs. Some people, for instance, believe when bad things happen, like when the AIDS crisis came upon us or when Hurricane Katrina hit, that God is judging us for our sins. Is believing that a form of mental impairment?
Other folks believe that chemtrails may have killed Merle Haggard and Prince. Don’t believe me? Just look at a headline from the right-wing conspiracy site, Infowars:
Are folks who believe that nuts? You can go on that website, which is run by a strange and
dangerous man named Alex Jones—who also has a show on which Drumpf has appeared—and find all kinds of stuff that makes you wonder whether folks who take any of that stuff seriously are in their right minds. And you can do the same thing on Facebook or other social media, where many of these ridiculous conspiracy theories get replicated on a massive scale by earnest believers passing them on to friends and family.
But Drumpf isn’t just an ordinary person with a Facebook or Twitter account. He is the front-runner for the presidential nomination handed out by the Republican Party. So, it is natural that we hold him to a higher level of scrutiny than Grandma Orleta passing on some Obama-cancelled-the-National-Day-of-Prayer nonsense as a kindly warning to her fellow Christians. And when we look at Drumpf closely, we do find a man who could be mistaken for someone with a serious mental flaw, someone who often appears to be untethered to reality.
Without even exploring the fact that he has no real understanding of most of the issues of the day—an odd thing itself for someone running for president—the biggest example of his detachment from the way things are is his fondness for, or entertainment of, conspiracy theories. Most famously, of course, is his utter fascination with Obama’s birthplace and the easily falsifiable idea that the president wasn’t born where he obviously was born. The press has nearly forgotten about this weird fascination and I won’t go into the details here. But I can’t remember the last time he was asked to account for it, despite the fact that it should come up again and again because it reveals something important about the way Drumpf’s mind works—or doesn’t work.
I mentioned Alex Jones, the king of kooky conspiracists. As Mother Jones reported, after Antonin Scalia died, Jones speculated on his show that Obama “killed him, and all the intellectual evidence lays it out.” The next day, as it happened, Drumpf appeared on Michael Savage’s radio show—Savage is another conspiracy lover—and was asked about Scalia’s death. Here’s how Mother Jones wrote it up:
Savage raised the possibility that Scalia had been murdered, and asked Trump whether an immediate autopsy was necessary.
“Well, I just heard today and that was just a little while ago actually—you know I just landed and I’m hearing it’s a big topic—that’s the question,” Trump said. “And it’s a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”
Now, it isn’t just the fact that Scalia was not found with a pillow on his face or that Scalia, for God’s sake, was 79 years old and could easily have passed on quite naturally, as most people lucky enough to live that long or longer do. It is the fact that a man running for president, for leader of the free world, would first go on a thoroughly disreputable show like The Savage Nation and then, without knowing anything about the subject, say something based only on the kind of rumors one would find coming from conspiracy junkies. “I’m hearing it’s a big topic,” Drumpf said. And, as far as I can tell, no one has ever asked him from where he heard such a thing. But it is important. And, again, it says something about the mechanics of his mind.
So, too, does his disturbing refusal to accept real knowledge about vaccinations and autism, around which survives one of those horrible conspiracy theories that some lefties, particularly lefty celebrities, push. We know today that there is no evidence that vaccinations cause autism. One study, from 1998, that argued that there may be a connection was shown to be a massive fraud and it was eventually retracted by the prestigious journal that published it. But despite all the evidence against a connection, Drumpf has continued, as late as a debate in September of last year, to perpetuate the dangerous myth that there is a connection. We have to ask: What kind of mind won’t surrender to the facts?
Finally, there is Drumpf’s less well-known flirtation with another mind-numbing and terribly dangerous conspiracy. Like many Republican politicians and pundits, Drumpf doesn’t believe global warming is real. Last November he tweeted:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
This theory is a new twist on an old theme, popularized by Rush Limbaugh a long, long time ago, that the entire climate change issue is being used by Democrats and other socialists [sic] to get their hands on and subsequently destroy capitalism. So, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that February and March of this year were the warmest, by far, of any two of those months on record, that doesn’t mean a thing. The conspiracy will live on in the minds of too many people, despite the facts. And in light of that, we are entitled to ask: Does the fact that evidence, real evidence from real climate scientists, has no effect on the brain state of Donald Drumpf mean that there is something inherently wrong with his brain?
Such questions are essential when considering a president. We need someone whose mind, at least eventually, bends to the will of the facts, who won’t persist in a belief that has been proven false or never had plausibility in the first place. And whether one concludes that Drumpf is suffering from some form of dementia or whether one decides, for whatever reason, that Drumpf’s mind is just too unpredictable or unstable to install in the Oval Office, the facts are that he is showing us, day by day, tweet by tweet, that a President Drumpf would be a very dangerous man.