The State Of Drumpf’s Mind

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:

DID THE CHEMTRAIL FLU KILL PRINCE AND MERLE HAGGARD?

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.

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8 Comments

  1. How can you write this without mentioning Reagan?

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    • First, because this wasn’t about Reagan. Second, although Reagan really did have Alzheimer’s, we don’t know when it began affecting him or his decision making. And besides all that, despite comparisons between Reagan and Drumpf, by people on both sides, there really is no comparison. Reagan had a set of principles by which he sought to govern. He was an ideologue. Drumpf has no ideological governing principles. His are all ad hoc and seem to come from a mind incapable of understanding even the basics of political philosophy.

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      • >First, because this wasn’t about Reagan.

        It directly correlates with Reagan, who both had the disease you’re talking about and ran for president, with the precedent example winning two terms, suggesting this is a non-factor.

        Ideology is irrelevant in the case of someone with a brain wasting disease, since governing would be more and more handled by others over time, leaving the president as a mere figurehead/talking head than actual leader. The secret of being successful in the imaginary Drumpf White House is care of his ego which is coincidentally the same as managing anyone who can’t take care of himself. He’s already finished before he even starts, which is coincidentally how he does business.

        >we don’t know when it began affecting him or his decision making

        Yet you are presuming that we can know when Drumpf is developing those same symptoms, that he already has them. Meanwhile we are able to examine the historical evidence to trace Reagan’s degeneration. In fact Reagan is a foundational case for looking for Alzheimers symptoms in others because his public speech is so heavily documented over many years while he was developing symptoms.

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        • I’m not going to argue with you about how Alzheimer’s affected Reagan’s tenure as president. It simply isn’t clear. And he was certainly lucid enough at the end for us, if we are so inclined, to blame his policies on his ideology, without recourse to a diseased brain.

          You said that I am “presuming that we can know when Drumpf is developing those same symptoms.” I am? Here’s what I actually said, since you apparently didn’t read it closely:

          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.

          I don’t presume to know anything about whether Drumpf has a diseased brain. What I was worrying about is how his brain seems to work, “the mechanics of his mind.” What I said was,

          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.

          So, sorry. No diagnosis of Alzeimer’s here.

          Duane

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          • If Drumpf’s symptoms are consistent with his personality, which they do seem to be despite the pretense that this is just a game to him, this actually qualifies as mental illness, just as it does for all those people who believe crazy shit in spite of being superficially lucid. You say “crazy shit” as if it makes sense, but it’s really compartmentalized which is another symptom.

            Mental illness isn’t restricted to brain disease or damage, it’s more often purely psychological.

            Drumpf’s mental state doesn’t require compartmentalization because he isn’t committed to any of it. We all clearly get that part of it, but that doesn’t mean that he’s mentally healthy, only that his condition isn’t standard fare for conservative wingnut voters, which is also the reason for his success.

            The notion that Drumpf is a perfect actor, never slipping out of character is a delusion. He does clearly rehearse though as I’m sure all candidates do, but he’s doing that especially to retain the appearance of consistency and struggling at it, while also letting the nominal traits of his narcissistic personality slip. This is not because of his yuge fanbase, that’s never enough especially considering the protests against him. He loses it even in situations you don’t expect him to, as if he doesn’t know when he’s lost it.

            The thing about the brain is that it only has so much resources and if you’re struggling to maintain one thing you let other things slip. There is no way to pretend to have all of your faculties. Drumpf does not have them.

            Like Reagan, his presidency barely needs him to exist let alone have any ideology. Actual brain disease doesn’t make his policies any worse, it would just leave the policy making more to his staff than it already would be.

            If he can smile, read a teleprompter, and walk across the white house lawn without tripping more than three times he’s in good company with some of the lower tier presidents.

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  2. melk39

     /  April 26, 2016

    Well I don’t know what to make of her post, but giving her the benefit of the doubt, the most kind thing I would tell her is that this is not her call to make and certainly beyond her pay grade. There is no actually evidence to support it. In fact what he says is a perfect stew of meanness, narcissism and the general battiness that passes for deep thought on the Right. Besides there is a glass house argument here. Hillary is only two years younger and suffered a TBI six years ago and Bernie, well Bernie was born before Pearl Harbor. We don’t need to go down that path.

    If you don’t give her the benefit of the doubt, then there is a danger that this could be characterized as the same sort of whisper campaign that tricky Dick launched against poor old Ed Muskie. That was nasty, its beneath common decency even in politics and there is absolutely no reason to go there. There is a treasure trove of real, tangible material available right from the horse’s mouth and will be in the months to come as well, especially with the latest reports that Trump has brought Corey back from exile and returned him to favor.

    One thread in your post I’d love to see you pick up some day is the whole overlap of craziness shared by hard right and the hard left. Kind of shocked me when I moved back on the spectrum. They share so much of the same conspiratorial mindset about the same topics just with a different (though not always) cast of villains. I think many of your readers would be stunned at the similarities. It would certainly be an enlightening read.

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    • I share your reluctance to dive into someone’s psychological well-being. It is an unfair thing to do from 50,000 feet up and without any formal training. But it is not unfair to question someone’s lack of attention to the facts, especially when those facts run up against his or her belief system (to the extent there is a consistent belief system). I think it is important to understand how someone processes contrary information and I think it tells us something about that person’s mind, even though it goes too far to label someone who refuses to acknowledge certain facts as having some kind of mental disorder.

      And you are right about the phenomenon being something both sides, left and right, suffer from, although I tend to think it is more common on the right in America these days because most conservatives are white and they feel anxious about losing their hold on the culture. But it remains true that extremists of all stripes are subject to such fantasies. An old preacher I served under used to say, “You can go off the road on both sides.” 

      Someday it would be fun to explore and compare the craziness.

      Duane

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    • In fact what he says is a perfect stew of meanness, narcissism and the general battiness that passes for deep thought on the Right.

      Agreed, which is why I wonder whether the public Trump is the real Trump? What is this man like when he’s not in public? Is there more to him, or is this all there is? Some presidents have a private personality that’s visible to the public, and I find that reassuring. Some don’t very much, and I find that scary. JFK liked touch football and picnics with his large family. Harry Truman had his poker buddies, his private morning walks, and kitchen cabinet. Obama has a fine sense of humor and of family. One can know such people. Nixon and LBJ, not so much. Imagine a president Trump at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner. I can’t. I think there is a screw loose in that coiffed head.

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