A recent column by Gary Younge, a Guardian columnist has identified the most dangerous problem illuminated by Donald Trump’s erratic and incompetent Presidency–and it isn’t his obvious mental illness.
It’s the 40% of Americans who still approve of his performance.
As Younge notes, there is no serious debate about Trump’s mental disorders among most observers.
Divining, assessing and adjudicating the mental health of this US president has become more than just a parlour game. Following a 2017 conference, 27 psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health experts wrote a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, arguing it was their moral and civic “duty to warn” America that “for psychological reasons”, Trump was “more dangerous than any president in history”. They diagnosed him with everything from “severe character pathology” to “delusional disorder”, which can be added to the more common verdicts of “narcissistic personality disorder” and “antisocial personality disorder” which are regularly offered.
Younge also notes the signs of deterioration, as the pressures of impeachment mount, and polls showing that he is likely to lose his bid for re-election proliferate. Trump’s bizarre behaviors are more frequent (although somehow that doesn’t seem possible), and his melt-downs more embarrassing and concerning. It is, as Younge writes, “deeply worrying” that the powers of the presidency are in the hands of a man who is “at one and the same time so brittle, aggressive, vindictive, ridiculous and self-obsessed.”
As dangerous as this administration is, however–as much harm as it is doing and may still do–Younge argues that it would be a mistake to think that simply replacing Trump and the cabal he has assembled with rational and honest public servants will solve the problem.
The problem, Younge says, isn’t just Trump. It’s how he got to the Oval Office. It is the nearly 63 million people who voted for him, and the 35-40% who still tell pollsters they approve of his performance.
For along with Trump’s personal frailties is a series of political characteristics that underpins his anomie. He is a misogynist, a racist, a xenophobe and a nationalist. Those are not psychological descriptors but political ones, fortified by systems and ideology.
As such, his behaviour has been irascible but hardly erratic. The rhetorical objects of his disdain are not random. He has not lashed out at the National Rifle Association, the religious right or white people. Politically, his tantrums invariably find their mark in the weak, the poor, the dark, the female, the Muslim, the marginalised and the foreigner. (He will attack powerful people, but not simply for existing. They must cross him first.)
These inclinations were clear when he stood for the presidency. He has been every bit as bigoted, undisciplined, indiscreet, thin-skinned and braggadocious as his campaign promised. And he won.
This was not because people didn’t see those things, but because they either didn’t care, cared about other things more, preferred him to the alternative, or simply didn’t show up. As such, his victory marked a high point for the naked appeal of white supremacy in particular and rightwing populism in general, and a low point for the centre-left, neoliberal agenda.
In other words, Younge tells us, Trump’s bigotries–his particular form of mental illness– enjoy significant, if not majority, support. His hatreds are shared–or at least not considered disqualifying– by millions of people.
That is our problem. And it’s chilling.