Tag Archives: mental illness

Those Trump Supporters

I frequently refer to the recurring discussions among sane Americans–the ones that begin with incomprehension: what do Trump’s supporters see in him that they find attractive? What evidence can they cite to suggest that he is even minimally competent? How do they explain away the copious, constantly-growing evidence of his corruption, his ignorance, his childish and unhinged behaviors?

Clearly, the ability of voters in the age of the internet to rely on sources of “information” that confirm their desired “facts” has played a major part.

A recent post by a friend of mine suggests that the purveyors of cyber-disinformation rely on the civic ignorance of their audience; he posted a copy of a story from a Trump site about four Democratic Senators who have announced they were switching parties in response to impeachment. There were pictures of the Senators, and they were identified by name. One small problem: None of them were real. They don’t exist.

Presumably, those who created the site were confident that visitors wouldn’t know that there are no Senators with those names (or faces).

That’s what my people call chutzpah, and Kellyanne Conway would call “alternate reality.”

I’ve seen a number of articles either penned by or interviews of psychiatrists, and in most of them, like this article from Raw Story, the professionals identify traits common to Trump supporters: authoritarian personality syndrome, social dominance orientation, and a connected group of diagnoses that revolve around bigotry. Studies following the 2016 election found a significant relationship between racial resentment and support for Trump; studies also found that Trump voters have fewer interactions with people of different races or religions, and are more likely to exhibit “relative deprivation.”

Relative deprivation refers to the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes they are entitled. It is the discontent felt when one compares their position in life to others who they feel are equal or inferior but have unfairly had more success than them.

I was intrigued by an article focusing on the opinion of a long-time conservative named Tom Nichols (full disclosure, I have no idea who he is–hadn’t previously come across him). Nichols says that “being nuts” is Trump’s “superpower.”

If Trump were not able to convince his cult that reality isn’t real, we’d be arguing about who’s really doing well and who isn’t – just as we did under Obama and every other president. Farmers would be up in arms,” Nichols said in a Twitter thread. “When Trumpers say they’re better off, there’s no evidence for it other than that they *feel* better off. Factories aren’t reopening. Dead small towns are not being reborn. The cities? Doing fine, thank you. But Trump says: ‘This isn’t true,’ and being *nuts* is what sells it.”

Nichols noted that Trump’s ridiculous behavior was on full display in the bizarre letter he sent to Nancy Pelosi. He pointed out that the tone and absurdist quality of the letter —not just Trump’s usual lies and numerous exclamation points —have led many observers to genuinely question Trump’s mental health.

I don’t question it. I have long been of the opinion that Trump is significantly mentally ill. Others are finally coming to that same conclusion.

“I’m only 2 1/2 paragraphs in to Trump’s letter and it’s clear to me that our President is unwell, unfit and very uninformed about our government & our legal system. And that fills me with a profound sadness that we’re at this point. It’s time to fix this,” wrote legal analyst Joyce Vance.

Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey wrote: “This is not a letter authored by someone of sound mind or in full command of his mental faculties. The implications of that are obviously immense and quite scary but how long can we really continue to ignore it?”

As Nichols pointed out, Trump’s supporters celebrated that letter. (“He tells it like it is…”)

How much do people have to lie to themselves, and for how long, before we can conclude that they aren’t just uninformed, but mentally unwell? How much do people have to hate and resent various “Others” in order to reject the evidence of their own eyes and ears?

And most important of all, as we approach November of 2020, how many of these people are there?

 

 

The Forty Percent

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.

 

The Voices In His Head….

Let’s be candid: anyone running for President of the United States by definition has an enormous ego. Believing that you can discharge the enormous responsibilities of that office requires that you think pretty highly of yourself.

And let’s also acknowledge that past Presidents have had mental and emotional problems–think Nixon’s paranoia, Reagan’s Alzheimers, Clinton’s sexual issues….

But.

What Americans are facing now, in the third year of Trump’s Presidency, is absolutely unprecedented. Previously, damaged occupants of the Oval Office at least had offsetting talents. They also knew the Constitution constrained the executive branch, and when they tried to circumvent those constraints, they acted strategically. Trump is far and away the most ignorant and intellectually limited person to hold the office, and even worse, too ignorant to know he’s ignorant–a walking, talking example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Ignorance and stupidity aside, there is ample evidence of severe mental illness, as Sarah Burris explains in an article for Raw Story. 

Dr. Lance Dodes warned that things were going to get worse under President Donald Trump in 2017. That’s precisely what happened….

“Donald Trump, because he has a fundamental need to be all-powerful and all loved, can’t stand challenges,” Dr. Dodes said. “And the nature of democracy is that it challenges people. We have more than one opinion. So the more — it was predictable once he got into a position where people would challenge him, there are two parties, he would become more unhinged.

Wednesday’s press availability on the White House South Lawn showed exactly that, he explained.

“As you watched him respond to people, the more they challenged him, the more he ranted,” Dr. Dodes continued. “He stopped responding to the questions, and instead, he started to talk about how people were agents of fake news. He said that they would go out of business soon. They would die…This is the same kind of thing that he did when he was a candidate when he suggested someone protesting at his campaign rally be taken out and beaten up.”

According to the psychiatrist, Trump simply cannot handle situations where people disagree with him. And of course, there has never been a Presidency–or any political campaign–without disagreement. Elections are intended to be a forum for disputes, with voters choosing which side of the dispute “wins.”

 “The more he is challenged, the more he can’t stand anything that disagrees with him, and the more you challenge him, the more unhinged he becomes, the more paranoid, and the more violent, potentially,” he said.

In the interview, Dr. Dodes was asked about Trump’s look heavenward and his statement  that he was “the chosen one. ” Dodes explained it was just another example of Trump’s excessive grandiosity. As he noted, many people in public life have a grandiose sense of self, but Trump’s is on a far bigger scale.

 “There is a fundamental way in which he’s empty. There’s something fundamentally different about him from normal people. It’s a psychotic-like state. The more you press him, the more you see how disorganized and empty he is. The more he flies into a disorganized rage. So yeah, and by the way, in terms of being God, he also made several what you might call Freudian slips during the interview today. He kept mixing up who he was and who the country was. He said, ‘I have the best economy.’ I, not the country. ‘I defeated the caliphate.’ It’s not just a slip of the tongue; he really doesn’t get it. He thinks of himself as a dictator, and it’s all him and no one else really matters.”

Dodes is far from the only mental health professional to warn about Trump’s delusions. (For that matter, you needn’t be a psychiatrist to recognize that he occupies an alternate reality.) The question is: how much damage will he inflict before he is ejected from the Oval Office?

This Presidency has one redeeming element (if we survive it)–it has illuminated several major problems America faces: the lack of a realistic mechanism to remove a dangerously unfit President (the 25th Amendment doesn’t operate in a highly partisan environment);  the widespread civic ignorance that enables such a person to maintain the support of a base of unhappy and angry citizens; and the civic apathy that got us to this point.

In 2020, we need to elect someone sane. Then we have a lot of cleanup work to do.

 

If It’s Mental Illness…

I always hesitate before blogging about guns, knowing that posting any opinion other than “yes, you have a constitutional right to pack heat whenever or wherever you want, and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve beaten your wife” will generate howls of opprobrium and hysterical accusations that I want to disarm everyone.

But still.

The Orange Menace in the Oval Office is on record–well, on twitter–saying that America doesn’t have a gun problem, that what we do have is a mental health problem.

There are, of course, multiple available rebuttals to that statement. We might point out that other countries with similar percentages of mentally-ill citizens but fewer guns have dramatically fewer incidents of gun violence. We might point out that allowing civilians to own lethal assault weapons developed for warfare is evidence of a different sort of mental illness. We might point out that the Second Amendment doesn’t require a failure to differentiate between a hunting rifle and an AK-15.

Even if we ignore those arguments, we’re left with a question that our Tweeter-in-Chief conveniently ignored: if mass shootings are attributable to failures of our efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, why did he eliminate Obama’s restrictions on gun ownership for people with mental illness? (We do know the answer to that: Trump’s obsessive hatred of Obama and his fixation on erasing any and all measures attributable to his predecessor.)

As NBC reported in February,

President Donald Trump quietly signed a bill into law Tuesday rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

The rule, which was finalized in December, added people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database.

Had the rule fully taken effect, the Obama administration predicted it would have added about 75,000 names to that database.

President Barack Obama recommended the now-nullified regulation in a 2013 memo following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 first graders and six others dead. The measure sought to block some people with severe mental health problems from buying guns.

The GOP-led House and Senate obediently passed the bill nullifying the Obama-era measure, and officials of the NRA “applauded” the action.

Of course they did.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a leading gun control advocate in Congress, called out Republicans over the move.

“Republicans always say we don’t need new gun laws, we just need to enforce the laws already on the books. But the bill signed into law today undermines enforcement of existing laws that Congress passed to make sure the background check system had complete information,” he said in an emailed statement.

So, welcome to the U.S. of A… On this Thanksgiving Day, feel free to express your gratitude for a country where any raving lunatic can legally buy a gun, and the twittering lunatic in the White House can launch nuclear weapons.

American exceptionalism, baby!

 

 

 

 

Is It Him, or Us?

One thing about Donald Trump’s candidacy–his obvious psychological problems have triggered all sorts of armchair diagnoses, most centering on “classical narcissism.” I recently came across a different theory, one that will be familiar to those of us who remember male teenage classmates who constantly boasted about their “conquests.”

According to Steven Marche, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times,

The most popular candidate among white American men is a parody of American manhood. By now, we have become used to the frat-boy performance that defines Donald Trump’s candidacy: the sexual boasting, the condescending or outright insulting treatment of women, the open discussion about the size of his penis. As we approach the general election, it becomes ever more clear that Trump’s flagrant and empty machismo is not a distraction from his campaign but its substance…

The theory of masculine overcompensation has been well-established for decades, going back to Sigmund Freud’s notions of “reaction formation” and “defense mechanisms:” When men think their masculinity is in doubt, they respond by emphasizing traditional masculine traits.

This new parlor game of “Guess Trump’s diagnosis” may be fun (or in the case of James Patterson’s analysis, both persuasive and terrifying) but what this man-child’s primary success suggests for our democracy is anything but entertaining. That issue was more soberly–and insightfully–analyzed by David Frum in a recent article for the Atlantic. Frum, as you will recall, was a speechwriter for George W. Bush, but he has refused to be a “team player” more loyal to his party than to his country. The article is long, but well worth reading. One paragraph:

The television networks that promoted Trump; the primary voters who elevated him; the politicians who eventually surrendered to him; the intellectuals who argued for him, and the donors who, however grudgingly, wrote checks to him—all of them knew, by the time they made their decisions, that Trump lied all the time, about everything. They knew that Trump was ignorant, and coarse, and boastful, and cruel. They knew he habitually sympathized with dictators and kleptocrats—and that his instinct when confronted with criticism of himself was to attack, vilify, and suppress. They knew his disrespect for women, the disabled, and ethnic and religious minorities. They knew that he wished to unravel NATO and other U.S.-led alliances, and that he speculated aloud about partial default on American financial obligations. None of that dissuaded or deterred them.

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times takes on the false equivalence of those who insist that Hillary and The Donald are equally distasteful/dangerous:

All lying in politics is not created equal…. What is grating about Hillary is that her prevarications seem so unnecessary and often insult our intelligence. But they are not about existential issues. As for Trump, his lies are industrial size and often contradict each other. But there is no theory behind his lies, except what will advance him, which is why Trump is only scary if he wins. Otherwise, his candidacy will leave no ideas behind. It will just be a reality TV show that got canceled.

Trump without power is easily dismissed; there is no “there” there.

What isn’t so easily dismissed, as Frum writes in his essay, is the fact that he won the Republican primary. What should give every thinking American pause is the existence of voters willing to support a blustering and cartoonish empty suit.

That is the condition that requires a diagnosis.