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Why people believe the president is mentally 'unleashed'

What people were saying at the end of November 2017

The New York Daily News published an editorial on Nov. 29 marveling that, while Congress is in “delicate negotiations” over his tax reform bill and a day after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, he tweeted “demanding the firing of a private citizen who happens to run MSNBC, a news channel he hates” and “casually accused a congressman-turned-TV-host of murder" (the latter of which PolitiFact rated as a "Pants on Fire" lie and which received a tweet in response from the accused Joe Scarborough: "Looks like I picked a good day to stop responding to Trump's bizarre tweets. He is not well."). The newspaper concluded from this “latest spasm of deranged tweets” that the president is “profoundly unstable,” “mad,” “mentally unwell and viciously lashing out...we are witnessing signs of mania.” That same day, he also thrice retweeted anti-Muslim content posted by a leader of an extremist hate group.

Stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post describe “what can only be described as the president suffering some kind of break with reality,” according to Tina Nguyen in Vanity Fair. She says that “his private misstatements, within the White House, about easily verifiable facts, are harder to explain.” Perhaps some statements “were delivered in bad faith,” but it is also possible that he suffers from “a much more serious break from reality.”

Stephen Collinson, Nov. 29:

“Conversations about Trump's fitness and mental state have percolated in Washington for months. They have been fanned by the comments of GOP Sen. Bob Corker who warned the President could spark World War III.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake last month fired off an explosive Senate speech in which he said that no one should stay silent, "as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters.”

His actions are not in his own interest, which is another indicator that he is not thinking rationally. Attacking others based on unsupported accusations could lead to the revival of accusations against his own checkered past. Experts say that his vocal declamations against the influence of Muslims contributes to worldwide terrorist recruitment. Chris Cillizza pointed out that his retweets of the alleged Muslim/Christian violence videos may impact his "tenuous efforts to convince the courts — which have previously cited his comments on Islam — that he has the power to institute a travel ban from several majority-Muslim nations."

"Something is unleashed with him lately. I don't know what is causing it, I don't know how to describe it," said New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman on CNN on Nov. 29. Two days later, Michelle Goldberg published this opinion in the New York Times:

"He seems to be cracking up.

There is a debate over whether Trump is unaware of reality or merely indifferent to it. He might be delusional, or he might simply be asserting the power to blithely override truth, which is the ultimate privilege of a despot. But reports from the administration all suggest an increasingly unhinged and chaotic president. Trump’s aides are trying to spin his behavior, which they clearly expect to get worse, as a sign of heightened confidence. “Officials tell us Trump seems more self-assured, more prone to confidently indulging wild conspiracies and fantasies, more quick-triggered to fight than he was during the Wild West of the first 100 days in office,” Mike Allen reports on Axios.

This should be seen as an emergency situation. But now that Republicans are about to get their tax cuts, they appear to have decided that it doesn’t matter whether the president is sane. ... On CNN, Senator Lindsey Graham chided the press for treating Trump like “some kind of kook not fit to be president,” which is some serious gaslighting from a man who previously called Trump “crazy,” a “kook” and “unfit for office.”

The message here is clear: Republicans aren’t going to defy their mad king over anything as mushy and amorphous as democratic norms, rationality or national honor.

* * *

If you think 2017 was bad, imagine an America without allies fighting another two-front war, this one involving nuclear weapons, under the leadership of the most hated president in modern history, while a torture apologist runs the C.I.A. The world right now is a powder keg. Trump, an untethered maniac, sits atop it, flicking a lighter that Republicans in Congress could take away, but won’t."

December 28, 2017 interview with the New York Times

On Dec. 28, Trump gave a half-hour interview to the New York Times. His words are incomprehensible. Ezra Klein described the interview as containing "a string of falsehoods that make it difficult to tell whether the leader of the free world is lying or delusional," and he commented that the latter is the "scarier" option. Among the interview excerpts that Klein unpacks is one that causes specific political alarm:

"He [Trump] appears to believe that he is engaged in some explicit or implicit quid pro quo with the Department of Justice: He doesn't fire Jeff Sessions, or demand prosecution of his political enemies, or whatever it is he imagines doing with his 'absolute right to do what I want to do,' so long as they treat him and his associates 'fairly,' which likely means protecting him from Mueller's investigation.

Imagine reading this comment on transcripts from Richard Nixon's tapes. It would be the kind of comment that would leave us glad Nixon was forced from office, chilled that such a man ever occupied the presidency at all."

And in another excerpt:

"Trump's premise in this section appears to be that President Obama engaged in a wide array of criminal, undemocratic, and negligent behaviors but his attorney general protected him from justice. And Trump's conclusion is that Obama's attorney general did his job well. To Trump, the attorney general doesn't serve the country, or the Constitution, but the president."

Part of what is so alarming here is not just that the president says these things, but that he says them on the record to the New York Times, suggesting that he is out of touch not only with the facts but also with ethics, the limits of power, and decorum. And to the New York Times, he shares this message about how he perceives their role in the upcoming 2020 election: "...all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win." It is unclear whether he thinks the newspaper is currently succeeding (given that they currently cover his presidency) or failing (for some other reason), how this status would be assessed, and why he thinks the newspaper has power to "let [him] win" an election.

Klein says that, in his role as White House reporter, he's talked to Republicans and Democrats who have the president's ear, and uniformly they have told him that the president "is not just notably uninformed but also notably difficult to inform — his attention span is thin, he hears what he wants to hear, he wanders off topic, he has trouble following complex arguments. Trump has trouble following his briefings or even correctly repeating what he has heard."

He concludes that regardless of whether the president has "some form of cognitive decline or psychological is plainly obvious from Trump's words that this is not a man fit to be president, that he is not well or capable in some fundamental way."

Aaron Sorkin, creator of the TV series "West Wing," said in December that the president has an "observable psychiatric disorder."

John Harwood said of the same interview that the president displayed "delusions of omnipotence," referring to himself "in terms so grandiose and extreme as to be self-evidently false. Taken together, his comments signaled an inability to grasp conditions in the country, the limitations of his own capacities and the nature of the office he holds."

To Charles P. Pierce, the president's performance in the interview suggested signs of Alzheimer's. He was "only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*’s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart." He added that the president's self-designation of his understanding of taxes as "better than the greatest C.P.A." is "more than simple grandiosity. This is someone fighting something happening to him that he is losing the capacity to understand."

What can be done?

The 25th amendment allows for a procedure to remove presidents from office when they are unfit.


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