His state of mind has alternatively been described by the press as: paranoid, delusional, erratic, vengeful, chaotic, deceitful, impulsive, deranged, unbalanced, disorderly, narcissistic, dangerous, similar to that of a Frankenstein monster, psychopathic; in short, to use the designation that most journalists hesitate to use, mad.
Are these psychological terms legitimate on the part of reporters? It could be objected that they are not armchair psychiatrist proffering diagnosis from afar based on hearsay and conspiracy theories. That could be a dangerous tendency, perhaps unworthy of a journalist who honors the printing ethos of “confirm-before-you-print.” And yet many press commentators, reporters and politicians claim that they are doing their duty. They are not playing the game of armchair psychiatrist but analyzing and observing carefully public behavior and then reporting their findings, as indeed they were trained to do.
What they behold is an erratic sort of behavior, a history of lashing out in anger at foes or anybody who dares to criticize or contradict past or present claims, lying about those claims, the embracing of outlandish conspiracy theories, one self-inflicted crisis following another in rapid head-spinning succession.
But the question arises: are those closed-door concerns of those around Trump really newsworthy? Should they be part of the historical record? In academia there has been around for a while now a branch of history called psycho-history wherein great historical figures are placed on the couch, so to speak, and psychoanalyzed to better determine historical events’ causes and effects.
Some famous journalists, one such being Carl Bernestein who helped unravel a past corrupt presidency (that of Richard Nixon), believe that they should. Psychological states of mind are part of the story just as the reign of mad emperor Caligula of Roman Empire fame remains part of the story of that empire. The chaotic character of Caligula reign of five years was a reflection of the emperor’s mental state. His psychological health is certainly part of the historical narration.
When an emperor orders his generals to dismount their horses and collect shells for him on a beach in Normandy, as the Roman army prepared for the invasion of England, that kind of aberration is not a mere inane or funny anecdote in the life of an emperor but an important event to understand the emperor’s disorderly mind. The madness of the emperor is part of the story of the empire, as is the case in the famous story of Andersen “The Emperor’s Clothes.” Were the madness to be omitted, it would be a flawed narration with important facts missing.
It is intriguing that a philosopher of the caliber of Giambattista Vico, in his New Science, describes the whole development of a civilization or a Republic as running the gamut from necessity and utility to luxury and decadence. He then adds sardonically: “and at the end they go crazy.”
Enter the mad president Donald Trump. If he appears deranged, or delusional, living in an alternative universe, that psychological mental state needs to be openly reported, it cannot be tiptoed around; to do so is to fail as a journalist. It’s like reporting a partial truth or a pseudo-truth. The duty of any reporter worthy of that name is to search for the whole truth and then report it courageously as corroborated by the empirical facts and the evidence, especially when what is observed is deemed to constitute a proximate threat.
It is dangerous to keep up the pretense that Trump is completely sane, as Roger Stone, whose own sanity is questionable, strongly maintains; that unhinged babbles are the equivalent of interviews; that Trump is a sane well-balanced adult, that he is not psychologically damaged and consequently an imminent threat to the Republic whose Constitution he has solemnly sworn to uphold. At some point the analysis has to be synchronized to the empirical facts as they are, not as one wishes they were.
But what should be the foundational evidence of the assessment of our leaders’ mental state? Certainly not late night tweets. Can one arrive at a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder by analyzing from a distance tweets sent at 3 in the morning or off-the cuff comments on face book? Do journalists have a duty to do such an assessment?
Consider this question: were we to construct a Frankenstein monster, could we imagine one more dangerously mentally ill than Donald Trump whose presidency I have dubbed “The Caligula Presidency”, dominated by the antics of a psychopathic narcissist divorced from reality lashing out impulsively at his imagined enemies?
As the more perceptive scholars and historians have already pointed out, in the history of tyrannies, there is a small window of opportunity to get rid of the tyrant via legal democratic means. Once that opportunity is missed, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so later. The formula seems to be this: the longer one waits, the more difficult it becomes to rid a democracy or a republic of a tyrant. Germany in the mid-30s is instructive here. It’s like a cancer: the longer one waits to eradicate it the more difficult it becomes to so later and the greater the threat.
Impeachment procedures are already long overdue. Democracy as we know it hangs in the balance. The partisans in Congress putting party ahead of country ought to also reflect on Jefferson’s warning: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”
Note: this article has already appeared in Ovi magazine on 5/20/2017