The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump (Reviewed)

The collection of psychiatrists who author these essays honor the Goldwater Rule not to diagnose someone unseen but they also honor their duty to warn. They don’t make a diagnosis of Trump but point out how his behavior and his thinking, as president, are creating a “malignant normalcy” in our democracy. One author suggests Trump has delusional disorder and cites his three lies during his commencement speech (denying his feud with intelligence, saying the rain stopped and the sun emerged for his speech, inauguration crowd size larger than Obama’s), which were so demonstrably false and, at least the last two, seemingly unnecessary that a likely interpretation is that he believes his own lies and would pass a lie detector test.

Much in the essays for lay people will give language and articulation to what we’ve all intuited from following his candidacy and now presidency, but the essays aren’t all about him. They’re about the country that elected him, too, because there are plenty of people extreme on the scale of narcissism, who exist in “extreme present hedonism,” but now one is president and when he makes decisions and statements as though he is the only real thing in the universe and that therefore all his statements and decisions have no repercussions the whole world is at risk.

Anyone might benefit from reading this collection, but there are people who wouldn’t let the information in it break what author Elizabeth Mika (Who Goes Trump?) calls “the narcissistic collusion between the tyrant and his supporters.” She writes: “The tyrant’s own narcissism hints at the level of woundedness in his supporters. The greater their narcissistic injury, the more grandiose the leader required to repair it. While his grandiosity appears grotesque to non-narcissistic people who do not share his agenda, to his followers he represents all their denied and thwarted greatness, which now, under his rule, will finally flourish.”

Trump’s approval rating is still in the thirties. Historically low but still way too high given the way he’s representing our country. It should be in the low teens. Over thirty-percent of Americans do not fit Elizabeth Mika’s description above of tyrant sycophants. The problem is the difficulty in admitting to voting wrong. Trump never should have won the Republican primary, which was a disaster since so many Republicans despised Hillary Clinton enough to abandon their “Never Trump” stance and tell themselves Trump would magically transform after he got elected. This collection of essays might do the job of putting everything we’ve been through in a little more than a year in perspective and make it clear Trump doesn’t have the skills to get better but he does have the character flaws to get a lot worse.

“There are those who still hold out hope that this president can be prevailed upon to listen to reason and curb his erratic behavior. Our professional experience would suggest otherwise. We collectively warn that anyone as mentally unstable as this man simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency.” – joint statement from 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts


Tweedledum or Tweedledee for President

The title of this post is meant to seem topical but I’m actually sneaking in a history lesson I learned from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. In the close election of 2000 that came down to Florida, Ralph Nader ran as a third-party candidate. His platform was that voting Democrat or Republican was a choice between Tweedledum or Tweedledee. He had a fairly successful showing as a third party candidate. Analysis after the voting showed had he not run, Gore would have had the votes to win Florida. However they figure these things out, whatever the margin of error, they don’t guess. Nader’s position that both candidates from the two major political parties are working for the system, just to varying degrees, is a common feeling among the population and why Nader got so many votes and probably why so many Americans don’t vote at all.

I immediately recalled a passage from earlier in the book that I copied out on a note card:

To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a point of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control. Like so much in the American system, it was not devilishly contrived by some master plotters; it developed naturally out of the needs of the situation.

This election year it looks like we’ll have two choices again. After strong runs from candidates with “anti-establishment” platforms, we’re left with the “anti-establishment” Republican and the Democrat who beat her “anti-establishment” opponent. We’re also left with Never Trump’s on the Republican side and Never Hilary’s on the Democrat side.

There is a saying in baseball: “You’re going to win sixty and lose sixty, it’s what you do with the other games that makes you a good team or a bad one.”

That’s kind of true without saying anything. What if you play really well for those other games but, oops, lose forty of your sixty you were going to win? They say every election year that the undecided voters will swing the election based on what they decide. That’s also kind of true without saying anything. This year the election will be decided by how many of the Never Trump’s vote for Trump and how many of the Never Hilary’s vote for Hilary. Again, kind of true without saying anything.

If it’s accurate that the two party system is used as a mode of control, and Howard Zinn certainly made a great case for it being true all throughout American history, then I guess it’s cool Trump made it as the Republican nominee and I do think it’s cool how far Bernie made it. My question for the Tweedledee or Tweedledum contingent is, do we want this to be the election year we break out of that mode of control? By writing in Bernie or refusing to vote if Hilary or Trump is the only choice. Is that mode of control something we can realistically break out of through a single election?

If the two-party system developed naturally as a mode of control then it developed as a result of pressures and it’s those pressures that need addressed before the two-party system can be abandoned. Gary Johnson might have some great qualities that would make him a great president but most of us don’t know about them. He feels picked out of a hat. Clinton or Trump will be the next president. Voting for a third-party candidate is one path to fighting out of our two-party system but it’s not the only path and it, alone, won’t be effective. I would rather see people accept the two-party system for this election and then begin the next day campaigning for a way out of that system. This election is too important.

This election might be closer than anyone expects and what I’m hearing is people working really hard to hate Clinton enough to rationalize voting in Trump. I liken it to hiring someone for a job. You have their resumes and an interview process. Clinton’s resume includes being a senator and the Secretary of State, which is fourth in line for the presidency. Trump inherited a fortune and invested it in questionable business ventures, many of which failed, and starred on NBC’s The Apprentice. Their respective campaigns have been the interview process. Does anyone think Trump has been nailing his interview portion or Clinton failing hers enough to make up for that giant, very real gap in employment history?

Of course no one does. Trump’s supporters are people who will vote for him because of that resume which proves, to them, he won’t be “more of the same.” What will he be instead? How many of them are looking that far?

“Politics as usual” is another vague criticism we use. A criticism of a system clogged up by too many pressures to be fixed by plugging in one “anti-establishment” participant, even if placed at the highest position in the country. Clinton’s resume might make her seem like “more of the same,” but it also shows a track record of experience with diplomacy. Trump’s approach, his only play, which he’s consistently demonstrated through this interview process, to other people who don’t think exactly like him—basically everyone he’ll deal with as our primary representative to other countries—is to lash out. That might sound like toughness to unsophisticated voters who actually consider “closing our borders” an option in an age when borders are more and more an illusion, but it could bring us to the brink of war.

And unsophisticated isn’t an insult, I guess it’s an opinion, but voters who are hearing “Benghazi” and “emails” and deciding from those buzz words without any independent research that those words prove Clinton can’t be trusted and that Trump would be a better choice as our next president fit the description pretty well. We’re all relatively unsophisticated voters because we have hundreds of concerns beyond politics, which makes us easy to manipulate, but this election will be decided by the people still working hard to think Trump is okay enough to elect because of a hatred of Hilary Clinton that feels largely manufactured.

I haven’t even touched, yet, on the effect misogyny will have on this election but I will. For me, “I wouldn’t mind a woman president but not this woman,” is the new “I’m not racist but…” almost always followed by something racist. I’m not accusing anyone of blatant misogyny but anyone not admitting our history of misogyny is gumming up their decision making in this election would probably benefit from a little reflection on how a woman is being perceived by all of us for daring to want to be president. Ambition would never be quite the mark against her that it is if she weren’t a her.

In this book I’m reading about John Adams, John Adams, a political life was considered service to the country. Adams didn’t want to go to France as a diplomat but when he was sent he went. I admit that was a different time. After his presidency Adams returned to his farm and struggled to make a living. These days politicians acquire significant wealth. Yet we have to count what she has given as service. In this age, to be travelling the globe as Secretary of State, she assumed a great deal of risk. From my admittedly little research on Benghazi, she was one of many responsible people who failed to address security opportunities there before a terrorist attack. Probably everywhere could benefit from increased security in this age of terrorism, but beefing up security everywhere isn’t possible. We offer soldiers slack in incidents of fratricide because we recognize they’ve put themselves in tough situations at great risk to themselves and we honor that commitment to their country. I think it’s reasonable to put Hilary Clinton in that category. Certainly it’s unfair to put all our country’s foreign policy errors on her and use them to prop up a candidate whose personal history demonstrates he’s cared about little else than his own wealth and fame, for all his life.

I want to cover everything in one post so I can have my views expressed. Whatever I say or don’t say, the outcome will be the same. This is for my peace of mind, and I love everyone who’s read this far. Trump has said terrible things. He makes sometimes the oddest, almost surreal, attempts to backpedal on them without apologizing for them but they’re all real, they’re all his words. Maybe the oddest part about his debate performance was when he genuinely seemed hurt that Clinton attacked him in her ads. “I don’t deserve that,” he said at one point, but the “attack” ads I’ve seen are all just Clinton airing Trump’s words.

Running for president is viewed as a farce, to many. We think of politicians as people who just try to say, over the course of their lives, things that will make them electable. I get that. It’s glad-handing obnoxiousness, it feels insincere, but the opposite of that as the next leader of our country isn’t some guy who’s been on Howard Stern and talked, on air, about how disgusting overweight women are. We can imagine the glad-handing obnoxious woman who’s dared to want to be president, maybe most of her life, isn’t who she’s portraying herself to be, but it’s a much better bet that the obnoxious man who has spent his life trying to use his inherited wealth to accrue more wealth (and largely failed) at the expense of anyone and everyone under him, who is willing to insult anyone and everyone if it will win him a moment’s air time on TV, who is playing to the unsophisticated faction of the country who imagine walls and xenophobia are easy answers, is exactly who he’s been all along.

It would feel pessimistic to end this post with Trump being the reason I’m voting for Clinton, though he’s more than reason enough, in my mind. I’m not a huge Hilary Clinton proponent. I expect the only president I will ever admire and want to have a beer with is about to step down after his two terms. But I think Hilary Clinton will make a good president. I think she will emulate her predecessor more than her husband. I think she wants to be a good president more than she’s arrogant and simply expects to be a good one. She cares what everyone thinks of her, which is a quality we want our president to have. She doesn’t just support The Affordable Care Act but plans to improve it. I could write a whole blog about how the idea we can keep getting by without a single-payer health care system is a lie perpetrated by the people who reap huge profits by our lack of one, while the sick can’t receive proper healthcare and so, sometimes, die. (I actually already did write that blog.)

She has experience and she’s learned from her experience. She has reasonable potential to be a good president. She’s not a bad choice just like the other, no matter how hard anyone works to view her that way.