“Is Trump mentally ill? Or is America? Psychiatrists weigh in”
Review of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” by Bandy X. Lee (ed.), “Twilight of American Sanity” by Allen Frances, and “Fantasyland” by Kurt Andersen
By Carlos Lozada
The Washington Post
September 22, 2017
He’s not even close to being mentally ill. Common sense could tell one that in less than 60 seconds of reflection.
There are some things one doesn’t need to be an expert on to be able to see clearly.
I do not deny that Donald Trump often exhibits what, if he were an acquaintance, one would probably say is disagreeable behavior and that he appears to have undesirable personality traits. Narcissistic? Self centered?
But, he has actually functioned at a high level in many areas of his personal life. He is sane. Does not have hallucinations or lack the ability to distinguish between what is real and a lunatic belief. Is not a danger to himself or others, meaning possessed by demons as a serial killer might be or about to commit suicide. In other words, doesn’t exhibit any of the “rule of thumb” indicators of insanity.
How many people have you encountered in the course of your life whom you just couldn’t stand and, from your experience with them, seemed to have horrible personalities and traits which may have driven you to distraction: arrogance, conceit, selfishness, bossiness, boorishness, lack of discernment and good taste, rudeness, insensitivity, lack of consideration, self centeredness?
Perhaps you had to put up with such people, deal with them on a regular basis in a school, work, or other settings. A boss, coworker, authority figure such as a school official, teacher, or coach.
I have had bosses and coworkers whom I couldn’t stand. I could have written a whole chapter enumerating their “bad” qualities. I could have and perhaps did sometimes speculate on what psychological defects or demons drove them to act the way they did. But I wasn’t their psychiatrist.
But, you will say, there is a difference between a boss or coworker, Mr. Smith. Donald Trump occupies a position which, if he uses it for ill, shows poor judgment, or goes off the deep end, can affect the population en masse as well as nations.
True. But then one should oppose Trump’s policies, his actions, his administration.
No one says that one must LIKE him. Or that one should not be permitted to talk, enumerate, and analyze his faults (glaring ones). But that doesn’t entitle one to make extravagant, unfounded claims about his mental health.
Sometimes less is more when it comes to such discussions … the less said the better when the premises of the discussion are idiotic.
The “experts” are full of hot air.
They’re making fools of themselves.
— Roger W. Smith
September 2017; updated January 2018
Several commenters have said that Trump has been acting “crazy,” proving that he is insane. There is a difference between acting crazy (as actions may be viewed or characterized) and being insane. I responded to one commenter as follows: “[Trump] may act crazy, sometimes, just as Nixon seemed to do near the end of his presidency, or when he was bombing Hanoi and invading Cambodia, but that did not mean that Nixon was crazy in the clinical sense of the word.” The same qualifier applies to Trump.
To the Editor:
As a psychiatrist, I deplore the idea that psychiatry itself may become a tool to get President Trump out of office. The American Psychiatric Association has issued clear guidelines that a psychiatrist cannot diagnose a person whom the psychiatrist has never personally assessed. So the news that Dr. Bandy X. Lee — who has not personally evaluated the president — may be telling members of Congress that the president could be delusional or narcissistic or incapacitated is highly disturbing to me.
The Trump administration currently faces several different allegations, any one of which — if proved — could lead to Mr. Trump’s impeachment. If one wants to remove Mr. Trump from office, one should do it by proving him guilty of an impeachable offense. With an eye toward my profession’s checkered history, our psychiatric expertise must remain completely apolitical as we continue to treat mental illness across this great country.
— Paul Campion, Bronx, NY; letter to editor, The New York Times, January 9, 2018
“Maybe Trump Is Not Mentally Ill. Maybe He’s Just a Jerk”
By Jeffrey A. Lieberman
The New York Times
January 12, 2018
Jeffrey A. Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, writes: “I feel strongly that my fellow psychiatrists, and any psychologists or therapists, should stop speculating publicly about President Trump’s mental fitness and stop trying to diagnose possible mental conditions based on their armchair observations. … It’s entirely possible that he simply has certain personal qualities we don’t find ideal in a leader, like being a narcissistic bully who lacks basic civility and common courtesies. That he is, in a word, a jerk. But that alone does not make him mentally unfit to serve. … We can raise an index of suspicion, make back-seat observations of someone’s behavior to express our concerns and even speculate as to whether illness may be the underlying cause. But those observations, coming from physicians — even psychiatrists like myself — are merely public opinion. They are not reliable as evidence for definitive diagnosis and removal of a sitting president from office. Mr. Trump’s public behavior will never be enough for us to determine his mental fitness because a diagnosis requires a thorough and nonpartisan examination.”
This is essentially what I said above.
— Roger W. Smith
Valid points, Roger. There are signs of Alzheimer’s, however, which may or may not be considered a mental illness. Most recently Trump said to a crowd that his wife wanted to be there, and she was there. Or not seeing the limo in front of him and heading the wrong direction. Since his father suffered from this disease, we can surmise that he’s developing it, as well.
I didn’t know this, Holly. Thanks much for the comment and the input. — Roger
In addition to being an atrocious inept embarrassment as President, Trump is mentally ill — in my opinion. But as you argue above, I have no training or expertise or basis on which to make this judgment. That said, I think you don’t have any basis for your judgment that he is not mentally ill. Doesn’t this also require someone with a medical degree and specialized training in mental illness?
No, it doesn’t. As I made clear my blog, and which was my point. If one doesn’t accept this (my key point), then one might as well not read the post.
In your blog you say “he is sane” with “is sane” in italics for emphasis. You also say “he is not a danger to himself or others.” Just because you write a blog does not mean either of these statements has any basis in fact, or that anything in your background, education, or experience qualifies you to make such a definitive statement. In fact, the facts show otherwise — if you don’t think he’s a danger to anyone, just ask the South Koreans, for a start.
Seems like you have often written lately in defense of Trump. Why would you waste any words in defense of this crazy idiot?
“There are some things one doesn’t need to be an expert on to be able to see clearly.”
I have written about Trump (or Trump related topics) frequently. This is not by design. I am basically apolitical. I write about whatever comes to mind. More often than not, it’s not a news item. But, I do keep track of the news, and things I read in the daily papers inspire blog posts.
“is Trump mentally ill?”
September 24, 2017
review of “Trump: The Art of The Deal” by Roger W. Smith
Walt Whitman, immigration policy, and Donald Trump’s wall; or, the Berlin Wall redux
January 25, 2017
“Trump vis-à-vis Hitler”
January 23, 2017
re Melania’s outfit and its designer
January 21, 2017 by Roger W. Smith
“Trump Takes Manhattan”
December 5, 2016
“the sacking of Billy Bush”
October 30, 2016
“unfit to become president?”
October 9, 2016
Posted on July 27, 2016
“a view with which I fully agree”
May 17, 2016
Some people seem to think, in today’s political climate, that one is not entitled to have an opinion about anything. I let my thoughts take me where they may.
Commenters like you and Pete Smith do not seem to realize that, often, the point of my posts is not to defend Trump, but to point out what I feel are absurdities in political commentary and other writings that have to do with him, and that can be seen since his election. In a couple of my posts that focused on the views of Trump himself and not of his critics, I took issue with his positions, strongly.
You ask, “Why would you waste any words in defense of this crazy idiot?” I guess because he is in the news a lot and I don’t like what I perceive to be some of the inanities and knee jerk adherence to their own orthodoxy of Trump haters.
Trump is not “crazy,” if by that you mean insane. He may act crazy, sometimes, just as Nixon seemed to do near the end of his presidency, or when he was bombing Hanoi and invading Cambodia, but that did not mean that Nixon was crazy in the clinical sense of the word.
“There are some things one doesn’t need to be an expert on to be able to see clearly.”
“There are some things one doesn’t need to be an expert on to be able to see clearly.” (My response to Pete Smith’s latest comment.)
It’s not that people don’t think you have a right to an opinion — of course you do, as do we all. But people also have a right to express opinions counter to yours. You invite such comments just by virtue of having a blog with a comments section. Must everyone only use this to agree with you or to praise you? And I do think Trump is crazy in many ways — so many actions of his prove this; surely he is also a textbook narcissist. His taunting and insulting of Kim Jung un and his provocative behavior towards him could surely lead us into a nuclear catastrophe. I fear for our country — and the world — very much now that Trump is president — and on a daily basis. I think someone as clearly unhinged as Trump is, someone who lies all the time to his country, someone who seems unable to distinguish truth from falsehoods, etc. etc., surely is acting crazy. I may not be an analyst qualified to make such assertions, but by what authority do you yourself claim to be able to personally assess whether Trump is either mentally ill or crazy?
You and Pete Smith have completely missed the point of my post.
You ask, “by what authority do you yourself claim to be able to personally assess whether Trump is either mentally ill or crazy?” Pete Smith posed the same question.
The whole point of my post is, was: There are some things you don’t need to be credentialed to know. Such as whether or not Trump is mentally ill.
He may ACT crazy, as I noted in a previous response to you, Nixon also did; so it was said about him during later years of his presidency. But that’s a term that is used loosely and does not mean clinical insanity.
By the way (and here is a comment I confess is not necessarily authoritative, and is just a guess, since I lack information or specialized knowledge which would enable me to say conclusively), isn’t it true that there is usually a history of mental illness in the case of someone who is found to be insane?
You also asked: “Must everyone only use this [the comments section] to agree with you or to praise you?” [when commenting upon my blog]. When or where did I say this?
I’m not sure we missed your point, Roger. If you don’t have to be credentialed to know whether someone is sane (your position), then you don’t have to be credentialed to know that he’s insane (my position) either, right? I clearly see where we disagree on this, which is fine — you have a right to your opinion. But I don’t see how you can state without credentials that Trump is sane while objecting to others, albeit uncredentialed, who believe he is insane.
Pete — I see your point, which you make clearly. Going back to when I wrote the blog, what motivated me to do so was the books reviewed in the post in which experts discussed Trump’s psyche and his presumed or possible insanity. I firmly believe that one can know some things — a lot of things — using plain old fashioned common sense, and that sometimes (often) “experts” can muddle them. Many people have been saying that Trump has been acting crazy. It has been said about other leaders, too (e.g., Nixon). Acting crazy can mean a lot of things. It’s a loose term. But, Trump is clearly not insane. He may be impulsive, self centered, narcissistic, egomaniacal, etc. That’s not the same as insanity. Insanity is when one is having delusions, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, and so forth. I don’t have to take off my thinking cap when it comes to such stupid books as those that were reviewed. A medical degree is not required.
I have all sorts of opinions about literature, and I strongly disagree with many English profs who have Ph.D.’s. I think Beethoven’s late quartets are the best ever; that Shostakovich is the greatest 20th century composer; and that Aaron Copland is the greatest American composer. I am not a musicologist or musician. One doesn’t have to forbear using one’s eyes and ears, one’s common sense, and good judgment. Trump is not insane, clinically, by any measure, from what someone who does not know him personally can observe.
I understand your opinion but still disagree. Trump clearly hallucinated when he claimed his inauguration crowd was larger than Obama’s (I was at both, and it was probably one/fifth the size); his bullying of the idiot in North Korea is insanely dangerous to the world; his inability to remember today what he promised yesterday are all behaviors that many sensible people, with or without Ph.D’s, believe is insane. That you don’t is fine, but your opinion that others are wrong is nothing but an opinion, not a fact.
I agree with you on Beethoven and Copland; haven’t heard enough Shostakovich to have an opinion. But what you are expressing here are opinions as well — in your case, very well-informed opinions, but still opinions. Someone else who’s studied a lot of classical music might come to very different opinions about who is the best — your statements notwithstanding.
In a way, this same issue was the underpinning of our argument about whether America is the greatest country in the world. My disagreement wasn’t with your right to have that opinion or to enjoy living here; it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for you to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world — and that it was bad timing for you to jump on the Alt-Right “American Exceptionalism” bandwagon.
Consider these statements:
“Beethoven is the best composer ever!” (requires provable facts)
“I think Beethoven is the best composer ever.” (Subject to debate, but doesn’t require proof.)
In my opinion, a number of your blog posts state opinions as facts (as in “Beethoven is the best composer ever” — and without an evidence basis for your opinion, this comes across as arrogant. If you just had said “I don’t think Trump is insane, because I don’t see the evidence of it,” it would haven’t bothered me one whit. But when you said “He’s not even close to being mentally ill. Common sense could tell one that in less than 60 seconds of reflection,” you are denigrating anyone who disagrees with you on this point. As the saying goes, “judge ye not lest ye be judged.” Food for thought. . . .
You call the books that were reviewed “stupid.” Have you read any of them?
“Trump clearly hallucinated when he claimed his inauguration crowd was larger than Obama’s (I was at both, and it was probably one/fifth the size).”
This is not hallucination. It’s a case of exaggeration or perhaps braggadocio. Trump has, throughout his business career, often made larger than life claims. For instance, I heard that the number of floors that Trump Tower actually has was misrepresented when it was built and still is. Not to absolve Trump, but many politicians and wheeler dealers do the same thing: make exaggerated claims.
Getting back to the size of the inauguration crowd, I don’t approve of Trump making a false claim, and then he and his press secretary would not admit it was wrong. He did the same thing with the assertion that Obama was not born in the USA. That’s not HALLUCINATION. It’s something else: exaggeration, lying, braggadocio. I don’t know the exact word.
“His bullying of the idiot in North Korea is insanely dangerous to the world.”
It certainly seems so. But, talking in such fashion does mean one is insane. Other leaders have made bellicose statements (not just Hitler). I realize that you will say as usual that I am defending Trump. The North Korean situation is a very delicate one. He’s like a bull in china shop. Ill-advised rhetoric is not per se an indication of insanity. It is an indication of ill-advised rhetoric being used.
“His inability to remember today what he promised yesterday.”
This is perhaps a mental weakness or a character flaw. I would say that it is a case of being inconsistent, making promises and not following through on them. Again, I am not absolving Trump. But, it happens all the time in politics. I thought you were talking about INSANITY.
“Someone else who’s studied a lot of classical music might come to very different opinions about who is the best — your statements notwithstanding.”
Of course I know that. You missed the point. I wasn’t trying to convince you of the rightness of my choices. My point was that, even though I don’t have expertise as a musicologist, I am not afraid to express my opinions. I do think that when someone writes about something, such as literature and music, one should exhibit a modicum of intelligence and prior knowledge. discernment, and a more than superficial knowledge.
All I was trying to say is that in music – even more so in literature – I have opinions that I am eager to share. I do not let the fact that I am not a musicologist or English professor stop me. Because, intuitively, or experimentally, I may possibly have seen more than them. In literature, I know that this is sometimes true of me, or at least I strongly feel that way. Just because I don’t have a degree or professional certification doesn’t mean I have to abstain from expressing my opinion. When it comes to something like, say, music, I am well aware, of course, that there will be others who would say something different, or the opposite. (Just like someone else might say Finland is the best place to live.)
“In a way, this same issue was the underpinning of our argument about whether America is the greatest country in the world. My disagreement wasn’t with your right to have that opinion or to enjoy living here; it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for you to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world — and that it was bad timing for you to jump on the Alt-Right “American Exceptionalism” bandwagon.”
I wasn’t jumping on the Alt-Right, America First bandwagon; that’s a preposterous claim.
I tried very hard to explain that to you in replying (repeatedly) to comments of yours. I shouldn’t have had to, because if you had been able read the post in the spirit it was written — or at least perceive that — you wouldn’t be accusing me of espousing Alt-Right views (and call me a deplorable”).
“ …. it was simply to try to convince you that it was equally reasonable for to others to aver that another country, maybe Sweden of Finland, could be the greatest country in the world”
Of course. Do you think I can’t see that?
“‘In my opinion, a number of your blog posts state opinions as facts (as in “Beethoven is the best composer ever”) — and without an evidence basis for your opinion, this comes across as arrogant.”
Not arrogant whatsoever. The TONE of my writing is not arrogant. But, a good writer has to SAY SOMETHING, assert it. Has to have a point of view. Hopefully, stimulate and challenge the reader. My acquaintances know that I am not arrogant in discussion or conversations. I do feel strongly about a lot of things. I think that’s a good thing.
By the way, I never did say that Beethoven is the best composer ever. I said his late quartets were the best quartets ever, by way of giving am example. If I did make such a statement, I would not be so clueless as to think that someone else might not have a different opinion.
You and other commenters have characterized my views and posts as pompous and arrogant. That’s not true of my writing, nor is it true of the experience others have had in discussions with me. They find me humble, polite, willing to be corrected, and eager to exchange opinions, as well as to learn something new or hear an original take on something. (My wife does it all the time.)
A writer has to be clear and make points forcefully; also it is hoped that one’s writing will stimulate and provoke the reader to perhaps look at things with a fresh eye. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I don’t disagree with much that you say and recognize that you were saying that the quartets were the best ever, not Beethoven throughout, etc. My error here. I also recognize that in person you are humble, polite, thoughtful, bright, and open to other people’s ideas even when they are contrary to yours. You are also a damned good writer — as I’ve told you often before. My only complaint is that whether you are talking about others’ opinions in your blog, your strong feelings often come across as definitive conclusions rather than strong opinions, especially when you are talking about editors at the NY Times or academics with advanced agrees or other cohorts for whom you seem to have a special loathing. And yes, sometimes you sound pompous and arrogant.
Thanks for the conplimentary words, Pete.
Pomposity. That’s not me. Never has been. I am authentically me, without putting on airs. This is true of me in person and of my writing.
A better word for what you describe as arrogance might be invective.
Some of my posts, such as the posts about Janette Sadik-Kahn’s plan to remake Fifth Avenue; the against “cultural misappropriation” movement and the protest against the Emmet Till painting; the call for destruction of statues and monuments; and the Anthony Weiner sentence, are polemical. To make one’s point, arguing often with fierce “winds” of contrary, often entenched opinion blowing back at oneself, irony and invective are not inappropriate. Think of Swift writing “A Modest Proposal,” Tom Paine “Common Sense,” or Zola “J’accuse!” The thing is not to be mealy mouthed.
You should poll your followers on this. Or maybe go back and read all your posts with a fresh eye.
There is nothing wrong with arguing strongly to make one’s point, or using irony or highly critical language. But when it is embedded in a spirit of “I am the true intellectual and you (or they) are not” and when your conclusions are presented as definitive facts rather than opinions, and when your posts comment on how much smarter you are than the academics or editors you abhor (or, as above, equating your self with Jonathan Swift), you do come across as arrogant and positive.
Which is nothing like the nice, gentle person who you really are — which is why I’m trying to steer you in a less self-centered direction. In the recognition that I may be off base here, I invite other readers to comment.
Pete — I appreciate that you say something nice about me, BUT:
A polemic is an essay where you argue strongly for something, often an unpopular position rather than the majority one. It should be clear to any reader that I am expressing my opinions. All good writing arises from personal experience or reflection, and writing without a point of view is bland and uninteresting. If I say, for example, that I don’t like New York Times editorials, I realize that a lot of Times readers are not going to agree with me.
I do not claim to be smarter than others. I did not equate myself with Jonathan Swift. I used him as an EXAMPLE. An example of using sarcasm and irony (brilliantly) to get his point across.
I often do mention other writers and thinkers. I try to EMULATE them.
Yes, I strongly disagree with the opinions of many persons who are regarded as authorities or who hold exalted positions. What’s wrong with that? It’s called thinking for oneself (by a born contrarian).
Hubris and pomposity are not personal faults of mine. You do not seem to realize this, at least not fully. Writing should have an edge, and the writer should bring all the learning or she can to bear. You would be surprised if you knew how much research and spade work goes into many of my posts, to bring myself up to speed.
Some of my posts are all about myself. Others are about others. I felt strongly the other day about the Anthony Weiner sentence. I felt I had to write about it. Was that post about ME?
Many of my other posts are about general issues, or writers I admire or music I like, and so forth.
Self-centered? Because I use my own my own experience as fodder for my writings? I am reading Thoreau’s famous essay about walking now. Guess what it’s built upon. His own experiences as a walker: where he walks, how long he does, why he does, what he thinks about when he walks, etc., etc.
In my own essay on this site about walking (which I wrote before having read Thoreau’s essay), I talked a lot about my own experience as a walker, then tried to extrapolate from it to make points that readers may find worthwhile to consider as they may pertain to their own experience. This is the best way to do it because the best examples I can provide to illustrate and prove my points come from my own experience. It’s a sort of inductive method: start with what you think you know and have experienced and generalize from that. I could have approached the subject differently and said, here are 6 things about walking, Mr. or Ms. reader, that you ought to know and 5 tips. That would be boring and less convincing (plus a lot less fun to read).
I appreciate the nice things you have said, but I am not a self centered or arrogant person. My writings are a true reflection of me, and they are not self centered or arrogant. Nor are they pompous. I’m too smart to commit the error of pomposity. (That’s an oxymoron.)
One other person whom you know well has said similar things about my posts. No one else has. Absolutely no one. By way of a comment or in conversation with me. Absolutely nothing about arrogance, pomposity, or showing off.
Please show me where in my posts I “comment on how much smarter you are than the academics or editors you abhor.” Which ones? I do find myself strongly in disagreement with politicians, policy wonks, social engineers, judges, prosecutors, etc. Editors and academics? No doubt you will find examples. I have, on a different site (on Theodore Dreiser), pointed our errors in scholarship, but only when I was certain. I have also disputed certain scholarly views occasionally. By “editors,” perhaps you mean the Times Editorial Board.
I am not a passive reader. You should read William Blake’s annotations to Joshua Reynolds, Lavater, etc. (or Samuel Johnson’s review of Soame Jenyns’s “A Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil”) if you think I’m too quick to criticize or too vehement. Blake is another literary figure I admire. Note I said admire.
There is a perceptive article about Trump’s mental health — or lack thereof, in the cerrent issue of Rolling Stone, which you can probably access online.
Sometimes, Rog, when you say things on your blog such as the following comment about films you admire: “Truly classic films such as the above five are in a league of their own. Few people have seen them or even know of them” — it sounds as if you consider yourself to be more knowledgeable than most people. I, for example, have seen most of the films you discuss. Nothing wrong at all with having opinions, but sometimes it does sound a bit like you are boastful or consider yourself intellectually a notch above “most people.” And some of the comments you have made about members of your family, (not always on this blog, but in emails) such as their “incapacity for creative thought,” their supposed jealousy of your writing, their lack of any self control, etc, etc., have sounded very pompous and arrogant on your part and have led to hard feelings. Harsh words said to you have been hurtful and probably unfair many times, but apologies have been offered, whereas no apologies have come from you for the stinging, critical, and hurtful things you have said. It is a two-way street. I don’t suppose you will post this, which is fine, but I did want to express my thoughts.