Washington journalist Carl Bernstein said this to CNN late Wednesday night:
I am hearing from Republicans, and other reporters are as well, that there is open discussion by members of the President of the United States’ own party about his emotional maturity, stability. People are saying that his psyche is driving the news cycle.
The Republicans are late to the game. Trump’s bizarre statements and behavior have been his trademark since the beginning of his campaign. His psyche has driven the news cycle the entire election season. Why are they so worried now?
Maybe because the reality of an unstable president is sinking in, and they’re beginning to see the longterm implications as having him as the standard bearer of their party.
Trump gave an interview to ABC Wednesday night, which included this moment (the music adds to the psychodrama):
— CAFE (@cafedotcom) January 26, 2017
This comes right after a Washington Post story that described his anger after seeing his sparsely attended inauguration juxtaposed with the massive turnout of the women’s marches. Reportedly his ego is not being sufficiently fed:
Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements, and he feels demoralized that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment.
There was also Trump’s first official meeting with congressional leaders, where he repeated the lie that millions of unauthorized immigrants robbed him of the popular vote. This led economist Paul Krugman to tweet this:
An American first: a president who was obviously mentally ill the moment he took office. Thanks, Comey https://t.co/FuZbCy5DxQ
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) January 24, 2017
The Big Question
This leads to the big question that most rational beings have pondered since the early days of the election (or before): is Trump actually mentally ill? And if so, how to handle the unprecedented situation of someone whose perceptions are so off that it can seriously impair judgement.
Sure, plenty of presidents may have had mental disorders. Abraham Lincoln had major bouts of depression. Woodrow Wilson had generalized anxiety disorder. Nixon was notoriously paranoid. Some hypothesize that Bill Clinton had unresolved issues that led him to indulge in risky personal behavior. Psychology today cites a study that concludes half of all presidents may have suffered from mental illness.
Still, most presidents have been high functioning individuals. None in modern memory have had the bizarre behavior of Donald Trump. The question is: what should we do about it?
We could request a mental evaluation, but then again this is Trump’s doctor Harold Bornstein:
Bornstein gave Trump a clean bill of health before the election, writing, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” But Bornstein’s a personal physician, one only wonders who Trump would choose for a psychological evaluation.
The common conclusion is that Trump is a textbook narcissist. But it would presumptuous to make a layman’s diagnosis, so let me refer to the professionals.
On the Huffington Post, Communication Strategist Robert Greene posted a letter from psychiatrists and psychologists to President Obama concerning Trump’s mental health. In it, the mental health professionals concluded that Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Here’s a summary and key signs of the disorder:
Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
- Believe that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or high-status people (or institutions).
- Requires excessive admiration.
- Has a sense of entitlement.
- Is interpersonally exploitative.
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
The scary part is that NPD can get worse, with increasing paranoia and vindictiveness. Many with NPD get bored with anything that has nothing to do with themselves—not a good trait for a job with many details that affects countless lives.
This disorder can explain why Trump thrives in front of crowds—his ego feeds off of the energy of his rallies. This is why right after winning his first impulse was to go on a victory tour.
How Will He Handle the Pressures of the Presidency?
While this may have made him an effective campaigner, it’ll pose many difficulties with the tasks of being president. I imagine Trump won’t be very happy with the mundane work that probably goes along with being president, and will get bored quickly. He will probably delegate as many tasks as possible, and those around him will drive the agenda (Bannon, his cabinet, and the Republicans in Congress).
It’ll be interesting to see how much he can adapt to this reality, and try to run the presidency like one of his businesses. Time will also tell if his lack of impulse control will reach a crisis point—the criticism and pressure he will face will be much greater than jabs about crowd sizes.
And the Republicans have ridden his coattails to power while enabling his unstable behavior—pausing only for his various meltdowns. But if things turn seriously dire during his presidency, self-preservation will kick in once again, and they may abandon him for good. Meanwhile the rest of America will have to deal with the aftermath of whatever happens during his tenure.