Last week, amid yet another series of damning leaks about the chaos going on inside Trump's White House, a senior State Department official under President George W. Bush (and a member of his National Security Council) articulated on the record what many have apparently been discussing in private: "I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen anything like this. I genuinely do not think this is a mentally healthy president." This is far from the first time such an accusation has been publicly suggested, but with every reality-bending mistruth that Trump espouses, and every rage tweet he puts in all caps, the speculation about the president's mental health grows.
Chief among them is Andrew Sullivan, who launched his latest not-a-blog-but-also-not-a-column piece (perhaps a blogumn? a colog?) for New York Magazine by confronting "the madness of King Donald" head-on. As with John Oliver last night, he focused on Trump's twisted, unreliable relationship with reality, but demanded that people talk about the underlying causes that may be fueling his denial of empirical reality:
Then there is the obvious question of the president’s mental and psychological health. I know we’re not supposed to bring this up — but it is staring us brutally in the face. I keep asking myself this simple question: If you came across someone in your everyday life who repeatedly said fantastically and demonstrably untrue things, what would you think of him? If you showed up at a neighbor’s, say, and your host showed you his newly painted living room, which was a deep blue, and then insisted repeatedly — manically — that it was a lovely shade of scarlet, what would your reaction be? If he then dragged out a member of his family and insisted she repeat this obvious untruth in front of you, how would you respond? If the next time you dropped by, he was still raving about his gorgeous new red walls, what would you think? Here’s what I’d think: This man is off his rocker. He’s deranged; he’s bizarrely living in an alternative universe; he’s delusional. If he kept this up, at some point you’d excuse yourself and edge slowly out of the room and the house and never return. You’d warn your other neighbors. You’d keep your distance. If you saw him, you’d be polite but keep your distance.
I think this is a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months. It is not so much this president’s agenda. That always changes from administration to administration. It is that when the linchpin of an entire country is literally delusional, clinically deceptive, and responds to any attempt to correct the record with rage and vengeance, everyone is always on edge.
There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness.
Sullivan immediately received blowback for commenting on Trump's mental health, as many others have in recent weeks. The topic has become prime thinkpiece fodder for the media: Slate argued that it's okay to speculate about it because according to the DSM-5, "a number of diagnoses are now made largely on a person’s observable behavior or what can reasonably be inferred from it." Other reports suggest Trump suffers from some form of narcissistic personality disorder: Vanity Fair spoke to therapists about it, The Atlantic ran a full feature last year during the campaign on it, and one of Johns Hopkins’ top psychotherapists even went on the record with a much-circulated diagnosis. Thousands of mental health professionals have signed a petition calling on Trump to be removed from office due to his apparent mental illness. And just today, Vox released a first-person piece by a therapist about the struggles within the therapeutic community over how to speak out about the danger signs Trump is exhibiting.
Nevertheless, for a pundit with no speciality in the field, Sullivan is much more vulnerable to criticism for commenting on mental health issues. He appeared on CNN to defend and explain his piece: "To have such an unstable figure, incapable of accepting reality, at the center of the world, is an extremely dangerous thing," he said to Brian Stelter regarding Trump's "bonkers" behavior. Stelter pushed back about Sullivan's credentials on this, but he argued, "I am a human being and I can tell if someone is saying things that we know not to be true and never corrects it."
"God knows, I wish I weren't here having to say this," Sullivan continued. "No one wants to be here saying this. I don't want to believe the president of the United States is just delusional or cannot accept reality. Of course not. It pains me. It gives me great pain and concern and distress. But at some point, being a writer or a journalist requires one to simply say what one is seeing in front of one's eyes. And sometimes you have to say that in plain English."
Sullivan noted that "if you are not on camera or not writing, people are talking about this all the time," and Senator Al Franken seemed to corroborate just how far-reaching the conversation has gone now. He told Bill Maher that Republican senators have privately been expressing "great concern" about Trump’s temperament. He doubled down on that with CNN over the weekend, saying “a few” Republican senators think Trump has mental health issues.
"In the way that we all have this suspicion that — you know, that he’s not — he lies a lot, he says things that aren’t true, that’s the same thing as lying, I guess,” Franken told Jake Tapper. "You know, that is not the norm, uh, for a president of the United States or, actually, for a human being."
While you mull over the boundaries of questioning the president's mental fitness for the office, we recommend you consider the implications of the tweets below and Trump's furor over intelligence security during the election.
So for $200K, you can get a Mar-a-Lago membership and have unfettered access to the President of the United States. Seems ethical. pic.twitter.com/Wdyoe1NG98
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) February 13, 2017